In an interview with “Rings” cast members at the Golden Globe awards, an announcer for E! asked Elijah Wood to describe, “the very special group of fans that formed after Fellowship was released.” The announcer went on to compare them to Star Wars fans in the 80s. Elijah kindly (and correctly) replied that the fans of the Lord of the Rings movies are “people who have read these books for years and are so grateful that someone has finally brought it to the big screen.”
The E! announcer can be somewhat forgiven for his gaffe about the LOTR “special” fans because LOTR has the most eclectic (or if you prefer, diverse) following of any movie I know. Moviegoers for these films range from 60-70 year-old grandparents to children as young as six. They come from many different walks of life. Most would not associate closely with each other outside of the theater. Nevertheless, all are bound in a unique kinship of enthusiasts over the acronym LOTR.
Within this vast fellowship, there are of course various factions. For an outsider, like the people at E!, and even for many insiders, the differences can be bewildering. Therefore, I offer here a category list so all may quickly identify fellow Tolkienites and non-Tolkienites and know how to converse appropriately with all.
Disclaimer: the categories listed below are broad groupings with very general descriptions. Some of these groups will overlap each other. Some may seem misnamed. None are meant to offend or judge but merely to describe.
The first grouping is the Swooning Circle. Members of this category are not limited to teenage girls, contrary to what some may think. These people love the Lord of the Rings movies purely because the cast is so incredibly good looking. They are the people who whistle or catcall anytime Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, Elijah Wood or Viggo Mortensen appear on screen. They can be generally identified in conversations by statements such as, “Did you see when Legolas . . .? I was about to die!” “Liv . . . that girl is HOT! When she draws that sword . . . MMmm!” and “Elijah looks so cute when he’s sad. I love his eyes!” It is best to let these people do all the talking. An occasional, “yes” or “I agree” will suffice for an answer.
The next group is the Action Buffs. These people love Lord of the Rings because it is a wild movie ride with enough of head chopping, chase scenes, and special effects to create an action-lover’s feast. Usually, they like the Two Towers and Return of the King better than the Fellowship. Why? “Two words: more Gollum”.
This category actually encompasses two subcategories: the Die-Hard-Movie-Watchers and the Fantasy Fanatics. The Die-Hards are the people who regularly camp out for weeks before the opening night of a good movie. New Line Cinema is indebted to these people for the Trilogy Tuesday sell-out that happened in a mere 12 hours. Ask them about their experiences camping out. It is usually a great story.
The Fantasy Fanatics, as their name suggests, will watch or read anything in the fantasy/science-fiction realm. They revel not only in Middle-earth, but also in Hogwarts School, in Narnia, and even in a galaxy far far away, or where none have dared to go before. (This is why the E! announcer confused LOTR fans with Star Wars fans.) Many of these are multi-lingual, with elvish as one of their languages. Their conversation weaves between Jedi fights and the Paths of the Dead, from Hermione Granger to Luthien Tinuviel. It is best to have a basic knowledge of Harry Potter, and/or Star Wars to carry on a coherent conversation with these people.
Which brings us to the third group: the Converts. This may be the largest group, though I have no statistical way to prove it. The Converts are those who, prompted by the movies, began reading the books The Lord of the Rings. Before that some saw J.R.R. Tolkien as the Shire hobbits thought of elves: a distant name in a far-off realm, if he existed at all. Others scoffed at the stories, labeling them the stories as mere children’s tales, fantasy, escapism, unreal–therefore not worth reading. The movies changed all that and now they proudly carry tattered copies of the books as they purchase their Return of the King tickets for the third (fourth, fifth) time. “I love the part where . . . .” is probably their most common line in conversation.
The members of the next group began reading Tolkien at a very young age. Enchanted with his descriptions, his details, his languages, they poured over his work for years. Many speak a fluent Sindarin and can recite the annals of the First and Second Ages at the drop of a hat. They stand as sentinels, jealously guarding the purity of Tolkien’s work. These are the Tolkien Connoisseurs, otherwise called Purists. Most are appalled by the liberties Peter Jackson has taken in adapting the story to film and flatly denounce the movies and all who love them as outrageous. They are often known to say, “Tolkien is turning over his grave at what Jackson has done.” With these people it is best to turn the subject to Tolkien’s work, not Jackson’s. You will come away with a much deeper respect for Professor Tolkien and his work along with a yearning to study language and history. It is a very rewarding experience.
Finally, there are the Tolkien Aficionados. Like the Connoisseurs and the Fantasy Fanatics, these people read the Lord of the Rings practically in the cradle. Unlike the Fantasy Fanatics, their tastes in literature and film are not limited to one genre. For some, the Lord of the Rings is the only fantasy work they read. But unlike the Connoisseurs, they have embraced Peter Jackson’s films as enthusiastically as the books. They see it as one man’s interpretation, accept the changes he has made to the storyline, and cheer for the film’s box office success, as well as every award it receives. They can talk on any level about these stories. They can swoon over the actors with the best of them. They can send emails in elvish to their fellow LOTR friends. Their only complaints usually come as wistful longing, “I wish they had put in that line” “I wish we could have seen . . .” “I wish it wasn’t over.”
Over. By November next year, it will be over and all of this will seem like a dream. Fortunately, there will still be websites where Tolkien fans can commiserate their loss and discuss the stories again. There are conferences scheduled to celebrate the Tolkien and his work. The books and movies are there to review over and over again. Best of all, no longer will anyone be ashamed to say they admire the Lord of the Rings stories. Perhaps that is the best gift Peter Jackson has given. People may say what they like about the movies; but no one can deny that they have given new life to the books, so much so that those who once snubbed the Oxford professor now grudgingly acknowledge him as one of the best and most influential writers of the twentieth century. And to that, I do not think Professor Tolkien would turn over in his grave.