Greetings, everyone! I hope that holiday preparations has been going swell for all of you this time of year! For those that don’t know, I am currently earning my Master’s in Communication Management/Public Relations and recently completed the fall semester. This past weekend for my Non-Fiction CreativeWriting Course, my final paper was graded a solid 95%, with my overall my final class grade being a 93.85%! I tell you this because the final paper was a personal essay that focused on The Lord of the Rings film Trilogy and how it effected my childhood growing up! It was so much fun writing, that I could not help but share with all of you! My next article on the 8th and 9th chapter of The Silmarillion will be published soon, but before we go down that dark path, I hope you enjoy a more in-depth look on my life in the early 2000’s when Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings adaptation dominated theaters. Enjoy!
I remember going through my dad’s 400+ movie collection as a kid, reading the covers and premises out of genuine curiosity. I remember constantly asking my dad about them and when we could watch them. Some of these movies I came to love while others I would never see again. For the ones that I did watch, they heavily impacted my childhood at the time. Some of these movies were The Original Star Wars Trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983), DragonHeart (1996), and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991). These classic 80’s and 90’s film laid the foundation of the cinephile I would later become; yet, even with these classics, their impact did not last long. At some point, I became uninterested in them and moved on to the next film. Very few films have left significant, lasting impacts on my life that have overlapped into my adulthood. Three of those films were of the Oscar award-winning trilogy The Lord of the Rings, the legendary Tolkien adaptation that set the stage for films in the 2000’s. This beloved trilogy not only impacted my childhood, but prepared mature adulthood themes, all before the age of the ten; the concept of death, hopelessness, and the afterlife.
The Fellowship of the Ring: The Exposure to Death
On a late Friday night in August 2002, my parents brought my siblings and I together for movie night. “Tonight, we will be watching a new movie as a family called The Lord of the Rings.” My mom told us. I remember being intrigued by the DVD case. On the cover were different mythical peoples I had never seen before. Armor heavy Dwarves, tall and elegant Elves, magical staff carrying Wizards, medieval looking men, and curly-haired halfling Hobbits. While I knew what Dwarves, Elves, Men, and Wizards were, I had no prior knowledge of what Hobbits were. How little I knew of just how much Frodo Baggins – the main Hobbit character – would leave an impact on my life.
Within the first ten minutes of the film, I was in both awe and in fear of what my childhood eyes witnessed – An epic quest of a fellowship that sets out to destroy an powerful ring and all evil forever. While I was no stranger to fantasy movies, I was however greatly vulnerable seeing the ugly and vile evil armies of Middle-Earth. Orcs, a race of horrifically tortured Elves bred solely for war. Balrogs, demons of the ancient world that no man or sword could kill. Ringwraiths, a band of nine black riders loyal to their Master. Lastly, the Eye of Sauron, the Spirit of the Dark Lord of Mordor in the form of a flaming all-seeing eye.
These dark figures caused me to cower in fear just at the sight of them. I remember at one point, I was clinging to my mom when the Ringwraith’s fought Frodo and the Hobbits in the dead of night, giving loud, ear-piercing screeches. As the film continued, the fights and chases with the Fellowship became heart-wrenching as legendary characters died on the battlefield. Of all these intense and dark moments, the moments of death were the hardest to endure, especially for a seven-year-old boy. Watching Boromir’s sacrifice for the Hobbits pierced my heart as the arrows pierced his chest. For the first time in my life, I cried uncontrollably during a live-action movie. My parents raised my siblings and I to recognize the difference between reality and fiction, but for me, I grieved over his death as if it were real. Until then, I had never seen such a tragic death on screen, nor had I ever seen the sight of death at all. That was until October of 2002, two months later.
During that fall season, a close family friend and church member passed away. While I did not know them personally, I did meet him on one occasion, but within this first interaction, I only saw the fragileness in his body. At the time, I could not comprehend the state of his fragility as he struggled to even get a sentence out to. During his funeral service, my parents took my siblings and I up to the casket to pay our respects and as I saw this deceased family friend, my mind began pondering the concept of death.
For the next few days, the death of this family-friend was on my mind. I came to realize that death itself was inevitable. Just as Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas could not save Boromir’s life, the prayers and medicine fell short to save the friend of my parents. As time grew on, I then began to fear the great unknown, realizing that I would not be able to stop it. This led to the thought of losing my parents, a thought that I could hardly contain without tearing up. I remember running to my parents crying uncontrollably, as they tried to calm me down. When they asked what was wrong, I questioned, “What will happen when you and dad die? Will you ever leave us forever?” Even with the Christian beliefs we had, my parents could hardly describe death to me without tearing up. In Christianity, there is the belief that we will enter into the afterlife and be with Christ and everyone else who believed. What I was hardly taught in the church, however, was how to endure the death of someone else.
The Lord of the Rings taught me otherwise. It taught me that even if we are on a noble quest in life or seeking to accomplishing something great, darkness will overcome our lives when we lose that we love. What mattered during the pain, however, was how were you going to respond. “I wish the Ring never came to me,” Frodo says, “I wish none of this happened.” Gandalf, in all of his wisdom, gives the most comforting words that still encourage me to this day. “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 to us.”
The Two Towers: Finding Hope in a Post-9/11 World
As if the grasp of death was not enough, the concept of evil overcame my mind as well. A year before being introduced to The Lord of the Rings, the country watched in horror as hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers of New York City on September 11, 2001. The following day was my eighth birthday, but it was hardly a day of joy or celebration. The news covered the terrorist attacks around the clock as everyone watched, including myself. I remember watching my parents being glued to the T.V, my mom crying on the couch and my dad having his head down in respect and sorrow. For the remainder of 2001 and most of 2002, I watched multiple news clips of the former President Bush’s War on Terrorism and footage of war in The Middle East. Even though I was too young to understand, I understood that the world was a dark and cruel place and awful people existed who outright hated other due different beliefs and ways of life. I began to ponder whether or not the world was becoming worse and worse and soon began to fear the unknown as well.
A year later in 2002, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers premiered in theaters and the waiting period for my siblings and I was over. Despite the hope and redemption found in some characters, the story overall was a continuation of darkness sweeping throughout Middle-Earth. In the film, kingdoms were on the brink of collapse while other willingly gave into the power of Sauron (the main antagonist of the films). During my first watch in theaters, I could not help but think of the U.S. continuing to respond and build up its military for the War on Terrorism. A nine-year-old boy, regardless of their background or their country, should not be even thinking of such things, but the reality was that this was all happening. The world really was getting darker.
Despite Sauron’s influence falling over the hearts of men, not every one of them was corrupted. With every ounce of strength left, great kingdoms of Middle-Earth fought off and drove back the forces of evil. Within this moment, I heard the most encouraging words that have laid a foundation for my hope in humanity. Towards the end of the film, two of the Hobbits – Frodo and Sam – nearly die at the hands of a Ringwraith and his winged beast. Frodo then confesses that he cannot continue anymore and that he is weak. Sam’s response is more than about finishing their quest, but also why. “…There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” Throughout this wonderful monologue, Sam acknowledged that dark times will come and evil may prevail, but no matter what, the journey to overcome it must always continue and that the point of legends and great tales were of those who never gave and kept holding on to something – Hope.
His words sank into the depths of my 9-year-old soul as I began to tear up in theaters. They were so kind, gentle, and hopeful that I began to remind myself of the hope in this world and still do to this day. With 9/11 fresh at the time, I continued to find the good and hope in life and people, whether it was what I learned in church, my school, or my parents.
Life grew harder for the next few years and many years after, both personally and externally. Whenever hard times have occurred or overtaken my life, I have always remembered Sam’s encouraging words to Frodo. I knew that giving up on hope did nothing but allow darkness to overcome my way of thinking and my life, and since then, even at my weakest points, I never allowed that to fully happen.
The Return of the King: Part of the Journey is the End
A year later in the fall of 2003, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King premiered. It was the final chapter of the trilogy, and it was the most anticipated film I was looking forward to. My friends and I constantly wondered what would happen in the end. Would Frodo and Sam
destroy the ring forever? Would Aragorn gain the throne of Gondor? Would Éowyn find her honor on the battlefield? All these questions pondered the mind of a nine-year-old boy.
Throughout the film, I cried many times over tragic losses and moments; The death of King Théoden of Rohan, Faramir risking his life for his unloving father’s honor, Frodo banishing Sam as the Ring blinded his judgement, and much more. Even in the moments of hope, I began to tear up with happiness and relief, primarily the battle speeches. From King Théoden’s speech at the Battle of Pelennor Fields to King Aragorn’s speech at the Battle of the Black Gate, these moments grabbed my heart and emotion as I witnessed the hope and courage in men being as strong as it once was. My siblings hardly cried during the film while I let my emotions out in my theatre chair. Of all these sorrowful and beautiful moments, however, the end of the story was both sorrowful and beautiful for me.
At the end of the film, the Ring was destroyed, Sauron was defeated, and Middle-Earth was saved. Yet, the journey was not over for the main character, Frodo Baggins. As the four Hobbits of the Fellowship – Frodo, Sam, Merry, and, Pippin – give their last tearful goodbyes to Gandalf the White, Frodo then reveals he is leaving with him. This departure was not a simple leave of absence, but a final departure from Middle-Earth to the Undying Lands of Valinor, where great kings and gods roamed. The others are taken by surprise and driven to tears over the impending departure of their dear friend. To Sam his closest companion, Frodo leaves him his unfinished book of their journey and gives him the final pages to write. With this and many more tears, Frodo leaves Middle-Earth forever.
In writing, it is difficult to describe the amount of emotional sorrow and joy I had for Frodo, knowing that all the pain he suffered through finally left him. What I will say is that no matter how many times I watch this scene, I will always tear up in happiness and sorrow. While I have enjoyed the trilogy over and over again, I never enjoyed their endings, because of the ending itself. The final chapter is written, and the book begins its close. After going through so much with these characters and enduring the good and bad, the idea of it all ending is a lot a for young boy to experience emotionally. Similar to the concept of death in 2002, I was trying to grasp the concept of separation between the dead and the living on earth.
A few years later in 2005, a dear friend of the family, Mr. Bill Hoist, passed away unexpectedly. To my siblings, Mr. Hoist was a friend; to me, Mr. Hoist was a second father. He was a man who always greeted me with joy and loved me as if I were one of his own. I remember at one point, he comforted me during a sleepover with his son Jason, after missing my parents, who were on vacation. The news of his death was one I could not grasp at age 12 until the day of the funeral arrived. Not even reaching the halfway point down the aisle, I broke down crying as my mom took me outside to calm me down. Despite my beliefs in the afterlife, it was still nonetheless heartbreaking to know I would never see Mr. Hoist again in my lifetime. He went where I could not follow.
A few months later, I re-watched the Return of the King with my siblings and began to thoroughly grasp the concept of death better than before. “Death is just another path, one that we all must take.” Gandalf the White says. Rather than crying to my parents this time, I came to understand that the grieving over a loved one’s death was never going to be avoidable. Rather than suppressing or masking our emotions, we had to express them. Grieving is necessary. Emotionally express sorrow is necessary. Even knowing where their soul was in the afterlife, the pain was unbearable yet necessary to endure. Death gives life meaning; it’s a reminder that our days are numbered and that our time is short.
Over the next decade and a half, I would lose my grandparents, my dog, and my best friend. Even when the grief was overbearing, I never stayed in that grief. I knew that at one point, moving on was necessary as it was for Frodo’s companions. There are times where I do think of Mr. Hoist and others in my life, wishing they could have seen the man I grew up to be. The hope and belief in the afterlife, however, transcends the fear and grief of death for me and still does to this day.
There and Back Again: Where I am Now With Middle-Earth
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy became fonder and more prevalent as my friends and I would hold movie marathons and watch all three in one sitting. During late college years, I also became more analytical and critical of film and began to see more details within The Lord of the Rings than before. My best friend Daniel consistently encouraged me to read the books and when I finally began to read them, it was perfect timing.
In 2018, the speeches of hope from The Lord of the Rings played significant roles during the time when my whole world fell apart. Throughout the year, I struggled with continuous panic attacks, low self-esteem, and deep depression. To make matters worse, my former girlfriend at the time broke up our 2-year relationship, not long after I saved up nearly a grand for an engagement ring. The breakup as whole shattered my heart and not a day went by where I did not emotionally breakdown for the next month. During this time, I was in and out of counseling, on anti-depressants, and suffering heavily from anorexia. All of this baggage was nothing but a burden for me as I tried to find the light at the end of the tunnel, even a glimpse of it. Despite these trials and times of despair, I was constantly reminded of the speeches given by Samwise and Lord Aragorn about enduring the fight and standing up for all that was good and true. Within many of these reminders, I cried knowing that a hopeful time would come again, and that I would be greater than where I was then.
I began reading The Lord of the Rings books in late 2018. I was so into them that I could hardly go a day without talking about them. It was then I realized that it was not enough to talk about it. I had to write about it. To this day, I have a current blog that reacts and responds to Tolkien’s Middle-Earth literature, both The Lord of the Rings trilogy and more. I have been reading each book chronologically and have been documenting my reflections and analysis – spirituality, character development, and much more. I have enjoyed both reading and writing as I continue to realize just how much The Lord of the Rings impacts my life in personal and profound ways.
It is understandable that specific moments in our childhood contribute or even shape the course of our future – the death of a loved one, moving to a new school, or discovering a new passion. While these are admirable and noble, I believe we hardly give credit to the small things that inspire us or the impacts that we tend to overlook. For me, it was movies, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy movies. Always has been and always will be.
I hope enjoyed this personal life story of mine, especially if you identified with it personally. The next article on The Silmarillion will be available in the next few weeks. Until then, farewell my friends!