Arise!

I read a post today which discussed heroes giving noble speeches to hearten people, and whether that’s effective today. When I commented, I cited King Théoden’s speech in The Return of the King, little knowing how much I would need that speech five minutes later. While I thought of the stirring speech from the 2003 movie directed by Peter Jackson, what’s below is from the book by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

220PX-~1Bernard Hill as Théoden. Photo from Wikipedia.

I always loved that speech, because Théoden and his army rode toward a battle none was sure he would survive. But they went anyway.

I think about that speech now, as I contemplate an emailed rejection I just received. I wasn’t going to post today. I was going to huddle in a ball in the corner. Yet I felt that I need to write this while the feelings are fresh and raw, not just for myself, but for anyone who has been rejected and now wanders lost in the fog of confusion and “what next?”

Some days writing seems like a battle I’m not sure I’ll win. Maybe like me, you start to second-guess yourself, thinking, Am I a total loser? If that’s you today, look at Théoden’s speech. I don’t know exactly why I get totally pumped when I read those words or hear them in the movie. This is an example of persuasion, spoken by a man who wasn’t content to hang about his halls while his army swept into battle. He went with them.

People tell you that rejection is par for the course. Yeah, it is. It hurts, because you’re left reeling. Others tell you to get up and try again, but you feel like a newborn foal standing on shaky legs. That’s how I feel right now.

Is that you today? I don’t have words of wisdom. I just have that speech—those gorgeous words of Tolkien. And I take heart. And I cry. And I scream:

Fell deeds awake . . . a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

And I go into battle once more.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Return of the King. New York: Ballantine Books, 1955, 1965. Copyright renewed 1983 by Christopher R. Tolkien, Michael H. R. Tolkien, John F. R. Tolkien and Priscilla M. A. R. Tolkien. Print. 123.

“Well, I’m back”

Note: If you’re not a fan of spoilers, you might step back from this post in which I discuss the end of The Return of the King.

He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.

If you know The Lord of the Rings, specifically, The Return of the King (book 3), you’ll recognize those words and who said them. I don’t know about you, but I can’t read them without tearing up, no matter how many times I read them. No. Matter. How. Many. Times. Even now. And I have seen Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Return of the King an embarrassing amount of times. Every time I tear up.

Samwise-Gamgee-samwise-gamgee-12089038-960-404

It’s not just the perfection of that ending (and to me it is the perfect ending—so understated). It’s what’s behind it—the knowledge of the arduous journey Sam barely survived and the end of an era. That’s what resonates with me.

I’m rather hobbit-like. And not because I hate wearing shoes. I usually have to be dynamited out of my home and forced to go on an adventure. Bilbo Baggins could take lessons from me on how to cling to a hobbit hole. I’ve got that down to a science.

So I can appreciate the ending Tolkien devised: this weary hobbit returning home without his dearest friend and their mentor, Gandalf. But I finally realize why that ending was so satisfying to me. Though the journey had been difficult for Sam, Frodo, and the other companions, some of whom did not make it back alive, they were forever changed by it. Also, they had lived—really lived, something I don’t quite think I’ve been doing for the last oh ten years or so. Too busy trying to survive the day to day. Too busy also clinging to the fear of inadequacy, rejection, breaking a limb, or whatever else.

Depression changes the color of your life to a washed-out gray. Just getting up in the morning is sometimes difficult for me. So the thought of running from Ringwraiths or giant spiders repels yet excites me, because I don’t quite have those in my life. And when I get to the end of the adventure and Sam goes, “I’m back,” I can’t help thinking, Dude, it was hard, but you lived. Oh how you lived.

Other than heading to graduate school in another state for the last two years, I can’t recall the last adventure I’ve taken. (Well, there was that adventure of trying to find my way home from the unemployment office. . . .) Was it teaching at English Camp that summer in WuJiang, China in 2002? Perhaps. But note the year.

I used to be much more adventurous. I’m not sure how I became so circumspect. So, it’s time to make some changes before I become one of those old people who screams at kids to get off his or her lawn. It’s time I declared my independence from fear, from doubt, from whatever else is holding me back. It’s time I said, “Well, I’m back,” not because I’m relieved to return home but because the old me is back.

What will I do? I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know. How about you? Will you declare your independence with me? And by the way, I hope you have an enjoyable fourth of July! It will be Independence Day on so many levels, won’t it?

Photo of Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee from fanpop.com.

Eyes of Wonder

Peter-jackson-250x339In a recent Entertainment Weekly sidebar, when commenting on the 2005 relaunch of Doctor Who, Peter Jackson stated, “If there’s any secret to its resurgence, it’s due to the show’s complete lack of cynicism.” If you’re familiar with Doctor Who, perhaps you know that this show was first launched on the BBC in 1963, but went on hiatus in 1989.

Jackson’s remark struck a chord with me, because I’ve been trying to analyze why I love the show so much. This love grew from childhood, watching Doctor Who on PBS with my dad on Sunday nights. Friends who recently saw some of the older seasons on DVD described them as cheesy or low budget. But I loved them, starting with Tom Baker, because they always took me someplace wonderful. So, when the show returned in 2005, I was more than thrilled, because like the show’s producers, the show has never lost its wonder for me.

Which brings me to the second quote, one from Rise of the Guardians, a 2012 film by DreamWorks Animation. I won’t go into the plot. You can check that out for yourself here. During a scene early in the film, North (St. Claus) asks Jack Frost to name his center. In other words, what ideal or virtue does he bring to the world that he also is willing to safeguard for the sake of the children of the world?

North again

As an object lesson, North hands Jack a set of nesting dolls and has Jack open the dolls until he gets to the center doll—a doll with large blue eyes. This doll represents North’s center: wonder. North then tells Jack:

It is what I was born with, eyes that have only seen the wonder in everything! Eyes that see lights in the trees and magic in the air. This wonder is what I put into the world, and what I protect in children.

As I read Jackson’s comments in EW, I couldn’t help linking his quote with North’s and then reflecting on what my center might be. Let me give you a little background. I grew up reading magazines like Mad and Cracked, magazines famous for their parodies of movies and books. I never met a parody I didn’t like. Sarcasm was my center. It affected my writing. (Some might say infected.) Everything was ripe for mockery.

In my second semester at VCFA, my advisor read my fairy tale parody and shook her head. In her assessment, some of it was good; yet she could see what was missing: wonder. Sure I could write a parody. But did I have the guts to go beyond mockery and produce something original? The thought of doing so was daunting. What if someone mocked me for it later?

Wonder is the antithesis of cynicism. If I have wonder-filled eyes, I see beauty and life in the world, not just the flaws or what makes it ripe for ridicule. That’s why Jackson’s remark jumped off the page at me. Having watched all of the episodes of the relaunched Doctor Who, I can attest to the truth of his statement. If you watch the interviews of anyone connected with the show—actor, writer, producer, lunch lady, makeup crew—you will discern the love—the wonder—he or she sees in it.

So, I’m in an examining mood now. Having chosen to write books for kids, what is my center? I can tell you what I’m working on: wonder. But I need to shrug off some cynicism first. Thankfully there are blog posts like this one by Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, that remind me of the wonder of writing. (One of my classmates brought this article to my attention. Thanks, Rachel.)

What is your center?

For a fun quiz on this question, go here:

Jackson, Peter. “Lord of the Whovians.” Entertainment Weekly #1252. 29 Mar. 2013: 36-37. Print.

Rise of the Guardians screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on a story by William Joyce. Directed by Peter Ramsey. © 2013 DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All rights reserved.