Monday, January 12, 2009

The commercialization of the Lord of the Rings (part 1)

I first read Tolkien's masterpiece when I was nine. It was the third epic fantasy I had read, C.S. Lewis's Narnia having been the first; Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles the second. I had also consumed many Arthurian legends and other mythical tales.

The Lord of the Rings was by far the most difficult read of my childhood, and the most satisfying. I've read it many times since. If there weren't so many other books in line on my book shelf, I would probably pick it up again, but it will have to wait.

Then again, if I wanted a quick Lord of the Rings fix, I could get one just about any time these days. There are three overly-long movies available on DVD that only cut out some of the most essential parts of the story; there are at least a dozen or so video games to be found for Play Station (1, 2, and 3), Wii, Xbox, and the PC. There are strategy war games and third person hack-and-slash games, and even a World of Warcraft style Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). I've seen action figures, costumes, party-favors...I'm not sure if one of the Fast Food Chains had Aragorn figures or little plastic orcs in their Happy Meals, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Of course, all of this "materialistic progress" that has lead to the easy availability of Tolkien's work is really just exactly what the man warned of, isn't it? Cheap commercialism and soulless industrialism. Why even bother with those long, wordy novels anymore? They are so time-consuming and slow. It took me an entire month when I was nine to read the Lord of the Rings. It only took a total of about 12 hours to get through the movies. I can play those video games without any committment whatsoever...certainly no committment to the deeper message Tolkien was attempting to convey.

I won't go into that too much now. I envision a part-two to this diatribe. But what modernity has done, it seems, is given people less of a reason to read Tolkien's work. It has sucked something vital and important from the work. The religion is gone from it, the age and the history of it are all dried up. We've replaced it with cool battle scenes and special effects. Hack-and-slash has usurped Frodo's journey. The mediocrity of the vast majority of the fantasy genre is all these mediums ever hope to attain.

We've all learned how to kill an Uruk-hai, or bring down a Nazgul with our Level 18 Elven Archer, but at the precipice, would any of us be able to throw the ring into the fire?


Wellsy said...

I like to think the story will survive long after we've forgotten about the video games and the movies.

E.D. Kain said...

I think you're right, Wellsy. Thanks for the note of optimism. Maybe we will be able to toss that ring in...who knows? Is it the stories we chose, or the telling of them that counts the most?