Merry Christmas, readers and moviegoers. It would be good, in these days of frenzied merchandizing, to remember the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, which he included in a letter to his son Michael in 1962: "Well here comes Christmas! That astonishing thing that no 'commercialism' can in fact defile—unless you let it."

Hot from the Oven

Speaking of Tolkien, Christmas, and commercialism, you may have already noticed the flood of Hobbit-related toys, trinkets, T-shirts, soundtracks, posters, and Burger King glass goblets that are helping to hype the long-awaited movie trilogy. (Collectors, take note: The ring used in the movie is currently available on a German eBay site, winning an early bid of $46,000.) New Line Cinema has a lot riding on the success of The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring, which opened this week. They're determined to convince you that one movie rules them all.

They needn't worry. In a what many people have called one of the worst movie years in recent memory, critics almost unanimously agree that Fellowship is one of the best, if not the best, cinematic experience of the year. Film enthusiasts invoke revered titles like The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and even Lawrence of Arabia in their comparisons. Perhaps Tolkien would have been pleased. He confided to his publisher in 1957: "I should welcome the idea of a … motion picture, with all the risk of vulgarization; and that quite apart from the glint of money, though on the brink of retirement that is not an unpleasant possibility." If he were still with us, he would stand to receive some hefty box office percentages.

Stephanie Zacharek at struggles for the right superlatives: "The most heartbreaking thing about ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.