On the Fly: December 21


If you haven’t seen The Hobbit yet, and liked The Lord of the Rings even a little bit, then quit waiting! I’m still skeptical of what the other two movies will have in them, but this first installment is more than I could have hoped for out of the film. In true fashion Peter Jackson has crafted another epic so faithful to the printed word his movie is based upon–particularly the spirit of the story and the humor.

I have a deep attachment to the book, but not just because it is my favorite. It is the light-hearted treasure hunt adventure that proceeds the other three films. I am particularly fond of the way Tolkien wrote the novel. Occasionally he breaks the narrative to speak directly to the reader and often with quite comical results. Despite the fantastical elements and exotic peoples that are prevalent throughout the piece The Hobbit is the story of an everyman. The hobbit in question, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, is plucked one sunny morning from his home and all of his creature comforts–from his armchair and pipe to his garden and recently painted front door–are stripped away from him as he sets out on an adventure. His wizard friend Gandalf secretly hopes the trip will transform him back into a person of curiosity about the world beyond his own door and faith in the goodness of the world. No one may be asked to slay, or steal from, dragons anymore but the idea of anyone overcoming some great obstacle is story that should resonate today even “if only happened in our hearts” as Ian McKellan, who plays Gandalf, says.

Another powerful allegory to our own modern times is the sequel to The Hobbit: The Lord of the Rings. The first movie Jackson released of the trilogy came out a mere three months following the major terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and it became a kind of defense mechanism towards the horror my country felt. The more I learned about the film the more I realized that Tolkien had faced a similar tragedy when he wrote the novels. England’s industrialization and both of the World Wars were events that thoroughly shaped Tolkien’s world. He longed for the days of great heroes past and sought to write a new mythology for his countrymen.

I took up his tale as well. When I moved to Alabama my neighborhood was surrounded on four sides by farm land. Now there is only one small patch of cow pasture. The rolling green fields are covered up by empty brick houses that are products of the housing market crash. I see a reflection of my block in the author’s home of Sarehole and his ideation of it as the destruction of the wizard Sarumen’s residence at Isengard–the trees burned down to build fires for armory forges. I saw another shadow of American troops invading first Afganistan then Iraq in the waves of troops from footage of Tolkien’s troops at the Battle of Somme. This I imagined was creatively easy to morph into the vast battles before the mountains of Mordor. Emotionally, however, I think writing the tale horrifying–as horrifying as a child watching a jetliner crashing into a sky-rise on live television killing civilians instantly.

Though the man has long since passed on I have to say thank you for writing of a world entirely our own in age that was simpler and proving to a child that courage could come from someone so small.

Continuing the retrospective it seems weird that it’s been a full year ago I graduated from college for the second time. It’s the longest I’ve ever been out of school. So much has changed and yet, at the same time, so very little has changed. The idea is surreal, but also so true. Time to keep pushing onwards!

See you next week–on the fly. Merry Christmas folks!

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