Further Experiments in Masturbation
12 April 2018
If you’d like to read it please feel free to order a copy by following the link below:
Anti-Hero, Cirith Gorgor, depression, Depression is an illness, Everyday is Exactly the Same, fantasy, Flawed hero, Gollum, Gollum/Smeagol, Hobbits, Identity, J.R.R. Tolkien, Literature, Michael D.C. Drout, Morannon, music, NIN, Nine Inch Nails, Novel, Of Sorcerer’s and Men, Physical Ailments of Depression, Physical Symptoms of Depression, Rango, Sense of Self, Smeagol, Spirit of the West, Split Personality, suicide, The Lord of the Rings, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Two Towers, With Teeth
Try to save myself, but my self keeps slipping away.
Into the Void, Trent Reznor
Clint Eastwood made a square out of the dust on the windshield of his golf-cart. He framed Rango and said one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard in terms of narrative theory:
Spirit of the West: No man can walk out of his own story.
It may be a platitude, but this line still felt powerful when I was watching it, even after Clint Eastwood drove away in his golf-cart disappearing into the desert of Nevada. The line stuck with me, and as I was listening to Michael D.C. Drout’s lecture series Of Sorcerers and Men I was reminded again of the line as the man asked an important question: Is Gollum the hero of his own story?
Every reader I suspect has one friend, co-worker, or casual acquaintance who believes that they can do impressions. These will usually be, in order, Borat, Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, Bill Murray from Caddy Shack, and of course Andy Serkis’s now defining portrayal of Gollum. Imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery, but Jeff really needs to find a better hobby now that his divorce is finalized.
My usual, dismal humor aside, the character of Gollum is something that has lasted past the flair and hoopla of the Lord of the Rings film franchise, and even if there are people who no longer recognize words like Nazgul, Hobbits, Gandalf, and Aragorn, most people probably recognize the character of Gollum, in due large part to Serkis’s incredible performance, and maybe unfortunately that one episode of Big Bang Theory. Gollum as a figure and a character is something most people can latch onto easily in the Lord of the Rings trilogy because the character is so often recognized as an addictive personality, and his passion for the ring is popularly understood as an extended metaphor for drugs. At least that’s what myteachers and gym coaches use to tell us. And, I’m pretty sure, the reader probably has taken this interpretive route as well.
Having finished The Two Towers however, and looking at the larger character arc of the character Gollum, I kept returning to Drout’s question, and the Spirit of the West’s advice. No one can walk out of their own story, but is it possible for someone to break themselves down so much so that they can no longer see themselves as the hero or at least maker of their own story?
This is a difficult question and one that I struggle with because I suffer from depression. I drive my wife, friends, and coworkers nuts with this because I am often putting myself down, I rarely receive compliments with much comfort, and if anyone attempts to praise me I’m often to say that I’m really not worth it, or else that there are better people than me. This is usually my facade for my real feelings which often amount to the conviction that my life is worthless, I have no real importance to anyone around me, and that everyone would be better off if I was dead.
I have no rational explanation for this conviction. It’s all just a regular feeling I’m held by. Birthdays tend to be the worst, and I often find excuses not to accept any sort of praise. And I can honestly say that I’ve told myself regularly that I am worth less than dog-shit.
Taking all of this in, and reflecting on which part of the Book 4 of The Two Towers to write about there really doesn’t seem to be any conflict. I knew I was going to write about Gollum, but rather than look upon his disorder as a form of dependence or addiction, I feel that there stands a real argument that the man is really a beautiful metaphor for depression, specifically the way people can self-denigrate to the point oblivion.
It’s not simply that Gollum as a character is so far gone that he’s completely abandoned his previous name and identity of Smeagol, one of the river-folk from a good family, it’s the fact that he barely retains any sort of semblance of his previous existence. Though while reading the book I was struck by a passage, largely because Drout had pointed it out to me. I’ll admit that I was on my way to work, listening to the lecture about Gollum and becoming more and more sympathetic to the character, but I wasn’t prepared for what came next. Drout read the passage, and I had to drive through tears.
The passage takes place later in Book 4, as Sam and Frodo are asleep and Gollum has returned finding them in this state:
Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist in him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee—but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepershave seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing. (699).
I was crying for Gollum, something I never really thought that I would say or write. It feels hammy or ridiculous, but at the same time I recognize it isn’t because I cry every time I read Harry Potter and read Dobby’s death, I weep every time Simba tries to wake up Mufassa after he’s fallen into the stampede, and to this day I know that I will never watch Old Yeller because…No, just no. Fuck, no. This sympathy for a fictional character who I often despise was an incredible sensation, and was partly what confirmed my re-interest in Tolkien and my conviction to finish his trilogy this time.
The passage was incredible for the way it helped me recognize the physicality of depression, and the tole it takes on the body.
Depression is as much a physical ailment as it is an emotional burden, not enough people really seem to recognize that. There’s the sadness, and morbid-as-fuck thoughts in which you try to rationalize why your existence is flawed, pointless, and a waste of other people’s time, but these sensations are only part of the larger show. I’ve begun to recognize more and more that my depression tends to manifest in physical ailments such as twitching, headaches, panic attacks where it feels like I can’t breath. And the most depressing thing about all of this crap is that I’ve begun to realize how ephemeral my body is, which is another way of saying I’ve become more and more aware of the aging process and so I’m realizing this clap-trap of a form is the only body I’m going to get.
My concern for my physical well-being is a sign that my depression has not completely taken my spirit over and so I’ve taken the time to invest in self-repair.
The physical symptoms of depression are real and present in this small scene, but even more so is the disconnect. Depression as an illness is not just about feeling sad and impotent coupled with a few physical ailments. Tolkien is really great at showing how the lingering pain of depression is this real sense of waste. Gollum/Smeagol in passage isn’t just some random cretin, he’s a real being who once had a life with passion and purpose. Seeing Sam and Frodo in their “youth” (Frodo is supposed to be in his fifties so I place that word in quotations) Gollum is really able, and thus the reader is able as well, to see how the man has wasted his life immersing himself in the ring. And this leads to the most pernicious aspect of depression that Tolkien is able to convey which is that, over time, people can become so comfortable in their pain that they don’t want to change their life because they don’t know anything else.
Long before this passage Gollum leads Frodo and Sam to Morannon just outside of the Black Gates of Cirith Gorgor. That’s all jargon for the entrance to Mordor, I’m a nerd remember.
Before the actual attempt to enter Mordor takes place Gollum confronts Frodo in a moment of desperation:
‘No, no, master!” Wailed Gollum, pawing at him, and seeming in great distress. ‘No use that way! No use! Don’t take the Precious to Him! He’ll eat us all, if He gets it, eat all the world. Keep it, nice master, and be kind to Smeagol. Don’t let him have it. Or ho away, go to nice places, and give it back to little Smeagol. Yes, yes master give it back, eh? Smeagol will keep it safe; he will do lots of good, especially to nice hobbits.” (623-4).
I’ve recently become aware of the fact that I can be something of a vampire to my friends, because I have a tendency to be a bit of a drama queen. Whenever my depression hits in force I’m unable to really contain it and so my friends wind up having to expend emotional energy to help me out, and this usually makes me feel even worse. Seeing myself in Gollum is not a pleasant sensation I can assure the reader, but looking at this passage his desire for the Precious is not just selfishness, it’s a sign of his deeper weakness. Because Gollum has spent close to 500 years just being in the pain of the Ring, he hasn’t allowed himself to develop any kind of personal significance; he has nothing but pain and the ring. Depression mimics this kind of lifestyle because when one suffers from depression for extensive amounts of time, one becomes comfortable with thatpain. I’ve said to my friends who have suggested therapy that, “I just enjoy being broken.” And as Gollum suggests to Frodo that he taker back the ring, it’s clear Gollum wants it back not because he wants to help others, he just wants to go back to a space and place where he could be comfortable being broken.
I recognize this isn’t a terrible novel observation, because if the reader has as an eclectic taste in music as I do, they might have listened to Nine Inch Nails. The entire collected recordings of Trent Reznor might as well be one long dedication to depression, and one of my favorite songs sprung to mind as I began this essay. Everyday is Exactly the Same is a song I’ve played almost everyday for the last few months and I’ve realized more and more how relevant the song feels to my life. Looking at just a few lyrics my own depression, and Gollum’s, takes on a new dimension:
I believe I can see the future
‘Cause I repeat the same routine
I think I used to have a purpose
But then again, that might have been a dream
I think I used to have a voice
Now I never make a sound
I just do what I’ve been told
I really don’t want them to come around, oh no
Every day is exactly the same
Every day is exactly the same
There is no love here and there is no pain
Every day is exactly the same
Human beings, and by extension I suppose Hobbits, are creatures of habit. It’s a cliche I repeat often, but that’s only because there’s a great level of truth to it: habit dies harder than love. Gollum’s existence is one defined by a past tragedy that, over time, disappears into the obsession of the Ring, and while many writers and fans have gravitated to the ring as an explanation for Gollum’s psychological state, I would argue that therereally can be a case made for the reality that Gollum is suffering from a real form of depression. I’m not ignoring the supernatural power of the Ring, but the pattern of behavior suggests a deeper struggle.
Gollum is a man who who used to live in his pain, and being separated from the “comfort” of the daily pain is a great burden to bear that steadily forces him to confront the realities of the past, not to mention the psychological and physical damage he’s done to his body and mind.
Peter Jackson, to his credit, managed to convey this reality in the second of the three films as Gollum is talking to himself one night while the Hobbits are asleep.
Gollum: We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!
Smeagol: [shaking his head] No. Not master!
Gollum: [snarling malevolently] Yes, precious, false! They will cheat you, hurt you, LIE.
Smeagol: Master is my friend.
Gollum: You don’t have any friends; nobody likes you!
Smeagol: [closes his ears with his hands] I’m not listening… I’m not listening…
Gollum: You’re a liar and a thief.
Gollum: [sinister whisper] *Murderer*.
Smeagol: [voice breaking; hurt by Gollum’s remark] Go away!
Gollum: “Go away?”
[Gollum laughs mockingly as Smeagol begins to cry]
Smeagol: [weeping] I hate you. I *hate* you.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve had conversations like this with myself. Conversations that end with me crying, holding my head, and saying the word “I hate you” over and over again. And I hope that this means I’m not too far gone into this shit.
But I began this essay with a real question: Is Gollum the hero of his own story? To which Tolkien seems to provide a not so subtle answer to this question. Near the end of Book 4 Sam and Frodo are making their way to the pass of Cirith Ungol and the realm of Shelob the giant spider and Sam begins to talk aloud about the “stories of old.” It’s a bit of meta-reflection that was used beautifully in the Second Lord of the Rings film,however something was left out that begs this initial question.
‘Maybe,’ said Sam, “but I wouldn’t be one to say that. Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different. Why even Gollum might be good in a tale, better than he us to have by you, anyway. And he used to like takes himself once, by his own account. I wonder if he thinks he’s the hero of the villain?
‘Gollum!’ He called. ‘Would you like to be the hero—now where’s he got to again?’
There was no sign of him at the mouth of their shelter nor in the shadows near. (697).
At the opportunity to join the conversation, and perhaps give himself a moment to be full, and be the hero of his own story, Gollum is conspicuously absent, returning in just a few moments to find the Hobbits asleep and thus create the earlier quote that originally left me in tears as I drove to work. The question is answered by that absence, and Gollum’s real tragedy is thus revealed: he is a man living a life where is isn’t the hero.
Such a state of being may not seem terribly important in this contemporary times.
Heroes are the stuff of comic books or really bad action movies True Lies, or terrible action films like Commando. Yet despite this the idea of a person being their own hero is an important one, because if one is a claims adjustor, or a civil servant, or a reference access at a library the idea that your life is your own and that you are living your own narrative is important. It gives one a sense of purpose and direction, and one is able to build a life from such a narrative.
The problem with something like depression is that it numbs one from that purpose and drive. Life becomes about being, but more importantly about questioning the relevance of that being. Depression is a state where one regularly questions, or really believes that life would be better off without them. Gollum’s pain is that he has wasted his life living in that pain, and the worst part is he just wants to return to it because it’s better than facing the truth which is that he has wasted his life pursuing something that isn’t real.
There’s so much material in The Two Towers, but because Gollum has become a bit of a rock-star I wanted to dig into his character and find something that isn’t just imitations or caricatures. And in the real character I guess I found a bit of myself, or, as tragedy may be, a lot of myself. Tolkien deserves credit then for crafting a real vision of thereality of depression. My condition is not necessarily improving dramatically, but writing about it like this, finding connections to it in real life and fiction, and telling my story like this has helped me moving forward. It’s helped me claim my position in my own narrative as the, if not hero, at least the man of his own making.
Gollum is a man who has walked out of his own story, and allowed his desire for comfort in pain to become his defining trait, and ultimately his undoing. I suppose though that, in that tragedy, there’s still an opportunity for other people to find a bit of themselves, and reevaluate whether going to see a therapist every now and then is really such a bad thing. Just make sure not to see one for seventeen years because then you’re in Woody Allen territory.
And Gollum in a Woody Allen movie is a reality I don’t think any of us are ready for just yet.
This essay was written months ago. I have a tendency to sit on my work and so what was true during the original composition has, not changed, but altered dramatically. In the time since I wrote this essay my friend Savannah Blair killed herself. So what has not changed is my conviction and understanding that I laid bare in this essay. Depression is a disease, and those that suffer from it should seek counseling and medication if need be. Life is too short, and our connections to others is mortal and tenuous. The friend, sister, brother, father, mother, lover, partner that is here today can be gone tomorrow as quickly as it takes to squease a trigger.
Please, for the people you love, seek help. It’s worth it to stave off a great deal of pain and not just your own. Miss you Sav.
All quotes taken from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers were cited from the paperback Mariner edition. All quotes from Rango were provided by IMDb. And The Lyrics for Everyday is Exactly the same were quoted from AZLyrics.com.
If the reader happens to be someone who suffers from depression, or knows someone who suffers from the disease, I’ve provided a link below to a few resources for people who would like help, or at least would like to start researching the condition. Trust me as somebody who’s been dealing with the crap for almost 30 years, being happy and healthy is way, way, WAY better than being comfortable and broken.
Please remember, nothing is an original thought and just as I think I’ve contributed something unique to the culture, I find dozens or articles that more or less express the same thought. So, please enjoy these articles about Depression and Lord of the Rings:
Just for the record, since I wrote this essay I’ve begun to see a therapist. A friend of mine sees her regularly, and another friend found her number for me and hounded me until I called her up and made the appointment. Self-repair is a strange sensation, but it is worth it.
"Jammer Moments", "Will They?/Won't They?", Gay Men, Gay Sex, Having erotic dreams/fantasies about sailors and whales is perfectly normal...Todd, Homoeroticism, Homosexuality, Humor, Ishmael, Jason Momoa, Literature, Male Sexuality, masculinity, Masculinity Studies, Moby Dick, Moby Dick is TOTALLY GAY, Novel, Quee-Queg, Queer, Queer Sexuality, Queer Theory, Sailors, Satire, Sexual Rhetoric, Sexuality, The Hardcore Gay Erotica that is Moby Dick, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, Well Hung Bad Boys Looking for D, Whalers, Writing
I mean if I woke up to find myself in the arms a large, able-bodied, tattooed god I could only hope that my make-a-wish came true and that I was resting next to Jason Momoa. A man can dream after all.
It’s been a strange sort of year, one that has come with numerous changes and developments, but the most recent one was finishing yet another in a long line of 1000 page books, however my most recent challenge was unique because it was not a novel but in fact it was a history book. Since I was a child my father has owned a dense tome wrapped in a black dust jacket marked with a swastika. I knew a fair amount about Nazis because my father would often tell me stories of men like Patton and Ike Eisenhower who defeated these evil monsters that were almost on par with orcs from The Lord of the Rings. I could never understand then why my dad had a book with their logo on the front. This was largely because I didn’t take the time to read the cover. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer is an incredible book, and while I would hope one day to write about it’s significance to World War II history discourse, I began to observe, somewhere in the three hundred pages of Russian-German diplomacy, that I really, really, desperately wanted to read Moby Dick. Again.
I mentioned this the other day to two of my co-workers and they gave “the look.”
It’s an odd sort of look. I can’t say that it’s pity exactly, nor would I go so far as to suggest that it’s jealousy. In fact it’s something in the middle I suspect. A loathing of the self before one comes to the realization that I’m a narcissist and a weirdo who thinks he’s special and interesting and so they pity my strange variety of nerdom. It’s a look I’m familiar with, and one friend even has a name for these moments that he charmingly refers to as “Jammer Moments.” I’ve yet to contact Oxford English Dictionary because the term has yet to develop a significant etymology and I also don’t have the merchandizing rights yet. “That’s so Jammer” will look great on t-shirts, and I intend to make a killing.
Despite my oddity, and my friends and co-worker’s mystification at my desire to read what is widely regarded as one of the most unreadable novels in all of human history, I’ve enjoyed picking up Moby Dick again. The novel is beautifully written, philosophically profound, textually complex, and also a wonderful opportunity to dig into my queer sexuality and find what is surely one of the most delightfully gay romances in American literature.
Now I can anticipate my reader’s objections before I even get into the fun parts. Fun parts for the record are of course queer jargon for ding dongs and buttholes, both of which terms are straight jargon for penises and anuses, both of which are themselves medical jargon for those things that shoot out babies and turds. Why should I care about whether or not the characters in Moby Dick are gay? I’m never going to read the book in the first place, so why should I bother worrying over the sexuality of two fictional people? More to the point, if Moby Dick is a beautiful and philosophically profound novel, why worry about something as petty as sexuality?
My reader makes some wonderful arguments and I understand where they’re coming from, but to be frank I just feel like having some fun and writing a trashy queer romance and maybe, possibly perhaps, find something culturally relevant to observe at the end. So get off my back people, life is hard and sometimes we all need to find a way to relax.
Now our story begins in the city of Nantucket where the gloomy Ishmael finds himself in a bar, the Spouter Inn to be exact. I’ll touch on that imagery in a moment. Our young stud of a protagonist is a country-boy named Ishmael who is caught by a wanderlust that is at times gloomy, which just gives him this precious “dark side” allowing the reader to picture the man as a kind of Goth dream-boat only without eye-liner and leave tattoos. That’s for later. Ishmael is caught by a near-constant desire to travel specifically to go whaling on the ocean for it provides his spirit an unknown, or indescribable satisfaction. The fact that he surrounded by men is unspoken, but I hope my reader will agree, it’s clearly all about the dick, whale.
I meant whale.
Ishmael steps into the ejaculation, Spouter, I meant Spouter Inn, and he walks past a group of butch sailors to inquire about a room. At this point the reader is given the first bits of foreplay to the beautiful party:
“But avast,” he added, tapping his forehead, “you haint no objections to sharing a harpooner’s blanket, have ye? I s’pose you are a goin’ a whalin’, so you’d better get used to that sort of thing.”
I told him that I never liked to sleep two in a bed; that if I should ever do so, it would depend upon who the harpooner might be, and that if he (the landlord) had no other place for me, and the harpooner was not decidedly objectionable, why rather wander further about a strange town on so bitter a night, I would put up with half of any decent man’s blanket. (19).
I suppose I have to sigh and groan that our protagonist should announce himself upfront to be a bit of a slut. It’s not enough that he let’s the barman tap his “head” in front of him without calling him on it, then you have the fact that admits to preferring multiple lovers and that monogamous relations leave him tired and bored, and before he’s even finished the sentence he has admitted that he’s not overly picky about the sort of man who shares his bed. But perhaps what’s worst, or best of all, I’m not sure which at this point, Ishmael states outright that he’s willing to shack up with any guy if it means being warm and dry. I mean I’m as much of a slut as the next guy, but show at least a little deference in selection of sexual partners Ishmael. There are some Creeps out there, and you always find out far far too late in the game. That orthodox priest was not happy when I said I had an early meeting.
Now my reader is sure to object against my interpretation by suggesting that none of that was actually implied. Ishmael was just a young man looking for a place to stay during a nasty storm. Well my reader has some very intriguing ideas concerning Ishmael’s sex-life, however I’m afraid I must continue to the juicy parts.
The reader is given a lengthy passage in which Ishmael deliberates about whether he should share a bed with the strange man that the bar-tender speaks of. I wish I could say that this was enjoyable to read, but Melville really lacks a certain penasch in terms of getting one hot and bothered for random bed-sharing. Chapter four progresses rather slowly until the reader is able to get a juicy couple of pages of Ishmael discovering his bed-mate will be a cannibal, and there is some rather yummy passages in which Ishmael studies Queequeg’s body, but it really isn’t until the start of chapter 5 that the reader gets any sort of hint that the action is starting up again:
Upon waking up the next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife. (36).
Before the reader interrupts my good time let me observe rather quickly that from this point on Ishmael will regularly use marital adjectives when describing his relationship with Queequeg. It’s not enough that the pair of them wake up in a loving, warm embrace. After all, it was a cold, rainy night and they were strangers seeking solace and warm in one another’s…company. But just a few pages on from this Ishmael drops another hint at his developing infatuation:
But at length all the night’s events soberly recurred, one by one, in fixed reality, and then I lay only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm—unlock his bridegroom clasp—yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain. (38).
Once again Ishmael employs the adjectives of marriage, and this association of course leads to a somewhat annoying realization that Ishmael is one of those queer men who buys into the idea that one of them is “the girl.” This is a rather unfortunate realization, because up to this point I was enjoying Ishmael’s sluttiness and unbroken frolicking with another man. Perhaps what’s so frustrating is this perpetuated rhetoric in today’s society, most obviously in straight communities. Homosexuality is seen often as a kind of malleable heterosexuality in which two men or two women form a monogamous bond that mimics a straight couple’s. One of the pair is the man, and therefore the active penetrator or licker. I should really consult a lesbian and determine what the inside terminology is. While the other partner is the passive receiver, meaning of course that that person is “the girl.” Ishmael seems to be employing this imagery as he observes Queequeg not responding to his attempts to wake him up, and while it’s hardly a severe reiteration of a tired mode of thinking, it’s just disappointing that Ishmael can’t foster his own working model of queerness.
I then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and suddenly felt a slight scratch. Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage’s side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A pretty-pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk! (38).
The only thing missing I suppose is some leather chest-guards, chaps, some cigars, and one of those swings you have to pay somebody to set up. Who says Literature is boring?
Now my reader interrupts my fantasies because they are compelled by some misguided sense of revisionist intellectualism to remind me that there was no actual sex. Queequeg simply fell asleep and Melville is trying to establish a purely heterosexual friendship between the two characters. The use of the word “savage” as well is not meant to be dirty, but is in fact some unfortunate racism on Melville’s part to appeal to his original audience. These are all fine points, but they’re ignoring the obvious assplay that was exchanged, and Ishmael being a weird slut who totally wanted it.
This is compounded by a later passage in which Ishmael is just watching Queequeg, and thinking about their association together. And after a few moment’s reflection, which, let’s be honest here, men only ever employ that term to mean “thinking about all the sorts of kinky sex I’d love to have with another man,” Ishmael makes a further move:
I drew my bench near him, and made some friendly signs and hints, doing my best to talk with him meanwhile. At first he little noticed these advances; but presently, upon my referring to his last night’s hospitalities, he made out to ask me whether we were again to be bedfellows. I told him yes; whereat I thought he looked pleased, perhaps a little complimented. (73).
If a man told me he’d like to sleep with me more than once I would probably be flattered as well…alas, I have yet to even receive an offer.
I suppose I must sigh here, and gently wave towards my face as Ishmael only gets more steamy in the sheets with his Cannibal lover (Man eats Man would be either a beautiful title for a homoerotic play by Tennessee Williams or else a wonderful title for a gay porno, I’m not sure which, why not both?). After the previous exchange was offered Ishmael offers another sight just a few pages on where he let’s the obvious foreplay be observed:
But we did not go to sleep without some little chat.
How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair. (75).
Again, before I can even get into the juicy parts about what is obviously sexual, my revisionist reader must needs interrupt to inform me that I’m performing a gross disservice to literary analysis. What is being described is not an openly homosexual relationship. Melville is merely using words like “honeymoon” to show a deepening friendship that is developing between Ishmael and Queequeg. They would also like to remind me that strong homosocial bonds were common between men of this time because it was just not socially acceptable to share emotions between people of different genders. Men and women kept their personal selves to themselves, and preferred to share such intimately with members of their own sex. They would also like to tell me that I’m obviously trying to write contemporary homosexuality onto these characters which is unfair because the homosexuality of today’s society is an entirely different animal than homoeroticism that existed in the past.
Well, if I can offer a defense, I never used the word homosexual. We have no idea if Queequeg is homosexual, or pansexual, or bisexual, or just queer. Now Ishmael is most definitely gay though, because this entire book is just one long testament to his fascination and erotic fixation on “THE D.”
Now if my reader is done interrupting I need to get to the last two passages which obvious end with our queer heroes finally getting, if I can borrow an expression the kids are using these days, “Biz-zay.” Immediately following the previous quote the next chapter begins with Ishmael and Queequeg, resting together and just basking in the afterglow:
We had lain thus in bed, chatting and napping at short intervals, and Queequeg now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine, and then drawing them back; so entirely sociable and free and easy were we; when, at last, by reason of our confabulations, what little nappishness remained in us altogether departed, and we felt like getting up again, though day-break was yet some way down the future. (76).
While this is nowhere near as pornographic as I would like it to be (Ishmael remains to the very end a nasty little tease) it’s so obvious that these two men have spent the night voraciously making love. Queequeg’s invitations might also suggest that he was the one doing the penetrating, but even my skills of queer deduction only go so far. I mean, the dude is the one leading the advances in this scene, literally “filling” the space of the bed and actively “pushing” into Ishmael’s personal space demonstrating his affection, but then again plenty of men like to be the one leading the advances before lifting their rump in the air like a cat in heat. You never really know somebody until you get them in bed.
What’s obvious, apart from the fact that they both spent the night hiding the “sau-seege” is that these two men have developed a deep and caring intimacy. Ishmael and Queequeg can freely touch and talk and fuck to their hearts content, and thus suggests that the opening passages of Moby Dick are offering a classic narrative of the “Will they?/Won’t They?” Readers and viewers enjoy watching this dynamic because people are sexual creatures who tend to get some kind of voyeuristic thrill of watching another romance develop. And because love is an evolutionary development designed to encourage procreation that results in long terms relationships to ensure two parents can raise a child together, sex is always going to be the end result of a love affair.
People want to see people fall in love to see if maybe they don’t see a little bit of themselves in these characters. We want to observe another person’s love affair to see if it resembles the loves that we’ve pursued in our own lives. And, I secretly suspect, this desire to watch another person’s love affair is a chance to explore a sexual dynamic that we did not.
I myself never got a chance to form a love affair with another man, and to be honest I’m not sure if I ever would. I tend to gravitate more towards women when it comes to my emotional self. I like their company, but I can’t deny that my queerness does push me towards a sexual dynamic with men. I guess then I should give my reader one last chance to argue with my interpretation of these early passages of Moby Dick.
It’s ridiculous. This whole essay has been one long, almost mastubatory re-writing of an American classic for the purpose of justifying or exploiting the writer’s personal sexual curiosities and hang-ups. Ishmael and Queequeg do form a strong, homo-social bond together, and while there is some physicality in it, there’s no way that these two men could have possibly been considered lovers. Its irresponsible and indulgent.
And I suppose my reader does have a point. Queer as a word has changed from what it was. That’s the nature of language. It’s a fluid and constantly altering technology that allows human beings to turn thoughts into physical, tangible reality. Queequeg and Ishmael express a companionship that is intensely homoerotic that manifests in physical and emotional closeness, and Melville writes it out as a kind of marriage between these two men, using the language of domestic partnership to allow the reader to see how much Queequeg becomes the most important person in Ishmael’s life. The language of Melville shows that men in the past formed strong homosocial bonds between other men and found some kind of emotional solace in it. So strong were these bonds that often times men found, in other men, more emotional and physical comfort in the arms and bodies and company of other men than they might have had with women. And some men, in these relationships, might have found something akin to a romantic partner who gave them a stability and foundation of love that they could then build a life on that might, as time went on, save them from any and all kind of emotional problems.
I suppose my reader is right about Moby Dick in the end. Men might have loved and fucked one another in the past, but the only thing that’s really changed is the language.
All quotes from Moby Dick were taken from the 2000 paperback Modern Library Classics edition.
As per usual, I really like helping my reader dig into the great works I write about, and so while I was writing this essay I found a few essays about Moby Dick in case the reader would like to dig a little deeper into the text. Enjoy:
On an entirely separate note…seriously, Jason Momoa isn’t the sexiest man of the year? Seriously? Do I really need to…okay. Apparently I do.
#TomCanSuckIt, Allegory, An Ent is Not a Tree, Book Review, David Day, deep time, Ent-Wives, Entmoot, Ents, enviornmentalism, fantasy, industry, J.R.R. Tolkien, Literature, Merry, Pippin, Rohan, Seriously Google Ent Wives and get ready for the saddest story, Shepards of Trees, Slipknot, The Lord of the Rings, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Two Towers, Tolkien: A Dictionary, Treebeard, Trees, Yavanna: Queen of the Earth
I hate Treebeard, only because he has a better beard than I do.
There was a time in my life when I believed that I too could grow an incredible beard that might one day house families of squirrels and field mice who would tickle me as they burrowed into my beard making a safe space for themselves. This fantasy would often accompany an honest desire to be a woodland dwelling forrest god with taut, bulging muscles and hair down to my ass. It was a beautiful time in my life when the word metal was an adjective rather than a noun, and the soundtrack to my life was Corey Taylor screaming while Clown banged on beer kegs with an aluminum bat. And of course these wild-man fantasies would be accompanied by loads of sex (Often with buxom wood nymphs, and sometimes with other bearded wild-men but such occasions were rare because I was still in that awkward phase when I pretended that browser histories weren’t a thing and that I wouldn’t wind up gay if I jerked off to two dudes having sex “just that one time”).
I can’t deny how much the Lord of the Rings franchise has mattered to my personal and intellectual development because I watched The Two Towers everyday after school for two weeks as soon as the VHS copies came out on sale. I’d watch the film over and over again wishing I was in Middle Earth fighting alongside Gimli and Aragorn and Legolas. And, I really wish this part wasn’t true, I would often watch the film once my family had gone to sleep so I could fight imaginary orcs and Uruk-hai. There were so many signs of my loser-dome in those early years, and I’m only recently acquiring a semblance of personality.
These fantasies turned realities that were the major reason why I didn’t lose my virginity until I reached my early twenties were always, always, coupled with a sublime awe of ents. Having grown up in a home that my parents literally built with their own two hands, and having an entire woods to explore and walk around in the ents were charged in my young pre-teenage mind with a kind of supernatural power. I would actually tremble when the ents “went to war,” and watching an army of trees march to end the fires of industry seemed to me the most beautiful moment in the film. I would watch the scene over and over again, and no matter how many times I watched it, the scene felt imbued with an energy and symbolism that felt potent and relevant and, I’ve used the word already but it feels right, sublime quality.
Though I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself because my reader may not have any idea what the ents actually are, at least in terms of the larger Tolkien universe. My reader might have an idea already, “them those tree people what throw the rocks and such.”
My regular reader’s outstanding grammar aside, that is partly an idea of what the Ents were, however there’s a little more to it. A friend of mine gave me a Christmas present this year, which made me feel like an absolute ass because I didn’t get him anything, but opening the package I realized my friend knew me perfectly for not only was it a book, the title was Tolkien: A Dictionary by David Day. I discovered that this book was in fact a miniature version of A Tolkien Bestiary, and looking at this wonderful book a better idea of what Ents actually are comes into play:
Elvish histories tell how, when Varda, Queen of the Heavens, rekindled the stars and the Elves awake, the Ents also awoke in the Great Forrests of Arda. They came from the thoughts of Yavanna, Queen of the Earth, and were her Shepards of Trees. Shepards and guardians they proved to be, for if roused to anger they could crush stone and steel with their hands alone. Justly they were feared, but they were also gentle and wise. They loved the trees and all the Olvar and guarded them from evil
Though Ents at times had great gatherings, called Entmoots, for the most part they were a solitary folk living apart from one another in isolated Ent Houses in the Great Forrests. Often these were mountain caverns plentifully supplied with spring water and surrounded by beautiful trees. (81-3.)
Now it’s very possible that the reader still has no clear understanding of what an Ent actually is, which has fine because there are Tolkien Scholars who still have no clear conception of what an Ent actually is. I discovered halfway through the eighth Non-Lord of the Rings book about Tolkien and his work that there is an ongoing debate about the etymological origin of Ents, and therefore no-one is really sure what they are. They might be orcs or trolls or giants or simply something that can’t be clearly defined. It’s easy to read this description and watch the Peter Jackson films and believe they have a firm conviction of what Ents actually are, but their quality is something linguists, scholars, and fans themselves are still debating, and even reading Tolkien himself the reader is sure to come away still stumped.
They found that they were looking at a most extraordinary face. It belonged to a large Man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck. Whether it was clad in stuff like green and grey bark, or whether that was its hide, was difficult to say. At any rate the arms, at a short distance from the trunk, were not wrinkled, but covered with brown smooth skin. The large feet had seven toes each. The lower part of the long face was covered with a sweeping grey beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the toots, thin and mossy at the ends. (452).
In the same paragraph Tolkien has compared Treebeard to both a man and a troll, further creating an “other” by the seven toes on his feet. There really is nothing like an Ent because every time one gets close to understanding what it actually is, Tolkien offers only more speculation, and to be completely honest after a while I really don’t care what Ents really are. And neither should the reader.
The role of the Ents in Book 3 of the Lord of the Rings is not so much their supernatural existence, but rather their ultimate role in changing the events of the war of the Ring. Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn after being held prisoner by the Uruk-Has that killed Boromir at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring. The Two Towers follows the pair of them as they encounter Treebeard in the woods, and through their influence the man decides to join the war, and rally the ents to him in order to defeat the evil Wizard Saruman who is wreaking havoc over the territory of Rohan with his orcs and “industry.”
It’s in this territory that most of the interpretation of Treebeard and Ents tends to veer towards the predictable. Most people who comment or write about the Ents tend always to use them as nothing more than a metaphor for environmentalism, the only ever real political position that Tolkien offered during his lifetime. It’s because the “Old Professor” rarely ever espoused any significant personal interpretations, and because the man had a driving passion for the woods and pastures of native England, the existence of the Ents in the novels has largely been interpreted as an attempt to create a symbolic army for the environment. The Ents became tree-huggers rather than tree-shepards, and thus legions of term papers and blog posts were established killing any real attempt at independent scholarship or initiative.
It’s not that I disagree with the argument that Ents serve as an environmental argument, it’s just that I object to simply interpreting the Lord of the Rings books using the pathetic tool of allegory. Allegories tend to be the tools of religious sycophants, or else pathetic middle school compositions that totally should have deserved the contest prize over Tom’s poem about some piss-for-shit leaf on a branch of a fucking tree in fucking Autumn. #NeverForget#TomCanSuckIt.
Treebeard is an interesting character because he is a man (or troll, or giant, or god, or tree, or whatevs) because he is a man with no real allegiance to anything other than his own business. At one point Merry and Pippin are discussing the war with the man and he offers his take on the world and himself:
‘Hoom, hm, I have not troubled about the Great Wars,’ said Treebeard; ‘they mostly c concern Elves and Men. That is the business of Wizards: Wizards are always troubled about the future. I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even the Elves nowadays. […]. And there are some things, of course, whose side I am altogether not on; I am against them altogether: these—burarum’ (he again made a deep rumble of disgust)’—these Orcs, and their Masters.
‘I used to be anxious when the shadow lay on Mirkwood, but when it removed to Mordor, I did not trouble for a while: Mordor is a long way away. But it seems that the wind is setting East, and the withering of all woods may be drawing near. There is naught that an old Ent can do to hold back that storm: he must weather it or crack. (461).
It’s hard to say, write really, that I identify with Treebeard without feeling like an absolute hipster. It’s easy to nod along with someone and their words, it’s quite another thing to commit to action and demonstrate conviction. It might also be because the current political environment in the United States is not friendly to anyone outside of the two-party, two-side system. Treebeard stands in the face of those who would have him pick one side or the other, and ultimately he does pick a side. It would seem then that Treebeard’s ultimate decision to join the fight of the War of the Ring is a real political gesture, however my only conflict with this argument is that Treebeard is a man with his own sense of time.
I addressed in my essay about Gandalf, and then again when discussing Durin’s Bane that Tolkien’s effort in The Lord of the Rings is often about creating a sense of deep time. The reader steadily, as they read, become aware that the characters that they love and care about are actually small figures in the ancient conflict between good and evil, or the light and shadow that stretches back millennia. Treebeard then is another one of these figures that serves to juxtapose the hobbits against the enormity of time that exists in the universe.
Pippin himself observes this feeling of time when he tries to describe Treebeard
But at the moment the hobbits noted little but the eyes. These deep eyes were no surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating. They were brown, shot with a green light. Often afterwards Pippin tried to describe his first impression of them.
‘One felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long, slow, steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present; like sun shimmering on the outer leaves of a vast tree, or on the ripples of a very deep lake. I don’t know, but it felt as if something that grew in the ground—asleep, you might say, or just feeling itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky had suddenly waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care it had given to its own affairs for endless years. (452).
Tolkien provides most of the material for me, using words like “deep” and “endless” to characterize the Hobbit’s impression of the Ent. And the reader at that point is able to feel the hobbits’s feelings of Treebeard’s feelings of them as they feel their own feelings about the feelings of feelings thus expressed.
I like James Joyce a little too much I think.
I can hear my reader’s objections. We’ve already addressed the theme of Time in The Fellowship of the Ring; what good is it to continue on with this theme when there are so many other aspects of the universe to explore? Treebeard is important, but he’s just another beating of the same drum.
To this I don’t really have a good defense. The reader is right, Treebeard is another expression of the Deep Time that Tolkien is crafting over the entire trilogy, and my exploration of the character is just a reminder of that sensation of deep time. However if I can offer some sort of defense for myself it would be that even if Treebeard is an example of the “deep time” of Middle Earth he is not what the reader has observed before. Gandalf was a wizard and a Maiar, one of the ageless spirits watching and manipulating the course of human events and wars to ensure the course of some nameless, natural order. Durin’s Bane was a balrog, a footservent of an agent of pure evil that existed purely for the sake of war, destruction, and pain. It’s existence revealed the ancient quality of the world, but it was also a reminder of evil.
Treebeard, simply put, is about desiring only peace.
The ents, to me and my reading of the The Two Towers, were the most fascinating and hopeful aspect of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the word hope is employed purposefully. When I would rewatch the “Last March of the Ents” and feel the hairs on my arms and legs stand on end and the shiver run through my body, it was because the Ents were creatures without any sort of real agenda. They were almost human beings defending their homes. Unlike the Men, who were greedy and vain, or the orcs, who were vicious and cruel, the Ents fought only for the trees and the earth and the safety of the natural world. This is not a particularly sexy position to take in an armed conflict, but it stands to be reminded that it is ultimately the reason most people would or should want to fight.
Treebeard is not a machiavellian despot fighting to secure of position of territory for further conquest, he is a man who has lived a long life and decides to fight because he recognizes that, even if his efforts will be for naught, the fight against the shadow is worth fighting for because it will be for the world rather than for a partisan cause. This provides some real sense of hope as a reader, and a real form of identification. Watching the year 2017 unfold, and watching my country dissolve into contested and petty partisan conflict a figure like Treebeard was refreshing and hopeful because it was an example of a being who could look past it. The time of trees is older and longer than the times of men. Outside of my office window stand two pecan trees. They are most assuredly older than I am, and I’m sure they’ll be there long after I am dead. In their time they will provide food for squirrels, shelter for birds, and sleeping space for plenty of stray cats who will no longer be strays once my wife has discovered them. It’s not a profound, or highly insightful comment on the battle between good and evil, but trees, like Ents, are beings that offer a long series of selfless acts at their own expense.
Tolkien was a man who loved nature and the woods and beauty of the natural world. And rather than turning that love into simple political or environmental allegory, it’s a much more satisfying interpretation to observe that Treebeard and the Ents are a real contribution to the mythos of Middle Earth because they are Shepards trying desperately to keep careful watch over their flock of trees and who, when the time comes, were willing to fight for the life and world in which they loved.
Treebeard may not charge onto the fields of Pellenor welding Anduril and slaying Orcs, but he does at least chunk a few boulders, and wear an impressive beard.
All quotes taken from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers were taken from the Mariner paperback edition.
I might as well share the scenes I used to watch over and over again until my VHS was nothing but a thin whisk of dark plastic that clicked and hissed as it tried desperately to play the “Last March of the Ents.” I eventually replaced it all with the extended DVD sets which themselves are now nothing but thin nubs of whatever they made laserdiscs out of. Watching this scene on YouTube I’m struck by the appalling quality of the video itself. Despite this, watching the Ents slowly march out of Fanghorn forest I can’t deny I still feel that sublime tingle. It’s something to the craft of these films that after close to a decade I’m able to reconnect to the teenage loser who believed in the forrest and trees. Enjoy.
Conviction is a hell of a thing.
About ten years ago I was desperate to become a writer, or, to put it another way, I was desperate to become a writer who mattered. Most of the books I had written were god-awful novellas that had one or two interesting sentences and then the rest were nothing but rip-off plots taken from Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino. My characters tended to be disturbed psychopaths or else gloomy Woody Allen rip-offs who did nothing but complain about not being able to write the amazing books they knew that they could. Whatever else was produced at that time tended to be outright pornography. I could feign some pretense that what I was writing could be classified in the high-class smut designation “erotica”, but I don’t believe in bullshitting my reader. It was porn plain and simple.
I fucked myself up however when I was young because I read and watched a lot about writers who had come before me. People like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway who had their novels published in their early twenties and who immediately achieved dramatic success. People like Orson Welles who, by the time he was twenty-five had produced the War of the Worlds broadcast as well as the film Citizen Cann. Standing in the shadows of these men my own lack of productivity was a sign that I was inferior creatively, but to my credit I did the only real thing that matters: I kept writing despite the poor quality of my work.
One night, while I was working on another wretched piece of wank-off material, I thought about an animated version of The Wind in the Willows I had been watching recently, and a voice came into my head and I wrote the following paragraph:
It occurred one autumn afternoon in a place. Now don’t ask me the name of the place for I don’t know it. That is not to say I don’t know where I am, I know full well where I am and where it is I am telling this story, what I mean is I do not know the name of the place of which this story, not story, more of a situation I happen to know occurred on an autumn day in a study of a house where Mr. Tiger and Mr. Walrus sat, as they usually did on a Monday, drinking their drinks and discussing matters of importance that are only really important to those who have time to consider such matters.
I weren’t back to my other work for a few minutes, but I knew I wouldn’t stay there for long. I’v e read enough testimony of other writers to know that this “the moment” which, if I’m being honest, is not an intellectual exercise at all. It’s a gut feeling akin to feeling the tug of a fishing line, or speaking to that guy or girl at the coffee shop: you just feel that it’s right. Ballyhoo appeared then, when it’s narrator interrupted my usual work, and after just three months I had a rough draft.
The book itself however, has languished in Word Processors, zip drives, an actual floppy disc at one point, and near constant frustration as no publisher would ever go near it. Much like Swanky Lanky before it, I just this book out. Even more so given recent events. Having lost a friend to suicide recently mortality and work left undone are no longer abstract concepts. I’ve wanted Ballyhoo to be out of my computer, to be real, to be read.
Ballyhoo was the first manuscript I produced where I felt like I had done something. Something that wasn’t just indebted to other artists, something that wasn’t just a homage to other works, something that was clearly from my own heart, and, most importantly, it was rather difficult to masturbate to it (not that I tried). It’s taken close to a decade, but the book that I wrote at 19, when I was looking to discover who and what I actually was and whether or not the word Writer might be something I could call myself, is finally complete.
And so dear reader I hope you will take the time to read it. The 19 year old boy, who is not a 29 year old boy, will appreciate it tremendously.
Thank you for your time, and thank you for reading.
“It’s Mr. Rhino, He intends on Departing!” It’s been close to seven decades since a rhino stood up on its hind legs, donned a suit and cap, and began to read, write, walk, and talk. This feet would have been impressive enough, were it not for the fact that following this event, animals all over the world began to follow suit and become members of society. That is why on an Autumn afternoon when Mr. Rhino announces to the world that he
intends on departing, the world around him begins to unravel. Taking place over the course of a single day, Ballyhoo follows the actions and thoughts of Mr. Bear, Mr. Orangutan, Mr and Mrs. Tiger, Mr. Cheetah, Mr. Walrus, Mr. Elephant, and Mr. Rhino as they come to grips with their lives, the loves they pursued, and the meanings they tried to find in their brief existence. Whether it’s discussion over tea and cookies, a tree covered with belching fish, a little girl possessed by a monstrous creature, of a loathsome person named Mr. Hyena who lives in the fireplace, Ballyhoo is a story unlike any other that tries only to answer one question: how does a person come to grips with the end of a life. And is it ever really an end?
The cover of this book is “Ballyhoo” care of my sister M.E. Smith. Thanks again for the cover Emers, you fucking rock.
Art, Bisexuality, gender, glasses, Joshua Jammer Smith, Literature, mechanical pencils, Novel, original photograph, Science, Sexuality, still life, tea, tea strainer, The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin, Vintage Science Fiction Paperbacks were the FUCKING BEST
A Tolkien Bestiary, Balrog, Book Review, David Day, deep time, Durin's Bane, Evil, Evil is abscence, fantasy, Fire Demons, Gandalf, Good and Evil, J.R.R. Tolkien, light, Light vs Dark, Literature, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, Maiar, Melkor, Morgoth, Moria, mythology, Novel, Philosophy, Sean Bean is a Fucking BadAss, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, The Nature of Evil, Valaraukar
Sean Bean once sewed a hole in his flesh with his bare hands after a female friend of his was harassed by some random douche in a dive bar where they were drinking. Bean apparently didn’t like it, told the man to shut the fuck up, and a fight ensued in which he was stabbed in the chest. After the police arrived, and the man who had started the fight was taken away, Bean asked the bartender if he had a needle and thread, and apparently he sewed up his chest wound right then and there before returning to drinking. For obvious reasons then, I consider this story Sean Bean’s contribution to the zeitgeist greater than his “One does not simply…” meme. It’s also for this reason that I decided to go against my original impulse when approaching my review of Book II of The Lord of the Rings.
The Council of Elrond is a fascinating chapter in the entire saga of the Lord of the Rings, simply for the fact that, while it is diplomacy, the language of each party reveals a wonderful deliberation on Tolkien’s part. Each character manages to enhance the history of the world of Middle Earth, and each character manages to reveal something about the complicated diplomacy that exists within this fantasy realm. Tolkien also manages to further explore his idea of the ring, and the terrible influence it has upon the people of his universe.
The only problem I really had with writing about the Council of Elrond was that my heart wasn’t in it. My heart was in the Balrog because, ever since I was a teenager sitting in the movie theater watching Gandalf fall through Khazad Dum and fighting the Balrog I’ve been obsessed with the creature and it’s role in the Tolkien Universe. It also doesn’t exactly help that my best friend Kevin and I spent literally an entire year arguing with a friend of ours about the proper way to pronounce Balrog (he was obsessed with calling it Balronko). Now obviously the fight scene I’m describing was in the second film The Two Towers, but even when I had watched The Fellowship of the Ring with my Dad on that rented VHS tape I had never seen anything like the Balrog in any movie. It was a creature that seemed like it should have been in a medieval passion play rather than a feature film, but I became enthralled.
My obsession with the Balrog was probably because I was a teenager. Young men typically, if I can quote a friend, gravitate towards power icons when they’re younger because they tend to live a life where most of their decisions are not entirely their own. Because they aren’t in control in their life, and because testosterone tends to leave one aggressive, it’s common for boys to gravitate to, or if you were like me, draw images such as guns, planes, swords, and of course monsters.
I anticipate an early reaction from my reader. In the entire second half of The Fellowship of the Ring, the Balrog is the only thing you can focus on? Why not tackle the realm of Lothlorien? Why not analyze the behavior of Boromir? Why not even try to tackle the early instances of Gollum and see how his character is beginning to manifest? There’s so many deep and inspiring elements to The Fellowship, the Balrog is just a monster and its appearance is so brief.
As usual my reader has great points, and also as usual I completely agree with several of them. There is so much to The Fellowship that I could tackle in these pages. However looking at the appearance of the Balrog in Book II, I nevertheless am still fascinated because, much like Gandalf’s brief supernatural reveal in the first book, the existence of the Balrog is a chance to see how Tolkien is building the history and mythos of Middle Earth, and always creating this feeling in the text that something more is ever-present in this universe than what the reader is allowed, or even able to see.
Before I go to the passage in the Fellowship however, it’s important to understand what a Balrog actually is because, if the reader only has the films to base their judgement on, they’re sure to be confused or else ill-informed of the actual content of the monster. When I was checking out every book by or about Tolkien from the library, I managed to find one large tome by David Day entitled A Tolkien Bestiary. The book is nothing but an encyclopedia about every beast, race, creature, and organism that appears in the Lord of the Rings, and taking up two pages along with a hauntingly epic illustration, Day provides the reader with an explanation:
Balrogs, the most terrible if the Maiar spirits who became the servants of Melkor, the Dark Enemy, were those who were transformed into demons. In the High Elven Tongue they were named the Valaraukar, but in Middle-Earth were called Balrogs, the “demons of might.”
Of all Melkor’s creatures, only Dragons were greater in power. Huge and hulking, the Balrogs were Man-like demons with streaming manes of fire and nostrils that breathed flame. They seemed to move within the clouds of black shadows and their limbs had the coiling powers of serpents. The chief weapon of the Balrog was the many-thronged whip of fire, and, though as well they carried the mace, the axe and the flaming sword, it was the whip of fire that their enemies feared most. This weapon was so terrible that the vast evil of Ungoliant, the Great Spider that even the Valar could not destroy, was driven from Melkor’s realm by the fiery lashes of the Balrog demons.
In each of Melkor’s risings and in each of his battles, the Balrogs were among his foremost champions, and so, when the holocaust of the War of Wrath ended Melkor’s reign for ever, it largely ended the Balrogs as a race.
It is said that some fled that last battle and buried themselves deep in the roots of the mountains, but after many thousands of years nothing more was heard of these evil beings and most people believed the demons had gone from the Earth for ever. (26-7)
I’m tempted by the teenager in my brain, to add a “Cool Whip” reference here, but for once I’ll defer and keep to the topic on hand.
A Balrog then is more-or-less a giant demon that at one time constituted a supreme race of beings that pre-dated mankind and possessed powers and abilities that border on a Lovecraftian tentacle monster level. This kind of power would at first not seem to have much literary relevance since most literary scholars or even common people don’t give a shit about fictional monsters. And in fact if the Balrog were nothing but a monster in a fantasy universe there really wouldn’t be much point in taking time to write about it, but as I’ve noted Tolkien’s ability as a writer is to create a wondrous sense of place and time that has yet to be replicated or matched. It’s his ability to write a moment into existence when people who are living in their present time become caught up in the supernatural events of an incredible past that they cannot possibly comprehend that leaves the reader spellbound, or else that they are witnessing something incredible.
The entrance of the Balrog is something incredible because of it’s subtlety.
[Legolas] gave a cry of dismay and fear. Two great tools appeared; they bore great slabs of of stone, and flung them down the serve as gangways over the fire. But it was not the trolls which had filled the Elf with terror. The ranks of the orcs had opened, and they crowded away, as if they themselves were afraid. Something was coming behind them. What it was could not be seen: it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it.
It came to the edge of the fire and the light faded as if a cloud had bent over it. Then with a rush it leaped across the fissure. The flames roared up to greet it, and wreathed about it; and black smoke smirked in the air. Its steaming man kindled, and blazed behind it. In its right hand was a blade like a stabbing tongue of fire; in its left hand it held a whip of many thongs.
‘Ai! Ai!’ Wailed Legolas. ‘A Balrog! A Balrog has come!’
Gimli stared with wide eyes. ‘Durin’s Bane! He cried, and letting his axe fall he covered his face.
‘A Balrog,’ muttered Gandalf. ‘Now I understand.” He faltered and leaned heavily on his staff. ‘What an evil fortune! And I am already weary.’ (321).
I will admit that I find the reactions to the Balrog a little corny. Throughout my reading of The Lord of the Rings I find myself regularly twisting a little in discomfort because Tolkien’s dialogue can, to a postmodern reader’s sensibilities, come across as a little drama-qeenesque. Or else it feels like the bad ad-libbing of half-assed LARPing. It’s not that it doesn’t feel real to the characters, but the language of the characters can at times feel like something that should have been left in the attic. It feels like it’s of a different time, which is not a weakness persay, but it can get a little tiring.
Yet despite this initial reaction to the dialogue, the words of each character are important because the appearance of this creature has it’s own implications for each character. For Legolas, being an Elf, the appearance of the Balrog would something of a nightmare because the elves would surely remember through records and oral tradition what kind of a monster the Balrog would be. Gimli being a dwarf who has just observed the desecration of his race’s hall and temple by orcs is already emotional, but the appearance of the Balrog is proof that his people’s greed brought about the reawakening of this creature. If the dwarves had not been greedy and dug so deep into the earth his cousin Balin might still be alive along with the rest of the people of Moria. Gandalf’s reaction is unique because it has been steadily established that Gandalf’s role in Middle Earth is something beyond most people’s comprehension and that he is being guided by some supernatural entity, order, or compulsion.
Reading over this passage again I was struck by these reactions to this monster, not just because of what it’s appearance meant for the plot, but because this reaction showed that these characters are participating with a history and a culture. And this reaction reveals a depth in the universe.
It’s common in fantasy for characters to encounter a creature of incredible power and to experience fear, rage, confusion, or terror. And while there are surely some notable examples where these emotions feel real and powerful and relevant to the reader, The Lord of the Rings being the text that it is it the reactions of Gimli, Legolas, and Gandalf isn’t just an empty reaction that precede a passage in which the heroes are able to overcome. The appearance of the Balrog is the sign of a real defeat because this is a being which is beyond them, something Gandalf remarks immediately as Aragorn and Boromir try to stand their ground.
Even after Gandfal makes his stand the reader is left with a sense of the impending power of the Balrog, and just how old its power derives. After Gandalf makes his now iconic “You cannot pass!” Tolkien manages to convey the power of the creature and the seaming futility of Gandalf:
The Balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly on the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm. (322).
It’s not unfair to note that Tolkien tends to gravitate to trees as the predominant aesthetic of The Lord of the Rings, but in it’s own way this passage seems one of the most powerful moments in the entire trilogy not simply because Gandalf is a powerful wizard and the Balrog is a just fire monster. There’s something lasting in this image, and it has to do with negative versus positive power.
A previous quote reveals something important, not only about the Balrog, but also about the way that Tolkien is creating his ideas about evil and good. Darkness in The Lord of the Rings is not just a physical attribute of wickedness and wicked creatures, in fact it is their defining quality. This actually has some relevance when one considers the actual color spectrum because black is not in fact a color; black is the absence of color. Virtually every character in The Lord of the Rings which embodies wickedness or evil is often defined by their darkness, either physical or symbolic, and this darkness ultimately becomes an indication of absence. If a being or character in Middle Earth is wicked it is because there is something empty or absent in them, and I’ll hopefully get into this more when I get to the character Gollum, but for now it’s important to observe Gandalf standing against the Balrog because it becomes more than just a wizard fighting a fire-demon. For Tolkien this small moment is a summation of his entire creative philosophy about the nature of good and evil.
Evil is absence incarnate and will always try to destroy the light because the light stands opposed to darkness. Light will always try to fill up the darkness with creation, with living things that create more, and so the only thing darkness can do to survive is to destroy. To burn and kill and erase what is alive in the light.
Tolkien provides on clear demonstration of this after the monster appears:
The dark figure streaming with fire raced towards them. The orcs yelled and poured over the stone gangway. Then Boromir raised his horn and blew. Loud the challenge rang and bellowed, like the shout of many throats under the cavernous roof. For a moment the orcs quailed and the fiery shadow halted. Then the echoes died as suddenly as a flame blown out by a dark wind, and the enemy advanced again. (321).
This passage seems to be everything then in further demonstrating the idea that Tolkien is using the Balrog to really hone his idea of evil. Throughout the Lord of the Rings Tolkien equates evil with an absence of self, will, power, or personal agency. When Boromir blows his horn it is n essence a strong demonstration of the self. Music is one of the purest means of expressing the self, and the Balrog being a creature who’s very existence is based upon destruction is actually taken aback by it. It may not be a Sonata by Beethoven or Shostakovich, but the horn is a form of creation and therefore a form of light, and therefore a form of goodness.
The Balrog remains my favorite element of the Lord of the Rings, largely because its a big awesome fire monster that uses a whip as a primary weapon and it provided me plenty of chances in high school to draw something cool instead of paying attention in Algebra. But my adolescence aside, the Balrog remains truly fascinating to be because it affords Tolkien to create a figure that has entered the popular consciousness, and beneath all of the fire and horns and weapons there is a real meditation about what evil actually is.
The true monsters in this life are not the colorful characters that are crafted in television shows and gritty thrillers; they’re real people who have a severe absence of something. Whether it’s an absence of love, personal ambition, or even something as real as chemical imbalance, it’s these weakness of absence that eventually contribute to the evil that exists in this world.
A terrorist or a serial murderer might not have horns or a mane made of fire, but much like the Balrog, his existence is almost certainly founded on some kind of emptiness.
All quotes taken from Book II of the Lord of the Rings, found within the Mariner paperback edition of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Allright fine, I just have to. Please forgive me:
While I was writing this essay I managed to find an actual video of the fight scene between Gandalf and the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring. There’s been plenty of films which have come out since then which have utilized Computer Graphic Imaging however this scene, unlike many of these latter instances, still manages to have a power I haven’t completely forgotten. It might just be nostalgia on my part, but I also think it has as much to do with the fact that Peter Jackson directed (in the original trilogy) a damn fine film, and managed to just capture Middle Earth. Please enjoy what is still one of the most epic fantasy moments of all time.
I’ve included below several links to websites which provide overviews of the Balrog, what they are, what are their powers, whether a Balrog would win in a fight against Smaug (I think it would personally but I’m biased), and then just some general Lord of the Rings facts and information. Hope this helps.
Stephen Colbert discussing Lord of the Rings…nuff said.
Bag End, Beowulf, Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, fantasy, Gandalf, Gilgamesh, Hobbits, J.R.R. Tolkien, Literature, Maiar, Michael D.C. Drout, Middle Earth, mythology, mythos, Nazgul, Novel, Of Sorcerer’s and Men, Peter Jackson, Silmarillion, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Nature of Hobbits, The Shire, Writing
Peregin Took may indeed have been a fool when he twisted the arrow on the dead dwarf, thus alerting the orcs of Moria to the Fellowship’s presence, but honestly sitting down to writing this essay I feel like I am the greater fool. It’s no secret that the fan base of the Lord of the Rings are a power unto themselves, some of whom have brought about changes in society that stirred revolutions and altered the world as we know it. Computer programmers, hardware specialists, table-top game developers, video game designers, and even authors themselves have been inspired by the “Old Professor” and have taken this inspiration and created products and arts that have inspired the next generation of innovators. While Tolkien himself tended to be harsh to this fan base during his lifetime, going so far as to call them the “deplorable cultus,” the generation of stoners and dreamers took a great work and made it something important to the culture and zeitgeist, and thus I return to my foolishness.
I didn’t warm up to The Lord of the Rings at first. In fact to be perfectly honest I actually thought the whole book series were a real bore. With the exception of The Hobbit, reading the The Lord of the Rings as a teenager seemed the equivalent of an attending insurance seminar or else sitting through an “abstinence-only” based rap battle. This is hyperbole, but only so much. The only reason I had actually begun reading the books, specifically my dad’s original paperback copies from the seventies which made Gandalf look like a pimp and Legolas as the protagonist in Logan’s Run, was the fact that Peter Jackson’s films had just been released and those Ring Wraiths looked bad ass.
The films came and went, and while I never completely abandoned Tolkien, I do admit that I moved on to Stephen King and Christopher Hitchens leaving my copies of The Lord of the Rings to the dust that always seems to gravitate to books. It’s not that the Lord of the Rings ever disappeared, it’s just that, much like my early fascination with Playboy magazine and my LEGO blocks, I looked at them as something that I had outgrown or, and maybe this is more fair, something I had left behind. But much like Playboy and LEGOs I did eventually return to it. My regular reader may dimly remember that I began an audio-lecture series sponsored by Barnes & Noble titled Of Sorcerer’s and Men. This series, which was masterfully delivered by the professor Michael D.C. Drout, was incredible and reminded me of everything that I originally loved about The Lord of the Rings.
I dusted off my old copies and hopped back into the series, dedicated this time to actually finish the entire works.
But as for reviewing this series I hit a block, because after all, according to the will (not legal will, just individual sense of self) of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings was one entire book unto itself putting into such magnificent tomes as Ulysses, Moby Dick, Anna Karena, Doom Patrol, Don Quixote, Infinite Jest, and David Copperfield. While it’s possible to write about those book in parts, tackling an entire 1000 page novel with one review is like trying to eat The Old 96er from The Great Outdoors. Those who try will wind up crying like John Candy before wrenching the whole thing back up. Fortunately for me Tolkien broke his series into six “books” letting each larger book contained of two small books themselves. The Fellowship then consists of Books 1 and 2 and it seems far healthier to tackle the series that way than attempting one large reflection.
This also provides me a wonderful opportunity to explore Book 1 as an independent work because, while the remainder of the series pushes into the mythic realm that is Middle Earth, it’s in this first volume that Tolkien is able to play with his own natural world.
Book One starts with a “Long Expected Party” allowing Tolkien to play with his previous work, The Hobbit. Some critics and scholars have noted that while this is Tolkien building the world of Middle Earth, many have observed that the territory of The Shire, as well as the people who live comfortably within it’s borders, resemble greatly the England that Tolkien lived in and loved so well. Just looking at the first paragraphs one gets a sense of this:
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag-End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return. The riches he had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend, and it was popularly believed, whatever the old folk might say, that the Hill at Bag End, was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure. And it that was not enough for fame, there was also his prolonged vigor to marvel at. Time wore on, but it seemed to have little effect on Mr. Baggins. […]. There was some that shook their heads and thought this was too much of a good thing; it seemed unfair that anyone should possess (apparently) perpetual youth as well as (reputedly) inexhaustible wealth.
“It will have to be paid for,’ they said. ‘It isn’t natural, and trouble will come of it!’ (21).
While it isn’t Frodo being chased by Nazgul to the ford that marks the entrance to Rivendel, this opening is still, to my mind, one of the best means of opening the great epic that is The Lord of the Rings. While Listening to Drout’s lectures, what was frequently noted was how the strength of the series was not so much because the hobbits were symbolic of any religious or spiritual significance, but because they were decent common folk.
This is a point that I believe is often missed in public discussions of The Lord of the Rings, because often the person speaking is far more concerned with pushing allegory. I’ve written before as to why I feel that’s a woefully inadequate means of interpreting these books, so I won’t delve too deep into that angle. Looking at the Hobbits of Middle Earth, along with the four hobbits of the Fellowship (Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin), their role in the story is often to be the reader. Hobbits, because they scorn the world of the “Big Folk” and their “queer” habits, give the reader something to identify with. On an average day most people do not worry about raids from Orcs, the ancient evils of creatures like Balrogs, they are concerned with the meddling of wizards, and they have nothing to do with the problems of the Great Kings and their complicated diplomacy. Many “normal” people, tend to be concerned far more with their families, whether their neighbors are a decent sort of people, whether they have enough to eat, and whether or not they are attending parties.
The Great celebration of Bilbo’s birthday is an event of “Special magnificence,” and in the same paragraph that establishes this, Tolkien notes Bilbo’s social standing as if that matters to the reader. It matters a great deal to Hobbits and so reading this book it becomes clear that The Lord of the Rings, from beginning to end, is centered in this idea that hobbits are not only important to this great world and it’s history, they are vital to it.
Hobbits are not great warriors such as Beowulf or Gilgamesh but that’s by design.
Before the book opens Tolkien provides a prologue in which he offers some basic facts and history of Hobbits:
As for the Hobbits of the Shire, with whom these tales are concerned, in the days of their peace and prosperity they were a merry folk. They dressed in bright colours, being notably fond of yellow and green; but they seldom wore shoes, since their feet had tough leathery soles and were clad in a thick curling hair, much like the hair of their heads, which was commonly brown. Thus, the only craft little practiced among them was shoe-making; but they had long and skillful fingers and could make many other useful and comely things. Their faces were as a rule good-natured rather than beautiful, broad, bright-eye, red-cheeked, with mouths apt to laughter, and to eating and drinking. And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them). They were hospitable and delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted. (2).
At this point I need address my regular contester who is surely incredibly annoyed with me. What do I care about the sensibilities of Hobbits? It’s The Lord of the Rings, I came here for Aragorn and Gandalf and Sauron and Orcs. Where’s the exciting stuff? Or at least the fantastic elements that make The Lord the Rings so cool?
I understand my readers frustration because I feel the same way approaching this essay. I would love to sit and discuss some of the fantastic elements that make this book so impressive, and I do intend to. The conflict is that fantastic elements by themselves don’t provide much opportunity for reflection. One of the consistent charges against the Triology is that the books have no relevance to average people. Part of this is the unfortunate, lingering elitism that plagues the fantasy genres which is absolute bullshit. But the other charge, that it’s style doesn’t fit the age in which it was written feels a little more fair. Most of the non-hobbit characters speak like they were taken from epics of
the ancient world making it impossible to identify with them.
It’s in Hobbits that the world assumes the power that it does, because when Hobbits are pitted against the antiquity and supernatural elements of Middle Earth the reader is able to find the “realness” of the place. This is best demonstrated after the party.
The first takes place in Bag End, not long after Bilbo has disappeared from the party using the ring. Gandalf has crept back to the manor house on the hill to confront Bilbo about his antics, but also to see the man off as the two have an arrangement. Gandalf is to help Bilbo settle his affairs so that the man can go back onto the road, and while the scene progresses as if nothing is wrong, when the topic of the ring comes up Bilbo at once becomes possessive bordering on violent. There is a confrontation, and all at once Tolkien allows his reader to see past, if I can borrow Shakepeare for a moment without sounding overly-pompous, “this mortal veil.”
‘Well if you want my ring yourself, say so!” Cried Bilbo. ‘But you won’t get it. I won’t give my precious away, I tell you.’ His hand strayed to the hilt of his small sword.
Gandalf’s eyes flashed. ‘It will be my turn to get angry soon,’ he said. ‘If you say that again, I shall. Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.’ He took a step towards the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing; his shadow fill the room.
Bilbo backed away to the wall, breathing hard, his hand clutching at his pocket. They stood for a while facing one another, and the air of the room tingled. Gandalf’s eyes remained bent on the hobbit. Slowly his hands relaxed, and he began to tremble.
‘I don’t know what has come over you, Gandalf,” he said. ‘You have never been like this before. What is it all about? It is mine isn’t it? I found it, and Gollum would have killed me, if I hadn’t kept it. I’m not a thief, whatever he said.’
‘I have never called you one,’ Gandalf answered. ‘And I am not one either. I am not trying to rob you, but to help you. I wish you would trust me, as you used.’ He turned away, and the shadow passed. He seemed to dwindle again to an old grey man, bent and untroubled. (33-4).
Now obviously, this scene takes me back to Peter Jackson’s film, when Sir Ian McKellan began to fill the room, the world became dark, and the voice that usually inspires envy turned a teenage boy to panic. Whatever the reader’s opinions about the film, it’s important to recognize that Jackson did this scene right and because he did this passage stood out to me. But looking past the film, this scene in one in a long series of moments that Gandalf offers that hint at his true “nature” or “form.” Gandalf is, if I can move into the neck-beard nerd territory, something called a Maiar, a being who precede most of the “time” of Middle Earth, and actually proceeded the making of the world. I won’t bore the reader with the complex mythos of Tolkien’s world (that’s for when I review the Silmarillion) but this background info provides the context of what makes Gandalf important in the first book.
Gandalf is an old being, one who is existing on a plane of reality that even old Bilbo could not appreciate because his mortality is nothing compared to Gandalf. While this doesn’t at first appear to have much relevance to people in the “real world” there’s actually a real relevance for the reader. The concept of “deep time” was one that began during the Victorian era when geologists began to argue that the world is actually older than we once thought. Where before the world was only a few thousand years old (according to sources like The Bible), by looking at the actual layers of sediment in the earth, and discovering fossils or organisms long exitinct, human beings were able to determine that our time on this earth was only relatively recent and that we were merely one example in a long lifetime of the planet.
The reader may by now though be getting frustrated and wanting to know when I’ll make my case, or else they’re waiting for me to talk about cool stuff like Ring Wraiths. I’m terribly sorry to disappoint my reader, but I won’t be doing that. At least not in this essay.
The Fellowship of the Ring, as far as Book 1 is concerned, is an important read because it begins the Trilogy, but more importantly it establishes the foundation of the world. The world of Hobbiton is one that the reader can certainly recognize because it’s a world that directly mirrors our own. There’s neighborhoods of people who worry about parties and gardens and harvests. There’s sheriffs and mail-men and pubs where people gather to
drink and gossip. Hobbiton is the world as far as most reader’s would recognize it, and as such when “queer” folks like Gandalf appear, and bits and pieces of their true form begin to manifest, the reader is left feeling, much like Bilbo, that the world is actually deeper and far more complex than they’ve been lead to believe.
I was tempted when I started this essay, to explore every facet of the strange and weird and wonderful, but the conflict with that is there’s mountains of books about The Lord of the Rings that do just that. Looking at Book 1, what feels most important, or at least what I initially came away with is how the Hobbits of this book begin to react to the size and depth and complexity of the world. That reaction feels important because often it’s easy to forget how complex the world actually is.
Book 1 of The Fellowship of the Ring isn’t just about getting Frodo of Rivendell, it’s Tolkien’s chance to build his mythos while also reminding his reader even the real world is old and full of people and creatures and landscapes that are an important reminder about mortality and ego. A man may be 111 years old, and he might be a fine and respectable hobbit, but even he too will die, and his existence is not only not significant, it’s just one small part in a narrative that has been going on for centuries.
All quotes taken from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings were taken from the Mariner paperback edition.
On one side note, I have a point earlier about the Nazgul being “badass.” This remains true, however their badassery is somewhat lessened when you try to find a sick-as-hell image of them and you get a behind the scenes picture of the lot of them holding umbrellas before shooting. The only thing missing is a plate of tea and cookies over a discussion of how Asia’s economy is heading. THAT, or else the whole lot of them are going to do an AMAZING rendition of Gene Kelly’s Singing in the rain. I don’t know. Look at those parasols. What do YOU think?