The Ring of Terror
The long-awaited first part of Peter Jackson’s film, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, is not what I expected, but I was not disappointed. Peter Jackson, the director, said that the films were mere entertainment, but Tolkien had called his book a philological game. Both film and book are serious almost beyond endurance; both artists have poured their deepest concerns into their art, and both have been—beyond their imagination—taken up into the currents of history.
The film is darker than the book. There are few moments of bright sunlight in the film; instead we see firelight, torchlight, twilight, night. The mood is more somber. In part this is a result of transforming a narrative into a play. A play focuses upon action, and the action of the play is a tragedy. Limited time forces the loss of the pastoral, the whimsical, and the comic, the incongruities that relieved the darkness of the book. What is left is a story of terror and war, a story that was also at the heart of Tolkien’s life and work.
Reviewers have criticized the greater violence and lesser lyricism of the film. They are correct; the film is darker and more serious than the book. Death is ever-present. Arwen is willing to renounce her immortality to share but one lifetime with Aragorn. Death is a lesser threat to the fellowship than the Ring is, because the Ring inevitably corrupts not only anyone who uses it, but anyone who is around it.
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Leon J. Podles holds a Ph.D. in Old English and Old Icelandic from the University of Virginia and is a senior editor of Touchstone. His latest book is Losing the Good Portion: Why Men Are Alienated from Christianity (St. Augustine's Press, 2020). He and his wife Mary (author of the Touchstone column "A Thousand Words") are the parents of six children. He resides in Baltimore, Maryland.
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