Retrospective: The Fellowship of the Ring 20th Anniversary

By Joan Amenn

“A wizard is never late… nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”

-Gandalf the Grey

The twentieth anniversary of “The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001) arrives this weekend, precisely on time for its fans to start their annual viewing marathon of the trilogy as a whole. Evaluated on its own merits, “Fellowship” is a breathtaking achievement although at the time the thought of a film adaptation caused an outcry from fans of the books worldwide. And just who was this Peter Jackson fellow anyway who had the audacity to take on filming one of the most well-loved stories ever?

I confess I was one of the initial doubters. At the age of twelve I received a boxed set of the trilogy as a Christmas present from an elderly aunt who knew only that I “liked to read.” Her consultations with a bookstore clerk brought me my favorite gift that year. As a young mother with four hobbits… er, children of my own, I of course, had read them excerpts from “The Hobbit” but had held off introducing them to the dark and much longer “Lord of the Rings.” When I learned of this new project by an unknown director filming in New Zealand (not Hollywood?) I cringed.

The first trailer for “Fellowship” that hit the Internet left me gasping, once I had finally downloaded it which was painfully slow. I live in a rural area and at the time, Wi-Fi service was notoriously unreliable. As my children and I huddled around our computer screen, I was stunned at our first glimpse of the Shire. Every aspect of the film, from the casting to the score seemed perfect.

Jackson brought to the world’s attention Cate Blanchett and we should all be eternally grateful. Her opening monologue is enchanting and a totally appropriate take on the traditional “Once upon a time…” From there we are introduced to another storyteller in the form of Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). We learn that the hobbit is about to throw himself a birthday party and what a wonderful way to introduce the viewer to more of the central characters and immerse us in their lives. Jackson sets the stage for what is to follow so well and never bores us with too much exposition.

So much has been written and discussed about the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy over the years but now more than ever, it resonates strongly with a viewer. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the books as a way to look back on two world wars, the first of which he participated in as a young man. Fascism and authoritarianism were referenced in his writing as well as loyalty and courage. The best and worst of human tendencies are woven into his epic story and Jackson did not lose sight of this in his film adaptation. This is why “Lord of the Rings” remains timeless. That so inexperienced a director could control so many elements of an extremely complicated production and not lose the emotional power of his narrative remains an astonishing achievement.

My family and I saw “Fellowship” on opening day at the Cinerama theater in Seattle. My children ranged in age from ten to four years old. When I heard my youngest son sniffling quietly as one of his new heroes died on screen, I felt both guilt at having caused him this pain and a shared bond of love that this story meant as much to him as to me. We will be watching it again together over the holidays, and we will still feel the same about four young hobbits swept up in the adventure of their lives. I may be getting older but the story never does.

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