Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Or, I Want To See Mountains Again, Mountains, Gandalf!
“The world is changed,”
The rich and deep voice of the Lady of Light glides toward me.
“I feel it in the water,”
Lady Galadriel, greatest of all living elves, speaks to me as if from ages past.
“I feel it in the Earth,”
My world disappears and I am no longer where I was.
“I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost. For none now live who remember it …”
Great golden words materialise in front of me and for the first time I hear the soulful, yearning song of the One Ring, immensely sad and ancient.
Images dissolve on to the screen and off again and the story narrated comes alive in front of me … or around me, as I am drawn unapologetically into a world I’d only dreamt of.
When a movie moves you somehow, it’s easy to search for some deeper, hidden meaning.
The Fellowship of the Ring had some beautiful themes in it. For example, I think of the loss of innocence it portrayed. There’s an element where Frodo had to grow up a little and in order to do that he had to leave his beautiful and precious Shire.
There was no guaranteed return to the Shire. No promise of survival, even, and yet he left. His leaving began a great journey where he lost his innocence.
When I watched this movie, however, it wasn’t the loss of innocence that struck me. It was neither the danger, toils and frightful adventures, nor the griefs and losses he lived through. Nor was it any one of them that spoke into my life as various scenes did in the other Lord of the Rings movies, although The Fellowship had plenty of moments that moved me (Moria, anyone?).
Rather, it was the emergent whole of the movie. It was stepping from the real world I daily inhabit and into Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth that captured me.
That is the power of this movie for me: the power to transport me so thoroughly to a place and time familiar and archaic all at once. For those few hours that I sit there, I am no longer present in this world breathing its busy air. Rather, for such a brief time, I breathe the clean air of the Shire. I touch the deep green leaves of the gardens of Hobbiton. I watch the wood elves on their final journey to the Grey Havens, feel the air on my cheeks and ride the River Anduin between the mighty Argonath to the Falls of Rauros. I am in Middle Earth and Middle Earth is in me.
In short, I am transported.
That’s the thing I love about this movie. It begs me to believe its version of the world is true. Like two strangers at a party, the movie and I are introduced and discover we have so much to talk about. For a time, while I’m in front of that screen watching that movie, it’s so easy to believe.
It’s not just about the detail, although there is detail to be devoured. Bag End and all its trappings, its warm light and welcome hearth, all invite me to stay and sit a while. I wish I could.
Then there’s the wood elves on the path to Bree. They have an ethereal quality that taps into something inside me – something – that feels so ancient and powerful. If only we could chat. I’m filled with a sense of wonder and am satisfied in much the same way Frodo and Sam are.
We travel into Bree and its cold and wet. I feel lonely and a little frightened but I wish to high heaven that I could explore this town and live there a while, smell its smells, taste its food, meet its people.
We see the beautiful autumn of the elves in Rivendell. Here is an old, old glory and an organic beauty I would gladly immerse myself in forever.
Finally we pass the Argonath. When I first saw them in the movie, they fit my imagined picture so well, it was as if we were now travelling through my own imagination. How can that be? Yet here we were, paddling past giant structures I’d dreamt of seeing in person and now … there they were, looming beyond my imagination and into a word I could almost touch.
Yes, indeed. I was transported to Middle Earth.
As I said, it’s not just about the detail. The details make it so easy to believe and to allow yourself to be transported to this other world for a time. But there’s something more.
It’s something that emerges from the whole. It’s Frodo and Sam and their beautiful relationship. It’s Pippin and Merry determined to live life to the full. It’s Strider in his travel worn clothes. It’s Gandalf and his quiet faith in Frodo. It’s all of these things and more.
I made a promise, Mr. Frodo … A promise.
All of it points to the possibility that Middle Earth could be real. It points to the possibility that I could experience some of its magic. I could be immersed in this world and its people, see the mines of Moria and imagine their tales of jewel miners delving far too deep. Perhaps I could see the mysterious power of the elves for myself, touch the ruins of the mighty people of Nûmenor, become a sojourner in a land fraught with peril and sleep under the stars. Complete with a dirty great root sticking in my back.
With that possibility comes the moment of wonder. It is wonder that gives a movie its magical abilities. It is wonder that draws us in, that reaches out to our heart, tugs at our soul and says, “Close your eyes and believe. For just this moment, be here …”
And in a breath and a sigh, I can escape the perils of Real Earth and exchange them for the perils of Middle Earth.
I’ve only had one brief chance to travel overseas. I’ve dreamt of travelling further afield and for so many years. So many years. But it’s a dream that eludes me. Perhaps it always will, I won’t know until the end. And then I’ll know. In the mean time, there’s Middle Earth.
When I travelled to Siem Reap in Cambodia and wandered the immense ruins of Angkor Tom, that ancient city complex, I was filled over and over again with a sense of wonder. Who lived here? How did they build it? What did it smell like? Look like? Sound like? Was it so foreign from what I know in my little corner of the Southern Hemisphere? I yearned to know what it was like to see it in its prime. There was some internal sense of awe and inner transport that captured me.
That same sense of wonder and curiosity and the feeling of ancient immensity is the feeling I get when I visit Middle Earth. It’s what happens to me when I watch The Fellowship of the Ring. And I don’t even have to travel overseas. Although let’s be honest, I’d jump at the chance to travel to my neighbours over the waters and see their magnificent country.
This sense of wonder was what grips me when walking through Dwarrowdelf with Gandalf and the Fellowship. That sense of immensity and countless ancient lives lived fills me as I watch Gandalf’s staff light up the massive cavern. What was it like in its day?
Tapping in to this sense of wonder are the many textures of emotion. Emotion is the stuff of life and a movie without satisfying emotional connection is bland at best and disastrous at all other times. The Fellowship, as a movie, achieved its success in large part through a tapestry diverse in its emotional texture.
“And so life in the Shire goes on, very much as it has this past age. Full of its own comings and goings, with change coming slowly, if it comes at all. For things are made to endure in the Shire …” Bilbo narrates his own story while Gandalf’s cart crests the hill and enters Hobbiton, where things are made to last. There is a real sense of relaxation and happiness here. Of safety. All is well. All is as it should be.
A dark room. In front of the hearth Gandalf sits, his pipe smoking with the rhythm of the wizard’s own ruminations. “Riddles in the dark,” he mutters. Ominous concern brews on his face.
It’s dark and late as Frodo and his friends enter The Prancing Pony. The inn is full of humans bustling around them and the hobbits are wet and weary. “Gandalf?” says Barliman, the inn keeper. “Gandalf? Oh, yes! I remember! Elderly chap, big, grey beard, pointy hat. Not seen him for six months”. Frodo’s whole being sinks as he glances toward his friends.
The Fellowship emerges from Moria’s gates, less one member. Hobbits collapse on the rock, tears streaming down their face. Gimli weeps the tears of a mighty dwarven warrior. A single tear rolls down Frodo’s face, and I … I weep with them, mournful tears at their loss.
Wonder may not be enough for me to stay in Middle Earth. It may be enough to draw me in, but what keeps me there is the emotional connection I make to the story and the characters in the story.
As they’re moved, so am I. As they’re changed, so am I. Time and again, I can visit their world, watch their lives unfold before me, and share their joys, their pains, their hopes and their adventures.
I have no need to search for a deep or hidden meaning when I watch The Fellowship of the Ring because it’s not about finding something deep in there. It’s about enjoying myself. Enjoying the ride. Enjoying getting to know the characters and stepping inside their journey.
Most of all, it’s about somehow becoming part of their world for a time. We breathe the same air, watch the same sunsets and laugh at the same jokes. For a time, I can enjoy a world not my own and find some alternative from the world that is my own. In short, for a time, I am transported. I could wish for nothing more.