Culture Vulture World Headquarters is abuzz with the joy of the season. The long wait is nearly over, and that which has been the focus of our anticipation is about to arrive. We refer of course to the opening of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the final installment of Peter Jackson’s amazing film of J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic novel about hobbits, wizards, men, elves, dwarves, rings of power and the forces that, in the darkness, bind them. As a teenager living in the wilds of Idaho in 1967, Culture Vulture discovered Tolkien’s trilogy and became obsessed with its tale of the seemingly eternal war between good and evil. The heroism of Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn et al. as they battled against the evils of Saruman, Sauron and Gollum put a mythic perspective on our personal struggles with dangerously ignorant redneck classmates and abysmally small-minded provincial teachers.
Referring to the trilogy, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart … good beyond hope.” And we agree. The intervening years have done nothing to dim our enthusiasm for Tolkien’s tale; indeed, a full reading of the trilogy completed just before the first movie was released nearly three years ago only increased our appreciation for his monumental achievement. One of Tolkien’s stated goals in writing the story was to give England something that would serve as a cohesive mythology of its own. Taken at face value the statement conjures images of someone with, to say the least, delusions of grandeur; how can one man assume to create a national mythology, we ask ourselves. Mythology is the summation of a culture’s folk wisdom, moral code and philosophical attainment passed along orally through symbolic tales illuminating the traditions of its religious history. One guy, be he ever so learned, can’t just sit down and create that, can he?
And the answer is, of course, no, he cannot. And he didn’t. But what the humble old scholar did achieve was something of broader scope than he had intended, or for that matter wanted. He created a mythology for a nation without physical boundaries or temporal limits, a nation of people who acknowledge the existence and power of evil but choose to combat it by adhering to their own innate goodness as they return the source of evil to its place of creation.
Next week: further examination of the symbology of the ring, the quest and the battle.
1. Bo Hansson, Music Inspired by The Lord of the Rings
2. Tangerine Dream, Rubicon
3. Gamelan Semar Pergulingan, Gamelan of the Love God
4. Johann Sebastian Bach, Das Orgelwerk
5. The Ventures, Ventures in Space