The Lord of the Rings: local TWU expert expounds on why it is captivating audiences this season

Langley, British Columbia—Lineups to see the much anticipated movie The Lord of the Rings have rivaled even lineups at the mall this Christmas season. And no one may understand better the fascination with this movie than Trinity Western University English professor Norman Klassen. An expert in fantasy and medieval literature, Klassen earned his Doctorate of Philosophy in literature from England’s Oxford University.

It was at Oxford where Klassen walked the same halls and studied in the same libraries as The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien did half a century earlier. Tolkien’s home in North Oxford, where he wrote much of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was just a block away from where Klassen took up residence while studying in England. And it comes as no surprise to Klassen, who teaches The Lord of the Rings in his fantasy literature course at Trinity Western, that audiences are captivated by Tolkien’s tale.

“Tolkien is a masterful storyteller,” says Klassen. “While the basic plot of The Lord of the Rings is compelling in its own right, Tolkien uses virtually every description of landscape to convey the mood he wants to establish. And he draws especially on his love of language, as a philologist, to thicken the sense of history, diversity and detail to create his magical world of middle earth.”

Klassen never finished The Lord of the Rings on his first attempt to read Tolkien, as a teenager. However, that changed when Klassen went to university. “I couldn’t stop reading. I was so glad I’d come back to it,” he says. “And I enjoy teaching it. It has a broad appeal and combines prevailing themes like mercy, community, the texture of good and evil—themes that speak to our human condition.”

Klassen notes that though the story was written nearly 50 years ago, the present-day attraction to The Lord of the Rings is characteristic of revived audience interest in epic movies.

“I think we’re seeing a return to movies that are larger than life—that capture a big event on a big landscape,” says Klassen, “Maybe it’s because we’re ready for grand adventures, or maybe it’s because at this moment in time, our culture has no sense of grand adventure and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Noting that Tolkien drew on medieval texts to write The Lord of the Rings, Klassen says that themes such as heroism, honour and community are conveyed through this story.

“I think the theme of community is very strong,” he comments. “The group that begins the fellowship of the ring is small enough that Tolkien can contain it and explore different kinds of friendships, obligations, and allegiances. Tolkien allows us to care about Frodo, Sam, Gimli and the others, and in a way, he draws us into the fellowship.”

“People are interested in real characters,” adds Klassen. “And there’s no better venue for discovering how characters act and react, than on a pilgrimage where we see them at their best and at their worst, and where they are bound together by a common purpose and a common journey.”

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling over 3,000 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2012-08-21
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