There and Back Again : Finding Middle Earth Again Through the Novels

by Oct 28, 2006Reading Room

In the New Line Cinema films of The Lord of the Rings, the avid Tolkien purist will obviously be disappointed in some circumstances. We dearly miss the presence of Tom Bombadil, and we feel righteous indignation at the way characters like Faramir or Galadriel are made darker and scarier. But overall, we Middle-earth classicists were generally pleased and delighted with Peter Jackson’s rendering of a masterpiece epic – it will long be associated with fond memories.

But now the fervor and anticipation that swarmed around the movies has at last faded. Many of the marginal fans, people who were movie-goers but not story-lovers, have nearly forgotten that the Lord of the Rings was ever something worthy of admiration. The websites that were once congested with fan writing, art, and gossip are now almost as bare as the Paths of the Dead. We few loyalists who remain seem very alone, and with Galadriel we echo the opening lines from the Fellowship of the Ring:
“Much that once was, is now lost, for none now live that remember it.”
For indeed, we seem to be the few who keep the world of Hobbits, Men, and Elves alive, while all others have abandoned and forsaken the memory of Tolkien’s work.

But this does not mean that discouragement should take hold. In fact, what it means is that the fans left need to do what we did before the movies popularized the title “Lord of the Rings” – we need to return back to the books themselves! I have been leafing through my old favorite passages once again, and immediately the dormant flames flared up again as I recounted the colorful vigor in those pages. The enchantment of the screen may die down, but the captivating magic of the books never ceases to inspire.

For instance, earlier today I was reviewing the wonderful interchange between Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn when the Fellowship came to Lothlorien. How can this passage not stir a true Tolkien fan to feel pride again? :

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Gimli was obstinate. He planted his feet firmly apart, and laid his hand upon the haft of his axe. ‘I will go forward free,’ he said, ‘or I will go back and seek my own land, where I am known to be true of word, though I perish alone in the wilderness.’

‘You cannot go back,’ said Haldir sternly. ‘Now you have come thus far, you must be brought before the Lord and the Lady. They shall judge you, to hold you or give you leave, as they will. You cannot cross the rivers again, and behind you there are now secret sentinels that you cannot pass. You would be slain before you saw them.’

Gimli drew his axe from his belt. Haldir and his companions bent their bows. ‘A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!’ said Legolas.

‘Come!’ said Aragorn. ‘If I am still to lead this Company, you must do as I bid. It is hard upon the Dwarf to be thus singled out. We will all be blindfold, even Legolas. That will be best, though it will make the journey slow and dull.’

Gimli laughed suddenly. ‘A merry troop of fools we shall look! Will Haldir lead us all on a string, like many blind beggars with one dog? But I will be content, if only Legolas here shares my blindness.’

‘I am an elf and a kinsman here,’ said Legolas, becoming angry in his turn.

‘Now let us cry: “a plague on the stiff necks of Elves!”‘ said Aragorn.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This short passage, seemingly short and meaningless, is just the sort of thing that the movies edited out. But there is so much life and enthusiasm woven into these words. The notion of a serious (albeit lovable) Gimli is so different and fresher than the every comical-relief dwarf from the films. And a sarcastic, pouting Legolas cannot help but bring a smile to the reader who compares Tolkien’s 3-dimensional elf alongside Orlando Bloom’s immaculate and dry portrayal of the Prince of Mirkwood. Legolas and Gimli were respectively for comedy and fangirl captivation in New Line’s movies, but in the books their characters go so much deeper! Gimli, though he never fails to bring a smile, is not the Fellowship’s clown – he is a very steadfast and stubbornly loyal character. And Legolas, who perhaps underwent the most mutation from page to screen, was not a romantic heartthrob, but the elven version of Gimli – a strong and committed warrior, who had a serious, respectful side, but who also was insanely obstinate and stubborn to the point of being ridiculous. As Aragorn points out, both Legolas and Gimli suffer from “stiff necks.”

But lest this essay of mine becomes focused on Elf and Dwarf, I will continue on my main thesis that they serve to illustrate. The characters in the book are much richer and more beloved. The dryness that we fans feel is not post-film letdown, but more probably lack of Tolkien himself. For a short while we became dependant upon Hollywood to satiate our Tolkien cravings – and it more than satisfied for a good duration. But now, three years later, we feel that hunger returning, and we have forgotten how to appease it. Take my advice, pick up your edition of the Fellowship of the Ring, and start reading again today! Even if only a few short passages, like the one I referred to above. The inquisitive reader will find that the glory lives on long after movie-goers forget us. And we are not the last people to wander this world as fans of Tolkien – the legacy lives on. Future readers all around the globe will read and remember, and what’s more, they’ll love! Because the written word is the heart and soul of Middle-earth, and thus that is where we will find Middle-earth.

So to all of you who are sitting back home, moping around as you sadly haunt all the old websites, indulging in self-pity when your friends no longer join you to watch Return of the King for the eighty-second time, and bemoaning to your diary that “nobody likes Lord of the Rings anymore” – get up, stop whining, and find your book! And if you don’t then all I can say is “a plague on your stiff neck!”


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Found in Home 5 Reading Room 5 There and Back Again : Finding Middle Earth Again Through the Novels

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