When Mauricio Carranza ’14 was young and had trouble falling asleep, his father told him the story of The Lord of the Rings. He didn’t read straight from the novels, but performed each scene, doing voices and playacting sword fights and death scenes. Through this, Carranza was introduced to the world of hobbits that has fascinated so many since J.R.R. Tolkien first put Middle Earth to the page in the 1930s.
As part of Dr. Amy Muse’s English Majors in the World course, Carranza had the opportunity for a project focused on one of his passions. He decided to return to Middle Earth.
“(Tolkien’s) writings have helped me both professionally (in an academic sense) and in a personal way,” Carranza said. “I like his writings because he can be so well-worded and manage to make the reader fully immersed in his world.”
For the project, Carranza wrote a “braided essay” (which combines personal reflection and research) and promoted his essay through a TED-style talk.
Revisiting Middle Earth
While Carranza knew The Lord of the Rings through his father, he didn’t read the books himself until he was 18 and in London.
“I didn’t fly through the pages,” Carranza wrote. “I paced through them. I soaked every sentence that was written. … I took pride in the fact that his hard way of writing was something I was able to overcome.”
His interest piqued, he studied the man behind the writing. Initially, he was afraid he wouldn’t look at the books the same way if he knew too much about Tolkien. He proved himself wrong. Carranza took a course in 2013 on Tolkien and his medieval influences and found the stories enriched by the details he learned.
“It was a different view from what I expected. I expected a man who was full of imagination and wit and could tell a story on the spot,” Carranza wrote. “Instead, I got a very scholarly man, a man who made research and was so dedicated to creating this epic that he would go hours into the night, when he was not disturbed by family members, so that he could write this tale of great proportions.”
A key element he learned about was hero types. While his father had told him the books were about the “value of loyalty, friendship and the common person,” it took Carranza longer to realize that.
He delved into how Frodo Baggins was a new hero. He wasn’t the larger-than-life hero of past epics, but an ordinary individual who is pulled into extraordinary circumstance.
“He is a normal character that has no special abilities and desires no recognition for his actions,” Carranza wrote. “He is the hero that doesn’t get what he wants. … He loses the thing he loves the most, which is the (Shire).”
One of the themes Carranza explored at length is the concept of “ownership.” He said we tend to associate The Lord of the Rings fans with three standpoints: religious individuals, medievalists and geeks. Because Tolkien is covered from so many different perspectives, he argued, it can be hard to be a fan unless you’re bringing new insight to the table.
However, Carranza said he didn’t feel he fit into any of these categories. He explored what Tolkien meant to him personally, and relied on anecdotes from other The Lord of the Rings fans and their personal experiences as well.
“His works have become almost a beacon to many by welcoming them to a world where they can experience the vastness and grandeur of the world he created, and the morals he was trying to give,” Carranza wrote.
Carranza also explored how we, as a culture, take ownership by visiting places associated with Tolkien: the Oxford Pub where Tolkien gathered with his friends; Birmingham, where Tolkien lived as a child, features The Tolkien Trail; and New Zealand, the “Middle Earth on Earth,” after the movies were filmed there.
Carranza pointed out that, because Frodo is a new type of relatable hero, we all become stewards of The Lord of the Rings through our connection to him.
“Tolkien is trying to show the Frodo in all of us,” Carranza wrote. “By making his world so grand, so many people have (taken) ownership and … responsibility in that world. Tolkien makes the littlest of actions the most important ones.”
Spreading the word
After Carranza completed his paper, he had to find a way to appeal to a wider audience. He decided on a TED-style talk because he wanted it to be “dynamic and alive.”
“I wanted to feel a connection to an audience,” Carranza said. “A presentation allowed me to show myself in the content and be a part of the talk.”
He said that adapting the paper was a challenge: Tolkien is such a dense subject to condense down to eight minutes, and talking in front of a crowd pushed Carranza out of his comfort zone.
He also put his work online and on the forum he gleaned the personal anecdotes from. He said the discussions his essay sparked was one of the most rewarding parts of his project.
“The feedback I received was very helpful,” Carranza said. “Many of the comments were very positive toward my ideas, and the one that didn’t explained why they disagreed. … These people wanted to hear more and more about my subject.”
Carranza welcomes anyone who is interested to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.