Sunday, January 3, 2010

When the courage of men fails

I find it amazing how many people now harbor an affection for Lord of the Rings. True, a large fraction of female viewers were solely devoted to Legolas the elf when the movies premiered, but I daresay that most of the fans are true. What makes this story so compelling? Why are we willing to sit through hour after hour of fictitious creatures and places? True, the cinematography is outstanding and the landscapes breathtaking. But we all know that few people will sit through amateur film festivals or hours of the travel channel for these reasons. No, it is the story, and the characters, that keep us coming back.

TNT has shown all three LOTR movies this weekend. (One each day; all three at once has a way of leaving one in a sort of Middle Earth-induced coma.) Watching them all in sequence, I find it amazing how dark the movies really are. The characters run into problem after problem, with only brief victories to puncture their constant trials.

And yet, the darkest, most hopeless story of all, that of Frodo and Sam, is also the most compelling. These two Hobbits have little idea of where they are and where they are going. They have never been outside their homeland before, and their only guide is a vile creature who sabotages them every step of the way. Not only are they constantly in danger of straying off course or being ambushed by the enemy, but they have to carry their greatest and most dangerous enemy with them at all times, a ring which corrupts them from within. They travel miles through bleak, misty marsh, climb desolate mountains, and escape from a city under siege. They face constant discouragement and disillusionment. I love the artistry in how the movies portray almost every scene of them after the breaking of the Fellowship as dreary and foreboding. Sam and Frodo are constantly surrounded by dark stones, towering landscapes that dwarf them, and other shadowy, ominous surroundings.

The message is meant to be depressing. The tale is meant to sound hopeless- nothing goes right for these two characters. And yet they keep trying. They keep going, they keep walking, though they do not know the way. Sam knows Frodo is losing his trust in him, yet he does not leave. Frodo finds his very being changed by a burden that he did not ask for, yet he keeps the ring and resists its call with every fiber of his being. The two face constant danger, in stark contrast to their former lives of blissful simplicity in the Shire. And the only thing they have as proof that giving up or leaving the task to someone else is the word of a trusted but mysterious friend, in accordance with the beliefs of a council made of of others they do not know and each have their own best interests in mind.

But despite all of the setbacks, doubts, and dangers, they go on. It is truly inspirational. Although these little Hobbits are heroes, they often fail to act heroic. They are fully human and flawed. They are plagued by fears, selfishness, and temptations. There is nothing perfect or even strikingly selfless. Instead, they seem to be normal, frail, and fallible. The things that make them heroes are the choices they make. Once they leave the Fellowship, no one is there to enforce their mission. The Hobbits choose to continue of their own accord. They do not give in to temptation, pain, fatigue, or fear. This is why they are heroes.

Makes me feel kind of guilty for complaining about my own life. :)

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