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Lord of the Rings vs. Star Wars

Published 2012-11-20

Lately Orion is all about Lord of the Rings. As a media-lite household we receive most of our pop culture through the Lego catalog. Lego has just released two lines of LoTR and Hobbit models, and we read (and re-read) the product descriptions. And the website has interviews with Lego designers who describe all the best features (they sometimes play with the models too which is super geeky awesome).

We went through this previously with Star Wars. The conundrum is that the movies are too scary for Orion, and books are too wordy. But he’s fascinated with characters, weapons, plots, buildings and vehicles, and so forth. And questions, so many questions. Which guys are good? Which ones are bad? Why are they bad? Do the bad guys outnumber the good guys? (Yes: always. Bad guys always outnumber good guys in every movie ever.) How does Weapon X work? Can the robots fly? And so forth.

With Star Wars I’d just kind of answer these questions, usually discursively (ah, Darth Vader is a bad guy. The X-Wing has four lasers and two proton torpedoes. Luke used it to destroy the Death Star. Which is a giant weapon/spaceship that destroys planets. For no particular reason, actually.) This works because Star Wars is basically a long sequence of toy placements punctuated by Some Stuff That Happens. It requires only mechanical explanation: all the parts fit together like this. End of story.

Conversely, LoTR and Hobbit make very good oral storytelling. The explanations quickly become stories, and the stories suggest more stories. Simply explaining the composition of the Fellowship requires some understanding of where the One Ring came from, how Frodo came to have it, why he needs to destroy it, why all his friends are helping him, and why they are all different kinds of people (Hobbits, Dwarves, and so on).

On top of that, every story provides not only a rational explanation (within Tolkien’s world, anyway), like “Hobbits are small people who live in the Shire and like food and gardens.” They also connect to resonant themes about bravery, friendship, perserverence, history: “Hobbits are not strong or good fighters, and they don’t like adventures. But they are brave when they have to be, they never give up, and they always help their friends.”

Orion and I spent more than an hour this morning listening to “Rohan music” (Howard Shore’s soundtrack). We talked through the history of the One Ring (and the Ringwraiths), the founding of the Fellowship, the treachery of Saruman, the attack on Rohan, and Eowyn versus the Witch King.

Which, while we’re on the subject: why doesn’t Eowyn have her own damn movie? In telling her story to Orion I realized that just her story packs more action, character, and mythology than, I dunno, Mulan.