W.S. Merwin is an amazing, remarkable poet. He hardly needs my endorsement, but I give it anyway. In other news, I've been speed reading The Lord of the Rings this past week. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Speed reading through that Tolkienien forest of words,full and dense. It sounds easier to run through a brick wall. And yet, I have been speed reading LOTR. I can do this for several reasons: I have read the books multiple times. I've always been a fast reader. I am named after Arwen Undomiel. (That's the middle name, for those of you trying to figure out how allysha=arwen). I like to think I go around looking like I have stars and jewels about my face and in my hair. My sister is named after the lovely land of Lothlorien. I am not married, however, to Aragorn, but to Ben. Ben might be a Ranger, though. I'll have to ask him. But I digress.
When I read the books I am reminded of a part in the movie that I was so disappointed in. Granted, when a book is adapted for the screen, there are going to be adjustments. I understand this. I got over the expanded role of Arwen. I could forbear the slight personality change of Faramir for the sake of pace. Some character traits demand more time than the movie could allow for, thus a slight story change (although this change does fall under the catagory of what I want to discuss). But. But at the end...
Of all the wonderful friendships and loyalties written down, that of Frodo and Sam is among the most touching. So at the end, when the movie plot takes Frodo and through Gollum pits him against Sam, even for just a moment, I was quite sad. Even the light from Galadriel's phial wasn't quite bright or even used enough. Which brings me back to Merwin (yes, yes, I mentioned him for a reason). He has a remarkable poem. It sums up the reason for why a scene was portrayed like it was, and not as things are in the book. (Merwin often requires that you let your literal mind float for a moment. But you'll get the feeling of it.)
When the pain of the world finds words
they sound like joy
and often we follow them
with our feet of earth
and learn them by heart
but when the joy of the world finds words
they are painful
and often we turn away
with our hands of water.
Tolkien writes a beautiful moment where, exhausted, the hobbits have fallen asleep. Gollum has been sneaking around Mordor and comes back to lead Frodo and Sam up the staircase which he hopes will be their doom. But as he approaches them, and sees them asleep, Frodo leaning on Sam, he pauses for a moment. Gollum reaches out to touch them, almost a caress, as if he remembers for a moment about what his life once was, about friendship and love and companionship.
Instead of capturing that goodness that radiates out even to Gollum, the movie uses a brief betrayal to heighten suspense and bring the drama. I know, it's not like they threw the relationship out the window. They didn't. They just didn't make it as good as it really was. I think that what they didn't understand is that you don't need any more drama. Frodo is on his way to Mount Doom, for heaven's sake. He doesn't actually think he will make it. He is accompanied by Sam. Sam doesn't think that they'll make it either. And they wouldn't have, without each other. They must push through the darkness, the heaviness. And in the end Sam literally carries Frodo when the ring becomes too much to bear, because letting Sam carry the ring would have destroyed Frodo.
But I don't know that there are many people who really know how to portray good that is really good, anymore. I'm sure it can be done. If Tolkien did it, I'm not sure why Peter Jackson couldn't. But I'm not sure that our world understands that there can be that kind of good in someone that doesn't require an internal juxtaposition of some evil or petty flaw. Overcome by our own shortcomings, flaws and sins, we fail to understand how a person can indeed move past, can be lifted to a higher place. Or we fail to understand just how to communicate it in a way that resonates with others. We have become so used to the ordinary, that the extraordinary seems either trite and silly, or simply unreal or unreachable.
Maybe because what is good requires work. It requires sacrifice. Merwin's poem often reminds me of marriage, children, dedication to and faith in God. More and more people are shying away from a commited marriage, from having children because of the constraints on their time, their money, their leisure. They move away from the idea of a Heavenly Father because they won't let their faith hold them up when it doesn't make sense from their perspective. They may understand the frustrations that come with these things. They may understand the fatigue and disappointments. There are many areas of life where the difficulties are universal. But they will never understand the joy that comes in these pursuits, because you can't experience it unless you experience it.
Don't underestimate the good. Not your own capacity for it, nor the capacity of others. Don't feel naive or unsophisticated looking for it, expecting it, and showing it to others. Because even in this silly, sullied world of ours, real good exists. Though it may cost you something, though the journey to it may appear to be too difficult, ultimately it's worth it. Just like Frodo and Sam working their way to Mount Doom, we all have our phial of light, and that light is something good. Let's find it, instead of turning away with our hands of water.