I just finished reading The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien for the first time and I must confess there was a time or two I thought it wouldn’t happen. My first time trying to read it was probably a decade ago and I don’t think I made it past the description of hobbits. That being said, besides a couple of sections where I felt the story took too long to develop, I really enjoyed the entire book.
Now the down-side, or up-side depending on how you look at it, the book has ruined the movies for me. I had seen the movies a few times prior to reading and used to enjoy them. As an experiment, I decided to watch all three movies over the course of a few days following my completion of the book. Watching the movies felt like treason. My favorite characters were at times very poorly represented or neglected entirely. Faramir, for example, instead of coming across as a wise and searching man is portrayed as a duplicate of his brother displaying great arrogance and weakness towards the ring. Also the poor guy never falls in love with Eowyn in movie! Talk about kicking a character while he is down. Not to mention they failed to represent how epic the Ents were! You don’t mess with Ents. Overall the worst thing about the movies is contrasted by the most difficult thing about the book: while the book at times dragged on, the movies feel annoyingly rushed by comparison. It is just one scene and then quickly on to the next and the character and plot development suffer greatly. Overall using imagination while reading is far more enjoyable than letting someone else speed things up and do the imagining for you.
I could write an entire blog about this but that would be dull, why not analysis my favorite lines from the book instead, yep that sounds like more fun! The setting is Gandalf and Saruman’s showdown and it goes like this:
Gandalf: I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colors, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.
“I liked white better,” Gandalf said.
“White!” he (Saruman) sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten, and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it is no longer white,” said Gandalf. “And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
If I could ask Tolkien to break down any part of the book and his thinking it would be this. I feel like there is so much at play here. First you have this seemingly white robe but in actuality it only appears white and is an assortment of color that leaves one confused. The robe fits Saruman well, being a character built upon deceit and craftiness, but the imagery is striking. The white garment gives the appearance of purity of heart, of good intention and may lure one in before they are caught by that serpents tongue. A black robe would be much too obvious and would openly display the evil within, such a robe would be fitting for Sauron who makes no attempts to hide his evil, but Saruman though not as powerful is more dangerous. The most dangerous forms of evil lead one to be drawn in by the appearance of good.
As the conversation proceeds Saruman talks about the white being a good foundation but not the object of final desire. White is a means to an end, not the end itself. White must be broken to be fully realized. Is that not human nature? To take an object, a desire, a gift and bend it beyond its intended nature. We are not satisfied with the good of the object itself, but must push it to serve our inward purposes. In the end we break it and in doing so deprive ourselves of the basic good inherent to the object and deceive ourselves as to having mastered the object while in reality, having now broken the object we have instead not mastered the object but have been driven to a point that has lost the ability to see the good of the true nature of the object in its given form and have been led astray to chase after ideals that the object does not promise nor intended to give us. In breaking the object we have left wisdom because in breaking it we have lost it. The implications fit well today with modern thinking of self fulfillment and the ideals of autonomy for each individual to find their own meaning in the gifts of life and to no longer see the basic meaning provided in those gifts in and of themselves. In declaring our own right over the gifts of life we have broken the gifts of what they are meant to be. We have left the path of wisdom and overwritten the white. I liked white better.