I believe in Middle-Earth. No, I don’t call travel agents to book tickets to Rivendell, nor did I attend midnight premieres of Peter Jackson’s films dressed as a Hobbit. I can’t literally see the shining walls of Minas Tirith, but I know Middle-Earth is real, and this I believe.
As a child, I loved reading. In the fourth grade after reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in class, I determined to finish the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia that year—and did. I loved fantasy, so for Christmas during eighth grade, I received a printing of Tolkien’s masterpiece. Though it was difficult to start, I eventually loved it and finished it over the break. I couldn’t believe how rich Tolkien’s creation seemed to my young teen eyes. I had basketball practice the day I finished reading, and I remember taking half-hearted jump shots wondering if King Theoden could reach Gondor before the Orcs breached its gate.
I believe in Middle-Earth, for I was there when the Black Riders swept through the Shire, terrifying the Hobbits into fleeing. I watched Gandalf stand against the Balrog of Moria and cried when Boromir, despite all his flaws, fell defending Merry and Pippin. I had to stop reading for a week before I found the courage to continue. I heard the terrible charge of the Rohirrim, hooves thundering against the ground even as Theoden Adnew rode singing toward his death. I felt the heavy burden of the Ring, the black dust of Mordor, the sharp teeth that closed around Frodo’s finger in that last instant before they perished in the Crack of Doom.
And as I watched, the unlikely became heroes: a dirty, suspicious wanderer; an ancient king and his unwavering niece; a lonely, contemplative tree-giant; and, biggest of all, a small gardener no larger than a human child, who followed his master into death and carried him when he could no longer carry his own burden. The heroes thrust into a dark age and forced to do their hopeful part to delay its power.
Jackson missed it, for in the end his changes failed to appreciate the efforts of the common folk: the strong soldiers of Gondor, the untrained youths and wizened warriors at Helm’s Deep, the Hobbits roused to cleanse their Shire, which remained untouched in the film. The action heroes of Jackson’s imagination remain less vulnerable, less valuable—less human—than Tolkien created them.
Perhaps in no better place than Theoden’s funeral song does Tolkien’s epic remind us of a world in which hope still survives.
“Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day’s rising
He rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
Hope he rekindled and in hope ended;
Over death, over dread, over doom lifted
Out of loss, out of life, unto long Glory.”
This I believe.
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