Ross Mackenzie

In monumental scope, the big screen is introducing many to J. R. R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings." The movie versions of "The Fellowship of the Ring" (vol. I) and "The Two Towers" (vol. II) were overwhelming, and generous representations of the book. As movies go, they chalked up some of the biggest global box-office sales ever.

Tolkien groupies picked nits about the "Fellowship" and "The Two Towers" (as they will about vol. III "The Return of the King"), but by and large rejoice in the films. Others, some deeming the work science-fiction, won't see the Tolkien movies, let alone read the books, because they are not into fantasy, the unreal, or - darkly - the occult. So the debate goes hotly on, as it has since the book "The Lord of the Rings" first appeared in 1954, as to what the story really is.

Tolkien, of course, knew. Yet others have had great trouble resolving whether it is allegory, myth, fable, heroic legend, creative fantasy or epic religious tale.

A British professor of philology, Tolkien's first love was linguistics, words and the study of cultures through their languages and literatures. His particular area of interest was Anglo-Saxon history. As one who read deeply in fable, legend and myth, Tolkien was well aware of ring-quest tales predating even the pyramids and Babylon. He read Pliny, who wrote of the blood feud over a ring between Drusus and Caepio that led to the Social Wars, which ended in the Roman republic's collapse.

Profoundly religious (he was instrumental in the 1931 conversion of his friend C. S. Lewis from atheism to Christianity), Tolkien was steeped in biblical tales such as, tellingly, Solomon's ring. He read extensively in Norse mythology (Odin, Sigurd, the Volsunga saga), and drew heavily from Arthurian and Carolingian legend and German romance. He understood Wagner's effort to restate the German "Volk" identity through German ring-quest legends (Siegfried), yet resented the distortions in Wagner's linking of art and myth - distorted further by Hitler at about the time (1937) Tolkien began "The Lord of the Rings."

There was something else. As Tolkien authority David Day has noted:

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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