December 23, 2001 [The Fellowship of the Ring]
So how did they find themselves at that most hospitable of round green doors, the one where you knock and are given a second breakfast and more help than you would've at first imagined, the homely treasure of a quiet life uninterrupted? And what made them so at home there, where tender feelings are not a sign of weakness, where the Shadow may eventually fall but the fire still crackles and sends little sparks up like smoke-rings--right until the moment all light and air are swallowed up if no one leaves that front door to ways that lead to ways?
The loss and misery of the pictures they'd worked on don't seem so far from Tolkien after all. They show up and see the mark on the door and know they're expected--true, unexpectedly. But if there's anything like a Fellowship it has to come from the need to look at the dark corner and the things that wait there, if only to throw another log on the fire to make it cheery again--but not yet, not in the first part of the story. Despite all the breathless majesty the movie gives the elves, the steely resolve of Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn, the comfort of Gandalf, the shame and sorrow of Boromir, the light, strong hearts and pug noses of most Hobbits, The Fellowship of the Ring really begins when Sam pauses in the field, realizes he'd never been farther from home, and takes one more step. Not even Frodo slipping the Ring around his neck is enough--the two of them, along with the others, have to walk all the way to an abrupt end, the Fellowship broken before it had barely begun--but the Road still there, the one that Sam makes when he takes that one more step.
I've returned to The Lord of the Rings a number of times over the years. It's a book that, if you love it, stays near, and like a Ring calls you every now and then. And now there's the movie, which I think will do the same. And while I look forward to the next two--Jackson has done all anyone can in adapting a book, especially one beloved by many: He felt the tone of them like a deep note in his chest, and heard their questing, tragic, affectionate heart, their need not to win but to protect things worth keeping--I'm content to have Frodo and Sam solemnly moving on, wishing they were home--"not for the last time"--but still walking There--Back Again not even yet a wish.