And their joy was like swords

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And their joy was like swords

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I’ve just finished re-reading The Lord of the Rings for probably the tenth time, and was so incredibly struck by one passage.

It’s shortly after the Frodo and Sam successfully complete the quest to destroy the One Ring, thanks to Gollum’s unexpected help, and the Eagles carry them out of Mordor to the land of Ithilien. The war has been won, Sauron is dead or powerless, and the soldiery of Gondor and Rohan who put their necks in the trap at the Black Gate have paused on their trip back to Minas Tirith to hold a preliminary celebration.

A bard stands up and begins to sing of the great victory, the tale of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom. And he says this:

And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.

Wow. This quality of writing and depth of meaning is, to me, one of the key, key strengths of The Lord of the Rings.

It’s not possible to capture this kind of sentiment in a movie, or Peter Jackson failed to get the very essence of this almost-ineffable thought. In the movies – as great as they are, and I do love them as well – this part of JRR Tolkien comes across as sentiment, dipping into sentimentality … the painful “Sam”s which are almost “Sum”s in Elijah Woods’ Anglicized accent … the soulfull looks from shining eyes on the flanks of Mount Doom … the long and – be honest – sappy goodbye at the Grey Havens, so different from the ending in the book.

I repeat: I loved the movies, and they are very, very well done, and capture so much of Tolkien. But here, as in perhaps 4 other unnecessary divergences from the text (Aragorn’s reluctance to come into his own, the Warg attack and Aragorn “death scene” in the middle of the The Two Towers, Faramir’s taking of Frodo back to Osgiliath instead of freeing him in Ithilien in Return of the King, and the losing battle of wills between Gandalf and the King of Angmar on walls of Minas Tirith), the books go places the movie cannot follow.

There’s so much more to capture, if you will just take the time to enjoy the books.


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