Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two Thirds of the Lord of the Rings

Well, The Two Towers draws to a close.  Once again, I'd like to praise Robert Inglis's reading, and offer him a lozenge after the orc voices he had to do there at the end.

I understand the love for the LOTR movies.  They're hugely long, yes, but they're gorgeous and lush and rich with their own overblown sprawl.  They have many qualities that I want in a movie.  But I still don't understand the enduring popularity of the books.  There's a good story in there, but I just don't see what this Thing is that has touched SO many people so deeply.

I mean, there's the Everyman of Frodo, saving the world while the big-time heroes just watch his back.  That's got a satisfaction to it.  But honestly, Frodo doesn't get many good scenes.  He just trudges on with dignity while Sam gets to be clever or anxious, make decisions and worry about whether they're right.  Frodo is an object here, and Sam's deeply underrated.

There's a big British class thing going on through the whole thing.  The big people treat the hobbits with a great deal of respect, but hobbits are not fighters, nor scholars, nor much of anything that you'd expect to find on a quest, so there's this odd kind of...condescension, except not really.  The hobbits have status, but they don't have a lot of competence; maybe it's my own angle that looks to competence for status, not the characters--maybe I'm projecting.

One thing that kind of grates me, too, is the Good vs. Evil thing.  I don't know if it's my modern sensibilities or what, but the bad guys are so bad it's almost boring.  Orcs are faceless; what's their motivation? Sauron wants Power, but power to do what?  He doesn't want to rule the world, he wants to lay waste to it.  Why would anyone want to destroy the world?  It's kind of a nihilistic goal, and when it's not even directly stated--he's not threatening to destroy the world, just laying waste to what he does conquer--it doesn't have any dimension.

Also, I can't quite figure out how destroying the ring will turn the tide of anything, since the bad guys seem to be doing just fine so far without the ring.  Though of course, I'm still on the second book.  I have a feeling the return of the king in The Return of the King will make a difference there.  Although, where was the king, anyway?  I mean, it's not like Aragorn was lying around somewhere refusing to take up the mantle of leadership.  He was right there all along, doing the hard work of unglamorously saving the world.

Speaking of Aragorn, though, in a bit of an aside, check out the cover image for the next book.  Is he flashing us some thigh or what?  I kind of love this picture, even though I have to assume he's wearing some tight flesh tone leather pants, not going barelegged beneath his tunic.  Though I do love the notion of his crowning being an opportunity to show off his gams.

I sound really down on the book here, and the truth is that, as I said, it's a good story.  I maintain that the pacing is really odd, and that it reminds me of nothing so much as an ancient Greek epic, but I'm glad I'm reading it.  I really do wish I knew more about the literary landscape of the time, to figure out what about this book makes it such a touchstone. 

Or maybe--and this is quite likely--I just don't get the British Walking Novel.  That is entirely possible, as well.

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