When my daughter was maybe 8 or 9 years old, she came down with the flu. I stayed home with her, giving her meds, chicken soup and comfort, but eventually, she was getting bored, so it occurred to me that she would do well to have a good movie that would keep her mind off her ailment. As I glanced at our selection, many of the children’s films we had seen ad nauseam, but my “Lord of the Rings” trilogy caught my eye.
Now I knew her mother wouldn’t approve, because it might be too violent in parts and would be better saved for when she was a bit older. I looked for something else, but the wheels in my mind were beginning to turn. It was going to be a long day, and what better to go with a long day than a long movie? Quite honestly, I was dying to share my love of the “Lord of the Rings” with my children, so I reasoned it out that with me watching it with her, I could skip the battles and only show the friendlier parts.
Well, you can probably guess how that went by now and perhaps how long it took me to gain forgiveness from my wife (which was actually less time than I expected it to be — I married well). But for my daughter (and a few years later, my son), the experience expanded their minds and moved the possibilities beyond the simple fairy tales to the shades of gray that comes with more complex storytelling.
With that said, I want to make the case for why anyone (and their kids or grandkids) with nothing particular to do over the next few Sunday afternoons or evenings should drop everything and head to the Bengal Theater for the 20th anniversary “Lord of the Rings” screenings at Idaho State University’s Bengal Theater. It is only $1 admission for each show or free for ISU students, and the likelihood is that many children have never seen it on the big screen the way it was intended to be seen — that is if they have seen it at all.
Now you may say, “That’s all well and good, but why does it even matter?” My response to that would be that you may have something more important to do, but how many times in your life will you be able to share an epic journey with your kids, taking them through the themes of friendship, loyalty, sacrifice and redemption that Tolkien explores in his novels? It’s a classic work. The trilogy won 17 Oscars, including best picture nominations for each film, and earned best picture for “Return of the King,” the most decorated movie in Oscar history.
“The Lord of the Rings” also holds a special place in my heart. You see, my dad introduced me to Tolkien’s work when I was maybe 11 years old, taking me to see the original “Hobbit” cartoon movie at the Magic Lantern Theater in Spokane, Washington, and a year or two later, to see “The Lord of the Rings” cartoon movie.
For various reasons, including a brain injury he had when I was little, my dad was an emotionally distant person and didn’t always express his feelings well. He had a teasing sense of humor that left me sometimes wondering where I stood with him. In retrospect, I think taking us to movies was one outlet that he used to connect with us and to share ideas. He wouldn’t share himself with us easily, but he would take us on trips and to church and to movies. As an 11-year-old boy, I cherished the time with him, but I also learned to consider ideas I might not otherwise have explored.
Fast forward 20 years to director Peter Jackson’s spin on Tolkien’s work, and you’ll find that he did a magnificent job of bringing the spirit of Tolkien’s world to life visually. As soon as my kids were old enough, I shared my love of “The Lord of the Rings” with them, and it is an experience that I will never forget and they won’t either.
When my daughter was home from college over Thanksgiving, she and my son pulled out the DVDs and re-watched the series for the third or fourth time. It was particularly poignant for me because my dad died on Thanksgiving a year ago. But to see my children relishing the series once again only served to heighten my appreciation for what my father gave to me.
So, it may not be for you, but take a moment and think about whether your kids might remember 20 or 30 years from now, sharing an epic journey with their dad or mom through the trials and tribulations of Middle Earth on their way toward Mordor to try and keep the One Ring out of the hands of Sauron once and for all.
It’s like Samwise Gamgee says when Frodo Baggins frets that he doesn’t think he can accomplish the journey: “It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing. This shadow, even darkness, must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it will shine all the clearer.
“Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now that folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t because they were holding on to something.”
And when Frodo asks, “What are we holding on to, Sam?” he responds: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”
Bob Devine is the coordinator for the Pocatello Film Society. This article is a revised version of Bob Devine’s 2018 article of the same name.