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Politically Incorrect

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Then Gandalf said...

I was about 12 years old the first time I read The Lord of the Rings and it immediately became my favorite book. In all the thousands of books I’ve read since then (and I read several every week) that placement hasn’t changed– I still think Tolkien’s epic tale of the fellowship is the greatest story every told. I re-read the book every year or so, and every time I do, I fall in love witah it all over again.

My brothers Joe and Clay are also fans of the book and I sometimes think that story ties us together as family much more than does the shared blood that flows through our veins. We all love it, and we were all excited when we learned that director Peter Jackson was going to make a movie from our all-time favorite novel. We were all apprehensive, as well, wondering if a movie could ever possibly do justice to such an incredibly complex story.

Still, if any theater in a 100 mile radius had been playing a midnight show on the night "The Fellowship of the Ring" (the first movie in the three-part series) opened, I would have tried to be first in line. I was incredibly jealous that both of my brothers had the opportunity to do so. I hated to wait, but when I finally had the chance to see the movie, I wasn’t disappointed. I was enchanted.

Peter Jackson obviously loved the book, and was quite fair to the original story, at least in the first of the trio of movies filmed. The movie wasn’t perfect, and I quite enjoyed my second  trip to see it with my friend Greg, because he had also read the book and we were able to tear apart the scenes where we felt Jackson didn’t quite live up to the original. (For my part, he got Galadriel totally wrong.) The most incredible book of all time resulted in a very good movie— and I would recommend that anyone go see it. And if you’ve seen the movie but haven’t read the book, then read the book. You won’t regret it.

I first got the book from my brother Clay, who got it from our brother Joe, and Joe, he says, first received the story as a wet-behind-the-ears teenager in Viet Nam. He said the guys in his platoon passed their copy around so many times that the pages would barely stay together.

I think I can see the attraction. In middle-earth, the Orcs were the bad guys and everybody knew it. I’m sure that Joe, along with his fellow sky soldiers, probably wished the sometimes 10 and 12 year old Viet Cong pointing AK-47s at them in the jungle were as obviously evil—and maybe if they had been, there would be a lot less nightmares amongst the survivors today.

The Lord of the Rings gained fans among much more than just the soldiers in Viet Nam, however. And it did so because Tolkien planted in the midst of wizards and hobbits and magic rings and Mount Doom a timeless story—the story we all live every day.

This is a book about right and wrong, good and evil, hard work and happiness. It’s about friendship and perseverance, and it’s about understanding that we rarely understand the whole picture of what our lives will be like. “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature when he had a chance!” Frodo exclaims to Gandalf. “Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand,” Gandalf explained. “Pity and Mercy; not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded…”

Would that we all had a wizard in our lives who would remind us that those actions we regret today might well be the turning point toward better things in our lives and even, in some cases, our very salvation when we look back from some future perspective.

The story of Frodo is much more than the story of a ring and a quest. “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice.” I never have looked up who said those words, but I printed off a copy of that quote and keep it hanging on the wall of my office. It’s a reminder I seem to need frequently.

Frodo questions whether he can accomplish the mission he’s been given, and wishes it had been given to someone else. But we don’t get to choose the path we’re given to walk in our life, Gandalf explains to him. We only get to choose how we respond to it, and in those choices our character is built. We all identify with Frodo, who wants to do the right thing even when he’s not sure he has the ability to do it. It’s the same spirit in which we talk about what happened on Flight #93, which crashed to the earth in rural Pennsylvania on September 11. We ask ourselves what we would have done, and wonder if we would have possessed the courage embodied in those two now-famous words, “Let’s roll.”

It wasn’t just Frodo who set out on a quest to destroy the One Ring, of course. It was a party of nine, the Fellowship, and within those numbers lie the realization that none of us walks through life alone. We accomplish what it is we do through the strength and support of those around us—we are all a Fellowship. Unlike Tolkien, most of us have yet to learn that our Fellowship is not always made up of those who are just like us, but that our true strength may lie in the very diversity of the companions we choose to accompany us on our life’s quest.  It may be comforting to surround ourselves with those who think and act and live in the same way that we do ourselves, but it’s stifling, as well. We don’t learn anything from people who know only what we know.

“What beautiful timing,” Greg said, “that this movie should come out at a time when we all really need to see it.” Greg is an optimist—he’s sure that people will hear the messages implicit within the story. I’m not so sure, but on my second visit to watch the movie, the theater was filled with others who were also there for a second time. It seems I’m not the only one who found a home in middle-earth all those years ago, and maybe I’m not the only one who thinks the Shire would be an awfully good place to be living today.


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Landon Otis

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The Lord of the Rings, brothers

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