Skies of Rohan - Frodo Lives
Skies of Rohan - Frodo Lives
Frodo Lives - by Scott Edelman
Back in college, I did many odd things. I'm not yet prepared to tell you about all of them - the statute of limitations has not quite run out - but there are a few things that I'm willing to let slip. For example, I wore my hair long, and used a variety of beaded headbands to keep it from blowing in the wind. I dressed in dashikis and, like many of my generation, wore a faded denim jacket around campus. (Sometimes, to the astonishment of my teachers, I would bring a live rabbit to class with me, tucked in a pocket of that same jacket - but I suspect that might be more information about me than you really wish to know.) But most importantly for the subject at hand, I often wore a dented metal button on which was printed one of the more popular catchphrases of the day: "Frodo Lives."
I'm not entirely sure what I meant by that message. The signals being sent by my "War is not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things" patch or any of the other slogans with which I adorned my body were far more obvious - I had a political point I wanted to convey. But why, buried in the midst of such clear statements as those, would I make a pronouncement about the existence of a fictional character?
What was I trying to say? And to whom?
Asking an adult to explain his thought processes as a teenager is probably an impossible task, but this much I know - J.R.R. Tolkien's books had touched me deeply, and I wanted to proclaim that to the world. By the time I was in college, I'd already read The Hobbit and the entire trilogy of The Lord of the Rings at least half a dozen times, my pleasure at it never diminishing.
How could it be that an Oxford don, writing decades earlier for an audience of his own era, managed to reach out and touch a wide-eyed hippie like me and others of my generation? Had we met, I would probably have seemed far more alien to Tolkien than his hobbits, orcs or ents. And yet, I saw nothing alien in him, or in the product of his imagination.
Most tales fail in their attempts to be timeless, and have nothing to offer any audience beyond their contemporary one. And yet, teetering between childhood and adulthood, I was Frodo. I guess I felt that my friends and I were the fellowship, ready to embark on great deeds on which the fate of the world depended. Perhaps all college students standing on the brink of the future see the world in that way, but thanks to Tolkien, I was one of those who had been given a model. And so, as I pinned that "Frodo Lives" button to my chest, a part of me had to be thinking, "I live!".
After moving on from college to the "real" world, I no longer had the time to read Rings on an annual basis as I had before, but I did return to it after my son was born. I read him Tolkien as soon as he graduated from Dr. Seuss, the first time I'd ever read the books aloud, and I was happy to see that the story had lost none of its power.
For a long time, the only way fans could "see" Frodo (and Gandalf and Aragorn and the others) was in our own imaginations, by clinging to the original words. We all hoped for a filmmaker to someday come along who could bring those characters alive on film, but based on the evidence, it didn't seem as if that would ever happen. The first attempts at transforming Tolkien's words into moving pictures were disappointing. Both the 1978 Rankin-Bass TV adaptation of The Hobbit and Ralph Bakshi's 1978 big-screen version of The Lord of the Rings fell short - far short - of making Tolkien come to life.
So when I first heard that director Peter Jackson was going to tackle filming the trilogy, I grew fearful. I had long since given up the dream. Perhaps, I told myself, turning those particular words into cinematic reality was unfeasible. Not every story is filmable. Maybe we should just be glad that the books had been written in the first place and forget about trying to do the impossible.
Even though I had enjoyed Jackson's earlier films, I was confident that when The Fellowship of the Ring appeared on the screen, it would cause me to weep. I can't remember when I was so nervous attending a screening. I guess that was because my lifelong love of Tolkien had left me feeling invested in the critical succcess of the film in a way that just isn't present for the average genre film.
As it turned out, the film indeed brought me to tears, though not for the reasons I feared. At my first glimpse of The Shire, I was able to relax. And with each passing instant, I nodded and thought, "Yes, yes, that's it, he's nailed it." Jackson's obvious love for Tolkien filled the screen, and I was transported to many places - not only back to Hobbiton, but back to my childhood dreams as well.
"Frodo does live," I thought, misting up.
Now along comes The Two Towers, the middle film in Jackson's trilogy. This time, when I go to the theater, I'll be able to relax. I won't have the fears I did last year. I can trust that the adaptation will be faithful and successfully channel the spirit of Tolkien.
My hair may no longer be shoulder-length, and you will no longer find dashikis hanging in my closet. But in my heart, believe me - Frodo still lives.
The editorial "Frodo Lives" was first printed in the February 2003 edition of SciFi magazine
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