[Originally posted on the Judgment of Paris forum on December 24th, 2004.]
What's this? Christmas without a new Lord of the Rings
film? How sad.
Because of the immense popularity of the Rings trilogy, it is entirely possible that the films have helped to bring about the romantic revival in fashion. On the other hand, it may simply be another manifestation of the broader cultural movement that we refer to as the "aesthetic restoration," which has been gathering force since the turn of the millennium.
As a reaction against modernism--an alien ideology imposed by the nouveaux elites who took hold of the cultural tiller early in the 20th century--today's aesthetic renewal finds inspiration not only in the art and fashion of the upper classes of the pre-1900s, but also in the folk culture of the common people from those times.
Thus, in the case of The Lord of the Rings, one might initially consider Liv Tyler's wardrobe to be the most significant in terms of its influence on the feminine revival. But note the outfit worn by non-waif "Rosie Cotton"--the character whom Samwise Gamgee marries at the end of the film:
The garland and ribbons in her hair point the way forward to many of today's feminine fashions and accessories.
(And note also her distinctive, Valerie Lefkowitz-like hairstyle.)
Details such as these are hardly incidental to the film. Towards the end of the third installment, when Frodo and Sam are marooned on an outcropping of rock in Mordor, with the volcano spewing lava and ash all around them, the only thing that prevents them from falling into despair is their memory of the Shire. Frodo recalls the physical landscape of their homeland, while Samwise recalls
Rosie Cotton dancing. She had ribbons in her hair. If ever I was to marry someone, it would've been her.
This dramatizes a concept that is central to English Romanticism--i.e., the power of the creative will to mentally construct a reality that can supplant the literal or metaphorical hell of one's immediate circumstances. In this, the Romantics took their cue from Milton's famous passage, "The Mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n."
How fascinating that the memory of this feminine detail--the ribbons in the hair worn by his beloved--helps Samwise to survive his physical ordeal. It is a telling statement about the crucial role that Beauty plays in the human experience.* * *
On the topic of Lord of the Rings, it is worth underscoring the fact that, just as the title of the third installment indicates, the film is very much about a restoration--not just aesthetically, but literally.
In the film's resolution, of course, Aragon is crowned King in a Wagnerian ceremony. And the extended cut of the third film (which is far superior to the theatrical release) includes a new scene that is laced with restoration symbolism.
As Frodo and Samwise draw nearer to Mordor, they encounter a decapitated statue of a Gondorian king:
The statue is covered in Orc graffiti, and an iron-shod rock has replaced the missing head. Frodo observes that this land must once have belonged to Gondor, "Long ago, when there was a king."
(Anyone who has toured Europe and lamented at seeing once-glorious royal monuments broken and defaced with graffiti--especially in territories that have passed from one country's sovereignty to another--can relate to the feeling of desecration that the scene evokes.)
However, as the Hobbits pass by, Samwise notices the statue's severed head on the ground, and points it out to his travelling companion:
He comments on the fact that, thanks to the blossoms growing in this spot, the natural world has enacted a coronation of its own for the stone monarch: