Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

The battle for Helm’s Deep has begun

Jerry Stratton, April 30, 2011

William A. Jacobson posted a snippet from Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech this morning, and listening to it, I can’t but remember the notion that Tolkien was heavily inspired by the events of the second World War for some of the things in The Lord of the Rings:

What General Weygand had called the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in these islands, or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed, and the life of the world may move forward, into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves, that if the British empire and its commonwealth last for a thousand years men will still say, “this was their finest hour”.

Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings between 1937 and 1949. There’s some controversy about how much he was influenced by World War II, but very little controversy that he was. However, Tolkien clearly isn’t the only one to take inspiration from World War II for The Lord of the Rings. The movie’s dialogue seems to be a conscious effort to invoke not just the war, but this one influential segment of one of Churchill’s great speeches.

That line isn’t in the book, as far as I can tell. And it’s not the only time the writers pull from this one speech. They use the word “the enemy” often, as Tolkien had the characters do in the book when they wish to speak of Sauron without naming him. Replace “Sauron” with “the enemy” in this little soliloquy of Galadriel’s:

It’s another phrase that doesn’t seem to have a match in the book, being a condensation of several pages of action in Tolkien’s version. Galadriel is basically fulfilling the role of a voiceover to move us along.

Now, this one is one I’m not so sure about, but when I heard Churchill say “But if we fail…” now, the first time I’ve heard the speech after watching Lord of the Rings, I immediately thought of Galadriel’s interaction with Frodo at the well. It was so compelling I mentally rewrote the speech and remembered it differently than it happened. Listen to the inflection on “but if we fail”, and then listen to Galadriel’s speech in the movie. It isn’t just the words that are similar, it’s the delivery.

Listening to it over and over again, I’m losing my certainty on this one. But it was striking enough when I first heard it, to bring this one scene to mind out of well over nine hours of film. And again, not in the book. The scene has been rewritten to focus on Galadriel and Frodo—mostly Frodo, cutting a very odd bit of dialogue from Sam. In the book, both Sam and Frodo were there for Galadriel’s dark and terrible transformation. But when it’s all over, and Frodo understands why he can no longer hope to give this task over to the wise and powerful, Sam still says:

I wish you’d take his Ring. You’d put things to rights. You’d stop them digging up the gaffer and turning him adrift. You’d make some folk pay for their dirty work.

Is that a nod by Tolkien to the willingness some folk have to give power over to politicians who will misuse it, in the hopes that they’ll misuse it on the right people?

April 10, 2014: Churchill’s good earth

In Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King, Aragorn makes a speech at the end, to rally the troops at the Black Gates of Mordor. This speech isn’t in the book; in Tolkien’s telling, “Little time was left to Aragorn for the ordering of his battle.” In Tolkien’s telling it is left to the hobbit Pippin to grant himself courage.

I was reading through Cigar Aficionado’s web page a while back, and ran across an article on Winston Churchill and his cigars. In it, Churchill says about food, “Whatever the Good Earth offers, I am willing to take.” I wondered if this was a phrase that Churchill ever used during the war. He did, during his hush over Europe speech:

They are defending the soil, the good earth, that has been theirs since the dawn of time against cruel and unprovoked aggression.

So this may be another case of Jackson pulling from Churchill for his movie; but it could also be just a standard phrase in the British Commonwealth. Interestingly, Churchill’s “they” were the Chinese; he may have in that particular speech been referencing Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, a novel that, at the time, was only about eight years old. She had just won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her “rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China”. If it sounds odd that he’d quote an American author, remember that this speech was meant to convince America to aid them.

  1. <- Atlas Shrugged
  2. The Adjustment Bureau ->