What I love about “The Lord of the Rings” is how long it takes to end. Not because I never want it to end, but because if it ended right away with the ring being thrown into Mount Doom, and Aragorn being crowned king, the story wouldn’t have finished. And it wouldn’t have been finished just because the hobbits still had to journey back to the Shire, but because it would have ignored one of the crucial parts of any story, that most stories neglect to mention. That is to say, once the story finishes, life goes on.
I was thinking this the other day, as I was getting to the end of an old BBC radio production of the series. I forget sometimes how much of a story there is still to go after the destruction of the ring, and many people I’ve talked to find this part tedious. They have a big banquet to celebrate, and Aragorn gets hitched, and finds himself a tree, and then they go talk to the Ents, and Faramir and Eowin get hitched, and then they make it back to the Shire, and drive the rest of the baddies away, and still you have to go through Frodo writing his book, and Sam getting married and starting a family, and the final journey to the Grey Havens…
Really, I find the end of the book very depressing. And it isn’t the usual sort of depression I get every time I finish a really good book. Sometimes, when I read, I get so absorbed in the story that I have a few hours of re-adjustment to go through after the end, as I re-evaluate my life and try to remember what is important to me, and where I am, and what I’m doing. The better a book is, the more I’ve gotten myself involved with the character’s lives, the longer this process takes. Finishing “The Lord of the Rings” sometimes makes me feel a little sick inside. Because when all is said and done, Frodo is no longer able to stay and enjoy the world he’s saved. It’s sadder than when someone’s died heroically. It’s more quiet, and subdued, and common place.
And the understatedness is, to me, what drives everything home: the realization that every epic quest comes to an end, and when it does, life carries on. As it must.