In a red cloth chair on top of sticky floors and dim lights, my family and I settled into our seats. It was the beginning of a family tradition. We skipped Christmas Eve services that year to see “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” By the time the first movie came out I had read “The Hobbit,” but I never made it to the LOTR series—that came years later along with a bribe from my father to finish the books (after all, I was only 11).
Afterwards my parents bought as much memorabilia they could. You might remember the collectible light-up glasses from Burger King? Those are in our house somewhere. The fact that I still don’t have a replica of Arwen’s evenstar necklace haunts me. Our house isn’t overly nerdy, so our love of LOTR is hidden on bookshelves and in closets. When LOTR ended we thought the tradition was gone, and our love of the myths and legends would go with it. We were wrong.
Millions of fans came to care about LOTR because of the books, but the movies have allowed Tolkien’s work to persist even for those of us who didn’t read them. For all the readers who cried at the inconsistencies of Jackson’s interpretation there were thousands singing his praises. For those of us who came to the movies without foreknowledge we were transported to Middle Earth, by way of New Zealand, and we became entranced. I discovered a beautiful country that I had forgotten, and for many of us it BECAME Middle Earth.
For many, LOTR became the ultimate story of good vs. evil. There are now college courses taught on J.R.R. Tolkien’s work; not just stories in Middle Earth, but his incomplete epic poem about King Arthur, his children’s stories, and his translation of Beowulf. This is because Tolkien created a vast, detailed mythical realm from his imagination. He created cultures for his races along with poetry and histories. He references more than a dozen languages in his epic work. Some of his created words were just nouns: names, places, and things. Some were wholly created languages with all components: grammar rules, diction, alphabets, and translations. While some fans would rather learn Klingon, you can learn to speak Elvish as well as Legolas, if you wish.
A lot has changed in the world since the first LOTR movie came out in 2001: the US elected its first black president, “Doctor Who” was resurrected and rebranded, NASA shut down the space shuttle program, “Smallville” ended its 10-year run, we found and killed Bin Laden, and had six Olympic games all over the world. Four years ago it was announced that we would be able to return to Middle Earth in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Fans across the world groaned aloud that there would be not one but three movies to tell Bilbo’s story.
The truth is movies change books. They become a different story when you don’t think they picked the wrong actor or the dialogue is not the same. Tolkien’s books have a depth and a richness to them that movies can’t capture, but the books are at times dense and hard to get through. The movies have introduced a new generation to these stories and instilled in us a desire to share them with the next. Jackson has brought women into the world of Middle Earth where there were few before. He has shown us how elves move, and the joy and courage of Hobbits and men. The last movie, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” will be released today, and despite what some think, this is not the end of the story. There are plenty more of Tolkien’s works for those who need more of Middle Earth. Our favorite stories don’t leave us, and the heroism of Bilbo and Frodo does not stop as the end credits roll and we flip the last page. As Bilbo says:
- “Roads go ever ever on,
- Over rock and under tree,
- By caves where never sun has shone,
- By streams that never find the sea;
- Over snow by winter sown,
- And through the merry flowers of June,
- Over grass and over stone,
- And under mountains in the moon.
- Roads go ever ever on
- Under cloud and under star,
- Yet feet that wandering have gone
- Turn at last to home afar.
- Eyes that fire and sword have seen
- And horror in the halls of stone
- Look at last on meadows green
- And trees and hills they long have known.”
This is not the end but it is goodbye, until Peter Jackson finds more stories to tell, and we will have our stories, songs, movies, and memorabilia to keep us warm while we wait.
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