Lord of the Rings : The Return of the Read - Book 6, Chapter 9

While the journey is not done yet, we have other books we plan to explore and the Appendices yet to read, I want to take a moment to note that we're at the last chapter of this part of the journey.  After this we'll be moving on to Bilbo's Last Song and then tackling the Silmarillion.

This final chapter is more than just an ending to The Return of the King and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It stands as the conclusion of a saga, tying up threads started outside Lord of the Ring with the finishing of Bilbo's book, the ending of the feud with Lobelia, and other events.  The Shire, like England, prevails, though I feel a good bit of it's recovery is due to Samwise (and Galadriel's gift).

While Merry, Pippin, and Sam all fit back well into society, they had their tethers.  Frodo was always something of an outsider, and now with the changes brought on by the Ring and the trauma he bore, he is left somewhat afloat.  We don't actually know what wounds Merry and Pippin bear behind their jovial faces, but they've always had each other, and their relationship has a parity not seen between Sam and Frodo.  Samwise is a nurturer, and saw altogether less of combat than Merry and Pippin.  He had Frodo as his charge, then the lands of the Shire, and now his children.  Not to downplay the trauma he experienced, but he has diversions and absorption in his life.  But Frodo... Frodo is largely an empty vessel, a detached dreamer from the start, now consumed and used up by the Ring.

The trilogy ends at it began, with Bilbo's birthday.  And with the closing of a saga, we say farewell to the elves, Gandalf, and both Frodo and Bilbo.

I almost don't want to cover the ending of other movie, but I'm seeing this to the end.  Otherwise I'd be happy to end with the preceding short paragraph.  Without the Scouring of the Shire, Jackson has no need to show us it's healing.  After the visual grandeur of the landscapes, vistas, and battles... the harbor and the ship to me are a let down, with the actors clearly superimposed over a background and minimal set.  Not only that, but it gives us the oddest mix of powerful emotion and forced acting across the board.  The misery and tears shown by Merry, Pippin, and Sam is convincing, yet thrown off by stifled body language.  Jackson also never really gives us Frodo as a survivor of trauma, just the active suffering.  So while we finally see Frodo truly happy, it's handled more in a quick hand-off rather than a much needed peace.

Having watched more films (and trilogies) by Jackson in the intervening years since my first viewing of The Return of the King in the theaters, the weakness of the ending no longer surprises me.  He knows how to open and carry an epic story, but ends seem the weaker part of his films.  At the same time, I have to acknowledge the care and respect he took in regards to the original material with the Lord of the Rings.  Even with the changes, the major events and characters remain recognizable, with meticulous detail to setting, costuming, and casting.  Jackson gave us movies that so often matched, surpassed, or supplanted our personal visions of the Shire, hobbits, Gandalf, and Middle Earth.  For all my complaints about The Hobbit, the resonance of that opening chokes me up a little.

The rest of this journey will by and large be done free of film references, except where material directly relates to Jackson's translations to the screen.  This also may mark the end of accompanying illustrations from the books, as I lack regular access to an illustrated version of The Silmarillion and the Appendices have little ornament, but we'll see.


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