Wednesday, November 2, 2011

#78: The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien

Silver Jubilee Edition, Ballantine Books.

Well, this is it. I put these away for another year. In some ways, this is the most difficult book to plow through, as the temptation to just get to the parts where:

--Gollum bites Frodo's finger off
--And Saruman (nee Sharkey) gets stabbed by Wormtongue for being a general bastard.

In some ways, the reader is carrying a burden along with Frodo. Tolkien was in love with using the phrase "Behold!" and words such as "splendor" and "beauty" and "puissant". I remember the first time I came across that word, "puissant".  It means "powerful" or "having high influence". How has the writing changed since the 1920s and 1930s?

1. Eowyn, you sought the Lord Aragorn's love because he was high and puissant
2. Eowyn, you wanted to bang Aragorn because he is hot dirty or clean and can kill 400 orcs with his two day old stubble alone.

I can hear it now: "Did Faramir call Aragorn a pussy??????" Well, no he did not, you illiterate baboon! I love the fact that Frodo could not go through with destroying the ring in the end. The passage in the book reads almost matter of factly, as if you should have expected it all along. No one really destroys the ring in the end, as Gollum just pulls it off and falls over the edge. It destroys itself. I don't know what that means exactly, but evil and bad experiences can't really ever be excised. They remain, no matter what you do or how hard you try to forget them.

This is what makes the Battle for the Shire, left out of the film, so poignant and meaningful. The Hobbits, much like the generation of men such as Tolkien who went off to World War I, came home having seen things that no person should ever have to see. Death, destruction, waste, fear, hate; all of these take a toll. As they know these things, jack asses who play act like Bill Ferney hold no power over Pippin, Sam, Frodo and Merry. What is wonderful is how the Hobbits use a terrible experience as a positive. They clean up the Shire and become great leaders; they could have just as easily became bitter, angry and hate filled.

That being said, the experience changed them utterly. This is hinted at in the film when the four mates share an ale and look very uncomfortable in a place where a year earlier they would have been dancing. They have become part of a wider world and a wider narrative, which I think is what Tolkien was really getting at. We have a choice whether to leave home, to go where we are asked by friends, countries, governments. That journey changes our expectations as we become part of a wider tale, whether it is war, making friends from far off places, meeting people not of your race or class. Our minds can incorporate these things or not, and we can choose to return home. But those things stay with us and endanger the safety of the memories of our home. It may seem smaller, meaner, less important and wrapped up with meaningless things like fun, drinking, dancing and the rest. The important idea is to not be ashamed of where you are from if it is filled with frivolity, and not to begrudge those who know only happiness. Those of us who have seen sadness, loss and pain in great measure must protect those who have not from the very things we have experienced. That is the lesson I take from Frodo Nine Fingers and the Ring.

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