J. W. Braun - The Future of the Nine Walkers
The Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tinman. Hercules. Captain Nemo. Hulk Hogan. Spiderman. Romeo and Juliet.
What could these diverse characters possibly have in common? After all, they each come from different eras and areas of entertainment. And yet, they all share one trait: they are each fictional characters who have become a permanent part of the popular culture.
In less than a year, nine of our friends will be performing their first act of three on the greatest stage available for millions of people in the world. For many of us readers, it will be akin to seeing close friends suddenly gain access to a forum in which to showcase their talents we have longed admired.
But this will also mean that the characters of The Lord of the Rings will belong to readers alone no more. They will suddenly gain fans (and enemies) who want nothing to do with the novel. How will the public perceive our heroes and friends?
What follows is my analysis on how the Nine Walkers will fair upon their entrance into the realm of mass popular culture. While I expect disagreement with many of my statements, hopefully the ideas I discuss will provoke thought, and the list will be enjoyed for what its worth.
The Nine Walkers-
Our faithful wizard has the most famous name in Tolkiendom, and it's not difficult to figure out why: he is a lead character in both The Hobbit and the (lesser read) Lord of the Rings. While he's not up there with Merlin or Obi Wan Kenobi in the vocabulary of most households, he's nonetheless rather famous and well respected. In fact, for many people at the movie theater he'll initially be the one character they trust in the strange world they suddenly find themselves in. But while many have heard of this Grey Pilgrim, most have not actually seen him in action- except for possibly his adventures in The Hobbit.
What will people think of Gandalf after seeing the films?
Mr. Stormcrow probably has the least to gain from his upcoming media exposure considering his fame already in place. It's sort of like asking what the Super Bowl will do for John Elway's name. The game does a lot more for the reputation of someone like Trent Dilfer. But the films should propel our good wizard to a new level; and even with the unfair expectations of the audience for someone so famous to do extraordinary acts, Gandalf will deliver and not disappoint. At least he will by the end of the third film. In the first one he'll seem to get into the bad habit of falling out of the story a lot. In fact, in The Fellowship of the Ring he sets up some exposition and later has a quick cameo appearance with the Nine Walkers... and that's about it. Will we have to wait until The Two Towers to really see the Real Slim Gandalf? I asked the actor who plays the wizard, Sir Ian McKellen, this specific question and he told me "No, I don't think so. I'm happy with all three scripts." Eventually Gandalf should be more than a household name.
"Which of the following is not a Pokemon character?"
"Is that your final answer?"
Yes, Frodo had the honor of being a choice in a first season episode of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire!" He was even the right choice, though the contestant chose another (incorrect) answer and was promptly shown the exit. Regis then explained, "Frodo, as some of you may know, is a character from The Hobbit."
Anyway, this example merely illustrates that Frodo has some work to do before people really know who he is. He also is, in fact, still in Bilbo's shadow and is the lesser known Baggins. But being the lead character in a set of movies worth hundreds of millions of dollars will always help a name move up the recognition lists, and I'm sure in a year there will be all sorts of new Frodo fanclubs and maybe even a number of little baby Frodos in the next few years.
Now the big question is: what will the mainstream audience think of Frodo? I think he'll be loved by just about everyone. His "cerebral, nonviolent, reluctant hero" bit will go over well in a day when audiences have grown weary of the glorification of both violence and selfish thrill seeking prima donnas. And the girls should think hes cute.
Poor Sam doesnt fare too well in the history books. For instance, of the destruction of the Ring The Silmarillion says, "For Frodo the Halfling, it is said, at the bidding of Mithrandir took on himself the burden, and alone with his servant he passed through peril and darkness and came at last in Saurons despite even to Mount Doom; and there into the Fire where it was wrought he cast the Great Ring of Power, and so at last it was unmade and its evil consumed."
Sam and Tenzing Norgay could form a club together.
Unfortunately, the movies arent likely to increase Sams fame to much of a higher level. Readers of the books may be impressed by Sams devotion, feel sympathy for his perils (often worse than Frodos), and marvel at the great decisions the simple gardener is forced to make; but most of Sams defining moments come in his own thoughts when he is alone. And these are not likely to be given much screen time in the cinematic version of the novel. It is likely most movie viewers will simply remember Sam through Frodo- as "his servant." Sort of like one of those cute animal friends that hang around with a Disney character.
Pippin is going to be hated. No, not by everyone. (He neednt change his name to Pippin Binks just yet) But by a small minority. His picture is most likely to end up on some webpage entitled, "Pippin must Die!"
Hes weak, immature, not very bright, and very important. In fact, hes Gandalfs project. And let me say, I think its charming to see these two opposites together so often. But in the theater there will be many macho "alpha" males who will despise anyone with these characteristics. But thats okay. Lets just be happy that Elrond sent Pippin with the Fellowship rather than John Wayne nonetheless. And the kids will love him.
Merry is often dismissed by readers and the Great of Middle Earth alike as one of Frodos silly, dimwitted companions. But it is, in fact, Merry that is Frodos guide to Bree, Merry that does not cause a disturbance at the Prancing Pony (choosing to chase Black Riders instead), and also Merry that tries to help Aragorn choose the right way to Rivendell. It is the good Brandybuck that is on the right track when it comes to opening the doors of Moria (until he is sent on the wrong track by Gandalf and Gimli), and it is he of all the hobbits that has no fear of boats in Lorien. And, of course, it is Meriadoc who figures out where he and Pippin are as well as what they need to do when the two of them get separated from the Fellowship.
While I wouldnt nominate Merry for Ranger of the year, a close examination of his part in the novel will show that he indeed had a great deal of wits and sense- especially considering his inexperience in the world.
But, Merry wont be remembered for this in the films. Most of Book I and most of his contributions to the Fellowship are likely to be glossed over or cut out. Thats not because of anything against the hobbit, but just because of his own bad luck. Its most likely that Merry will be remembered as baggage everyone wants to leave behind.
Frodo wants to leave him behind in Buckland. Elrond doesnt want him to join the Fellowship. Aragorns plan for the breaking of the Fellowship is for Merry to part ways with the good Ranger and Frodo. Gandalf rides away with Pippin to Minas Tirith leaving Mr. Brandybuck behind with Aragorn. Aragorn, heading for the Paths of the Dead, promptly leaves the hobbit behind with Theoden. Theodens plans for the ride to Minas Tirith exclude the small warrior as well. When Merry finally reaches the stone city by the sheer power of his own will, he must stay behind as all his friends ride off to the Gates of Mordor.
Merry Brandybuck- the Rodney Dangerfield of LOTR.
Legolas and Gimli
The tolkien Elf and Dwarf of the Fellowship will face the same problem as Samwise: being known as sidekicks. Gimli and Legolas have their time in the sun early- in Moria and Lothlorien respectively. After that they more or less become the Supremes to Aragorns Diana Ross (but with more dance steps). Still, some fans will "dig" Legolas because he is an elf. And fans of The Hobbit will love Gimli for the nostalgia he brings with his race and ancestry. (And hell really be loved in Gimli, Manitoba, as well!)
The most popular character among Star Wars fans is not Luke Skywalker. Its not even Han Solo. And no, its not Darth Vader or Obi Wan Kenobi. Among the fans themselves its Boba Fett.
With LOTR, Boromir is likely to gain the same cult following. Hes a darker character who isnt so obviously a "hero" like Frodo or Aragorn, or famous like Gandalf or Sauron. Hes just tough and stubborn, and gets the job done- and hell be loved. A lot of women will think hes a hunk as well- especially the ones that like the flawed "bad boy."
Bilbo, Gandalf, and Frodo get all the fame in pop culture at present: and meanwhile Aragorn has remained relatively anonymous.
The films will change this in a hurry.
Aragorn will be the most loved character in the trilogy. He has the perfect introduction, and he constantly and consistently fills in for the missing Gandalf when needed. Movie-goers will eat this up. Its like a quarterback going down to injury and his backup coming in and leading the team to the Super Bowl (um, Kurt Warner, anyone?). People love to see an unknown suddenly appear and achieve greatness. And Aragorn is such a wonderful character. Viggo is also a doll. The women will swoon over this guy. The men will love his toughness and sword fighting. The kids will get into how trustworthy and how gentle he is. By 2003 everyone will be discussing Aragorn around the water cooler at the office, guys will be dressing as the Ranger for sci fi and fantasy conventions, girls will have Aragorn posters in their bedrooms, and President Bush will be proclaiming an "Aragorn Day" as a national holiday
Okay, maybe not that last part. But it would be cool, wouldnt it?
J. W. Braun