Saturday, October 19, 2013

brief confessions of a former future philosophy Ph.D. student; LOTR

At my job, I stare at a computer all day, so I haven't felt like blogging at home. It's difficult to get in the mood for writing at work, even though I do have some time for it, and every time I've thought "well, I'll break the silence with a little anecdote that just happened," the old fashioned internet browser doesn't let me click in the typey screen. Sorry!

Since my last post, whenever that was, I have been re-reading Lord of the Rings for the first time since high school. I always meant to come back to it after college but honestly, it's taken me three years to lighten up enough to read a novel with elves in it. Maybe that's not exactly true, because I believe there is at least the fear of some wood-sprites in Kristen Lavransdatter. Nonetheless it's definitely been more pleasure than I've allowed myself in years. And before you think I'm some kind of repressed wannabe philosopher (sometimes I think that,) I have to say that I obviously enjoy literature, and I've read more literature than philosophy since graduating from SJC. And I enjoy philosophy and theology too. But I know at times I've approached reading these things as if it's something I'm supposed to be doing, instead of something I truly feel like doing. Sometimes I even don't read anything because I don't feel up to the tasks I've set myself.

But not Lord of the Rings! It makes me feel like a tremendous dork to be carrying it around town, but I love it. The primary struggle for me has been getting the damn movie out of my head. I haven't watched it since high school either, but looking back it just seems like it was done so literally.  I was at a certain Orthogal's apartment this last weekend and complimented her roommate on a lovely ink painting of a city in the mountains, with some winding paths and craggy trees, etc. She said that her parents spent more money than they really should have to buy it in the seventies or eighties because it "reminded them of Middle-Earth." I kept staring at the picture and after a few minutes, commented that it was so cool that they could be just reminded of Middle-Earth. The picture just tickled their fancy and made them think about Tolkien. It could have been any place in Middle-Earth, and you know what? It didn't have to look like New Zealand. In the same way, I have much fonder memories of the somewhat cheesy seventies Rankin and Bass Hobbit than of Peter Jackson's movies, and I think it is because the cartoon format allowed for more imagination and mystery.

These days, it's a little harder to look at a painting and be reminded of Middle-Earth, because we now have such a specific idea of what Middle Earth is supposed to look like! I struggle so much to imagine Frodo and Sam as anyone besides the boy from Flipper  and "Rudy." 

But thank God, there are episodes of the book that have not been committed to film! Although I was probably annoyed with this as a teenager, I am so glad that Peter Jackson cut out Tom Bombadil! I felt such relief as the hobbits were rescued by Tom from the clutches of the Old Willow, because I was simultaneously being rescued from the tyranny of the screen. Today I read the episode of Sam and Frodo's stay with Faramir under the waterfall, and I was so pleased that with Tolkien's clues, I was able to construct it myself. Moreover, I was reading it in my parents' living room, looking out the window at the same raggedy old pear tree that sheltered me when I first read Lord of the Rings. I was able to return to the impressions of my teenage imagination. And with such a peaceful upbringing, in a countryside basically quite similar to the Shire, how did I envision such grand journeys? How did I imagine the fragrant, dry hills to the east of Mordor before I had ever been to the high desert of New Mexico? To what could I compare the halls of Rohan when the grandest building I had seen was probably a government building in Indianapolis? How could I understand this book at all when I had never seen a single mountain? Reading the passages which are protected from the dull, universal control of the film was a return to my tender, youthful hopes. Now I realize that Lord of the Rings awoke a wanderlust in me that certainly led me to enroll sight unseen in a college 2,000 miles away.