This is the entry I started with. It turned into a two parter when I remembered that not everyone shares my love of all things Tolkien. Thank heaven I didn't have to go any further back in Tolkien's creation to explain who and where these people are in the story.
If you can rent of the extended versions of the three Rings films, do it. It’s probably as close as any of us will get to old fashioned, in your face, up close and personal warfare with swords, daggers and clubs. Actually second and third films are loaded with ancient weapons and battle engines. Catapults, trebuchets, ballistas, battering rams, you name it the bad guys have it. Remarkable how much damage you can do with machines that aren’t mechanized. It’s intense, dirty, bloody, and brutal.
Theoden’s despair as he faces what defeat at Helm’s Deep will mean for the women and children who’ve taken refuge in the caves behind the fortress and Aragon’s desperation as he tries to find a way of escape for at least a few are heart breaking. There is a path into the mountains, but a surviving member of the kings’ guard tells him “they will not get far.” The berserker’s charge down the causeway by the survivors in the great hall is led by an old man who has fought many battles over the years, a man who may be a king, and fueled by desperation and hope. The hope that not only will a wizard be on time but that Gandalf will have more to work with than a good horse and a really cool staff.
Defeating Saruman's Uruks at Helm's Deep is only the first step. Gondor is an old ally and desparate for support. For many if not all of Theoden's riders this may be their last ride and it reminds me that while we’ve been told we’re in the battle of the century, very few of us have been asked to do more than keep buying SUV’s, shopping at Wal Mart, upholding the tax cuts for the rich, and staying scared. The lines of riders facing the enemy on the plain before Minas Tirith include a old king who leads from the front, the nephew he trusts to pick up the banner if he falls, more than one grey beard, many horses that look more suited to the plow than a cavalry charge, one very stubborn young woman and one hobbit, who suddenly looks very small.
And the decision to ride out in spite of the odds reminds me that Americans aren’t the only ones with courage to keep fighting even if you may not win. If we can cheer for the good guys when they keep going in spite of the odds, why can’t we understand that those we call enemies are capable of the same desperate courage.
The extended cut of Return of the King has something very few films have. The scene after the battle. And it’s just enough to get your imagination to fill in the details. Blood soaking the grass, bodies of friend and enemy piled on each other, dead horses, the search for the wounded and the numbering of the dead.
The screams of the new king of Rohan when he finds someone who wasn’t supposed to be on that field kept echoing in my memory for a long time. It was that very stubborn young woman, his sister Eowyn. She survives in the end and in the novel version finds some measure of happiness. And there is also a desperately successful search by a little hobbt for his cousin and friend. A search more imagined than shown, that lasts from the end of the battle sometime around mid day until well into the night. There is also a glimpse a strong thread in the third novel. That the returning king will not only be a warrior but a healer. Not unexpected from the devoutly catholic Tolkien. But something that is very rare in those who claim to be leaders on any side in this world. We see many who claim to be warriors, dismiss those who try to be healers, and end up being neither.
We attack, the insurgents and the Taliban counter attack and the civilians are caught in the crossfire. Everyday one person or ten has to crawl out of the rubble, crack open a door, slip out a window and try to make sense out of the carnage. We know how many of our troops have been killed or injured in the last three years. Nobody seems to know how many Iraqis and Afghans have been killed or injured. Each light in this universe is unique and irreplaceable. Let’s extinguish as few as possible.