Aug 1, 2011

In The Darkness, Bind Them

One of the happiest memories of my time in New York City involves attending a taping of The Colbert Report last week.

Getting a ticket was sheer luck; attending was (and I know how corny this sounds) utter magic. The staff is fantastically helpful, the crew is genuinely friendly, and the host is utterly unpretentious. Mr. Colbert came out, all smiles, high-fived those of us lucky enough to be seated in the front row, and addressed a few audience questions. I kept putting my hand up, and just when I thought he might turn away (there was, after all, a show to tape), he turned to me. No, I wasn't nervous. i was curious.

Those who know me well understand the special place Lord of the Rings has in my heart. The popular film interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpiece was released just before I moved back from the U.K. in 2000, and it hit a deep nerve. Its theme of friendship, goodness, of carrying heavy burdens and resisting the urge to give in to ego and selfishness resonated then, and indeed, still does. Knowing Mr. Colbert is a big Ring-ling, I was curious to find out who his favorite character from the work is. He's spoken at length about it on various episodes of The Colbert Report (and apparently his dressing room is a Rings shrine), yet the character he most gravitates to had, up until last week, remained a mystery.

There was something utterly unique about connecting with someone so famous about something so ... utterly unto itself. Even with the popularity (and acclaim) of the films, those who love Lord Of The Rings feel like members of an exclusive bar where there are drinks like The Suffering Balrog and The Middle Earth Tripper, and we can rhythm off the ingredients and technique with healthy dollops of ease and delight.

The work's tangle of characters, histories, and storylines, combined with powerful mythological underpinnings and strange-but-familiar tone renders its appeal very specific and beloved. Many will have seen the films; few will have read the book(s); those of us who've done both still sometimes have to refer to charts detailing relationships and bloodlines and maps outlining key locations. Why go to all this trouble? Because it's a tale that touches the heart, while being hugely relateable: ordinary person doing something extraordinary -and failing, but for the grace of those who care and want the best. It's epic, it's intimate, it's timely and timeless, it asks a lot but returns even more.

And so it was, Mr. Colbert answered my question with much grace and reverence, which heightened when he (quickly) realized he was in the presence of a fellow fan. Little did I know there was a timely segment referencing Lord Of The Rings on that night's show.


Rings character Faramir said the following, when he was given the chance of owning the One Ring, and I think, intoday's climate of political adversity, international suffering, and religious hatred, it has a particular resonance:
I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo, son of Drogo.
Thinking back to Stephen Colbert quoting these lines to me feels like a kind of lesson, and warning; when it would be most easy to give in to ego, to sadness, to self-pity and fantastical escapism... don't. It's not the right thing to do. It's more noble to go the hard (if honest) route. It's more authentic, too.

Thanks for the reminder, Stephen. Next time we'll have to talk about hobbits, orcs, elves and goblins. For now, I'm going to memorize those lines. Oh, and I want one of those figurines.

5 comments:

Paul Myers said...

Great as always Cate, I have attended a Daily Show taping (when they were in the building that is now Colbert Report studios). Their staff is great too. I think Stephen will be remembered as a great American pop cultural narrator in the tradition of Mark Twain or Will Rogers. I don't have a Lord of the Rings appreciation but I totally respect your own.
-Paul Myers

DCgal62 said...

What a great memory and exciting adventure! Talk about synchronicity and serendipity! Looks like you were right where you were supposed to be. I love the post and I can feel the excitement in your words. Isn't it great when things like this happen. Here's to lots of great adventures and memories to come.

Mel said...

Great post! I'm a fellow Tolkien fanatic and found Peter Jackson's interpretation the only instance where films have exceeded my mental imagery of the book. I am a huge Colbert fan as well, so I am very jealous of your attendance at the taping. I will have to console myself with my Gollum action figure and my Minas Tirith replica, but I'm still very envious of Mr. Colbert's collection.
Thanks for sharing your adventures, Colbert's and Faramir's wisdom and your love of all things Ring.

Laurie said...

Charts? I don't need no steenkin' charts.....
Of course, it's possible that I had all that figured out by the 4th or 5th go-round:-)
I liked the books (and the BBC Radio version) more than the movies. The pictures were better.

Lakin said...

this is a great blog; so glad I got here ~ I'm now one of your happy followers! I have a deep love for The Hobbit & The Ring that runs deep back into childhood, when I always wanted hairy toes and went barefoot as much as possible. (Not always so possible in Upstate New York!).

Would love to have you drop my blog sometime, Rhymes With Bacon, http://lakinkhan.blogspot.com/. I'll be back soon, I'm sure.