Lord of the Rings Day

An artist's impression of the iconic One Ring of 'Lord of the Rings' film trilogy.

A happy Lord of the Rings Day to you! (Previous editions: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2014)

Every year I pen a commemorative piece about Lord of the Rings, and share something about the books and films that I think about nearly every day week. This year, I don’t have the strength, thanks to the workload due to the coronavirus pandemic, to say anything more than that you should take advantage of the lockdown – and the commute time it has likely saved you – to read more works of fantasy fiction.

It remains the single most rewarding thing in my life, even more than my blog, because fantasy as I’ve said before in quite clumsy terms is fractal. It recapitulates itself, especially its careful – or deliberately and absurdly careless – inventiveness, demanding more answers of the writer than any other form of fiction ever could simply because fantasy brings together three infinities: both what is and what isn’t that are the general attributes of all fiction plus the preserve of ‘are you frigging kidding me’. Reading good fantasy is sure to give you ideas of your own, to push towards (or away from) new worlds and new world-visions.

Fantasy is to my mind ergodic: riding its coattails, I get to visit all possibilities available to visit in the possibility-space of my mind; if I keep reading, I get to solipsistically encompass the worlds and world-visions of my fellow creators as well. Fantasy to me is newness, an endless font of it, in a world that has only been becoming more and more predictable; it is a secret place where goodness still lives, and on occasion even reaches a hand out and nudges me towards the right thing.

If I had been in Faramir’s shoes and stood before Denethor, bearing the full brunt of my father’s derision and being told he’d rather I had been killed instead of my brother, I would have done to him what he did to himself later: set him on fire. But Faramir rode out into a battle that he knew full well he was going to lose. Nothing about it was fair – just as nothing was fair about Anomander Rake’s tortuous, tortuous penance. Ours is a nasty world, and right and wrong aren’t always clear just as they might not have been to Faramir and Rake in moments of profound distress. In fact, the distinction is sometimes so blurry it might as well not be there.

When I’m lost for ideas, when I really don’t know what to do, when I would really like to just be told what I should do instead of having to think it up myself, I often turn to fantasy’s ideas about right and wrong, about what Faramir or Rake might have done, because fantasy is fundamentally empathetic in its alienness: its creations are often apart from this world – just as I feel sometimes, and you probably do too. It’s a place “infused with bright hope now so scarce in the realm of the real,” as a friend put it – a place to go when you don’t like this one (and from there to other places, picking and choosing what you like), and it’s a place that will let you go when you’d like to return, all in peace. The faith it demands is only the faith you’d like to give. What more could one want?

[Takes a break from the typing frenzy]

At least, good fantasy is all I want. And this Lord of the Rings Day, I invite you to take a short dip into a fantastic realm of your choice. If you’d like recommendations, I highly recommend starting with Lord of the Rings itself; if you’ve read that and want to try something more ambitious, try the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson or Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. If you’d like something that won’t consume the next three to five years of your life, I recommend Exhalation, a collection of short stories by Ted Chiang that I’m currently reading, or all of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.

If you’d like even more recommendations – or titles more gender-balanced, say – I also recommend recommendations by the following souls (all on Twitter):

  • @srividyatadpole
  • @thebekku
  • @dpanjana
  • @chitralekha_tcc
  • @notrueindian
  • @supriyan

There are many, many others, of course, but these people came immediately to mind.

I really need to get back to work now.

Reconciling with fantasy

After having so vehemently derided the abject unoriginality of the Harry Potter series on many public fora over the years, it is now time for a retraction. It comes on the back of not having re-read the series but of having to re-imagine it after watching the last film based on the last book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part II.

It was a wonderful movie not in the same spirit we, rather I, cast other movies as being wonderful. Saving Private Ryan was wonderful. Moulin Rouge was wonderful. அன்பே சிவம் (Anbe Sivam, Tamil for ‘Love is God’) was wonderful. These were films that carried all its viewers’ interpretations on their shoulders and vindicated their individual journeys through immaculate storytelling. The films based on the Harry Potter books, on the other hand, carried all their viewers’ imaginations, too, and expectations. And few vindicated the undertaking… until, at least for me, Deathly Hallows — Part II.

In fact, it stepped past vindication. It climbed upon my shoulders and whispered into my ear, “You have been imagining it wrong all along.” It managed its catharsis very well, tipping neither into debasement nor aggrandizement.

When Lord Voldemort finally fell, there had been incessant jubilation in my head that cast aside all memories of the long, arduous road to the end. But when each Horcrux was destroyed onscreen, a visual symmetry emerged out of the chaos, stoking thoughts of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta.

When Lord Voldemort fell onscreen, his empty eyes looked up into the until then forlorn sky, his life falling off like the withering petals of autumn’s roses. The orchestra did not climb into the heavens with him but remained grounded, laden with memories. There was dignity in the heart of its beauty, an acknowledgment of struggles misguided though they were.

As the Dark Lord had come, so had he left: from the world, of the world, to the world, an antagonist I could truly reconcile with. That moment, finally, made all of it much more than believable. It made wanting to belong to such a world desirable.