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Where To From Here? Tehanu's Twenty-second Note

Current Note
 The Return of the King
Past Notes
 Following Tolkien's Footsteps
 Tad Episode
 Scary Stuff
 Monstrous Regiment
 Kalevala and the Silmarillon
 Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Middle-earth
 Silmarillion, Creation, sins of the artist
 Rarefied Air
 Quests, Myths and Archetypes
 Arthur: Quests and Legends
 Yin and Yang Quests
 The Power of Myth
 His Dark Materials
 Are We Not Geeks?
 The Two Towers Film: Tricks And Treats
 Two Towers Review, Part 2
 The Return of the King
 Where To From Here?

So the long-awaited third movie is out, and the Oscars they so richly deserved have been awarded, and we feel like we've shared in the joy of that. It is a double delight to see the Oscar-winners recognised for their talent and to see the fantasy genre which we love so much taken seriously at last. We feel thankful that they used their great talents with an honesty and clarity of purpose that allowed their own merits to shine forth at the same time as they served Tolkien's story so beautifully.

The winners raise their Oscars at the One Party

I acknowledge the achievement LOTR's Oscar-winners, but I think a lot of you reading this would agree that some of the actors deserved to be nominated as well. The fact that the actors themselves won nothing shows that there is one last barrier for fantasy movies to overcome. That is the critics' belief that the actors' performances are less worthy of consideration because the moral dilemmas and emotions they experience in a fantasy film are less valid than what actors portray in a 'real life' drama.

At the Oscars party in February, the four of us who founded TheOneRing.net had a moment to stand up on stage and address the people who'd come. Everyone there represented all of you who have followed the making of The Lord of the Rings films as though it were a great adventure we all shared in. And we did share in it. Peter Jackson and Barrie Osborne and the others confirmed that when they spoke to the crowd at the party. To them as well, the fans were more than bystanders. They were invited to accompany them in the adventure, and we did, and we were on the whole generous with our praise as they were generous with their giving.

The Net has been the window through which we were invited to follow the progess of the movies. I've always understood what a dilemma this must have been. On the one hand, the film-makers needed to keep the secrets of their trade, especially where it concerned some of the ground-breaking technology they were developing. Also, as storytellers, I think they wanted to keep surprises in store for everyone so that even the most diligent movie spy would see the movies for the first time and be jolted by novelties and unforseen visions. What storyteller would give up the thrill of springing surprises on their audience? But on the other hand, it was a secret too good not to share, if the right audience could be found to appreciate what they were doing (or at least, an audience that would debate knowledgably about what they heard.) Websites like ours gave them that audience, and it seems that as time went on they came to trust us (or all of you collectively) as a sounding board.

Since the party -- well, since before that, when the third movie came out -- many fans have been feeling a little flat. Bereft, actually, of anything to look forward to apart from the release of the extended edition of ROTK later this year. We've been looking forward to the movies for so long that we've gotten used to having that sense of anticipation. People ask themselves (and they ask me) "Is anything ever going to take its place?"

Well, what is it you want? I looked out at that Oscars party crowd and tried to explain what I thought: Here is a crowd of people that love adventure and excitement and creativity and imagination. They would not love The Lord of the Rings if they did not respect those things. These people are willing to follow those feelings enough to travel here, to Los Angeles, to be at this party. Many more would have come if they could; if we'd held the party in somewhere more remote, they still would have come. The number of international visitors who came to the Return of the Ringers party in Wellington proves that. So: you are people who can dream, and some of you take steps to make that dream come true.

But that is just the least tremor of the earthquake that these films were. For many people, the books and the movies turned their lives around in ways they could never have forseen. They followed their strong attraction to The Lord of the Rings and what it represented for them, and their feelings pointed them towards new friends, new pastimes, new talents, new jobs, new countries, a new life entirely. This is not something we intended to happen; nor did the film-makers. I don't know if this is something you can plan for. Certainly on TORN we felt like we were riding the wave wherever it would take us, though we were canny to take advantage of opportunities that arose. What I remember most about starting out with it was that we moved forward in whatever direction seemed most interesting.

I remember when I'd race home after work or get up early in the morning to open my e-mail, and every time it was like walking the beach after a storm tide -- the Net would have cast up all kinds of unforseen treasures. If I was bored, I'd write another article or pursue another line of enquiry with the film, and another wave of bright, shiny treasure-e-mails would wash up the next day. The best ones, from our point of view, were the ones that started "Hi, some film people dropped these off at the place where I work -- I think they might be stills from LOTR. Want to post them on TORN?" Would we what?! Or, "Hey I found this hidden on the offical website. Not public yet. Check out these designs!" That sort of thing could make our day. And a lot more people besides, once we'd shared via the Net.

Weta test shot from "Dwayne Dippley"

I'm pretty distant from the corporate or commercial world, so I only later realised how New Line borg-level functionaries might have felt about us prying around and occasionally sticking what we thought was a playful spanner in the works. This mostly seemed to affect people lower down the corporate ladder. We didn't consider how our hobby could mess them up as much as we would consider the feelings of people at the top, and their concern whether what we did hurt the films. But if it was somebody's job to manage a carefully-planned million dollar advertising campaign then our ability to seize spoilers and disseminate them on the Net fouled things up for them and they got justifiably mad about it.

Xoanon, Corvar and Calisuri and myself have dealt with many New Line people (Barrie, Mark, the others, you know wh0 you are) who have been remarkably kind and generous to us and the fans; who are themselves creative, imaginative and bold thinkers. They are the gentlemen of New Line and they are champs. I can't praise them highly enough. Long may they prosper.

Quickbeam's scoop on the 'Jamboree' false script covers.

But I would also run into some people of the kind who always exist lower down on the food chain in any large corporation -- in this case the bottom-dwelling New Line drones who would run interference on everything TORN did. (Hey, is it their fault if it's their job to do this sort of thing?)They loathed our autonomy, they would shun a novel idea as they would shun a rabid dog, and it is with great pleasure that I realise that I need never deal with them again if I don't want to, and I expect the feeling is mutual. (This, by the way, is my personal opinion and not that of the site as a whole.)

To be fair, to them we seemed chaotic and unpredictable, and they may have imagined that we were capable of a great deal of damage. I suppose we might have, if we'd hated what Peter Jackson and his crew were doing, but we were so impressed with their way of going about things from the very first that we had faith in them all the way along.

The four hobbits at the Prancing Pony, months before we had anything to go on.

Luckily for everyone, TORN was about more than just spy reports on the movies. As nice as it was to receive those spymails, I enjoyed just as much the constant stream of mail from people who wanted to discuss Tolkien. People who offered points of view, who debated and explained, who brought their life experience to bear on their understanding of the books. Best of all was the diversity -- there were Tolkien fans of all ages and backgrounds from so many parts of the world. As time went on I began to sense a community that was growing across the distances. I could read between the lines and trace how for some people the act of entering this community enlarged their lives and in some cases freed them from a burden of dullness, isolation and entrapment. There can be nothing that has given me more satisfaction.

So anyway to return to my point: What to look forward to now that the movies are as good as done? Well, what have you learned from them? Not the story of the Ring; you knew that already. What is the lesson in the story of the making of the movies? That's the story of you getting involved in the excitement, the guesswork, the speculation, the ideas, the process of seeing them come into the light. The story of you spending time thinking about Middle-earth, and your delight in discovering that other people cared about it as much as you do. This story is the point, and it is what the great mythographer Joseph Campbell called 'following your bliss.'

We've spent five years watching something that was fun. We enjoyed it whole-heartedly and without self-interest. We didn't question whether it had any point. It just was, and we were child-like in our acceptance of it. Because our guard was down, it enriched our lives before we knew it. Now the challenge is to ask ourselves what it is that we love to do the way the film-makers loved to do their work. It's time to notice the silly drawings we used to do, but put aside when we grew up. Time to remember the dreams we had of learning to weave a medieval tapestry, or the idea for that perfect adventure game -- and let those ideas come out and play. Play hard. We've watched PJ's people do it, working long hours into the night. We know Tolkien did it, with every spare moment and spare scrap of paper he had. And remember -- for many years his life appeared something completely boring and unproductive to the casual observer. He published little, and outside of his philological work he appeared absorbed in his family. The only hint of difference was the regularity with which he met his like-minded friends at the Eagle and Child pub. There they would drink and argue and read out their work to each other, sometimes with no real hope of a wider audience. But Tolkien in his own private mind remained committed to the elaboration of his fantasy world.

But this all sounds as if all it takes to create great art is to try hard. It sounds like all you need to do to become a writer or artist yourself is to work at it, and if you're not succeeding it's because you're not trying hard enough. I don't believe that myself however, and I'm not saying that Tolkien's example should drive you to transform yourself into a writer or something. It might, but on the other hand your talent might be something quite different, something you've used all along but not given due honour. You could have a talent for living a life of comfort and balance, like a hobbit. A talent for fellowship, for loyalty, for peacemaking among friends and family. There are lots of gifts that, practiced with skill, leave no lasting monument that one can show off, like a book or a film. They are worth no less for all that.

Meanwhile, every journey begins with the first step, as Frodo (and even more Sam) discovered when they set out from Bag End, hardly knowing anything of the road ahead. If your dream is to build a hobbit hole then you don't have to have a piece of land and a degree in engineering by tomorrow. You can at least talk to other people who are doing it for a few years first. To ride elf-fashion, without saddle or bridle -- well, you could start by getting lessons to ride normally. Practise the hospitality of a hobbit, throw memorable dinner-parties and nobody will care your house doesn't look like a palace. Follow your curiosity, find something that interests you and throw yourself into it wholeheartedly!


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