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The Lord of the Rings: A Cultural Studies and Audience Reception Approach

After having my introduction to Mythgard through Corey Olsen’s Mythgard Academy courses, I was woefully ill-prepared for a Cultural Studies class. Ultimately, it was a fantastic introduction to graduate work, but at first I was thrown for a loop. Unlike the classes I’ve taken with Prof Olsen where the course is structured very loosely, Robin Reid’s course was more firmly… Read more →

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and an update:

Aside

This is not to say that as far as the narrative of the films goes that Thorin is not the new Aragorn. In both cases, Jackson took an existing character and made him brooding and mopey. In Aragorn’s case Jackson also added reluctance, which is not something Thorin suffers from.

The Honest Trailer for Battle of the Five Armies exclusively refers to Thorin as “the mopey dwarf king”, so apt.

Speaking of “Battle of the Five Armies”, I am still bitter that Jackson ditched the title There and Back Again for the third movie. I could have done with a lot more denouement and a lot less of the two hour fight sequence.

So, in the films, Thorin and Aragorn are both dark, brooding heroes who are also dispossessed kings on journeys to reclaim their homeland.  Beyond that, their character arcs are very different. They are even more disparate within the respective novels, but I am keeping purely to the films, as that is where this school of thought was founded.

Aragorn begins a reluctant wanderer who gets wrapped up in helping Gandalf. He leads a group of incompetent Hobbits across the wastes to Rivendell entirely unassisted. He joins the fellowship and is soon thrust into the role of leader and guide when Gandalf falls. He later begins to work in partnership with Gandalf to hold evil at bay, coming into his own as a king of Men through his prowess in battle and his willingness to engage Sauron in battles of will. Victorious due to drawing out the armies in Mordor to assist Frodo, Aragorn is crowned king, reunites with his love, and heralds the coming Age of Men.

Thorin is a prince of Dwarves who loses his home in a battle with Smaug, being left to wander with the remnant of his people. He settles in Ered Luin, builds a comfortable home for his people, and then disappears on them to pursue a suicide mission with 12 other Dwarves to reclaim the lost mountain. He also is in a fellowship with Gandalf, but unlike Aragorn who takes the lead when Gandalf leaves, what should be Thorin’s lead falls to Bilbo. Thorin becomes a bit of a liability, through consistently refusing to heed advice and getting captured. He does end up leading an ultimately fruitless attack on Smaug, who is vanquished by someone else, who is then denied any sort of thanks from Thorin. He then succumbs to sickness, leaves his kin to die, and at the last moment launches a heroic assault that lands him dead after being king for a couple of day.

Aragorn has a journey with growth and fulfillment, Thorin exists in a flat characterization of whining and being stubborn punctuated with moments of bravery.

To revisit my initial assertion that Kili is actually the Aragorn of The Hobbit, plot-wise there’s not much more to go on aside from the fact that Kili has a love interest like Aragorn, as non-canonical as it might be. I would also offer that Kili is by far more heroic than Thorin, battling against all odds with Azog to avenge his brother/save his love interest and calling his uncle on his amazingly bad decision making at the gate of Erebor in regards to the Men of Laketown, Bilbo, and leaving Dain and his army out there to die.

My main reason for this assertion is that Kili is “the hot Dwarf” — that’s the way he is marketed and presumably that’s why he has a love interest to begin with — and Aragorn was definitely “the hot Man”. They even look similar: dark hair, scruffy, and increasingly filth. There are people who also find Thorin hot, but that’s the same with Legolas, my assertion is that Thorin and Legolas are not really marketed that way. We’re not invited to view them in that romantic way given their lack of love interests. It’s harder to find the same extent of achetypes in Lord of the Rings, as there were fewer characters and they all achieved some resemblance of roundedness, whereas it’s much easier to pin one word definitions to each of the Dwarves in The Hobbit. Although I’d say that Kili is first and foremost “the hot one”, Aragorn is many other things as well that are just as, if not more, important than his attractiveness.

 

Finding Mythgard

I seem to be sort of an anomaly at Mythgard, having never really listened to Corey Olsen’s Tolkien Professor podcast. I’ve never really been one for podcasts. However, in early 2014 I was searching for a way to take classes in Tolkien, to have other people to seriously discuss his works with, and I stumbled upon the Mythgard Academy. I… Read more →

Aside

It’s no surprise to anyone who has spent an appreciable amount of time with me that Gandalf is one of my favorite characters conceived by Tolkien. Ian McKellen’s portrayal of him in Peter Jackson’s adaptations have gone a long way to cementing that fact.

However, when only considering The Lord of the Rings, my favorite character is Faramir. I was one of the people quite upset about Jackson’s treatment of the character in the films. Darkening his character added dramatic tension, but loses that sense of relief in having found a friend unlooked for. In the novel, Faramir not only plays the same sort of role as Tom Bombadil or Bree: a safe have; but he is also a bridge from Numenor, giving a glimpse of what Aragorn is to become.

The best part of Faramir’s character for me is Tolkien’s use of him as a sounding board for his own beliefs. Faramir has some of the most interesting lines in the entire book in terms of the relationship between culture and war. He fights a war to defend his culture, the art and beauty of Minas Tirith, and does not fight as culture. This is the demarcation between the “high”, “middle”, and “low” men. He laments Gondor’s middling as the population puts more emphasis on arms, presumably to the detriment of beauty and art.

There are some interesting parallels there in terms of modern American politics. While the country’s budget is being spent funding foreign war, we lose funding for the sciences and the humanities. Can we really say we fight war to protect our culture when our culture suffers because our funding goes elsewhere?

“I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

A tale of woe and bathtubs

Today, I share with you the story of how I’ve come to possess 3 (soon to be 4) copies of The Lord of the Rings. Back in 1998 I started high school, and I was taking journalism with this young teacher named Van Wyk. I absolutely adored Van Wyk, he was  wiry, skinny, vaguely dangerously Russian looking — what I… Read more →