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The Lord of the Rings:
A Brief, Pleasing Analysis

If you saw the Lord of the Rings, like me, and you thought it kicked total ass, like me and all right-thinking people, there are no doubt many burning questions in your mind.

The first important mystery facing us is, I have no doubt, why the nazgul (or "ring-wraiths", or "9 slow-witted guys in black on big horses") suck so much.

Think about it. Most of the evil forces in the movie, be they fifty foot tall demons or lumbering rock trolls or Christopher Lee's monster eyebrows, were totally badass. The nazgul, on the other hand, spent all their time stabbing mattresses, lumbering after hobbits in slow motion, and failing to achieve anything of note. I spent most of the first half of the movie worrying that they were going to trip and fall.

Compare. The rock troll required many grievous wounds, some from swords, some from arrows, to slay him. In contrast, Strider single-handedly dispatches five nazgul with a burning stick. In that battle, one of the nazgul, as far as I could tell, trips and falls off a cliff.

So why do they suck so much? The answer is simple. Who are the ring-wraiths? They are the 9 humans originally given rings of power by Sauron. In other words, they are a pack of really, really old men.

When you look at it this way, it all becomes clear. That is why, when on foot, they moved towards the hobbits so slowly. That, for them, is top speed. They could have done better, but their arthritis was probably acting up.

It's sort of sad, really, when you think about it. Here they are, spending what should be their golden years riding through the wilderness, chasing midgets and getting set on fire, when they should be safely at home watching CBS.

It gets even worse when you think about how, in a later book, a nazgul is slain by some person and some other person on a plain in front of some city or other. When you look at it in this light, this deed is no more heroic than going into an assisted living facility and beating old people up for kicks.

It's all rather poignant, really. But all this brings up a second question: if the nazgul are so feeble and baffled, why does Sauron send them on such an important mission?

Well, this sort of things happens all the time. Imagine that you're running a business. You hire a few hot kids, you know, go-getters, ready to rush out there and get some sales. But, as time goes on, they get old, and they raise families, and they slow down, and the fire in their bellies goes out.

Every office has a few old people who have been around forever, and everyone likes them, and nobody wants to be the one to fire them, and so they just hang on, dead wood, waiting for their pension.

That's the nazgul.

So Sauron has this situation. He wants to take over the world. And he needs to give his old pals, Bob and Jeff and Frank and whatever they're called, something to do. So he sends them out to beat up the hobbits. How hard can THAT be?

So they get to the Shire, and they're finally getting something done, and a human shows up with a burning stick and ruins EVERYTHING.

In sum, the nazgul are a sad and trenchant reminder of the sad fate that awaits us all in old age. Or, it's Tolkein's way of telling us that old people are no damn good.

But that balrog looks totally bitchin', so it's all good.

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