Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Return of the King--J.R.R. Tolkein

photo: book cover from Goodreads site

There's probably not too much I can say here that you didn't already know or think about for yourself--or read on one of the reviews for the other two books.  These are inescapably linked to the Peter Jackson films, which I became more and more impressed with as I read these.  The series ends as well here as it does in the films, and each ending suited each format.  The destruction of the Shire worked well in the books but would've curtailed the films entirely.  Frankly, there's a heightened feeling of revolt in the films that wouldn't have fit here: the inhabitants of the Shire allowed themselves to be taken over by a rather lame Sauroman and an even more lame Wormtongue--with 50s streetcorner ruffians to boot; no way the characters populating the movies would've allowed that to happen.  Jackson wisely left Sauroman and Wormtongue stuck in the Dark Tower in the movies, which is where Tolkein probably should've kept them, too.  It seems as if Tolkein didn't know quite what to do with him once the War of the Ring ended.  Maybe there was a subconscious (which I say only because Tolkein insisted to the end that he never symbolized any of the wars in his books; I don't believe him) connection to the damage done at home when there's a war abroad; no one is nuetral, perhaps.

But the real ending, where Frodo joins Gandalf, Bilbo and the Elves worked much better in the book than I thought it would; I felt it was too abrupt in the movie.  Here it makes sense, actually; Frodo has what is known today as PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), though actually it may not be called that anymore.  Tolkein would've known it as shellshock.  The injury in Frodo's shoulder clearly is meant to mirror the injury done to his psyche by the ring; this is why none of the other characters--such as Aragorn, who has seen much more battle-time than has Frodo--is as injured, excepting perhaps Bilbo, a ring-bearer himself.  The ring has clearly messed with him as well, though his recent mental feebleness may be expected in one about 130 years of age.  As per the comment above, a soldier is never the same at home as he was before he went off to war; that which was special to him in his native land often is not upon his return.  The only solution, sometimes, to find peace--which Frodo insists he needs and is not getting in the Shire--is to move on, to travel and experience other things.  To explore.  Bilbo is foremost an explorer; perhaps Frodo was, too.

It should also not be forgotten that they are the two writers of the Shire (Samwise is due to carry that on, but he hasn't yet).  As such, when a writer is moribound, the solution is to move on to another work, another experience, as each work, large or small, is a journey.  Stick too long to the same thing and you ground yourself.  Samwise was meant (if you buy the fateful attitude of the works) to do just that, to settle down with Rose Cotton, have a family, and tend to the Shire.  The very long work, surprisingly, ends with him, saying to his wife and family, "Well, I'm back."  A soldier come home to stay--but, then again, he didn't have to bear the burden of the Ring for too long.  As Frodo often said, it was his burden to take, his cross to bear, and, like any soldier, the simple bearing of that burden so that others could live their life of mental, emotional and psychological freedom (not to mention political freedom) is perhaps the soldier's greatest sacrifice.  Frodo did that so that Sam could marry and have a family, and say, "Well, I'm home."

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