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Flows of Reading

Engaging with Texts

Erin Reilly, Ritesh Mehta, Henry Jenkins, Authors

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4.12 A Diversion--or a Fan Fiction Moment--in the 'LotR' Narrative

If you pay close attention to the sequence of events as director Peter Jackson presents them in The Lord of the Rings (LotR) trilogy, every scene advances the plot. The narrative follows the story of Frodo seeking the One Ring and delivering it to the Cracks of Doom. Jackson has condensed the event-filled narrative into a 9-hour film. Whatever scenes do not directly advance the plot or build characterization have been reduced or eliminated from the film.

Since Jackson's focus is on advancing the narrative, it is curious that he added the following scene right after the Smeagol-Gollum confrontation we discussed earlier. Jackson included this scene as comic relief, it is true, but it also anticipates certain aspects of the narrative that have great fan appeal

Fans often search for unrealized potential in a story that can provide a springboard for their own creative activities. We can identify five basic elements that inspire such interventions. Learning to read as a fan involves learning to find openings (Bacon-Smith 1992) that support their own interpretations or adaptations of the narrative. These interventions can be understood as hybrid juxtapositions.

The five elements are:

  1. Kernels—Bits of information introduced into a narrative that hint at a larger world but are not fully developed in the story itself. Kernels typically pull the reader away from the core plot and introduce other possible stories to explore.
  2. Holes—Plot elements that readers perceive as missing from the narrative but central to their understanding of its characters. Holes typically affect the primary plot. In some cases, holes reflect different motives and interests held by the writer and the readers.
  3. Contradictions—Two or more elements in the narrative that, intentionally or unintentionally, suggest alternative possibilities for the characters.
  4. Silences—Elements that are excluded from the narrative and have ideological consequences.
  5. Potentials—Projections about what might have happened to the characters outside the borders of the narrative. Many readers finish a novel and speculate about “what happens next.”

Understanding the narrative in terms of these classification provides fans with several types of entries into the plot. The scene can serve as a kernel because it pulls us away from the steady flow of the plot. Frodo makes his way from the Shire and faces obstacles on his arduous journey to the Cracks of Doom in Mordor where he must destroy the One Ring. In addition to supporting progression of the plot, this scene functions as comic relief.

Furthermore, the scene can be interpreted as a hole or a contradiction by fans who long to see an independent side to the character, hobbit Samwise Gamgee. They might want to see him as more than Frodo's faithful friend. Sam's characteristic resourcefulness, which is channeled to protect Frodo's interests, can be seen here in a different light. Sam is a gardener, after all, so he understands nature and wildlife. He is inherently calm and shrugs off Smeagol. We see him as a character who has his head firmly on his shoulders. These qualities suggest to fans that Sam could, in fact, become Mayor of the Shire in the Fourth Age, long after the events of the books and movies have concluded.

Using such classifications, fans have been so delighted with the appeal of this scene that they have built upon it to create their own remixes, like this one.
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