Meditations: Lord of the Rings and Inspiration

Today in 1955, the last volume of Lord of the Rings (not a trilogy, according to Tolkien, one book in three volumes), Return of the King was published. That’s right. The movies that gave rise to a whole new fandom, hell even a whole new Fandom, not to mention raised the bar for makeup and set-dressing movie magic, come from a story that’s 59 years old.

Think about that for a minute. Go on, I’ll wait.

Writers will often tell you that science fiction and fantasy reflect the hopes and fears of the current era. So what does it mean that a story set in the wake of WWII, rife with concerns about the abuse of power, the lack of wisdom, the destruction of ‘the magic ring’, and reuniting of the major ‘races’ in a war against evil, is still trenchant or is trenchant again, today?

Sadly, it tells me that we’re still concerned about the lack of trustworthy global leadership, magic rings that are sitting out there waiting to be abused, coalitions that pit us against each other, an apparently unwinnable war against evil, and how ‘the littlest person’ can make a difference. I don’t think I need to point any fingers; there’s more than enough evil to go around.

(But for the record, I’m one of those Jews who Can’t Talk About Israel because I’m Disappointed, Confused, and Forcibly Numb. Maybe I’ll talk about talking about Israel, like the rabbi did at Kol Nidre sometime soon. If I can figure out what I want to say or even where I want to say it from.)

On the other hand, I think there’s something supremely hopeful about the Lord of the Rings. And it’s in Galadriel’s words, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Because really, what’s beautiful about LOTR — one of the many things that’s beautiful about LOTR — is that while the powers and warriors fight the minions of the Evil, it’s two little Hobbits (I’d argue that it’s Sam’s story, but I get in trouble when I do that) and the power of their devotion to each other, that destroys the One Ring.

Okay, so what?

As with most things in life, the ‘so what?’ is up to you and you and you and me individually. For me, the ‘so what?’ for today, anyway, is that this partially explains why I’m not inspired by the paranormal romances and such that I mentioned last post. They’re often about one-off battles, won by kicking a bunch of asses in clever or improbably ways, or finding the bad guy and killing them, which is about as effective in the long-run as lopping the head off a Hydra. Sometimes there’s a larger context and the world is legitimately threatened, but so often that threat to the world is underdeveloped, or plain silly.

The books and stories that I’ve been loving lately have strongly developed worlds with clearly defined threats, that may not be as clear as they seem. The protagonists win, when they win, because they save each other again and again until it sticks. Sometimes that’s a romance. Sometimes it’s a friendship. Sometimes it’s a child or someone offscreen. But it’s not a fated mate or a conveniently returning ex-lover, or the annoying but hunky studmuffin or studmuffette. It’s someone the protagonist is already devoted to, or learns to be devoted to (whether they like that person or not) over the course of the story.

Examples of stuff that’s really working for me: The Killing, Longmire (books and TV), The Iron Seas, The Lunar Chronicles, Department Q, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

And so what again?

Well, it’s a definite clue that romance, when strictly defined, isn’t what I want to be writing. What to do about that, though, as ever, is the question.