I recently watched a superb documentary from the appendices of the Lord of The Rings first film (‘The Fellowship of the Ring’) which reveals Tolkien’s creative process on the backdrop of his thematic interests.
In a mere twenty minutes the documentary lays out a clear and unique perspective on the driving forces behind the creation of one of literature’s most astounding works to date, where the themes are not only timeless but also inspiring.
Among other things we’re given a description of the personal experiences that laid the foundation for Tolkien’s writings. The filmmakers explore his urge to create a mythology for the English people, which they lacked.
We also see how The Hobbit was approved by the publisher’s son (10 years old at the time) who, after reading it, endorsed it as a good children’s book.
We also see how the development of the Lord Of The Rings manuscript was produced on the fly, with no prior scheme or synopsis. We learn that the reason the novel was so successful was that Tolkien devised the story from material borne out of his lifelong obsession with mythology, material he’d been developing throughout his life, giving the story enormous depth.
LOTR took twelve years in all to finish, but it was worth it. Its impact on popular culture was distinct, first in the English-speaking world, then beyond it.
Tolkien made numerous revisions to the manuscript throughout the years, and the documentary skips the fact that the publishers originally edited the novel poorly, resulting in a ton of errors that crept into edition after edition, which took fifty years to weed out, for reasons both technological and systemic. The material was so rich and deep, especially the parts dealing with the back stories and mythology of Middle-earth, which included numerous appendices, plus the languages Tolkien invented from scratch, it was almost impossible to proof it.
LOTR is a phenomenal story, a gigantic novel, no just in length but also scope. It covered death, hope, pluralism, wariness of technology and respect for the earth, to mention but a few themes. The documentary does a good job of highlighting them.
There’s a particularly wonderful insight by one of the documentary’s guests regarding the theme of ‘hope in the face of despair.’
He calls it ‘pagan.’
It’s a marvellous assertion. Tolkien’s work is truly and refreshingly pagan. It’s the reason why his story is so appealing, why his characters work so beautifully. Unlike Christianity and other monotheistic religions, which speak of deliverance in the name of heaven, Middle-earth’s mythology hinges on the determination of the hero to advance despite all hardships, even when hope is lost. In Tolkien’s universe the characters are forced to come to terms with the possibility of total calamity, with no possibility of redemption.
It’s an arrangement that empowers his characters. Rather than diminish in the face of danger, they access that extra something inside them, achieving the impossible.
Thus, they become heroes, the kind who inspire and appeal to people on a realistic rather than theological level.
Tolkien’s world is, in every way, a mythology of humanistic attributes.
At the same time it’s more sublime than any of the religions currently at work on Earth today, savvy of the human condition and the forces that drive it, reaching beyond the usual suspects of guilt, grief, submission, fear, and the need for absolution. It taps into the essential powers of men and women — forces long forgotten and sidelined; a kind of strength that enables them to reach beyond their limitations and achieve ‘deliverance.’
In Tolkien’s world it’s called Triumph.
The documentary also exposes an interesting aspect of evil, analyzing how Tolkien wrote a story in which evil was a personal thing, something that happened when people were reluctant to let go of power.
The word Wraith is analysed to this effect, revealing how Tolkien crafted the idea of a soulless evil creature around the notion of a twisted, angry, seething, morally-vacuum state of being
The word Wraith is analysed to this effect, revealing how Tolkien crafted the idea of a soulless and evil creature around the notion of a twisted, angry, seething, morally-vacuum state of being. Wraith — akin to wrath — akin to writhe — akin to wreath — terms indicative of something bent, swirling and distorted to the point where its structure is flawed, deformed, and corrosive to its surroundings.
Lord Of The Rings is in fact a timeless story, so broad and encompassing in nature that one can apply a myriad of events to it, both personal and general, particular and universal.
Get the DVD and watch this documentary, you won’t regret it. You’ll catch a glimpse of something extraordinary. Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the films, or don’t want to, the documentary’s worth it. It’s an opportunity to witness the dissection and analysis of a legendary mind at work.