Sunday, December 19, 2010

Macho Macho Man Man

(# 9 in the series, "J.R.R. Tolkien: Smut Peddler!")

Stephen Lang, the actor who did such a great job portraying Colonel Quaritch in Avatar, gives us a brilliant insight into his character's psyche. In an interview in Energy Times (Nov/Dec 2010) he says, "[Quaritch] comes [to Pandora] as a victim. He's been dehumanized. . . . In many ways [he] presents some very fine qualities . . . but it got so twisted in these filthy wars back on Earth that part of him has just been burned away, that part being is soul. What's left is pure function." Lang--who specializes in playing tough guys--has hit the nail on the head. "Pure, soulless function": a superb description of the Colonel, of Beowulf, of your typical orc . . . and very nearly of Boromir. It's also a perfect description of others less overtly violent, such as Avatar's corporate lackey . . . or of those Republican congressmen mindlessly forcing the government to give worthless tax breaks to billionaires. It appears the Nazgul walk among us as well.

"I don't think much about why I do things."--G. W. Bush
(A buddy of mine once had the opportunity to see a Nazgul up close and personal. He said that even from 100 feet away he could feel the Black Breath; it literally made him sick to his stomach. Pretend Nazgul have cool-sounding names like "Gothmog" and "Angmar." The real thing had a more prosaic name: George W. Bush.)

The Colonel's lack of soul is why it makes such perfect, poetic sense when Neytiri puts an arrow into his heart: she's only making up for what he's missing. Since he won't let female power enter him, he'll have to have it inserted by force. And to reinforce the message, Neytiri gives him two arrows: one for her beloved father, and one for the courageous young war-chief who would have been her mate. The Colonel dares to penetrate the Bush with evil in him--and the Bush penetrates right back.

For there is no evil in this Bush unless a man brings it there himself. Then . . .
let him beware.

(It would seem a lot of fantasists like tall women. Neytiri is nine feet tall . . . so how tall is Galadriel? According to Tolkien's precise calculations, she's two Elvish rangar, which works out to be 6 feet 4 inches. The Lady of the Blue Wood and the Lady of the Golden are both tree-top lovers, and in more ways than one.)

Lang's insight into the character of Miles Quaritch lends a depth to his portrayal that aligns it with the fairy-tale tradition. Lang, Tolkien, James Cameron, and the unknown author of Beowulf all agree: the warrior virtues, noble in themselves, are not enough --not for the man, and not for his people. They also agree that a society run by warriors is likely to function more like a baboon-troop--or a modern corporation--than a healthy human community. Through the artistry of his portrayal, Lang shows us both the seductive charm and the deadly brutality of the warrior, and helps us to see (as Tolkien's Boromir does) the fatal flaw at the heart of the warrior mystique: the warrior is not a whole man. There's a hole in the middle of him where his heart should be. To be a whole man the warrior must Seek His Fortune . . . and heed the advice of the Lady when he finds her. Jake does--and awakens to a new life.

(Incidentally: those are Lang's real muscles, not CGI. He worked out for eight months to get the right build for the role.)

It's important for our appreciation of the Lord of the Rings that we realize Boromir is a "good guy." He's not there just to be shadow to Aragorn's light, or to represent Aragorn's "shadow side," or even to show us what Aragorn might have become if the Ring had gotten to him. Boromir is a tragic hero in Aristotle's sense, a good man with a character flaw that leads to his undoing. But here's another way in which Tolkien gives us more than we might have bargained for at the fairy-tale bazaar: Boromir has two such flaws. He's no ordinary macho man--he's a macho-macho man. But there's one more thing about Boromir--and about Aragorn--that even the Village People may not have known. . . . .

(to be continued)


  1. Nazgul names, eh? The only name for a Nazgul that I'm 100% sure of is Khamul. I've always taken "Angmar" to be the name of the Witch King's country rather than a personal moniker, and I've been in long debates about what sort of being Gothmog may have been. (Personally, I lean toward "more or less ordinary human", like the Mouth of Sauron.) Here are a couple of excerpts:

  2. Hey, steu! Thanks for the comment. Good to know a true Tolkien scholar is paying attention! I'd completely forgotten about Khamul, though I've always assumed (perhaps wrongly) that Gothmog was a Nazgul. Paul Kocher in "Master of Middle Earth" uses "Angmar" as if it were a proper name (or at least a title), rather as Shakespeare in "King Lear" uses "Gloucester" as Edmond's title and as a name.

    I wonder if the Nazgul are known to Sauron by numbers--an orc refers to the Lord of the Nazgul as "Number One," so perhaps the others are Number Two, etc. It would be interesting to see if there are any Nazgul names (or other elements of the Black Speech) still buried in some ancient Oxfordian shoe-box somewhere.

    Stay tuned for a future installment, in which a crack a very poor Sindarin pun. . . .