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The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 4998 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The world of fantasy is a part of every child's being. From fairies to dragons, from wizards to goblins, the mind has never ceased to wander. As a young boy I took to this imaginary world heartily, and I continue to do so till date. Hence, I was not surprised when I found myself leaning towards The Lord of the Rings as my topic for this paper.

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The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, represented in the set of books known as The Lord of the Rings was written by "the most popular author in history." (White 6) The man that gave us 'Middle-earth', the territory of Sauron, Gandalf the Grey and Frodo Baggins of the Shire is none other than Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973).

I am studying The Lord of the Rings trilogy to help understand what it has contributed to the film fraternity and the literary world. Clearly, I have been a Tolkien fan ever since I laid my hands on the first book of this epic trilogy. The reason I have chosen to study this is because I would like to try to unlock how a fictional epic saga like The Lord of the Rings can influence both these fields on a global scale. I realized soon enough that this would be a challenge, but after reading several literary texts by different academicians I was determined to give it a shot.

J. R. R. Tolkien is known the world over primarily for his achievements as a writer of fantasy and the creator of The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson (1961), on the other hand, who is a writer, producer, actor and screenwriter, has been involved in projects other than fantasy which have also won him praise. However, it was Jackson's transformation of a 'trio of books' into a 'trio of films' that won him significant appraisal. The journey of this transformation began in 1998.

Jackson reveals that most fans of The Lord of the Rings were probably not familiar with his earlier works and may have the impression that he "popped out of nowhere and was suddenly directing this huge movie-project." (Sibley vii) While researching on this topic I have gathered that most of his colleagues think of his original vision as his greatest asset. Having watched a few of Jackson's other films I can say that he has a determination to showcase even an ordinary story in a very extraordinary way.

As mentioned in Studying the Event Film: The Lord of the Rings, Jackson first mentions to Miramax of his interest in The Lord of the Rings in 1995. By July of 1998 Miramax decides to make one film out of The Lord of the Rings after which Jackson goes on to find New Line who agrees on a three part film. Shooting for the movie starts the following year, and by the end of 2003 Tolkien's most popular The Lord of the Rings is made available to the film audience in totality. (Margolis et al xix-xx)

Jackson took to Tolkien's Middle-earth, in all its glamour, very passionately, even obsessively. He says that this was mainly the reason behind why Jackson kept pushing his filmmaking skills to a level high enough to direct such an epic drama. His goal was to make Middle-earth look like it was "shot on location" (Mathijs and Pomerance 2). As told to Sibley, Jackson confessed that it took him around ten years of making films and learning enough about film politics to give him the skill base he needed to tackle this particular project, apart from the twenty years working on amateur projects. (viii)

Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was the "longest work of Fantasy ever published." (White 89) He began developing The Fellowship of the Ring soon after The Hobbit in 1937, but it was not until 1954 that he published this first part of The Lord of the Rings. Here, Frodo Baggins, the hobbit, sets out on his quest to destroy the all-powerful 'One Ring' with wizard Gandalf the Grey as his guide, along with a protective fellowship drawn from various Middle-earth races. The book took the world by storm and had people from all age groups spellbound.

In the 'Foreward' section of this first book Tolkien writes, "Those who had asked for more information about Hobbits eventually got it, but they had to wait a long time; for the composition of The Lord of the Rings went on at intervals during the years 1936 to 1949, a period in which I had many duties that I did not neglect and many other interests as a learner and teacher that often absorbed me." (5) White expresses this development as a transition from a vague sequel into an independent and full-blown creation in which, he says, the effort was packed with "delays and retrogressive decisions" (171).

The second book in The Lord of the Rings series, The Two Towers, was also published in 1954, a few months after the first. The tale continues with how each member of the fellowship fared "after the breaking of their fellowship, until the coming of the great Darkness and the outbreak of the War of the Ring" (Tolkien 10). The third and last part of the series was named The Return of the King which was first published in October, 1955. It is quite possible that Tolkien thought this name appropriate since the saga ends with Aragorn ruling over Gondor, rightfully crowning him King. Tolkien ends this grand narrative with good winning over evil, revealing the opposing strategies of Gandalf and Sauron (The Dark Lord of Mordor), "until the final catastrophe and the end of the great darkness." (Tolkien 13)

The concept of Middle-earth is one of awe. Being a philologist and a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University J. R. R. Tolkien had extensive knowledge of languages, ancient cultures and mythology. His imaginative mind led him to create the world of Middle-earth "which would ultimately help launch the science fiction and fantasy cultural revolution that has swept western civilization since the 1960s." (Martinez) In his article, The World of Middle Earth, Martinez writes that the name 'Middle-earth' is itself an ancient archaic name for the world of Men.

This world created by Tolkien was as real and complex as our own. Tolkien wanted to make his imaginary world so convincing that the reader could believe in it so much as to believe it as actual history. For this reason he involved himself in map-making, creating endless charts marking dates and events, and even went to the extent of creating his many invented languages. (Foster 1) He carefully manifested a framework of familiar geography and climate, beasts and birds enabling the reader to walk "through any Middle-earth landscape with a security of recognition that woos him on to believe in everything that happens." (Kocher 2) So much was his dedication for perfecting familiarity that Tolkien took the trouble of naming heavenly bodies such as the 'Great Bear' as 'The Sickle', and planet Mars as 'Red Borgil'. (Kocher 7)

For instance, if we were to take the hobbits into consideration, the 'prologue' of The Lord of the Rings informs the reader that they are our distant relatives even though the exact nature of this blood kingship is lost in time. Middle-earth, the land of hobbits, men and manlike creatures, among many others, is our Earth as it was long ago. The Shire has been described as a small but beautiful and fruitful land, beloved by its inhabitants (the hobbits), where an extensive agricultural system thrives avoiding the ruthless ways of an industrial economy. Kocher compares the Shire, which is on the 'North-West of the Old World', to northwestern Europe primarily because of its climate and skies, and farmland and valleys. (4)

Irrespective of whether one is a fantasy genre fan or not, no one can deny that "'Tolkien is Hobbit forming'". (White 224) I first read The Fellowship of the Ring at age fifteen, and I have unknowingly read all the three volumes several times. With every read of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings I find myself more deeply involved in his "mythopoesis" (Hart and Khovacs 26), a term often defined as 'literary myth'. This mythopoeia, according to Tolkien, is easiest to attain using the "fantasy/fairy tale" (Hart and Khovacs 38) genre.

The Lord of the Rings was readily adopted by the 'hippies' in the 1960s. If one delves into this further one can observe that it is not difficult to see how Tolkien had a major influence on them. As White writes, "It is set in an alternative reality in which orthodox religion plays no part, where magic makes things happen." (224) This book had a publicity and attraction beyond 'hippies'. It was read by people from all age brackets, from all parts of the world, and from different cultural backgrounds. Today, if one were to type the words 'Tolkien' or The Lord of the Rings into a search engine, at least half a million sites would be displayed. Therefore, it is no surprise that Tolkien's fantasy has spawned host of imitators.

Soon after The Lord of the Rings was made available to the world, Tolkien found himself at the centre of all things media, as a cult figure; he was somewhat of a 'guru'. He received appreciation from world famous personalities including Members of Parliament. White notes that even though Tolkien was delighted by the popularity of his work he was more than a little disturbed by the reactions of some of his readers. He was stunned to hear that a ten year old boy who played Frodo in a dramatization of The Lord of the Rings could not come out of character for a month. (225)

Jackson's film version of this classic series has also held wide acclaim in both, the popular and the academic eye. As Kellner states, "The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been the most popular, acclaimed, and fetishized film cycle of the Third Millennium and has intensified and expanded Tolkien readership for the novels that are the basis of the cinematic epic, while generating a devoted following for the films." (Mathijs and Pomerance 17)

Digital technology is at the heart of The Lord of the Rings, and it was this technological advancement that was a major factor in its success. As mentioned in Studying the Event Film: The Lord of the Rings, various software developments such as the FastSCAN technology and Massive (Multiple Agent Simulation System in Virtual Environment) have made it easier to produce films on the scale of The Lord of the Rings. (3)

Almost as soon as Jackson released The Fellowship of the Ring, gaming companies released high graphic video games based on the film. Posters, DVDs, music CDs, toys and such sold extensively. Even the New Zealand government, "once it got on board The Lord of the Rings project, was determined to lever as much economic benefit as possible from its investment." (Margolis et al 10) For example, Air New Zealand painted various characters from the films on their planes and New Zealand Post issued both international and domestic stamps depicting places as they appeared in the films. (Margolis et al 10)

Not only is The Lord of the Rings an entertainment marvel, it is also being taught as a subject in universities all around the world. I, for one, have selected The Lord of the Rings as my academic paper. There are endless books, articles, journals and online databases devoted to this topic. Given the bubbling global fan discourse and the pervasive conviction that Jackson has accomplished something magnificent and significant, it is not a surprise that much of The Lord of the Rings has become the subject of academic literary criticism.

National Geographic has made an attempt to link The Lord of the Rings to American frontier mythology and to presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As Mathijs and Pomerance have noted, an academic discussion list for a selected group of cultural studies scholars consisted of all things gendered, ethnic, classed, religious, ideological and methodological in reading the trilogy. (3-4) As mentioned earlier, Tolkien wanted to associate his fantasy world with our own. For this purpose, it has led me to believe that those that write about The Lord of the Rings books and/or films attempt to make a connection between The Lord of the Rings and world events.

In recent times links have also been made between The Lord of the Rings film texts and contemporary political concerns like "totalitarianism, family, ecology, technology, patriarchy, and war and terror". (Mathijs and Pomerance 7) A quick browsing through of such articles/journals will lead you to see this link; a departure from a world based on craftsmanship, and an eco-friendly environment, to a world based on high technology procedures, industrial pollution, and new divisions of labour and corrupt governments.

As Isaacs writes, Tolkien's popularity was not fostered by the mass media; it grew from appeals of his work itself and was simply reported in the media. His work did not involve any promotion, nor was there a critical bandwagon either. (1) The initial reviewers were full of praise but they also had a lot of contradictions and questions, specifically about genre. Over the years subsequent reviewers kept the praises coming and began answering some of the questions. I would think that answering some of the basic questions would help understand Tolkien's take on matters such as genre, influences, relationships, and the like.

Humphrey Carpenter reveals that Tolkien regarded himself as a 'discoverer of legend' and not as an 'inventor of story'. (Nitzsche 1) Selling over a 100 million copies worldwide (……..) The Lord of the Rings volume is still strongly demanded in the market. However, some critics have been very vocal to dismiss this volume as "'balderdash', 'juvenile trash'" (Shippey 307) and confidently stated that this is not a work which many adults will read more than once.

Jackson too has had both positive and negative responses to his trilogy. Andrew O'Hehir says that, Tolkien's mournful, melancholic tone was captured with authoritative vigour in the films. He

translated "the best-loved fantasy novel of our age into a commanding screen adventure, one with a sense of human terror and danger and grit under its nails, one that makes Harry Potter and

Luke Skywalker look like the feeble wraiths they are." (136)

All of the above is a brief introduction to the different areas that I will be elaborating on, in context of The Lord of the Rings. I hope to be able to address and answer some questions that I have

had regarding Middle-earth and its elements.

Born on the 3rd of January, 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was the first child and the elder son of English parents Arthur Reuel Tolkien, a banker, and Mabel

Suffield Tolkien. (Crabbe 3) Growing up sturdy and handsome, with light hair and blue eyes, Ronald (as he was then most popularly called) was always an avid reader who liked reading mostly

tales and myths of American Indians and of fairy tales.

For him, fantasies about dragons and ogres became more distinctive as he read. His mother introduced him to many of the great children's books of the day like Alice in Wonderland, The Pied

Piper and Treasure Island. (White 20) Under his mother's guidance he also developed a distinctive style of handwriting that stayed with him throughout his life, ultimately cultivating his talent in

drawing. As Crabbe notes, his precise lettering and talent for drawing, especially landscapes, contributed to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when he began to illustrate his fictions. (5)

In 1894, Tolkien had company as mother Mabel gave birth to a baby boy they named Hilary Arthur Reuel Tolkien. By the time Hilary was three the brothers were playing in the fields that

surrounded the house, going on long adventurous walks. Without a father figure the only male company they had was each other, and not surprisingly became exceptionally close to their

mother. The three Tolkiens thus shared an unusually strong bond. It is noted that the boys fantasized that a local farmer was an evil wizard who wanted to turn this peaceful English countryside

into a theme park where evil wizards such as himself struggled for control of the land. The Tolkien brothers would wander into the local woods which they called 'strange lands' to protect the

innocent against the bad. (White 19)

By the age of four, Tolkien entered a new phase in life. This was caused due to the family shifting homes from Bloemfontein to Birmingham, England, one of the British Empire's powerhouses

of the time. The wilderness and the distant horizon were replaced by an industrial 'jungle', terraced houses, concrete backyards and smoke of the local factories. (White 18) Tolkien was brought

up mostly in a quiet English village called Sarehole. This friendly, old fashioned and pleasant pastoral village with rural inhabitants helped shaped Tolkien's vision of the Shire and its inhabitants.

One of the most tragic events in Tolkien's childhood was the death of his mother, in the fall of 1904, before he was twelve. He never forgave his relatives for sending his mother to an early

grave and was convinced that their rejection of his mother's conversion to the Catholic Church worsened her illness. He was sure that she died young because of this mental pain. Nonetheless,

he cherished her memory and never forgot that she had introduced him to his "Roman Catholic religious faith and to the study of languages, both of which, in very different ways sustained him

all his life." (Stanton 3)

There is a hidden message that I believe Tolkien was trying to address in The Lord of the Rings. In The Fellowship of the Ring, we read that the fellowship begins its mission on 25 December. By

the third part of the volume we gather that the day Frodo succeeds in destroying the ring is 25 March. According to old English tradition we know that 25 December was the date when Jesus

Christ was born, and 25 March was the date of the first Good Friday (Christ's crucifixion). Tolkien maintains that there is no specific Christianity in his fiction writings but one can sense that the

Christian spirit is everywhere.

One of Tolkien's friend said that Tolkien was a very strict Roman Catholic, old fashioned and orthodox. As White writes, "He habitually referred to Christ as 'Our Lord' and possessed an

unshakable conviction in the power of prayer, believing that he had been 'given' stories after praying and that prayers had cured members of his family when they were ill." (208) Along with

religion, his study of ancient languages made him appreciate the concept of myth and culture. With this realization, he could now start to build his own mythology to describe a fictional couture,

an entire fictional universe, the roots of which lay in the languages of the different people of his fantasy realm.

A further incentive to the creation of Middle-earth and its myths was given by the experience of war. During his lifetime, Tolkien witnessed the two greatest wars. For Tolkien being young,

brilliant, and studying languages and books seemed like paradise, but this was shattered by the outbreak of war. He was still an Oxford undergraduate when war was declared against Germany.

In 1916, during World War I, Tolkien served as a signalling officer in the battle of the Somme. (Rosebury 125-6)

Life on the Somme was an endless struggle of day break attacks, night marches and death by German machine guns. Corpses lay everywhere, stinking, mutilated or disfigured, with parts

completely blown away. As Crabbe states, World War I came to symbolize the difference between "the old ways and the modern, between the innocent and the ironic, between youthful hope

and vigor and exhausted acceptance." (15) However it was not war alone that educated Tolkien, for he had learnt at his mother's death that the world can be tragic.

Tolkien writes in the 'Foreward' section of The Lord of the Rings, "One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression….By 1918 all but one of my close

friends were dead." (7) Tolkien's generation had to pay a terrible cost during World War I, and maybe it is for this reason that The Lord of the Rings is somewhat of an anti-war story, among the

many other kind of story it is. He agrees that war was an essential part of the plot but it did not hold any allegorical significance or contemporary political reference whatsoever.

It is necessary to avoid, as Stanton suggests, allegorical readings of The Lord of the Rings: "Mordor is not Nazi Germany, Tom Bombadil's little province is not Switzerland, and so on." (5) In 1945,

Tolkien described World War II as 'the first War of the Machines', noting that it left everyone poorer, many maimed and millions dead, where only one thing triumphant: the Machines. On the

other hand, he described World War I as a war of manpower against machines where the old world was fighting against the new. (Garth 190-1) Many writers have described Tolkien as having a

strong anti-modernist attitude. His son, Christopher Tolkien mentioned that, "'He disliked the modern world,'". (White 208)

It is important to keep in mind that Tolkien was a grown man before the onset of World War I. His thoughts and ideas were products, to some extent of late Victorian culture. They were formed

in an age which was more innocent than ours, and certainly more hopeful. As quoted in Hobbits, Elves, and Wizards: Exploring the Wonders and Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien emphasizes that "I was born in 1892 and lived….in 'the Shire' in a pre-mechanical age." (Stanton 4)

As the First World War ended and life gained normalcy, Tolkien and wife Edith Bratt were parents of a son they named John, and Tolkien secured his first civilian job as a junior editor on the

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) project in 1919. A couple of years later in 1921 Tolkien accepted a position as Reader of English Language at the University of Leeds. (Crabbe 16) Soon again in

1925 Tolkien returned to Oxford, and the year that followed introduced him to another medievalist, C.S. Lewis, most famously known for writing The Chronicles of Narnia, who almost

immediately became "an important source of friendship, stability, and intellectual and creative stimulus for Tolkien." (Crabbe 19)

Tolkien and Lewis were good friends for many years, even though they grew apart in the later years of Lewis's life. Tolkien always credited Lewis's faith in the worth of The Lord of the Rings,

and he maintained that it was due to his insistence that Tolkien eventually completed the work. As fellow members of the Inklings they met weekly at a pub to drink beer, and read and

criticize, among other things, one another's unpublished works. It was these friendly, supportive gatherings that Tolkien absorbed the outlines of social organizations that comprised

his sense of good in his fantasies.

Throughout Tolkien's life, he was drawn into clubs: groups of men who had similar interests and talents. The all-male society of King Edward School provided Tolkien the first 'clubby'

and likeable fellowships that became an important aspect in Tolkien's life and in his fictions. However, of all the clubs to which Tolkien ever belonged, the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS)

was the most important in terms of the effect on his literary imagination. (Crabbe 10)

Tolkien and Lewis had a lot of common conceptions and a few differences in opinion. Both agreed that Christianity was important, though one was Anglican and the other Catholic. They agreed

that myth was important, though one called it 'myth' and other called it 'faery'. They agreed that literary study was important, though one was 'literature' and the other was 'language'. They

regarded 'news' as something fit to be ignored, arguing that the only 'truth' can be found in literature. Here, I would like to particularly honour Tolkien's form of story-telling because of his own

profound faith in 'story' as a vehicle of truth.

Purtill notes that one cannot be certain about whether Tolkien would attempt to picture a life after death in fiction, but he expressed a strong dislike for Lewis's book, Letters to Malcolm, in

which Lewis presents some nonfictional speculations on life after death. (133) Also, in Tolkien's work we have pure fantasy, where 'magic' works directly by wizards and the likes, and not by

means of spirits. In Lewis's fantasy however, we have a fully animistic view, where he creates "disembodied spirits with some characteristics of angels and some of Neoplatonic Intelligences."

(Purtill 107)

Many people have made opinions or guesses concerning the meaning and motives of The Lord of the Rings. To this, Tolkien informs us that the prime motive was the desire of a story-teller to

try his hand at a lengthy story that would hold the readers' attention, amuse them, delight them, excite them or deeply move them. He says that he does not have any intention to put forward

any inner meaning or message through the tale.

In a biographical sketch of Tolkien, White notes that in order for Tolkien to create Middle-earth and its legend he needed more than language excellence. One, he needed the sort of

imagination that could mould languages and transport characters through the fictional realm he created. Two, he needed to be constant with his writing, and three, he needed a reason to do it.

(81) Tolkien wanted to create a sort of 'mythology for England' since there had not been any previous mythical tale attached to the land. He was a patriot and he felt that producing and epic was

not only something he could do but something he was trained to do.

Tolkien identified two types of readers: the 'fidelis', the self-identified Christian believer, and the 'fainthearted' which could be easily misinterpreted as the weak and timid reader. He wanted

to target the latter type of reader, which he considered not as 'weak', but as that type of reader who has no theistic faith, or has lost what faith he or she had. Tolkien wanted to reach this

group by the sheer power and grandeur of the story. (Rutledge 3)

Tolkien's view of poetry was formed by his extensive knowledge of Old English literature, Latin and Greek poetry, Old Norse sagas. He wanted to adapt his medieval muse to the Victorian

manner but could not find a contemporary model that sounded extravagant enough for his purposes. Therefore, The Lord of the Rings evolved as a result of his "inability to adjust to the radical

renewal of poetic tradition in the twentieth century." (Giddings 140)

Readers approach The Lord of the Rings from different directions. Some value it as a treasure chest of imaginative languages, while others see it in terms of myth; some view it as a muted

religious statement, and others view it as a modern-day version of heroic fantasy. I found that the story drew me in instantly, and I spent many hours in Middle-earth, and like I mentioned

earlier, I have been back many times since.

Although Tolkien has voiced his opinion on allegory saying "I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence" (as

qtd. in Shippey 161), he has in fact regarded allegory as a legitimate critical tool, a means to clarify critical stands, throughout his career. Helms uses the 1936 Beowulf lecture to explain how

Tolkien attempted allegory to illustrate what he is about as critic. (109) In fact, Tolkien turned to allegory to make what deeply important personal statements about the genre were for him of


Of all the characters in The Lord of the Rings, Harvey writes that hobbits represented the archetypal pre-Industrial Revolution Englishmen with simple needs, goals, and a basic approach to life.

(114) Tolkien has reacted against the idea that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory, and it is not. That is why Tolkien dismissed those who viewed this saga as an allegory of World War II. Firstly, he

points out that he started work on it long before the doom of 1939 had yet come upon the world. Secondly, the relevancy of 'equals' signs were missing. Shippey suggests that one could say

"that the Ring = nuclear weapons, the coalition of Rohan, Gondor and the Shire (etc.) = the Allied powers, Mordor = the Axis powers, all of which has some general plausibility." (163) Here, he

goes on to question what the destruction of the Ring and the refusal to use it equal.

Tolkien says that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory', but one resides in the freedom of the reader and the other in the proposed domination of the author. (Tolkien 7) We can then see

that when he thinks of allegory, he is thinking of philosophy or fiction clad as a story, in which each person and/or event stands for a specific idea/fact of the real world. It must be noted here

that if used in their proper place, either advancing an argument or else constructing brief and personal fables, Tolkien accepted them readily.

At the age of eighty one, after a long and productive career spent largely in literary study, writing and teaching, Tolkien died on September 2, 1973 in the English town

of Bournemouth. (Stanton 3)


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