Frodo Lives: A Critical Analysis 

“Frodo Lives” – A Critical Analysis of a Movie: The Lord of the Rings
by gentlegiant

Upon reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy The Lord of the Rings as a young adult, Peter Jackson found himself both wondering if and hoping that, someday, someone would make it into a movie. Throughout the 50 years that followed its publication, The Lord of the Rings was regarded as being too complex in both nature and scope for any worthy film adaptation to be feasible. In 1971, Jackson had no idea that he would eventually become that “someone” who would transform the literary masterpiece into a critically acclaimed motion picture. But is this movie more than “just” a movie? Does it not only entertain but also bring about “greater things?” Is it truly of national or even international significance? Why has this particular source of “pure” entertainment prompted millions of people worldwide to unite in ways that many regard as unbridled passion and admiration (not only for the movie itself, but for its director, writers, actors, set directors, score composer and musical performers, its fictitious environs and imaginary creatures, and so much more)?

Within this paper, I will present information that answers questions such as those above so that the reader will have a greater understanding of how and why the movie, The Lord of the Rings, has affected such an incredible number of people worldwide in such a powerful and significant way.

It is fairly common knowledge that J.R.R. Tolkien, as a matter of principle, despised the very suggestion of allegory within his works. But, to paraphrase a line from another movie, Forrest Gump, “readers is as readers does.” By that, I mean only that any given work of literature is likely to establish – within all its readers’ minds – an intricate set of bonds and connections which pull each reader “into” the work in a uniquely individual manner. So, although Tolkien may not have intended that the specific details within his work be interpreted as symbolic of anything in the “real world” or allegorical in any way, a sound assumption, nonetheless, comes to the fore; all readers have a tendency to seek out such symbolic or allegorical ideas or concepts. If one presumes that this assumption has any merit, then a fantasy epic such as Tolkien’s 1000 page novel is likely to present numerous, potentially allegorical parallels to the real lives of virtually all of its readers.

The same can be said of Peter Jackson’s lengthy (roughly eleven hours) film adaptation. Although many details of the novel have been altered or deleted, the movie closely flows with and adheres to the original concepts of the author’s incredible story-telling skills and vivid imagination. As a result of this, Jackson’s visual interpretation of the novel serves the purpose of taking the novel to an entirely new level of existence. (This new “life” is neither necessarily better nor necessarily worse than the original; it is simply new.) During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, signs started appearing here and there, such as in the subway tunnels of New York City, that stated, simply, “Frodo Lives.” Much like Tolkien initially brought Frodo and all of Middle Earth to life in the novel, Peter Jackson has breathed new life into that realm in the movie.

There are few who would deny that general popularity and, hence, money-making ability is a means by which someone’s – or something’s – value or importance can be measured. The simple truth of the matter is that the first installment was very successful at the box office; and the second and third installments have each done better than their predecessors. (If the first installment of the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, had not been nearly as successful as it was, I likely would not be writing this paper at this time!) There are very few movies in cinematic history that can boast greater overall popularity than The Lord of the Rings, which is very close to having garnered three billion dollars in ticket sales in just over two years. However, the ability to turn huge a profit is not of itself a means of determining anything’s true significance. In order to properly evaluate The Lord of the Rings in such a way, one must certainly delve deeper.

The Lord of the Rings has already been highly regarded and critically acclaimed as a masterpiece within the realm of cinematic history. At the professional level, the movie has already acquired much recognition from many who make their living in the movie industry. In March, 2002, The Fellowship of the Ring received four Oscars®. The following year, The Two Towers received two. Approximately two weeks ago, The Return of the King was nominated for a total of 11 Oscars®. But even these facts do not begin to tell the complete story of the critical acclaim for the movie. At the recent Golden Globe awards, The Return of the King received four awards in as many nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Even more recently, the Director’s Guild awarded Peter Jackson with its Best Director honors. Throughout the entire history of film making, very few movies have – and no other fantasy film has – been so highly regarded.

This movie possesses significance in still other manners and forms. Director Peter Jackson hails from New Zealand. The actors within the film come from Europe (including Scotland and England), Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Even before one image had been caught on film, The Lord of the Rings had garnered much interest and attention at the international level. This same world-wide interest carries over in the fact that seemingly countless fan clubs and web-sites have been created around the world in its honor. The movie has gained the attention and intense interest of tens of millions of people world-wide. Through these clubs, members chat, share their passions for the movie and its actors, share both the joys and dilemmas within their daily lives, and – much like the Inklings of Tolkien/Lewis/et al fame -- share assorted literary efforts including poetry, prose, fan-fiction, and even occasional novels-in-progress. Other members, in addition to some or all of the above activities, plan in-person get-togethers; and all of these activities are largely a direct result of having viewed the movie. In short, this movie has prompted the creation of a myriad of real world “fellowships” which offer people from all walks of life a chance to share this common and powerful interest.

I have already touched upon several aspects of the significance that the movie The Lord of the Rings has come to possess and disseminate, but like the One Ring itself – like the power of Sauron that was represented within that ring – the significance of the One Movie seems to flow outward in ways that are highly varied and nearly exponential in magnitude. Perhaps the most intangible measure of the significance of this movie would be the new-found interest in reading that has enveloped many regions of our real world as surely as the evil darkness spread from Mordor toward other regions in Middle Earth. Recently, I learned that sales of the novel through and similar sales sites had increased nearly 1000% from the time that the first installment was released. The movie has prompted a new generation of readers to examine J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary genius. (I had never read the novel until after seeing the first installment.) But surely, this trend will not end at Tolkien. Many of those who received the novel as a gift or purchased it for their own use will also seek out works by other gifted authors of fantasy and other genres.

Likely, it would be impossible to determine any demographic breakdown of these new readers, but I know that many of the members in the club to which I belong are not yet in their mid-teens; some members are only ten! Perhaps now, thanks in large part to J.R.R. Tolkien in the first place and to Peter Jackson in the second, young adults and even fairly young children will become more involved readers, enter the truly astounding world of serious literature, and take the entire concept of reading more seriously than I ever did in my own youth.

So, is this "just” another movie? I think not. No mere movie – no insignificant text of any sort – could ever hope to induce such widespread interest and acclaim as has The Lord of the Rings.

Earlier, I mentioned the appearance of signs stating simply “Frodo lives.” Most people at that time had absolutely no idea who – or what, for that matter! – Frodo was. Now, thanks largely to this truly remarkable cinematic achievement, people all over the world are being introduced to Frodo and all the other characters – some good and some evil; some eloquent and others crude; some having two horns and others having eight legs) – in a highly visual and realistic manner. People are taking increased interest in such worthy things as becoming more literate, joining fellowships of their own, and becoming caring friends.

And someday, perhaps, if we are not very “careful,” we may suddenly realize that Frodo does not “live” in the subway tunnels anymore. He – along with his innocently good nature – may well end up living within all of us; not only when we “visit” Frodo’s Middle Earth in either its cinematic or literary form, but whenever we venture down “the Road [that] goes ever on and on” about our own Real World.