What’s interesting about this particular method is that we now agree that it keeps getting better every year. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and asking myself why this is? Is it just because I know it better each time? If so then why am I not bored of it? Is it because the movie is just so wonderful? If so, then why not marathon Harry Potter or Star Wars as I consider those tales to be just as wonderful. Is it because I forget parts? On the contrary, we've gotten pretty good at the Trivial Persuit LotR Movie Trilogy Edition and can cite fun facts like who the five riders were to battle the Uruk-hai then ride out to meet Gandalf at daybreak on the fifth day of the battle at Helm’s Deep, or which of the Hobbits is the ‘tall one’ – so I don’t think we are forgetting too much. On the contrary I put forward that it is in fact the knowing that makes the experience worthwhile.
I teach my students at the University of Texas at Dallas that throughout human history we have told tales that seem to fit certain patterns. Unlikely reluctant heroes with supernatural gifts have taken up the call to adventure in order to gain/destroy the boon on behalf his people, only to face trials beyond belief, grow in the process, face their greatest fears against loss and death, and typically make the ultimate sacrifice in order to defeat evil, then returning home via a magical flight/rebirth saving the world and restoring normalcy. Luke/Harry/Frodo all fit this pattern as to countless others from Neo to Jesus Christ. Joseph Campbell called this the Hero’s Journey. Kal Bashir calls it Monomyth. Others (Like my colleague Frank Turner) have simply called it Epic. Whatever the moniker, the idea of a created world in which we can journey, tell stories, or even play (D&D anyone?) is to me most interesting because we know the ending.
SAMWISE: “I wonder if people will ever say, ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.’ And they’ll say ‘Yes, that’s one of my favorite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad?’ ‘Yes my boy, the most famousest of Hobbits. And that’s saying a lot!’”
FRODO: “You’ve left out one of the chief characters – Samwise the Brave. I want to hear more about Sam. Frodo wouldn’t have gotten very far without him, now would he?”
This rings true to me in a deep way going back to the ancient stories we still tell. It’s the prerogative of every child to interrupt and ask questions of the storyteller. Like young Fred Savage's character asking the grandfather in Princess Bride “Grampa! Grampa! [...] "Who kills Prince Humperdinck? At the end, somebody's got to do it! Is it Inigo? Who?" we all have a deep desire to know how the ancient tales come out in the end, and we think we know how they should, even before we really actually do. But is that right? How can we even resolve a non-linear chaotic storytelling method with a monomythic sensibility? Read on.
So until next year the Lord of the Rings films will go back on the shelf. They will not change, but we will have changed, and thus the viewing will be different, better, and wonderful yet again.
Happy New Year, everybody!
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