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Return of the King – The Film Has a Lot to Live Up To

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Via Glenn-omir, grim tidings from the Return of the King film front: why buy into EITHER the Star Wars OR the Lord of the Rings universe when you can have both?

    A recently leaked trailer for The Return of the King has Tolkien fans outraged over the apparent addition of a new character – Jar-Jaromir. The scene depicted in the trailer shows Jar-Jaromir shouting, “Gondora gonna fallsa”;
    he then trips over a corpse and knocks down a couple of Uruk-hai.

    ….”People complained a lot about Gimli just being there for comic relief,” continued Wilcox. “We answer that criticism by directing the humor through Jar-Jaromir in The Return of the King. There’s this funny scene where Jar-Jaromir decides it’s best to hand the ring over to Sauron, but then he drops it and kicks it into Mount Doom. Hi-larious.”

    ….Director Peter Jackson explained how the Jar-Jaromir character was added after all the other footage had already been shot. “That’s the brilliant thing about digital editing and graphics. We didn’t even imagine Jar-Jaromir in the movie until a couple of weeks ago, but now we can just edit him right into the key scenes. I really think it’s going to be a hit with the toddlers.”

    Jackson added, “I just love it when he shouts, ‘Yousa steala precious from meesa!'” [BBSpot]

I finally finished rereading The Return of the King, about 25 years after the first time I read it. I find it preposterous that the series has been voted the greatest work of literature of the 20th century, or even the millennium by one poll: this is a great story with an amazing depth of mythic detail behind it, not a work of great literature. “Literature” at its greatest shines an uncanny light upon human relationships and exposes something so surprisingly true about ourselves that we stare into space in wonder and even fright. Depth of character and the complexity of relationships is what Tolkien does least well.

What he does almost miraculously well is create an alternative world, people it with solid, if thin, characters, and set them off on a, to slip into reviewer-ese, “ripping good yarn” with a powerful surprise ending and a deeply satisfying set of morals. In conjunction with this tale told of a parallel, pre-firearm, cusp-of-the-Industrial-Revolution earth, the unself-conscious values of honor, courage, commitment, and attachment to kith, kin and the land are presented so naturally and powerfully that by the end of the series we are ready to take up arms and stride purposefully out the door seeking to eviscerate evil, in between draughts of good ale, of course.

So yes, this is a work of magic, an utterly absorbing and transporting story whose final moral is: evil cannot be appeased. It must be despised and ruthlessly defeated – sounds like a Victor Davis Hanson essay, doesn’t it? So fundamental an apprehension of existence has resonance in any era, but it sure fits ours particularly well, doesn’t it.

It is no coincidence that the same “sophisticated” PoMo literary deconstructionists who call Tolkien “simplistic” “intolerant” and “hierarchical” say the same things about America in general, and the American-led War on Terror in particular, because anyone who applied the lessons of The Ring series to our current situation would do about exactly what the Bush administration has done and appears to be ready to do: call it the Fellowship strategy.

Besides having enduring real world resonance, I also know how great Return of the King (and the series in general) is by how much I miss it now that I’m finished reading it. Can’t wait for the movie, which is going to have to be even longer than its predecessors to cover all that needs to be covered to wrap it up right. And I’m pretty sure the part in the about Jar-Jaromir in the beginning of this post was a joke.

UPDATE
Orrin Judd disagrees with Charles Murtaugh and me on our assessment of LOTR as literature in a very thoughtful and persuasive essay – I think it comes down to semantics.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.charlesmurtaugh.com Charlie Murtaugh

    Great post — I totally agree with you about LOTR as non-literary, but still terrific. Not something to assign in school, but it hardly needs to be assigned — it will always find enthusiastic readers.

  • http://slotman.blogspot.com Justin Slotman

    Wait, Eric, you’re saying greatest work of literature in the 20th century while that Salon story that mentions that poll is saying greatest *book*. Which is it?

  • http://slotman.blogspot.com Justin Slotman

    Because, I mean, there’s a difference. I think.

  • Eric Olsen

    The Salon story mentions more than one poll – the point is the meaning of the word “literature.” If it’s just “book” I would have less of an argument with the vote.

  • Zann T. Casper

    I disagree with the above mentioned critic that says LOTR’s is not one of the great works of literature (according to his definition of literature). The author said literature shows us our true character, human relationships, etc.(see paragraph 1). In paragraph two he goes on to say that the movie does contain satisfying morals and values such as honor, courage, commitment, etc. How can you you separate the morals and values and his defintion of literature about character, etc.? It is all intertwined.
    It does not matter what form great literature comes in, whether it be myth, fantasy, or whatever. LOTR’s teaches us good character and meaningful relationships. The whole book is about friendship and human relationships. I do not see how the author of the article can say it does not contain in depth human relationships and in depth character analysis. These things are brought about through the example of the good morals and values that the book contains. LOTR’s is a great example of good literature, maybe not the best but very good.

  • Christian Miller

    Fair comments on the whole – but I what I disagree with is the idea that ‘good literature’ (by which you seem to be reffering exclusively to the novel) _by definition_ explores this or that particular subject. LOTR probably doesn’t tell you much about being a human being, but for me, good writing doesn’t necessarily tell you anything: why not just read a text book? What would be the point of much 20th century poetry? (well, I always found Auden a bit soap-boxy.) Good writing imparts magic and resonance, and I feel Tolkein does that.

  • aziza

    Which time we can see the film of the return of the king

  • http://Scottyp Scotty. P

    Nut Sacks, wrinkly nut sacks

  • Gyazadlebay

    Peter Jackson does a horrible job trying to convert this book into a movie. it has a lot of errors such as tolkien never says the balrog has wings if it had wings it would have came flying out of the abyss and killed the fellowship.
    In the Silmarillion Balrogs ride on dragons so why would a Balrog ride on a dragon if it could already fly?
    “the green plains of(Rohan)the rohirrim stretched away before them to the edge of sight.”The Two Towers III
    If rohan has plains why does it look like a volano erupted and threw all kinds of rocks small and large all over the landscape. When the riders of rohan pass the trio in the two towers is not hiding behind a rock and then jump out at the last minute. They stand in the open plains and throw back they’re hoods and reveal themselves under the majic cloaks they recieved in lorien.The cloaks hide them with majic powers.
    how hard is it to do this in the movie, for real, it only takes a couple of minutes. By failing to do this PT rapes the story of it majical atmosphere. Peter Jackson does a horrible job of converting this book into a movie and fails all the geographical features in the movie.When watching the movie Icant tell where the hell I am at. If i ever see peter jackson will execute extreme and uttermost predudice words against him…

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Whether or not a Balrog has real wings has been fiercely debated since the books were released. For my view, I’ll simply quote from Fellowship (page 322 in the edition I’m holding) immediately after Gandalf tells the Balrog that it cannot pass on the bridge.

    The Balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.

    One of the things I was most looking forward to seeing when the movies came out was how he handled the issue, and I was pleased to see that he gave the Balrog wispy, almost insubstantial, wings – or suggestions of them. It seemed to strike a nice balance.

    Overall the first movie was extremely well done, while the second movie jumped around a little bit too much for my taste. Still, giving the constraints of working with a book that wasn’t particularly concerned about lining up times and so on, I forgive him and quite enjoyed the second film. Also, I’ve heard that the third film is more true to the books than the second, so at least I know already what will happen to the Ring!

    And the very idea of a Jar-Jaromir characters makes me feel ill. 8^)