Lord of the Rings was the first real book I read as a teen. Don’t ask my why I chose that of all the books in my house when as a child, and even as a teen, I hated reading. I’d fudge book reports and make up nonsense— I guess that was the prequel to my being a writer. My mom had an omnibus edition from the UK that she’d read in middle school, I liked the cover and decided I’d give it a try.
This April I had the pleasure of visiting The Morgan Museum and Library exhibit of Tolkien, which wasn’t just about The Lord of the Rings, but JRR Tolkien’s art, his love of language, his story.
There has been much talk surrounding the biopic Tolkien‘s release and as I settled into my seat, I intended to watch Tolkien as a fangirl, one who loves all aspects of his works and life.
To start, I enjoyed this film. It’s complicated though, this feeling of enjoying it yet knowing there are places where the lines are smudged just a bit. The struggle with biopics is that it will always been seen through a filtered lens. And not everyone will be happy with it. Let’s say this, sometimes a film is meant to give you an emotion, not the facts, and that’s okay. If I wanted to do research (which I am, and already do) on Tolkien, I can pick out the pieces that are smudged, changed for the cinematic structure. But that doesn’t lessen the value of the film itself. It hits so many emotional cues for me that I didn’t mind the exact truth wasn’t present. It never would be. The thing about biopics is that filter distorts and changes with time. Unless you fact-check every single thing, unless you compile a swath of biographies and historians to recreate someone’s life, you will never set down the actual truth. And even then, you are still a degree removed from the actual person whose thoughts remain squarely their own. There’s the “fight me” spirit I try to squash, but this isn’t a review of the film, this is commentary on why you should still go see it.
It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. Facts are irrelevant. *Can you believe I just said that! Hear me out, as a fangirl of Tolkien the man, not the mega blockbuster crap, I find the film to be something that hits everything you should believe in. The meshing of magic and reality is a bit overdone in the film, but it stirred something up inside of me to imagine again, to let loose those wishes and dreams and take on life as if I could stumble upon a hobbit, as if I might face a dragon. Because that is reality, we will stumble upon fellowships and friends, we will face down fears and naysayers, and maybe we can take courage that we are the author of our own quest and get to determine the ground. *I’ll get off my soapbox now.
Back to the film. The cinematography of Lasse Frank is something to fangirl about. It is stunning. In a few separate scenes the camera follows Tolkien, played by Nicholas Hoult, and Edith Bratt, played by Lily Collins, down a staircase by using mirrors. My description will not do it justice, but it is a scene I will continue to think about. There are some intense war scenes, since Tolkien did fight in World War One, and while they are gruesome, it also shows the reality we tend to turn from, that war is not kind or simple, it’s bloody and layered in nuances that tear through us and our memories. But there is a stark, hollow beauty to these moments that put into sharp relief the idea of a grand quest laid before our heroes in The Lord of the Rings.
The music! Please fangirl with me about soundscapes and soundtracks in film because that is half of the sensory we input. The score for Tolkien is haunting and beautiful. I seriously haven’t stopped playing the soundtrack because it is one of those sounds that takes you right back to the theater and the feelings you had. It is composed by the great Thomas Newman.
At the end of all of this— I want to suggest you go and make your own opinions. I also suggest if you love Tolkien or even just want to read some nonfiction, try a biography. His life is pretty amazing and full of adventures both academic and personal. Looking for fiction? Try his Letters from Father Christmas, or if you want a medieval adventure try Farmer Giles of Ham. So no, Tolkien did not just write The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit or even The Silmarillion, he was prolific in art, in the study of language, and in making his children bedtimes stories. While the movie is one small slice if JRR Tolkien’s life, it sets up the possibility to open the door for someone else, to explore language and words, to form a fellowship and go on a quest, to imagine the scene of a hole in the ground and the occupant who live there.
Xoxo — always Fangirling,