'Lord of the Rings' has always been beloved. The pandemic reminded us just how great it is

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 FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, 2001

By Scottie Andrew, CNN

Updated 0801 GMT (1601 HKT) December 19, 2021

(CNN)They weren't meant to beryllium heroes. Frodo Baggins, his steadfast companion Samwise Gamgee and their accidental journey-mates, jejune cousins Merry and Pippin, could person been contented surviving retired their days successful the Shire with their chap hobbits, feasting and smoking successful pastoral comfort.

But erstwhile a ngo that would find the destiny of their small satellite and the overmuch wider 1 was foisted upon them, they heeded the call. They journeyed done the astir treacherous terrains of Middle-earth for years connected the connection of a wizard. They joined a set of bellicose strangers who'd go their brothers. They looked evil successful the oculus much than once. They made unsafe mistakes and witnessed innumerable tragedies.

They persevered and yet made bully connected their promise, returning home, everlastingly changed by what they'd seen and done

"Lord of the Rings" is the communicative of improbable heroes who emergence to the occasion, who springiness up the joys of archetypal and 2nd breakfasts to bash what's right. Theirs is simply a satellite of hobbits and elves and orcs and Ents and the Nazgûl and humans who bash unspeakable and beauteous things.

Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Boromir, Gimli, Samwise, Frodo, Merry and Pippin -- heroes and friends.

But it's besides a communicative that is ours -- we who person lived done a pandemic that's irrevocably changed the satellite arsenic we knew it, forcing america to marque choices and upend our lives successful ways we apt ne'er considered. Sam and Aragorn, characters we wished were our friends, person go our avatars. Because that's the powerfulness of "Lord of the Rings" -- the communicative ne'er changes, but the meaning transforms into what we request it to be, and successful turn, transforms us.

Peter Jackson's theatrical adaptation of "The Fellowship of the Ring" was released 20 years agone this month, just 3 months aft the September 11th attacks. It was a airy past for Americans and planetary filmgoers alike, a winning depiction of relationship and bully radical doing intolerable things that could marque adjacent the astir fantasy-averse spectator weep.

And it's been a airy for viewers passim the pandemic, too, a brushed spot to onshore erstwhile the symptom of world overwhelms and a font from which to gully spot to support going.

Behind the scenes of however  "Lord of the Rings" makes movie   magic.

"The communicative and the characters archer the information astir what it means to beryllium human," said Sean Astin, whose Samwise is the heroic bosom of the films, successful emailed comments to CNN. "The travel is an immersive and implicit circuit done the spectrum of ideas and emotions we each share."

We can't ever power the acheronian we're dealt. But it's similar Gandalf says successful "Fellowship," erstwhile Frodo laments that helium wishes he'd ne'er encountered the ringing and endangered his friends: "So bash each who unrecorded to spot specified times. But that is not for them to decide. All we person to determine is what to bash with the clip that is fixed us." And, arsenic a fictional roadworthy representation for however to unrecorded passim unprecedented times, "Lord of the Rings" is 1 that volition endure.

'LOTR' is escapism with a purpose

Though Middle-earth mastermind J.R.R. Tolkien took his worlds and the characters wrong them seriously, helium besides intimately understood the escapist inclinations of his readers and the powerfulness of his stories to transport, animate and save.

Tolkien defended escapist phantasy fabrication successful his effort "On Fairy-Stories." In that essay, Tolkien stated that escapism is "very practical, and whitethorn adjacent beryllium heroic" -- readers and viewers who prosecute with phantasy stories aren't abandoning the existent world, but preparing themselves to amended look it.

"Why should a antheral beryllium scorned if, uncovering himself successful prison, helium tries to get retired and spell home?" helium wrote. "Or if, erstwhile helium cannot bash so, helium thinks and talks astir different topics than jailers and prison-walls? The satellite extracurricular has not go little existent due to the fact that the captive cannot spot it. In utilizing flight successful this mode the critics person chosen the incorrect word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not ever by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter."

"Lord of the Rings" fans, by engaging with the story, "do for a clip flight from our ain satellite and our ain troubles, but then, of course, we whitethorn besides instrumentality to them amended equipped to grip them; strengthened by the respite and possibly adjacent inspired to look the difficulties and evils that face us," said Corey Olsen, a student known arsenic the "Tolkien Professor" for his in-depth survey of Tolkien's works, and president of the nonprofit Signum University.

Corey Olsen analyzes Tolkien's works   with students astatine  Signum University.

Tolkien started writing portion recovering successful a infirmary furniture from an unwellness helium contracted during the Battle of the Somme successful World War I. The satellite was wedged betwixt wars erstwhile the archetypal measurement of "Lord of the Rings" was published successful 1954, and the aftershocks of 9/11 were inactive large erstwhile its adaptation, "The Fellowship of the Ring," deed theaters.

What keeps Olsen returning to the story, some the books and films, helium said, is what he's learned astir himself and the satellite passim his life. The lessons the characters impart, helium said, person been "a large portion of the cloth of my worldview since agelong earlier I understood what that means."

"I person learned arsenic overmuch astir life, astir doing the close thing, astir facing adversity, astir interacting with others from Tolkien than I person from astir immoderate different source," helium said.

Viewers discovered 'LOTR' for the archetypal clip oregon fell deeper successful emotion during the pandemic

For each the series' acclaim, it took a pandemic for immoderate would-be fans to yet participate the phantasy satellite they'd agelong been encouraged to visit.

Olivia Simone, a voracious scholar who hosts the YouTube channel iLivieSimone, spent portion of the pandemic yet dusting disconnected the unread books connected her shelf, including Tolkien's works, and past watching their adaptations to compare.

Olivia Simone yet   work   and watched the afloat  "Lord of the Rings" trilogy this twelvemonth  and loved what she found.

She wanted to yet recognize the memes she'd been seeing everyplace -- retrieve erstwhile it was intolerable to flight variations of Sean Bean's Boromir saying "one does not simply locomotion into Mordor"? And truthful she work "The Hobbit," a prequel caller that follows Frodo's uncle Bilbo and his ain dalliance with the One Ring (and Gandalf!), and the "Lord of the RIngs" and past watched each six films based connected the books. She and her sister plopped down connected the sofa and devoured the extended editions of the movies, filmed their reactions and posted them connected her channel.

The verdict? She loved them. The characters and locales she visualized portion speechmaking were brought to beingness immaculately successful the film, she said successful her YouTube review. But what affected her the astir was the unsinkable relationship betwixt Sam and Frodo. Even erstwhile the ring's corrosive powerfulness starts to deterioration down his beloved "Mr. Frodo," Sam is his staunchest supporter, redeeming his beingness and restoring his religion to yet destruct the One Ring.

"I recovered it truthful moving that those 2 had endured truthful overmuch yet were inactive continuing connected contempt however hard it intelligibly was to instrumentality adjacent 1 measurement forward," she told CNN. "In the discourse of the pandemic, relationship and conscionable putting 1 ft successful beforehand of the different adjacent erstwhile things are unsmooth rings adjacent much true, for sure."

The pandemic besides provided the clip -- plentifulness of it -- for Tolkien devotees to delve adjacent deeper into his world. Take Matt Graf, who archetypal fell head-over-heels with Tolkien's satellite erstwhile helium watched "Fellowship" connected DVD successful 2002. In January 2020, connected a whim, helium started a YouTube transmission -- "Nerd of the Rings" -- wherever helium dissects esoteric elements of "Lord of the Rings" and the wider satellite of Middle-earth.

Matt Graf has recovered  a assemblage  of Tolkien fans done  his YouTube channel, "Nerd of the Rings."

Within 2 months of the channel's founding, "Nerd of the Rings" would go a societal lifeline, connecting Graf to different Tolkienites who devoured his analyses.

"As idiosyncratic who is simply a earthy worrier, determination is nary uncertainty successful my caput that spending other clip successful Middle-earth during those challenging days was a large comfortableness done it each -- not conscionable for maine and my viewers, but for millions astir the world," helium said.

For years, Graf said, he's taken solace successful "Lord of the Rings" done wellness issues and unmooring idiosyncratic losses. Now, helium shares histories of supporting characters similar Shelob the elephantine spider and even interviews formed members similar John Rhys-Davies, who played the stubborn and loyal Dwarf Gimli successful Jackson's films.

"Despite overwhelming likelihood and knowing determination is lone a fool's anticipation astatine success, our heroes resoluteness to bash what they tin -- should they yet fail, they volition neglect portion trying," helium said, a connection helium carries with him disconnected the leafage and screen.

Fans' transportation to 'LOTR' changes arsenic they grow

As fans and stars of "Lord of the Rings" unrecorded with the communicative and instrumentality to it passim their lives, they find their knowing of it has changed.

Astin said large events from the January 6 insurrection, the Covid-19 pandemic and the maturation of his children "make each transition successful the communicative oregon moments successful the movie a benignant of talisman ... a divining rod that resonates otherwise successful antithetic moments."

"I proceed to larn things astir Sam that I ne'er knew," helium said, noting that helium thinks astir what being an honorary ringing bearer meant to the hobbit. "My consciousness of that travel and what it means to him, and what decease means to maine are reexamined successful my beingness daily."

For Graf, the quality of Théoden, king of Rohan, affects him much profoundly present than it did erstwhile helium he archetypal fell successful emotion with the series.

"As a begetter who has experienced the heartbreak of miscarriages, Théoden's grief astatine the nonaccomplishment of his lad and his declaring 'no genitor should person to hide their child' cuts straight to my core," Graf said. "As a begetter of a recently adopted daughter, I subordinate to Théoden's narration with Éowyn successful an wholly antithetic way. I present recognize precisely what Théoden means successful the books erstwhile helium calls Éowyn 'dearer than daughter.'"

The timeless escapade of 'Lord of the Rings' endures

We've lived with the "Lord of the Rings" films for 20 years and the books for astir 70 years. It's a testament to the spot of the communicative that each of them inactive clasp up -- and that caller members are inactive being drawn to its important fellowship. Soon, determination volition beryllium caller stories to archer with Amazon's "Lord of the Rings" series.

Graf recovered a assemblage of like-minded Tolkienites with "Nerd of the Rings," which has present grown to much than 400,000 subscribers. He's harnessing their enactment present to animate young radical to emotion Tolkien, rallying his viewers to donate copies of "The Hobbit" to children's hospitals.

Graf interviewed Gimli himself, John Rhys-Davies, connected  his YouTube channel.

Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, who play Merry and Pippin respectively successful the films, person a narration that mirrors that of their characters. This twelvemonth the brace launched a podcast, "The Friendship Onion," wherever they callback their clip connected set, commercialized stories and pal astir with castmates (including Astin). The results are giddy and delightful -- successful 1 episode, Astin, Monaghan and Boyd collapsed into giggles remembering however excited Jackson was to amusement them a CGI preview of Middle-earth's foliage erstwhile the jetlagged formed archetypal landed successful New Zealand.

Olsen, meanwhile, is starring classes connected Tolkien's works astatine Signum University and hosting play programs that dissect the books. He said his exemplary of enactment is inspired by the characters he's known for years: the assured Aragorn, the good-natured Gandalf, the faithful and humble Sam.

"If astatine the extremity of my vocation I beryllium to person been a bully person oregon entrepreneur, I volition beryllium astir of that to Tolkien's influence," helium said.

And Astin is embarking connected his 4th "cover-to-cover journey" done Middle-earth, this clip with members of his publication nine connected the app Fable. The books are a commitment, helium said, but 1 he's consenting to marque with readers who emotion the bid arsenic overmuch arsenic helium does.

    "We volition consciousness and deliberation and imagination our mode done it," helium said.

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