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Why you need to watch ‘The Lord of the Rings’

| Monday, September 13, 2021

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

People always seem surprised about the excitement on my face whenever “The Lord of the Rings” films are mentioned. Maybe it’s because I’m not the kind of person they have in mind when they imagine the standard “Lord of the Rings” fan. But I need not be to fall in love with this film trilogy. “The Lord of the Rings” is not just for a niche group of fans who like action and lore. It’s a trilogy that every college student and every adult should watch. Put down these three films on your “required viewing” list for the fall.

I’m sure more than a few of you, however, have subconsciously thought of “The Lord of the Rings” as second-rate, as a lesser film that could not truly satisfy your taste for good filmmaking. Are these thoughts true? To this I give an emphatic no and so do the films’ many awards which stand in its favor. To the surprise of many, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy has won seventeen Academy Awards. All three movies were nominated for Best Picture, and the last movie, “The Return of the King,” won this award, along with ten other Oscars, tying only “Ben Hur” and “Titanic” for most Academy Awards ever. So enough thinking “The Lord of the Rings” is a “lower quality” movie. It’s a masterpiece of moviemaking that deserves to be watched by every film lover on the merit of these awards alone.

But to stop there would, of course, be insufficient. An army of accolades makes a film important; it does not make it lovable, beautiful, touching or great. So what makes “The Lord of the Rings” these things? Let’s begin where our three film-length journey starts off: the Shire. It is a pleasantly old-fashioned land of emerald rolling hills with small fields and farms, trees and lakes, country paths and puffs of smoke emitting out of reclining hobbits’ pipes and the hearths of their cozy, warm and modestly elegant homes built into the hills. It is a place of simple yet breathtakingly pure beauty. As we hear the violin and the woodwinds sing and we gaze at Gandalf’s one-horse wooden carriage making its way past the bridges and hills of the Shire, we feel almost as if we belonged there, in this place of light and life where “things are made to endure … passing from one generation to the next.” It all seems too right, as if we were truly meant to live there in that country — to never leave and to never grow old. The Shire seems much more like home than the place we call home. It’s as if it was our home once, as if we had once tasted of that beauty we now desire to behold and that rest our thirsting souls long to enjoy. There is a somewhat similar desire, a similar tugging as we wait for the golden fields of Rohan to be renewed as in the ages of old and wait for the coming of the King of Gondor who will once and for all put all things right.  The Shire, Rohan, Gondor: three realms pregnant with similar yet unique messages and meanings.  They serve to remind us of something we have forgotten. It is a nostalgia for something we have never experienced yet know in an incredibly intimate way. This is how “The Lord of the Rings” wins over our hearts, not by creating its own light but by being a prism through which we can catch a glimpse, or part of a glimpse, of what the light looks like and is. If we stop on the plane of the Shire, Rohan and Gondor, we will miss the true reason why we feel so nostalgic when experiencing these places. As C.S. Lewis said in “The Weight of Glory”:

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past — are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

And what, do you ask, is this “country we have never yet visited”? It is not in Middle Earth, for if we were to gain the Shire or the restored and glorious Gondor, it would perhaps satisfy us for years, maybe decades. But like Bilbo Baggins, the Shire of “The Lord of the Rings” will eventually not be enough for us. And this is because it was not the True Shire but only a model of it that, when compared to the actual thing, looks like a crude caricature. But that does not mean we should throw away Tolkien’s Shire, for it reminds us of the True Shire, the Paradise man once enjoyed, is now banished from, and that will be made anew and presented to those who eagerly await the rule of the True King of the True Gondor.  

“The Lord of the Rings” is not a perfect series. It has its faults and things that could be added and taken away. But it speaks to us, with all its imperfections and foibles, of something that cuts to the core of who we are and of ultimate reality itself. Making “The Lord of the Rings” our guide will undoubtedly lead us into numerous troubles, but when guided rightly, we can know what parts to glean truth from and which parts to throw out. And the truths which convey themselves in “The Lord of the Rings” are strikingly rich and sublime. It is well worth a watch — and a rewatch again and again and again. I don’t think you will regret it.

Andrew Sveda is a junior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science with a supplementary major in theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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