I never read “The Lord of the Rings.” I wasn’t clued in to the world of hobbits and wizards. My friends used to toss around names like Bilbo and Frodo and Gandalf. But I had a hard time remembering even the long-established, well-known myths. Where was it that Orpheus went and what did he do? When it came to literature, I was into realism.
Well, now the hobbits and wizards are back. The new movie has made “The Lord of the Rings” inescapable. Not only that, this is just part one of the trilogy. The ring saga will be with us for the next three years.
And what a saga. The movie offers what people say is a faithful rendering of the book, combined with all the newest computerized effects. Now I know why my friends got caught up with these books back then.
I know now that the myths and legends I have always had a hard time grasping underlie all storytelling. Whether it’s a hard-boiled private eye on the streets of L.A. or a hobbit with a magic ring, you’re telling the story of good and evil.
I think one of the reasons “The Lord of the Rings” has caught on right now is that Americans feel they’ve been thrust into their own battle of good and evil. Is it just my imagination, or does Sarumon, the evil wizard with the long white beard, have an uncanny resemblance to Osama bin Laden? It’s not just the beard and the long face. It’s the dispassionate and diabolical way he dispatches his horrid creatures out into the world to do his bidding.
When we are confronted with the reality of evil, we yearn for something to help us believe in the power of good. But in order to make the power of good convincing, you have to make the power of evil compelling. In “Lord of the Rings,” the evil is plenty powerful. Those dark riders, with their horses pawing the ground and snorting and thundering through the forests, are scary enough to make Frodo’s quest truly heroic.
It’s not hard to see why people of the ancient world resorted to fantastic myths to sustain them. They actually had people thundering through their villages with swords. If I were someone cowering in his hut, I’d want a story telling me it was possible for the good guys to win.
In our present-day war, George Bush and his pals have received some criticism for their simplistic language, referring to the “evil-doers” and the “bad guys.” I think what he has been trying to do is frame the conflict in mythological terms. He’ll leave the complexities to the experts. Confronted with evil on a massive scale, he wants us to know that we will survive.
I think Frodo is going to survive. I haven’t read ahead, but it’s more than the conventions of Hollywood that convince me Frodo will succeed in his quest. I also believe Gandalf will be back. He fell to his apparent doom in part one. But he’s a wizard, and he’s got awesome eyebrows.
It seems that the ring saga has replaced the Star Wars saga as the latest cinematic myth of our popular culture. It’s only fitting since Tolkien came first. In his story, the dark side is even darker, but the quest will continue.
This is David Moats from Middlebury.
–David Moats is the Editorial Page Editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing.