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April 1, 2004
With a clean sweep- an unprecedented 11 wins out of 11 nominations- Peter Jackson's adaptation of JRR Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings was unstoppable at the 2004 Oscars. With such a solid group of nominees, perhaps the most well-rounded in years, many are curling their eyebrows at Return of the King's domination of the hardware. LAS guest writer Hugh Slesinger makes a case for why Return of the King deserved to win so many awards, and why Aragorn is so much hotter than Legolas.


As an imaginative young boy growing up in the American Midwest, I had an older brother who introduced me to the writings of JRR Tolkien. He claimed with pious conviction that "The Lord of the Rings" series was "the greatest adventure story of all time." For weeks after dinner we would slink off to the den where he read to me aloud. Having read the entire "Rings trilogy" several times, my brother patiently answered all my confused questions, like "which one is he again?" He also helped me sort out many of the book's incredible characters as well as the unique topography of Middle Earth in great detail. Upon occasion, perhaps during one of the epic tale's lengthy narrative passages, elfish chants, or lengthy genealogical histories, I found my young mind wandering off, until Mr. Frodo slipped on the ring exposing himself to the all seeing eye, or Gollum cursed the cries of the Nasgul which quickly snapped me back to heightened attention. But most of all, I was thrilled by the sheer cunning, strength and intelligence of the characters that compiled the Fellowship. 

"Too bad they can't make a movie about it," I said to my brother in 1971. He said he couldn't imagine how such an incredible story could possibly be captured on film. We were reading the Two Towers and had just completed battle of Helm's Deep at that point. (Thank goodness he didn't spoil the ending of the story by telling me about the deception of Shelob's lair which lay ahead.) By the way, who is your favorite character?" he asked me unexpectedly. "Strider," I told him, rather uncertain at that particular moment exactly why. Maybe it was the character's reflective nature or the way he handled himself in battle. "Who's yours?" I asked, sitting up from my relaxed position on the couch. "Gandalf," he replied. He explained that liked the clever wizard because he used magic instead of violence to take control of difficult situations. He also admired his swift-footed horse, the pure white steed, Shaddowfax.

Years later my wife and I, who both grew up reading Tolkien as a youngsters, attended the 2003 release of "Return of the King" in the theater. Since our initial viewing, we have been hitting the video store to rent the first two extended DVD versions of the trilogy. We both appreciated Peter Jackson's amazing visual interpretation, and the way he tried to stay true to the book as much as possible, while adapting the complex storyline for the screen. A few weeks ago my wife informed me about a related poll she stumbled upon in a recent edition of "Us" magazine. The survey asked American women who they thought was sexier; the lean and luscious, long legged Legolas, (played by "Pirates of the Caribbean's" Orlando Bloom) or the somewhat raggedy, yet mysteriously magnetic, Aragorn (played by Viggo Mortensen.) 

I was shocked to learn that a slim majority of respondents had selected Bloom. I began to ask myself how old the voters of the "Us" poll were, and which of the two candidates most men would have selected if they were asked the same question. Perhaps it was his superb swordsmanship or his relative reluctance to assume the position of authority as a character, but Aragon outweighs Legolas for me. Maybe it's because of who Mortensen is in real life, but I bet if most of us guys had to choose they would pick Aragorn, and if you asked most Americans their choice for best picture, Return of the King would win hands down. Of course no offense is meant to any of the other nominees or to the board jumping, stunt performing Bloom- he is a rad kid- to be sure, but I can't understand how women would prefer the androgenous, fair skinned "Leggy" to the charismatic, stubble-faced Mortensen? Sure, Aragorn's hair gets mussed up and he sweats after killing a hundred or so of Mordor's fiercest Uruk-hai warriors (wouldn't you if you were responsible for preventing the extinction of life as we know it?), but it is the spirit of Aragorn that has the ability to inspire viewers from so many different backgrounds. 

Okay, perhaps it is best to admit that I am a bit biased. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Viggo Mortensen is also a published poet, painter, photographer, singer, and horse wrangler/whisperer who insisted on using his own horse in the production. (Incidentally and perhaps a bit off subject, Mortensen is also a father himself, his teenage son having performed as an Uruk-hai and as his father's stunt double in the film). With true fatherly modesty Mortensen shrugs off the mainstream accolades and frenzied media attention. Like Aragorn, Mortensen handles all the praise with incredible generosity and rare Hollywood humility. In addition to Mortensen's own humbleness, he proves he is no sissy for a middle-aged guy hacking and fighting his way through a well-rounded career into his mid forties. According to the cast, what really made him stand out was the level of commitment he showed during the four-month filming of the Helms Deep battle in a North Wellington rock quarry. Just like the character in Tolkien's books, Mortensen's inspired performance also inspired his counterparts, demanding all those before him strive to give all that they can while they can with his tireless conviction and woos others with kindness and respect. 

As a character Mortensen plays the role of a former tracker raised by Elves well before the "would be price" becomes king. (Remember folks that it's a tracker's guild to find the right path and lead the way for those who follow.) Instead of choosing to look down on others of lesser ability, Aragorn encourages contribution. He inspires us to put our words and lives into action and trod onward through all the unforeseen challenges and overwhelming odds to achieve success. 

Above all, Aragorn's message is not to despair, even in the face of formidable darkness and death. Despite their many differences, Aragon and Gollum are in fact remarkably similar in that the both survive their plight through their remarkable resilience and scrappiness. As ugly as Gollum is to many of us, this trait is more attractive than a near perfect appearance. Please don't misunderstand- Legolas is indeed way cool. He has impeccable manners, superb aim with a bow and unparalleled far-sightedness both in seeing landscapes and understanding the signs of the past, present and future. Although no one can touch the perceptive graciousness of the occasionally "grumpy" old Gandalf, Aragorn also demonstrates much grace in addition to his steadfast strength and self-determination with more than ample agility. Unlike the fleet-footed nimbleness of Legolas, Aragon remains immune from the hopelessness of doubt, and comes across as unwaveringly balanced and true to his word, even without the Evenstar pendant and magic of the Elves. It is his faithful commitment to Arwen, the Elfish daughter of Elrod, over the repeated flirtations of an enamoring Eowyn (the warrior princess) where Aragorn demonstrates yet another important defining characteristic, one that so many of us guys inherently tend to lack in today's Middle Earth, namely fidelity. 

In many ways Eowyn may indeed have been a more appropriate match for the morally mortal Aragon. But don't forget, Aragorn wields his own ring of power as a ranger of the Northlands and demonstrates great flexibility for a man the age of 87. (These characteristics can also be found in the extended DVD for you the viewer to behold.) This leaves even more for us "over the hill Wannabees" to respect about the status of our beloved hero Aragon. The way he treats the ravish Rohan beauty with the tremendous dignity, and shows her sympathy without stepping across the line of inappropriateness, is more than mere chivalry. It is more than most guys could muster. 

Meanwhile, publicly and privately both Mortensen and Bloom claim that women lusted more after the other guy than they did over themselves. Who can know for sure? But one thing is for certain, mature guys know whom we would rather try to emulate. In hindsight I recognize that I am deeply indebted not only to Aragorn, the iconoclastic character who leaps and fights his way off the pages of Tolkien classic work, but to Viggo Mortensen as an actor, for bringing out these qualities so profoundly in Aragorn. At the same time, we mustn't forget the incomparable Peter Jackson for understanding the importance of individual sacrifice for the good of the whole. This gift is greater than pursuing fame, personal glory or greatness. It is in this way that "the King" rises above the others. 

In closing, and along the line of comparisons, I must confess that most of us guys are probably a lot more like the manipulative and hungry Smegal or the comfort loving Hobbits than we would like to admit or choose to let on. (Surely, my wife can attest to this!) But once again, I still believe that those of us, even those who descend from rather plain and small origins can, with patience and persistence, strive to reach the greatness of a Frodo or a Sam. And in so doing, we must accept our meager tasks as ring bearers in this lifetime with only a hope of acknowledgment from those who risk so much of themselves to bring about truth and justice, in order to remind the rest of us that there still might be "some good in this world worth fighting for."

SEE ALSO: www.lordoftherings.ne

--
Hugh Slesinger
A teacher, naturalist and eco-conscious real estate agent living in Occidental, California, Hugh Slesinger occasionally publishes his insights on life with LAS.

See other articles by Hugh Slesinger.

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