Big Victories Don’t Resolve All of the Little Problems; Lessons from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Not So Different

In this special, three-part series, we are working through the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, book by book, to discuss the lessons each book can teach a cappella groups. If you haven’t read the books before, beware—this series does include spoilers.

If you’ve only watched The Lord of the Rings movies, you’ll recall that they end with Gollum and the ring’s mutual destruction, rescue by eagles, a whole bunch of bowing to the hobbits, a trip to Rivendale for some, and a settling back into routine in The Shire for others.

Peter Jackson and co. opted to omit the mini-adventure that rounds out the final book, highlighted by the hobbits’ journey back to the Shire in which they beat back lesser versions of earlier foes and have to unseat a villainous new ruler of their homeland. In each of these conflicts, the stakes are lower, the obstacles are less imposing, and the outcome is less in doubt than it was for the series of events to precede them. As a result, in my initial reading of the series, I recall that I couldn’t help but wonder, why on earth did Tolkien include this stuff?

While the merit of the books’ extended denouement can be debated ad nauseam, there is an important lesson to be derived from these final chapters. That is—even after your greatest victories and best moments, life will never be perfect.

Putting it in a cappella terms: just because you finally make it to the ICCA Finals, or win a CARA, or have one of your videos go viral, doesn’t mean all of your group’s problems will be resolved at once. It doesn’t mean that the jock who makes fun of “your little glee club” is going to be any more impressed with “that a cappella thing.” It doesn’t mean that your opera teacher will respect a cappella anymore as an art form. And it doesn’t mean the undercurrent of group dissension will permanently disappear. And for each and every group, it doesn’t mean that next September won’t mean you have to start all over, accepting new members, learning new songs, and earning your reputation all over again.

Just because you’ll never achieve 100% success, acceptance, fame, fortune, and permanence does not mean you shouldn’t try, though. Quite the opposite. In Return of the King the exhausted hobbits could easily accept any number of defeats on the way home, knowing they’ve saved the world and considering that enough to die peacefully. Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry decide, instead, to stand up for themselves and the people and places they love, working over, around or straight through every obstacle to complete the journey “there and back again.” And so, after you’ve achieved fame and renown in your field, you should still sing your heart out at every campus show and arch sing. Settling, resting, and receding into memory are the fates too many people will accept once their 15 minutes are up. It’s those who won’t stop working, and who demand another run on top that most truly earn the title of champions.