An Unexpected Journey”
To the aficionado, this is a spectacular
3-D epic. To the uninitiated and
disinterested, it would be about as exciting as watching two sci-fi nerds play
“Dungeons and Dragons”: enormously
contrived, and bewilderingly deployed.
According to this screenplay, based on
J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary classic, the Dwarves once enjoyed a prosperous
society with a thriving economy, but alas, the leaders got greedy, and then
everybody paid the price (stop me if you’ve heard this one).
Ripe for takeover, the Dwarves were run
out of their homeland by the enormous fiery Dragon, who was obsessed with
having their gold, and could not be dissuaded, distracted, or defeated.
Reluctantly, the Dwarves become nomads
and wanderers, albeit still proud warriors, still carrying resentment toward
the Elves for not helping them in their crisis, and longing for their
once-taken-for-granted Camelot. (“They
confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who
speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland”:
Hebrews 11:14. Tolkien himself
said that his themes were intentionally Christian, like his friend, C.S.
Lewis, who wrote the fanciful “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”.)
Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is a wizened old
wizard who wants to recruit Bilbo (Martin Freeman), a safe and secure Hobbit
living contentedly by himself in the country, and unwilling to get involved in
anybody else’s difficulties (Tolkien’s metaphor for America’s default
isolationism?). But once Bilbo does
decide to go with the Dwarves on their adventure, he proves to be, though
initially unimpressive, full of courage and resourcefulness.
Along the way, Gandalf intones solemn
morality lessons, such as sometimes the best use of a weapon is deciding when
not to use it (Tolkien, a veteran of the brutal trench warfare of World War
One, said that by 1918 all his friends were dead). Let’s see, then there’s
a little carriage pulled by jackrabbits, a coven of bad guys riding snarling
wolves, a host of giant rescuing harpy/eagles, a battle in the deep
underground involving the slaying of unknown legions of combatants, but still
the violence is unceasing (the 20th century comes to mind). There
are Goblins, Orcs, and Wargs; a veritable procession of mythical creatures,
but alas, though fascinating, frustratingly unexplained, which the non-“Lord
of the Rings” devotees will just have to appreciate for what they are:
fantastic creative inventions.
Bilbo eventually meets Gollum, the
bipolar little preening demi-midget who intrigues and annoys simultaneously,
and that forlorn encounter leads to the discovery of the magic ring, which
helpfully makes Bilbo invisible to his enemies and allows him to escape
(shades of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak).
Well, here’s a “Never Never Land”
that is much more dangerous than Peter Pan ever envisioned, and violent, also.
(“Peter Pan” was yet another whimsical fantasy written by yet
another Englishman in the same time period.) But it’s not so much a
destination as a journey, anyway, and Bilbo, in undertaking his unforgettable
discovery pilgrimage, at least does something more interesting than sit by
himself in his favorite armchair by the fire and read his books. And perhaps
writing this classic saga was the way Professor Tolkien prevented himself from
doing the same.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.
Stephens’ Presbyterian Church,