Sunday, December 28, 2003

Ed Kemmick makes a good case for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but I have to admit -- dare I? -- that the argument is lost on me. I waded through "The Hobbit" in high school because I was dating a girl who thought I should, and what she thought I should do meant a lot in those days. I then bravely started the trilogy but abandoned it about the time the girl abandoned me. That fantasy world was not a place I wanted to inhabit.

I've never been sure why. I don't read much genre fiction, but I enjoy a good science fiction story and like detective stories boiled so hard they break your teeth. The surrealists stimulate me, and the magical realists delight me. I even read a romance novel once just to say I did. I would willingly read another, if public execution was the only alternative. But sentence me to read a fantasy novel, and I would ask for the hemlock. After what seemed like the 150th time Gandalf miraculously bailed out the hapless Hobbits, I realized that I had absolutely no desire to read about the 151st.

Same with the movies. I went to see the first of the trilogy at the buck theater, found it gorgeous and fully realized, and then I fell fast asleep somewhere in the first hour. Later, when I saw chunks of the film on HBO, I realized that I had totally missed long sequences, including the climactic fall of Gandalf near the end. I must have slept a long time. Since I tend to snore, I'm sure it was an enlightening experience for my fellow moviegoers, like having an orc in the next seat.

I waited for HBO to see the second film. Again, it was visually dazzling, grand in scope and brilliantly executed. I was engrossed. Then, about an hour into it, I realized that I had totally lost track of what was going on, cared nothing about any of the characters -- and was getting very, very sleepy. I went to bed.

I've rejected whole bodies of popular culture without a twinge of conscience, from Britney Spears to James Bond. That isn't always fair, but the sheer volume of popular entertainment is so massive that one has no choice but to make arbitrary decisions about what to see and what to avoid.

But I've always felt a bit guilty, even at fault, for failing to enjoy Tolkien. No doubt the trilogy is an important contribution to world literature. No doubt I will never figure out why.

Maybe it was the girl.

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