North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

The Return of the King

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One of the big scores that Rebecca and I got for Christmas was The Lord of the Rings on DVD. That’s plenty good enough, but my mother in law heeded Rebecca and went for the extended version as well. So now we have all three films in their extended cuts, and we finished watching them last night.

I have to tell you that if you are a fan of the films, you simply must see the extended cuts. Each film has just under an hour of new footage, adding about 2.5 hours to the movie. The Fellowship has the least new footage, and I suspect Return of the King has the most. Most of the stuff that is added is very relevant and a lot of it makes the films flow better. This is particularly true in The Return of the King, which I was slightly disappointed with on first seeing. The extended version puts right almost all of the concerns that I had. The final battle at the Black Gate of Mordor is much, much better than in the theatrical release, which was quite incomplete and choppy.

The extra material is also quite good. I especially liked the background material on J.R.R.T. and on the work involved in translating the story from book to film. The Return of the King even dares to mention Tolkien’s deep Christian faith, something conspicuously absent from a lot of the film’s background material. I suppose if they’re spending all this money on the production, the last thing they want to have happen is a religious controversy. Still – if you know about Tolkien’s faith and you know it is hugely interwoven into the story, you will gain a great deal from reading or viewing.

On watching the films again I was struck by Tolkien’s knowledge of mythical story structure. He blends it in so well that on first reading or viewing you may only catch a bit of what is going on. There is an awful lot of parallelism, more than I ever suspected.

  • Frodo and Gollum are obvious parallels, but last night I paid particular attention to Frodo’s admonishments to Sam on his treatment of Gollum. Frodo deeply wants Gollum to be redeemed, for the reason that he knows he is also tainted by his association with the Ring. If Gollum can come back, then so can Frodo. The tragedy is that we know Gollum is doomed, and Frodo will carry the scar for the rest of his days.
  • The Ring has been thought to be many things, but I maintain that the best description is original sin. This would encompass most other readings of the device as well. It is like a Eucharistic wafer, but inverted. It is a slice of Hell, not Heaven.
  • The Elves and Men. The Elves are like the graduating class of Middle Earth, and men are the undergraduates who everyone suspects will not pass the program and certainly not live up the standard set before them.
  • Denethor of Gondor and Theoden of Rohan are both human Kings and they both lose their sons. Denethor and Theoden also have other male heirs, but overlook them. Denethor loses hope and gives in to despair ending in suicide. Theoden is able to find Hope again after the battle at Helm’s Deep, and from that comes the courage to face the battle at Minas Tirith head on, despite terrible odds.
  • Gondor and Rohan can be compared as the city and the country. It seems to me that Tolkien is suggesting that there is something noble about simple country folk, and that urban life has a tendency to decadence. This fits in with his anti industrial stance as well.
  • Aragorn and the sword of Elendil are one of many allusions to Christian mythology. The sword and the people are ‘broken’ and must be remade through the coming of a King.
  • Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom is like Christ’s to Calvary. Compare Frodo stumbling under the ever increasing weight of the Ring with Jesus’ stumbles in The Passion.
  • The beautiful, high note angelic song that accompanies the movie moments in which good tackles evil head on, heedless of the odds (such as Gandalf riding out to turn the Nazgul back from harassing Faramir and the defenders of Osgiliath) has a parallel in the horrible shriek that accompanies the Witch King, the head of the Nazgul.
  • Sacrifice and Hope are the keynotes of the whole work, and these are deeply Christian themes. Boromir dies defending the Fellowship, Frodo thinks the quest will end with his death, Sam gives everything to aid Frodo, and Arwen gives up immortality for a child and a life with Aragorn. Merry and Pippin allow Saruman to think they have the Ring, at great risk to themselves. Gandalf dies fighting the Balrog, so that the others and escape. He didn’t know he would be reborn when he did that.
  • From Arwen’s sacrifice allows the mingling of the best in Elven and human blood, raising the possibility that Arargorn’s race of men can be redeemed. Aragorn’s ancestor Isildur had the chance to destroy the Ring long ago and failed. Isildur and Aragorn can be compared to Adam and Christ.
  • Another parallel involving Aragorn is his unleashing of the damned and dead who are banished under the mountain for the betrayal of the ancient King of Gondor. This is something like Christ descending to the dead. The episode makes me think about the Catholic ideas about Purgatory, Covanents and Forgiveness. I think the film should not have made the dead army as grotesque as they did, as this hinders this aspect of the story.
  • Hope is always rewarded in the film, and despair always punished. Tolkien felt we ought to have a word for the opposite of catastrophe, in which things take a sudden and unexpected turn for the worse. He coined the word Eu-catastrope, joining the word Eucharist to catastrophe because he felt Cavalry was the ultimate example of what looks like a disaster turning unexpectedly into great good.
  • The race of men has to be compared with both the Elves and the Hobbits. The Elves are like Saints or Angels, they are what we aspire to be. The Hobbits are almost as good as the elves, but they are small and humble. I think there is a suggestion here that doing good starts at home, in doing the small things right, and not in grand schemes and engineering.

As you can tell, I enjoyed the heck out of the films and would enjoy any comments readers may have on the film and my observations.

Thanks, Inga.

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Written by Curt

January 1, 2005 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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