27th Oct, 2007

Aragorn’s Speech from The Return of the King–A Movie for the Bush Era: Saturday Night at the Movies

Print Print


If Star Wars captures the mix of religion and patriotism that characterized the Reagan era, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films are a trilogy for the Bush era: its imperial pretensions, computer-game view of reality and apocalyptic, myth-like sense of history.

I first encountered J.R.R. Tolkien many years ago when I had just completed reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and friend who had recently returned from Europe said this writer named Tolkien was turning heads with a fantasy series that was even better. Normally I am not much of a fan of fantasy literature, but this friend had insisted so strongly I read The Hobbit and Tolkien’s trilogy and was enthralled. My friend must have been on to something because not long after that Tolkien became what can only be termed a cult that would eventually attain a status on a level of those who dress as Captain Kirk and can speak Klingon.

When Peter Jackson’s massive publicity effort detailed plans for the movie version, I had my doubts whether he could pull it off. The Net was ablaze with leaks about the film with the Tolkien cult weighing in on each leak, which I suspect Jackson planned like a political campaign. The result is the Star Wars of our times: a massive, special effects-laden effort that is the film equivalent of Wagnerian opera–which is appropriate because Tolkien drew on many of the same sources.

The poster for The Return of the King, captures Jackson’s bewildering cast of characters, bombastic battle scenes and computer-generated world. How much Jackson’s film will be remembered as a complete movie or regarded as a curiosity will depend on time, for one thing is certain the next generation will have special effects that make those in Jackson’s movie seem as primitive as the toy dinosaurs battling in King Kong. One thing is certain, like Kong–and like the Star Wars movies–Jackson’s films WILL be remembered for like those other classics it goes beyond mere special effects to connect with that part of our subconscious that is wired for myth.

I will spare readers a plot summary, because it is hard to believe there is anyone out there who has not seen at least one of the films. Besides it would take too much space.

Perhaps nothing captures the contrary feelings people have about the Lord of the Rings movies better than Aragorn’s speech before the final battle of the film. Some have called it Shakespearian, likening it to the immortal St. Crispin’s day speech in Henry V and others have called it drivel.

To even mention it in Shakespeare’s class shows how far our standards have fallen in an era when our president cannot get through a paragraph without making some gaffe. Just three words from Henry V exceed anything in Return of the King: “band of brothers,” words that have been appropriated by many since Shakespeare first wrote them.

To show you I present the two, first Jackson, then Shakespeare:

The Return of the King
Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers!
I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
A day may come when the courage of Men fails
When we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship
But it is not this day
An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Man comes crashing down
But it is not this day!
This day we fight!
By all that you hold dear on this good earth
I bid you stand, Men of the West!

Henry V

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Print Print