I read The Hobbit in third grade. A friend of mine had a teenage brother who’d recently read J.R.R. Tolkien’s books and loved them, so she read them and loved them and wanted to share the love with me.
I liked it. I didn’t love it.
When I gave the book back to my friend and she anxiously handed me the sequel, The Lord of the Rings, I declined.
At that young age I already knew I would never be a fantasy buff, or a sci-fi buff for that matter (I didn’t see the original Star Wars movies until twenty years after their release). I was much more interested in the adventures of Ramona Quimby and The Boxcar Children.
That’s just how I’m wired.
I stand in awe of high fantasy and sci-fi authors’ imagination and vision, but worlds of goblins, dragons, ewoks, trolls, dementors, wizards, aliens, wookies, dwarfs, munchkins, hobbits, unicorns, orcs and elves—unless it’s a human raised by elves trying to find his biological father in New York City—just don’t connect with me very well.
We went and saw The Hobbit this week and it is PHENOMENAL film making for sure. I mean, it was definitely a huge improvement from the creepy 1977 Rankin/Bass version.
The animation was incredible. That king troll’s dangling quintuple chin was 3D nastiness at its finest, but what I struggle with is the inconsistencies. In one instance, the wizard Gandalf releases a magical spell that stuns an entire population of goblins to enable an escape for him and his little gang, then when a hoard of orcs on wolfback lunge for them, Gandalf hikes up his wizard dress and yells, “Run!” like he completely forgot he has magical powers.
Then there’s the time when Gandalf and the gang are trapped on a ledge in a tree that’s hanging by one overexerted root with orcs about to pounce, and Galdalf sends a butterfly to get the ginormous Eagles of the Misty Mountains who fly to their rescue and drop them off approximately one hundred miles from their destination.
Where were these eagles at the beginning of this dangerous and lengthy journey, and why don’t they drop these poor short-legged heroes off a tad closer?
I know, I know.
I’ve heard it all from my kids, “Just enjoy the creativity and cool special effects and stop looking for the flaws! It’s fantasy, just go with it!”
I try, but these are things I struggle with in high fantasy. There’s always some loophole or exception or magical power that can get them out of their troubles, or leave them in it if it serves the story’s purpose.
It bugs me, I’m sorry.
In my opinion, even if it is high fantasy, there still needs to be a certain degree of consistency in magical power usage, mythical creature access, etc. to keep the story human relatable.
But, before all you devout LOTR disciples leave nasty comments, I will tell you that in order to try and relate more to these stories, since I have two more three-hour epics to endure in the future, I did google J.R.R. Tolkien to learn more about the author of these epic tales in hopes that relating to him would help me relate to his stories better.
It did help. Very much, in fact.
Ronald Tolkien, as he was known by his family and friends, lost his father to rheumatic fever as a toddler, then lost his mother to diabetes when he was twelve and was sent to boarding school. Before her death, Ronald’s mother was his educator. She was an excellent teacher and encouraged her son’s love of language, reading, writing, and drawing. Ronald’s love of language is what inspired him to create the languages he used for the different races in his books. One of Ronald’s favorite places as a child was his aunt’s farm which was called Bag End. He loved the peace and security he always felt there. No wonder Bilbo and Frodo were apprehensive to leave their idyllic home and face the dark outer world of Middle Earth.
Tolkien served in both world wars and based the warfare in his books on his experiences as a soldier.
The love affair between the characters Arwen Evenstar and Aragorn was based on Tolkien’s courtship with his wife Edith whom he met at boarding school. Just as the two fantasy characters were separated by race, Ronald and Edith were separated by religion in their youth. Ronald was Catholic and Edith was protestant so Ronald was forbidden by his guardian to have any contact with Edith until after he turned twenty one.
Now I get it.
The wars, the languages, the romances have so much more meaning to me when I know they have roots in the real life of a real person.
Now when I see Arwen Evenstar pining for Aragorn I’ll think of Ronald and how he was forbidden to have any contact with Edith for five years. I’ll think of how he contacted her on the evening of his 21st birthday only to find out she was engaged to someone else because she thought he’d forgotten about her. She immediately broke off her engagement and she and Ronald were married shortly thereafter. Just as Arwen Evenstar became human to be with Aragorn, Edith converted to Catholicism to marry Ronald.
When orcs, goblins, or trolls come rushing over the mountains in droves, I’ll think of a scared young English soldier who coped with the horrors of war by escaping to memories of his innocent days at his aunt’s farm of Bag End.
For these tender connections with J.R.R. Tolkien’s reality, I’ll overlook when and where the magical eagles pick up or drop off hobbits.