This Rapp Up is about my beef with Peter Jackson.
That may seem like a strange topic to write about at the end of Homecoming week, two months into a school year where we have construction happening on campus, new academic programming in place, high hopes for fall athletics, and more happening than can fit in a monthly newsletter. Surely I could find a better topic to write about than my opinion of a film director?
Peter Jackson is best known for being the writer and director of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies, and for good reason. These films grossed billions of dollars and are loved by people of all ages all over the world, a group among which I had counted myself for a long time.
That is, however, until I really read the books.
When Covid struck and we were locked down at home, one of my first actions was dusting off The Fellowship of the Ring from my shelf. I had read approximately half of the trilogy in high school, but my adolescent self gave up part way through The Two Towers, losing interest in the parts with lengthy elvish songs and intricate descriptions of ancient court ceremonies.
But if you spend enough time in Catholic-land (and have an English degree on top of it!), you start feeling a little bit like a poser having not read the whole series. So I picked it back up and gave it another shot.
I have to say, it was one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life. Whether it is a product of being older or more mature, or maybe because I have tried my hand at writing things of my own and realized just how difficult it can be, I was absolutely taken with it the second time around. The simple but rich prose, the complicated but accessible tapestry of characters and lands, and the sheer attention to detail and imagination displayed in the pages charmed me from beginning to end.
When I got to the end of Return of the King, I couldn’t put it down until I got to the climax that I knew was coming (spoiler alert!): the destruction of the Ring of Power.
When I read it, I sat back and sank into the chair, reveling in the moment, the reading of it so much more than the movie could have captured, soaking in the joy that comes from tension finally resolved. But then I realized something: there were still 100 pages left in the book.
I remembered the movie and the painfully long goodbyes that nearly ruined the films for me, and I thought, “Surely even Tolkien can’t squeeze 100 pages out of a few farewells!”
And as I cautiously read on, I realized something.
The movies missed the entire point of the trilogy. The climax comes not in the destruction of the ring. The climax is when the Hobbits go back home.
The second-to-last chapter is titled “The Scouring of the Shire,” and it is in this scene that we see Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin return to find their home changed, overrun with people intent on stamping out all that was good and beautiful and peaceful in the Shire in order to replace it with that which is efficient and productive and ugly.
Though their home was changed, they were changed, too. They were returning with the weapons and skills gained on their journey, hearts firmed with war-won valor, gifted swords sharp and at the ready. They returned from all of their battles and adventures to the only one that really mattered: the one for their home. As it says, “This was Frodo and Sam’s own country, and they found out now that they cared about it more than any place in the world.”
This is why homecoming is not just a slice of Americana, but an integral part of the human experience. It is why every great story, from Frodo and Sam to The Lion King to that of our faith, is a story of exitus and reditus, of going out so that you might come back anew.
It is why homecoming football games are more than just tradition. We need to know that when we leave on our adventures, when we are called into the unknown or the unknowable, it is so that we may become worthy of the place we left in the first place. We leave so we can return to it as something more, maybe with some scars or a limp, but also with a heart and mind richer and stronger than before.
This “hero’s journey” archetype exists in literature because it is written into everything from nature (“Unless a grain of wheat shall fall…”) to our own destiny. These moments of coming home to see your classmates and reminisce on old times are also moments of ensuring that the home you left is still, at its core, the place that shaped you into the person you became. And if it’s not, you fight for it.
To the alumni returning this week, welcome home. I hope you find that we have honored all that is best about our school and worked to shore up its weaknesses. I hope you find that we have honored what you have built and protected what we have been given.
And for all of us, we hope this weekend can be a taste of the homecoming we hope awaits us when this life comes to an end. Friday’s warm embraces and familiar smiles and pleasant surprise encounters might be just a hint of what awaits us if we stay faithful to our Lord in this life. Think of the people you might see, the surprises that might await, the rush of familiarity and possibility that could envelop us as we take those first steps into our eternal home. This is an image worth praying about.
Happy homecoming, St. James family. Thanks for all you do to make this community a taste of what is to come.
Your brother in Christ,