It’s a strange thing as a Lord of the Rings fans to confront the idea that the film adaptations’ best and worst quality is their visuals and special effects. I would say that the epic battle scenes in Peter Jackson’s trilogy were the most sublime spectacles I had ever seen when the films were originally released. Though today some shots and the films’ CGI don’t look as crisp and clean as they might have back in the early 2000s, the Lord of the Rings films arguably hold their own against the last couple years’ blockbusters and even Peter Jackson’s subsequent Hobbit Trilogy.
This notion, presented at the opening of Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft’s lecture “What Lord of the Rings Tells Us about America” in Higgins 310 Thursday night, left the room silent, probably giving Kreeft his desired effect. While Kreeft let this idea ruminate in our heads for a bit, he went on to explain that he felt the Lord of the Rings’ visuals expressed what he views as an abhorrent quality in our nation: our obsession with technology, grandiosity, and violence. Though Kreeft acknowledged that Lord of the Rings is a violent series capturing a fantastical war, he felt that the films went unnecessarily out of their way in a few instances to heighten violent scenes, like when Frodo and Golem struggle over the ring in Mount Doom in Return of the King. This idea, while the first analogy Kreeft made between The Lord of the Rings and American society, was not the last or most striking.
Looking at the colorful cast of characters in The Lord of the Rings, Kreeft chose the one character he felt best encapsulated American society: Sauron, the antagonist of the series. Sauron, Kreeft feels, is the perfect candidate to represent America in the story because of his obsession with conquest, his focus on crude and efficient manufacturing, and above all, because of his, as Kreeft puts it, “external materialization of his power in the one, true ring.”
The ring, in Kreeft’s view, isn’t just one manifestation of America’s strength, but has many facets. The ring could represent our military, our technological feats, or even apathy. There is one social construct, however, that Kreeft decided, above the others, is the ring’s truest form for America: artificial immortality by genetic engineering. Kreeft feels that this is the most accurate representation of the ring for American society because it mirrors Sauron’s purpose for creating the ring: conquering death. Kreeft believes that, if American society is to persist and grow, it must cast this metaphorical ring into the fire.
This all may seem a bit confusing and that’s both because there’s a very substantive argument to grapple with and because Kreeft presented it in a very roundabout manner, leaving a few of his points under-developed. Kreeft didn’t really explain who would destroy his metaphorical ring, or how you could convince people to stunt technological growth. Instead, he left that to the lecture’s attendees to decide, and focused on examples of how societies within the book handle technology. He pointed out that the blissful Hobbits ignore technological growth, the Elves have refined their productions through art, and that the dwarves are plagued by their greed. These examples gave the attendees a picture of how Kreeft imagines America could look if it focused less on technological superiority, but at the same time, they did nothing to explain how Kreeft envisions us reining in technology’s might.
After Kreeft’s lecture, a Q&A with the professor commenced that lasted nearly as long as the lecture. While one might think this Q&A would allow students an opportunity to ask Kreeft to clarify and expand on some of the points he made in his lecture, it more devolved into students asking Kreeft for his interpretations of certain scenes or themes found in the novels and in the films, like whether or not Lord of the Rings is racist. These types of questions were interesting, and it was engaging seeing how interested Kreeft is in the series. But the Q&A didn’t do much to clear up some of the points in Kreeft’s lecture that were muddled.
It’s difficult to assess how I really feel about Kreeft’s lecture and thoughts. His comparisons and metaphors he drew out of that beloved, fantastical world are interesting to consider and have kept me working through them days after Kreeft’s lecture. Seeing such a large Lord of the Rings fan base congregate in Higgins was lovely, as I haven’t been in a room with as many avid followers of the series since the movies came out. Leaving Kreeft’s lecture, though, I felt like I had more questions about “What Lord of the Rings Tells Us about America” than I had walking in. Maybe that was the point. Literary works and societal issues of an epic nature deserve an epic analysis, and maybe Kreeft’s lecture is just scratching the surface of both.
Featured Image By New Line Cinema