Why you should care
Because the Lord of the Rings movies shaped a generation that’s moved past the prequel.
With this week’s release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, we reach the end of a series that has been with us for almost 13 years. I was 9 when The Fellowship of the Ring came out; the first Hobbit film emerged halfway through my undergrad years. For millennials who grew up on J.K. Rowling’s Potter series, Tolkien was an inheritance — my uncle was the first kid in the family to learn Elvish, not me. But Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings saga still means something significant to my generation, and, for some of us, its final installments sting more than that cop-out Deathly Hallows epilogue.
“I feel like someone’s just hacked my childhood with a CGI axe,” I texted, coming out of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. OK, melodramatic — but I felt a sense of righteous betrayal tugging at my 9-year-old self’s heartstrings. Tolkien intended The Hobbit as a children’s story, and the book was significantly slimmer than its sequels, despite the three-part film adaptation. The Hobbit films reflect the chirpy, adventurous spirit of the book: Jackson delivers with dwarfish antics, spectacular creatures and Martin Freeman’s blustering Bilbo in a rose-tinted Middle Earth.
For debt-stricken, capitalism-wary millennials, Thorin’s gold-motivated heroics ring a little hollow.
My dissatisfaction, after the three-hour, action-packed romp through The Battle of the Five Armies, comes down to the hero at the story’s center. It was Frodo’s adventure — not Bilbo’s — that was my generation’s childhood story, and it was far from chirpy. The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters just a few months after 9/11, and its follow-up films coincided with the Bush administration, war and my generation’s adolescence. As Frodo struggled with responsibility, self-doubt and the ultimate evil, we watched the invasion of Iraq unfold and came of age mistrusting politicians and heading into an uncertain future. The latest Hobbit installment made it clear that these films aren’t so much about loveable hobbit Bilbo, or even the dozen or so spare dwarves. They are about the noble dwarf prince, Thorin Oakenshield. And for debt-stricken, capitalism-wary millennials, Thorin’s gold-motivated heroics and treasure addiction ring a little hollow.
Even if you didn’t like the “Hobbit” films, Billy Boyd’s song sums up what we all like best about Middle-earth (Boyd played Pippin in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy).
Even in a fantasy world, millennials could journey with the Lord of the Rings characters. Aragorn struggles to accept his true identity. Eowyn battles prejudice and unrequited love. Frodo is the smallest and most unlikely hero — and even with powerful friends, he’s not guaranteed to win. I’ve heard more than one friend claim (and who can blame them) that their sexual awakening happened around when the exhausted, sweaty Aragorn opened the doors of Edoras in slow motion. Many young people, myself included, started writing our own fantasy stories inspired by the movies. And our throats still close up at the first stirrings of the theme music.
The Hobbit films are a great nostalgia trip, so why can’t we just shut up and enjoy our second round of Middle-earth? The truth is, there’s little in the Hobbit films to put our faith in. The three-part stretch of the Hobbit trilogy is obvious box-office bait, and it compromises the films’ characters and integrity. By the time the Hobbit films were underway, millennials had already put away childish things. We’d already learned from Frodo that long journeys leave permanent scars, and had turned our energies to taking the words of Samwise Gamgee to heart: “There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” There’s no denying the power of his speech in the classic clip below.