I actually don’t like high fantasy, with one glaring exception. When I was fifteen years old, I was introduced to Lord Of The Rings. I read it in a week (between school exams), and fell utterly in love.
I tried other high fantasy novels after that and hated them. They all seemed derivative — faint copies of Tolkein at best. To this day, I find high fantasy painful to read, and generally avoid it. Although I confess I did enjoy watching George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones series — but there wasn’t a single elf to be seen, so I could let my guard down a little.
The Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, I used to read every year — up until ten years ago, when a miracle happened: the first of The Lord Of The Rings movies was released.
I had watched previous attempts at filming The Lord of the Rings, and they were, one and all, horrendous. So I settled into my movie theatre seat with some trepidation. What could a little New Zealand movie company do better than all those other revolting attempts? And yes, there was some cultural bias there, too. I’m Australian, and there’s that Australian/New Zealand thing going on.
I think I had tears in my eyes ten minutes into the movie.
It was perfect.
Oh, yes, they’d taken liberties with the storyline — they’d had to, to get it onto film inside three hours, but they’d done it in such a way that it didn’t offend people like me that knew Tolkein backwards. And they had used original Tolkein illustrators like Allan Lee to get exactly the same feel and look as the books. The same images, brought to life in three dimensions.
I had to remember to breathe for most of that first time through the movie.
[And my husband Mark almost got himself killed by starting to snore, twenty minutes in. It wasn’t just me that wanted to wield the axe, either. All three of my kids are fantasy fans. They were ready to committ murder, too!]
Over the next three years, the three installments of the book were released. Also, the three extended DVD editions of the movies were released a year later. And they were really worth watching — especially the twenty hours worth of special features that come with them. Since the DVD editions came out, I and any of my kids that have the time to spare watch the full movie and as much of the special features as we can squeeze in, once a year around Christmas time.
As I’m home convalescing from my hospital stay right now, I did my annual run through the movie over the last couple of days (it usually takes a week or so, but I have the time to spare right now).
It’s actually been a couple of years since I’ve seen it. Last year we missed the run because of a death in the family and other family upsets right at Christmas time. So this time I got to see the movie with even more appreciative eyes. It just doesn’t ever seem to get stale.
I’ve written about Aragorn before in these Pulse Pause Moment posts. But having just watched the movie again made me want to give him an encore moment. He’s such a deliciously complex, deeply conflicted, honourable and wonderful romantic hero.
He has a perfect character arc, both in the book and in the movie. Now, that may make your eyes roll if you’re a reader and not a writer, and not at all interested in the technicalities of writing. But here’s the interesting thing. I’ve read enough high fantasy to know that finding perfectly “round”, fully formed characters that have completely developed arcs across the length of the storyline is fairly unusual — or
used to be. And you have to remember that The Lord of the Rings was written during World World II, so it’s very old. Often, the characters are tropes and archetypes, playing out roles on a fantasy chessboard for the reader to delight in the fantasy world, not a gritty character play.
The fact that Aragorn was fully fleshed out, with his own complex character storyline developed throughout the story makes it a bonus for the reader. It makes Aragorn a far more interesting character on the page. It gives him emotions and motivations…and conflicts.
I am a hopeless romance fan. If there’s a hint of a romance in a movie, my antennae twitches. And while Aragorn does get a fully drawn romance in The Lord of The Rings, surprisingly, it is not the romance that gives me pulse pausing
moments with Aragorn. Yes, it’s a lovely romance, and she’s very beautiful, but quite honestly, I never have understood what drew those two together. There was never any hint of fire or passion. But perhaps Tolkein just assumed the reader would fill in the gaps.
What makes me hold my breath with Aragorn are those moments when he’s most sharply conflicted about the crossroads his life is at. He has spent nearly ninety years in hiding as a Ranger of the north, called Strider, while knowing that he is Isildur’s heir, and the last of the bloodline.
Then there is the heart rending moment when Frodo, knowing that the ring is corrupting everyone around him, offers it freely to Aragorn to demonstrate how evil it is. Aragorn recognizes the black power of the ring and that he, too, must let Frodo go onto Mordor alone, even though he swore to protect him. It is such a pivotal, powerful moment in the film!
It is also a critical point in Aragorn’s path, too. The courage and strength he shows as a character is astonishing, even though he continues to doubt the wisdom of his decision for days afterwards. Everything he does from that point onwards is to done to directly or indirectly help Frodo on his quest toward Mount Doom.
Then events come to a head and everything depends upon Aragorn taking up a sword and throne he has never wanted. These moments of pressure on Aragorn build and build until the moment Elrond confronts him with the reforged sword of Isildur, telling him Arwen is dying, and her fate is bound to the ring, and Aragorn’s only hope of saving everything now is to take up the sword and his heritage.
This is another wonderful moment…not quite the ultimate crisis point for Aragorn, but the critical decision point for him. From now until Sauron is defeated, Aragorn deliberately uses his status as Isildur’s heir to leverage what power it gives him to hammer home victory against Sauron’s armies, and give Frodo the chance he needs to reach Mount Doom. It’s as if, once he has made the decision and accepted the role, he takes off all the brakes and lets rip for all its worth, determined to help his friends and hold up his promises as he has been working to do all along.
Now, that’s a hero.