In my convalescence (today much more solidly underway than yesterday, thanks for asking), I decided I'd had enough of Patrick O'Brian in my bed (oo-er!) and decided the sofa in the den with the teevee was the capital spot for healing. After watching the Washington Capitals' demolition of the Miserable Pittsburgh Penguins (and wasn't Simeon Varlamov's save in the second period an absolute stunner?), I decided the best thing for my health was a Lord of the Rings moviefilm marathon.
I hadn't seen much of any of it since the flicks were current, although we'd bought Freddie the whole shooting match on DVD for various birthdays and Christmases. So I plunked in The Fellowship of the Ring, sat back, and let time pass.
The first thing that struck me was the complete lack of any economic reality in Middle Earth. Bilbo Baggins is working on a book early on. My thought was, How are you going to get that published, Bilbo? Your agrarian paradise in the Shire sure looks pretty free of any grubby realities like literary agents, copy editors or grasping publishing companies. Later, in Rivendell, we see the final result of Bilbo's labors, and it's a single, handwritten, unique copy of (what we know as) The Hobbit; how this one frail tome is supposed to enlighten anyone save its own author is left to the imagination. But it's fantasy, don't you know. You mustn't dig too deeply into how this world actually works or ask uncomfortable questions, because that sort of skepticism ruins a lovely and symbol-laden plotline.
The other thing that rather deeply disturbs me is how feudal Middle Earth is, and how the story doesn't even question this. Aragorn, by his very existence, it is made clear to us early on, as of the bloodline of kings, is the only person capable of uniting disparate interests in fighting Unknowable Evil. Why that's actually true is left up to the imagination. But the feudal economic system of Middle Earth apparently contains not a single serf. A tiny glimpse of the actual working class, at the Prancing Pony in Bree, shows a filthy, hard-drinking bunch in a tavern; past that, we have no idea whatsoever how food appears on tables, how wagons get made, how horses are tended, and who digs the latrines. The Elves in Rivendell, in particular, are all nobility and no serfdom; apparently that Magic Elf Bread just hops out of the ovens ready to eat at the snap of a finger, and the beautiful flowers and gardens they are surrounded with exist entirely independent of gardeners and groundskeepers.
In the exposition at the beginning of the film, there's an interesting use of the passive voice: Nine rings were given to Men, seven rings given to Dwarves, etc. But secretly, One Ring to Rule Them All was made... So who did all this ring-making and Secret-Evil-Super-Ring Dispensing, hmmm? Shouldn't this agent be given some of the blame for the succeeding death and destruction? (I suppose this question is answered somewhere deep in the capacious bowels of The Silmarillion, but fuck me if I'm going to go looking for it. Life's way too short for that shit.) Weren't the families of the apparently millions of soldiers destroyed in Middle Earth's wars a trifle bereft, perhaps given some inkling of the revolutionary notion that their lives were worth more than serving as cannon-fodder? I mean, we've gone over this stuff, folks!
We are, of course, never told about the families and how they felt about Papa's peremptory beheading by some royal bastard or Elven Eloi at Helm's Deep. Instead, we are encouraged to sympathize with one king over some other equally undeserving turd because the Undeserving T's ancestors, three thousand years ago, made a poor tactical decision. Over ownership of a fucking ring. ("Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I'm being repressed!")
(Now that I think of it, the Orcs are born out of the ground, and thus don't even have families. All the easier to slaughter by the thousands -- no tearful wives and children to bereave.)
Oooh, look at Jingo, getting all righteous over a work of fantasy fiction!
It's why I haven't set foot in the genre since I was about thirteen, and suspect that those who do haven't themselves advanced beyond that age. It disguises itself. It lies.
And let's not even get started on the sexism...
Update: I'd forgotten why I got off on this rant in the first place. It was accents.
Of the four actors playing Hobbitses in the main part of the trilogy, three (Merry, Pippin, and the nauseatingly servile Sam Gamgee), chose rural English accents. (Rural English, in the modern actor's hands, is a sort of amalgamation of Yorkshire and Bristol and Liverpool.) The actor playing Frodo, however, speaks Received Standard English -- "posh" -- as do all other actors playing nobility. I believe this is no directorial oversight.
This sails over our feudally-inexperienced American heads, but a British person would catch it right away.
Further Update: I guess it really comes down to whether or not you consider "Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!" a good use of your time...