The journey that changed the lives of a generation began a little more than 10 years ago.
As millions watched a hobbit named Frodo Baggins make his way across Middle Earth to destroy the Ring of Power on a movie screen, each viewer developed his or her own relationship with author J.R.R. Tolkien’s world. Some of those viewers grew up, graduated high school and eventually enrolled at St. Bonaventure University.
The Shadow of the Past
The 2001 movie “Spy Kids” first introduced junior journalism and mass communication major Bryan Clark to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in an unlikely way.
“(Before ‘Spy Kids’ started) they had a trailer for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies,” Clark said. “I hadn’t heard of these things before, but I thought they seemed kind of cool. My friends and I started noticing the previews and commercials on TV. Even though the book we’d read so far wasn’t great, we knew something was going on.”
The films soon became a yearly event for Clark and his friends.
“I remember during the Fellowship of the Ring, during the Council of Elrond, one of my friends dropped all the Skittles from his Skittles bag onto the theater floor, and it was pretty loud,” he said.
For Clark and students like sophomore criminology major Brandon Kallen, the yearly release of director Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films became not just a tradition, but a door opening a new world.
“I never really got to read any of the books,” Kallen said. “But I got into it mostly when I saw the first movie. Then I just watched every single movie and became an avid viewer. I started to learn a bunch about ‘Lord of the Rings’ and its characters.”
Clark, who chose to do his eerily accurate Gollum impersonation during the interview, recalls emulating other “Lord of the Rings” characters with his childhood friends.
“I live across the street from the woods, so my friends and I would go into the forest to play ‘Lord of the Rings’ and we’d use branches and sticks as swords and pretend that the trees were orcs,” Clark said. “I was Gandalf.”
For graduate student Monica Edwards, Tolkien’s works included a moral, humanistic base that inspired her.
“I always really liked the idea of a band of truly good people being able to overcome unimaginable odds,” Edwards said. “I always liked the friendships — Frodo and Sam especially — and Legolas and Gimli as well. … I think Tolkien’s helped bring me to where I am today.”
An Unexpected Journey
In just 11 months, on Dec. 14, many will return to Tolkien’s mythical world when “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” hits theaters under Jackson’s direction. The trailer, which appeared on the Internet a few days before Christmas, provoked renewed thought and wonder at the world Tolkien single-handedly created.
“When I was a kid, I just thought ‘Hey, these (movies) are awesome, they’re the coolest thing,'” said senior journalism and mass communication major Levi Trimble. “Now that I’ve cultured myself a little bit, I’ve realized they were instant classics, because without Tolkien we wouldn’t have modern-day fantasy or sci-fi. Those works are probably some of the most important in fiction.”
Sophomore journalism and mass communication major Kevin Rogers agreed that viewing Tolkien’s stories will evoke different feelings a decade later.
“I think you’re able to appreciate it more (over time). The movies kind of give you a SparkNotes of it,” Rogers said. “Some of it’s a little thick when you’re 10 or 11, but looking back it’s so much better because you have that base to go off of, and you appreciate the books more. You tend to hate the movies a little more, too, but that’s just how it goes.”
Rogers, who can occasionally be seen wearing his “Sad Balrog” T-shirt around campus, said he’s been looking forward to ‘The Hobbit’ since he heard the news about its adaptation.
“I know it’s probably not going to be perfect, but as long as they keep doing what they did with ‘Lord of the Rings’ I’m pretty sure it’ll be fine,” Rogers said. “I’m pumped to see Gollum again. I kind of want it to come now.”
Kallen said his initial skepticism about “The Hobbit” changed instantly with the trailer’s release.
“I thought that the Hobbit wasn’t going to be very good, because I was thinking, ‘Oh, they just want more money,'” he said. “When I saw the trailer, I felt like they were really sticking to the ‘Lord of the Rings’-esque type of development and I honestly got goose bumps when I watched the trailer.”
A Long-Expected Party
As the years since the “Lord of the Rings” have passed, the children who grew up with the trilogy became adults who continue to love the stories.
“Over last winter, I got so into the books that I actually tried to write my own Tolkien-ian ‘Legendarian,’ as it’s called,” Trimble said, “Which I really shouldn’t say in public, but I don’t care.”
Edwards also rediscovered Tolkien’s literary legacy in her academic pursuits.
“Last semester, I took a class on Middle English and I ended up writing a paper on Old English. I used Tolkien’s criticism on Old English as one of my major sources. It was really interesting to see a lot of his roots in this stuff, and it made me more interested in a literary period I had little interest in.”
For Kallen, knowing Tolkien has been a uniting factor between himself and other people interested in the books and movies.
“It brings people together, and it has a lot of good morals and lessons in the movie, like the friendship between Sam and Frodo and all that,” he said. “That’s a real friendship I think everyone should aspire toward. It just has a lot of secret and hidden meanings that allow for interpretation and draws the viewers in.”
Kallen’s, along with multitudes of others’, feelings about these stories will likely never change.
“I am still in love with them,” he said.