Boromir’s desperate struggle to redeem himself by saving Merry and Pippen was my first exposure to “The Lord of the Rings.” I was at a Boy Scout overnight event, and it was with extreme reluctance that I returned the book to its owner when he discovered me reading his copy of “The Two Towers,” some 20 pages in.
The following morning, I pestered my mother into running out to the library and picking up the three books, which I devoured without regard for school, friends or food. That Christmas, a set of the three paperbacks, plus “The Hobbit,” became one of my most prized possessions. The books sparked a love of literature, particularly fantasy, which has never died and, over time, I have become a teller of such tales myself, albeit one who is not fit to sharpen J.R.R. Tolkien’s pencil.
I do not like movies. They are shallow and incompetently written, for the most part, stocked with characters who feature the emotional depth and range of tinned sardines. The plots are absurd – contrived beyond all possible suspension of disbelief, and there is less fantasy in Robert Howard’s entire “Conan” oeuvre than in the average action extravaganza or chick flick.
The sad state of Hollywood only highlights the mind-boggling achievement of Peter Jackson in giving visual life to the epic vision of J.R.R. Tolkien. He shames the arrogant directorial elite by his humble devotion to the written word, and in doing so has raised tenfold the standard expected when translating a book into film. Never again, one hopes, will a Paul Verhoeven or his haughty ilk be permitted to blithely urinate upon a genre classic under the aegis of directorial hubris.
The great accomplishment of Peter Jackson is to have produced a cinematic saga that features more exciting action than “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” more emotional power than “The Godfather” and deeper insight into the nature of Man than “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” All of the book’s great themes are present, including, most importantly, the central Christian message that lies not far beneath the surface of Tolkien’s epic masterpiece.
This is true of the trinity that is the film in its entirety. As to “Return of the King,” Jackson’s particular gifts serve him very well here. His taste for horror underlines the terrible nature of war, which makes the willingness of his heroes to sacrifice themselves for those they love all the more powerful. His humility in approaching the text is echoed by Aragorn, the true king who does not fear to kneel before the least of his subjects, in imitation of one who was not too proud to wash the feet of those who followed him.
The film is not without its flaws. For all that Theoden’s restoration and victorious death were perfect, I was disappointed with the reduction of Faramir and the petty lunacy of Denethor – in the books, a truly tragic figure. And the willingness to sacrifice military verisimilitude for the sake of a single aerial shot was surprising. (A more comprehensive list of personal nitpicks and praise is at Vox Popoli)
Still, these are minor points. Peter Jackson has made a film for all time, but also one that is uniquely apropos today. As John Rhys-Davis, the actor who played Gimli, has said: “I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged. And if they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization.”
Today, our civilization faces just such a challenge, with enemies within and without. America, the champion of the West, is challenged by the orcs of violent Islam, the would-be Sauron that is the United Nations, and its Nazgul – France, Germany, Russia and China. Nor should we forget our globalists in government, who, like Saruman, would betray everything to which they are sworn in an attempt to win the favor of the growing shadow.
We cannot all be Aragorn. But, perhaps we can each strive to be a Frodo, shouldering our lonely burden for the sake of those and that which we love. And we can hope for loyal companions such as the trusty Sam Gamgee, who will walk by our side, always ready to lift us up and carry us when we falter.
In this manner, we will persevere … until the return of the King.