I remember the day when my friend Nick first told me that "they" were making a movie out of the Lord of the Rings. We were hiking in Chatauqua Park above Boulder, Colorado, and I remember being excited, but also worried that the movie might suck.
There would be a lot of people who hadn't read Tolkien's book who would form their opinion of Tolkien based on the movie. If the film sucked, this would simply be another excuse to dismiss the story as "just" fantasy, a kid's book, something that didn't deserve much respect. For some reason, I thought it was important that this didn't happen. I'm thrilled when I meet people who know who Aragorn is, or who can tell me how they imagine the battle on Weathertop, or that they like (or hate) Denethor. I suppose for many people, the satisfaction I find in sharing the Lord of the Rings is found by sharing family stories, or Bible stories, or other such things. Your sense of belonging to the culture around you is stronger if you can share common stories, and if this movie was good, maybe a whole lot of people would see it, and maybe some of them would read the books. Maybe Rivendell would settle a little more firmly into the foundation of the culture around me. That was my hope. My fear was that a bad movie would scare people away, and Tolkien would involuntarily become a more private passion.
And then the first film came out, and it was great. It wasn't perfect, but it obviously took Tolkien's story seriously, and that was what was most important. The public seemed to like it, based on how much money it made. It was even nominated for Best Picture. And so was the second one. But they didn't win. By now my hopes were higher; I wanted a real triumph.
Tonight, The Return of the KIng won Best Picture, Peter Jackson won Best Director, and the concluding episode of Tolkien's story is tied for most Oscar wins in one year with Titanic and Ben Hur--eleven. I'm feeling, for some reason, personally triumphant. Because this is something I've wanted for a while.
I can make a reference now to Aragorn or to Gollum in casual conversation, and there's a good chance everyone will know who I'm talking about. When people mention elves, they're sometimes not thinking of the Keebler kind. This is how stories sink in, over time. And I'd like to think Tolkien's story is settling in more or less permanently into our cultural background, helped along by these movies that Peter Jackson made.