I'd been meaning to wait a bit longer on re-visiting Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings series. Until after I got around to watching The Hobbit trilogy or until I got around to upgrading to Blu-ray. But it just seemed like the time.
I confess I might have heard an unusually high number of references to The Eye of Sauron in the last month.
Now, I have a handful of thoughts I'm just going to throw against the wall here.
In terms of The Hobbit trilogy, not having seen it, I can't help wondering how the more epic scale they went with for it affects the early scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring, where the adventure referred to in Bilbo's past seems clearly to be the more quaint adventure of the original book rather than a three-movie epic of its own.
I enjoyed revisiting them. While moments reminded me of the time I was eagerly anticipating these movies, for the most part it's kind of sunk into my world as part of my story atmosphere, a thing that simply exists outside of a time in which it was discovered.
That's kind of necessary, because I find it thematically troubling. Jackson tones down much of the symbolism, or smooths the edges on it, for a modern audience. The specifics may vary, but I think that's the essence of what causes friction for many Tolkien enthusiasts, but it frankly makes them work better for me. As much as I enjoyed the books, there were elements of it that keep me at a distance.
The Ring of Evil by Isaac Asimov gives an interesting take on the issue of The One Ring as technology, "Those who inherit the traditions of a ruling class (as Tolkien did) are too aware of the past pleasantness of life, and too unaware of the nightmare that filled it just beyond the borders of the manor house."
I'm also more sensitive than I once was to the sci-fi/fantasy notion of blood curses and bonds and racial identity than I was before. They're all ideas that don't fit well into my worldview, but continue to color sci-fi/fantasy now, from the Star Wars obsession with the Skywalker family line - I maintain a cautious hope that Rian Johnson will twist our expectations on how that will precede in future episodes, although J.J. Abrams certainly seemed very much to be doubling down on it in The Force Awakens - and Star Trek has tried in recent times to complicate their races, but they remain built on a foundation of each of them having intrinsic qualities based on their racial identities.
A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones is good example, to my view, of how to tell stories like that in a modern age. Many of those kinds of assumptions exist in the world of Westeros, but they do not feel like textual assumptions that are taken as authorial givens that we are expected to follow along with. I'm sure there are many others I'm not thinking of or have not encountered.
Jackson, for all he does do, does follow these assumptions of an earlier age and only, as I said, smooths the edges on them. I suspect anything that filed them away completely would be difficult to recognize as "The Lord of the Rings".
The very fact of Hobbits, who are consistently held to a racial identity that our heroes must struggle against and whose heroism is in part a celebration of their ability to rise above that racial identity in order to be a part of the great struggle of the story.
But it is important to remember what's in the stories we tell ourselves and tell our children. They do come to be how we view our world.
With that being said, there's in there that's very worthwhile in those terms. The heroism of the characters, their rising above their expectations of themselves and their willingness to sacrifice for the greater good are tremendous things that are always stories worth telling ourselves about.
"'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo.
"'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'"
I'll wrap up on the ending. I've frankly always found the brouhaha over the supposed multiple endings of The Return of the King to be ludicrous. Certainly, if a nine (or twelve) hour saga has a bit of denouement coming as part of it and none of it in The Return of the King feels unnecessary to me. That said, watching this time, I do see that each of the scenes in the movie does feel like it was conceived and structured to be the last scene, like the credits could rise on them and feel right. So, it at least makes sense to me now, even if I still don't agree.