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'Lord of the Rings' a fairy tale but can teach lessons of life
SLC Tribune ^ | December 28, 2003 | Ed Firmage Jr.

Posted on 12/28/2003 5:44:24 PM PST by Chi-townChief

The final installment of Peter Jackson's magisterial adaptation of The Lord of the Rings has sparked a lot of discussion about the meaning of J.R.R. Tolkien's story.

Incredulous that an Oxford don would devote the better part of his life to thinking and writing about an imaginary world filled with elves, dragons, sorcerers and the like, many readers suppose that in the guise of a fairy story, Tolkien is talking allegorically about something more "serious," something such as World War II (where Sauron is Hitler), nuclear weapons (where the ring is the atom bomb), or the like.

Tolkien, never an admirer of allegory, even in the writing of friends such as C.S. Lewis, flatly rejected any allegorical interpretation.

The value of a fairy story, in Tolkien's view, lies in the fact that it helps us to create and then participate in the life of an alternative world. We become creators, as well as heroic participants. In a good story, and The Lord of the Rings is about as good as fairy stories get, the sense of being part of that other world is complete.

And yet, paradoxically, the more complete the illusion of that world -- the more real it feels to people of this world -- the more the story speaks to us as part of this world. That's the essential power of myth. That is also why allegorical (mis)interpretations sometimes seem plausible.

As an imaginative (as opposed to didactic or allegorical) exercise, a good fairy story has no point, no moral. It is not reducible to a sermon. (When was the last time, for example, you were inclined to sit through a 3 1/2-hour sermon?)

In this respect, too, it seems real, for that's how life is. Life is more complicated and more interesting than any of the platitudes to which moralists and theologians are inclined to reduce it. This does not mean that one cannot derive lessons from a fairy story. One can, and they may even be good lessons.

Our present administration might do well to heed Gandalf's caution that there is no way to defeat evil militarily. Good lesson. What makes that lesson meaningful, however, in Tolkien as in life is coming to such a realization not through preachment but through experience, even if the latter is only vicarious in the case of stories.

Hopefully, we emerge from our experience in fairy land not armed with ready sermonettes, but, like the hobbits on their return to the Shire, wiser for having had an adventure and returning to tell about it.

Ed Firmage Jr. is a fine-art photographer based in Salt Lake City.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; US: Illinois
KEYWORDS: lessons; lotr
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"Our present administration might do well to heed Gandalf's caution that there is no way to defeat evil militarily."

Not a real brilliant conclusion but The Ring as allegory always fascinated me.

I always saw Gondor as Germany and Mordor as the USSR with Minas Tirith/Morgul being East and West Berlin; the War of the Ring is the great east/west confrontation resulting from the long-awaited Warsaw Pact blitz into Western Europe that never happened.

But the Ring itself is still the wildcard and what always struck me as odd is that Richard Wagner's Ring, 100 years earlier, always seemed more representative of the atomic holocaust than does Tolkien's.

1 posted on 12/28/2003 5:44:25 PM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
At heart

All art

Is allegory

2 posted on 12/28/2003 5:53:23 PM PST by Old Professer
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To: HairOfTheDog; ecurbh
Ring Ping! Somewhat acceptable article.
3 posted on 12/28/2003 5:54:23 PM PST by JenB (12 Days til EntMoot)
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To: Chi-townChief
Ya... teach ya not to leave out Tom Bombadil!

Huurrrmmph! </Tolkienite>

4 posted on 12/28/2003 5:55:24 PM PST by StatesEnemy
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To: Chi-townChief
If Agent Smith is an elf, perhaps the lesson is that we're in the Matrix. :-)
5 posted on 12/28/2003 5:56:42 PM PST by Young Rhino (http://www.artofdivorce.com)
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To: Young Rhino
My wife had to drag me to this flick and I have never spent a more boring 3 hours in my life. The ending alone seemed to take almost an hour. Popcorn was good, only redeeming part of the evening.
6 posted on 12/28/2003 6:01:08 PM PST by phil1750 (Love like you've never been hurt;Dance like nobody's watching;PRAY like it's your last prayer)
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To: Chi-townChief
Tolkien's heroic characters believed in fighting the good fight, not delaying the inevitable to a later generation. They didn't cotton to cowardice. Also, they gather power to themselves, but were sensibly quiet about it (Gandalf held a ring of power himself). The US has yet to show the world a finger of its power.
I have often thought of Wormtongue when listening to Democrats. The French come to mind when thinking about Denethor.
7 posted on 12/28/2003 6:01:35 PM PST by kcar (A gov't big enough to give you everything, doesn't really care about YOU anymore.)
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To: Chi-townChief
"Our present administration might do well to heed Gandalf's caution that there is no way to defeat evil militarily"

Except that the West of Middle Earth would have been overrun long before the Ring was destroyed if not for military power. What a shallow, self-serving lesson to take from The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf was no pacifist and councelled anyone who would listen to resist with all their capabilities. It was only because Sauron was so much stronger that they couldn't defeat him militarily, not because "violence is wrong".

Does the author of this piece think that we can defeat Osama Bin Laden by destroying his ring?

8 posted on 12/28/2003 6:03:08 PM PST by Batrachian
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To: Chi-townChief
There has been talk that RoTK will be nominated for Best Picture. If so, I doubt that it will win: it is too relevant to what is going on in real life. And, it doesn't favor the peacenik position.
9 posted on 12/28/2003 6:06:46 PM PST by Paul Atreides (Is it really so difficult to post the entire article?)
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To: Chi-townChief
First of all, the author of this article would do well to realize that Tolkien did not write LOTR as a "fairy tale," but as a mythology for England.
10 posted on 12/28/2003 6:08:47 PM PST by Paul Atreides (Is it really so difficult to post the entire article?)
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To: Chi-townChief
As I recall, evil was only defeated non-militarily once. Morgoth was defeated by the Vanyarin/Maiarin military. Sauron was defeated by the Last Alliance's military, and again by the militaries of free peoples of the west (while a special operation went on in Mordor). Sharkey was defeated by a militia raised by a cadre of four. The Orcs were fought to stalemate by the dwarven military, and defeated by military prowess in the Battle of the Five Armies. Only Ar-Pharazon was defeated by non-military powers. Er, Power.
11 posted on 12/28/2003 6:09:32 PM PST by Caesar Soze
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To: Batrachian
Gandalf was no pacifist

Indeed. Gandalf was the keeper of the elven ring Narya the Great, the ring of fire. It has always seemed obvious to me that the power of this ring was to keep hope burning in the hearts of the Free Peoples. Gandalf has been moving against Sauron for (if I rememeber correctly) 2000 years and he is no pacifist. He worked to destroy the dragon Smaug -- because Sauron might have used Smaug in the coming War. Gandalf urged the White Council to drive Sauron from the fortress of Dol Guldur, and he awakens Theoden to fight against Saruman, and urges Denethor to prepare for war against Sauron.

Pacifist! Hmmmphhh! The wizard burns with the desire for Freedom.

12 posted on 12/28/2003 6:16:53 PM PST by ClearCase_guy (France delenda est)
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To: phil1750
My wife had to drag me to this flick and I have never spent a more boring 3 hours in my life. The ending alone seemed to take almost an hour. Popcorn was good, only redeeming part of the evening.

Did you like the first two movies of the series?

13 posted on 12/28/2003 6:17:09 PM PST by Dr. Scarpetta
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To: Batrachian
Our present administration might do well to heed Gandalf's caution that there is no way to defeat evil militarily"

The author is an idiot. What Gandalf meant was, in their world there exists a magic ring with a mind of its own; military might wasn't the only thing that was going to defeat Mordor. They could slaughter all the orcs they wanted, and Mordor and its evil would still be around as long as the ring existed.

Gandalf, who had no problem fighting in battles himself, obviously didn't mean that we shouldn't use military might when necessary. How the heck else are you to save yourself from evil at your doorstep?

Note to author - The Lord of the Rings is not a fairy tale. Tolkien was creating a myth for England, a pre-history. That is not the same thing as a fairy tale. You might want to actually read the books.

14 posted on 12/28/2003 6:17:47 PM PST by radiohead
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To: phil1750
Have you seen parts one and two?
15 posted on 12/28/2003 6:20:10 PM PST by 4Freedom (America is no longer the 'Land of Opportunity', it's the 'Land of Illegal Alien Opportunists'!!!)
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To: radiohead
Ed Firmage Jr. is a fine-art photographer based in Salt Lake City.

This probably explains a lot.

16 posted on 12/28/2003 6:23:15 PM PST by Paul Atreides (Is it really so difficult to post the entire article?)
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To: Chi-townChief
Our present administration might do well to heed Gandalf's caution that there is no way to defeat evil militarily.

"I see in your eyes, the same fear that would take the heart of me! The day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day." "This day we fight." --Aragorn

17 posted on 12/28/2003 6:24:34 PM PST by Samwise (There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.)
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To: radiohead
If there is a recurring theme that I have noticed, it is that evil must be faced, and fought. The realms of Middle Earth could appease or hide all they wanted but, eventually, Sauron was going to come knocking on their doors.
18 posted on 12/28/2003 6:27:28 PM PST by Paul Atreides (Is it really so difficult to post the entire article?)
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To: phil1750
I agree. We took the grandchildren last night. Mr. Ditter & I kept looking at each other & looking at our watches. Long movie, 3hrs & 20 min, no intermission. My butt was dead asleep. I found it to be draggie & boring & it didn't need to be so long. The 4 hobbits were like little girlymen, if you know what I mean. One of thems name is Mary. Only Sam comes across as a real man. Yes we also took the grandkids to see the first 2. The first one was ok & then downhill to 2 & 3.
19 posted on 12/28/2003 6:30:52 PM PST by Ditter
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To: kcar
The portrayal of Denethor is one of my gripes about the movies: in the book, he is a wise but ultimately misguided and tragic hero; in the movie, he's merely a buffoon to be shoved aside.
20 posted on 12/28/2003 6:39:10 PM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Batrachian
It just occurred to me that the author may view the Ring as the religious fanaticism of the Islamonazis but he is too P.C. to spell it out.
21 posted on 12/28/2003 6:41:26 PM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
Our present administration might do well to heed Gandalf's caution that there is no way to defeat evil militarily.

Maybe not eradicated, but certainly hemmed in, and made less potent - not to mention not bursting through your door and stomping on your head.

22 posted on 12/28/2003 6:52:13 PM PST by lepton
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To: Chi-townChief
"Our present administration might do well to heed Gandalf's caution that there is no way to defeat evil militarily."

Boy did he miss the whole point of the series/books/movies!!!!

The point is - you cannot defeat evil. In the Lord's Prayer we ask God to deliver us from evil, not to defeat evil.

All we can do is keep evil at bay and in the fighting of it, strengthen ourselves and distract the evil one from doing greater harm but ultimately, we go into the light and the bright dawn, like Gandolf explains to Pippin during the battle of Gondor.
23 posted on 12/28/2003 6:53:39 PM PST by Mercat
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To: Chi-townChief
In the story Denthor was reputed to be wise, and did assemble all the wisdom of the ages in his library / archives, which Gandalf often consulted. But the movie couldn't bring all subtle character nuances out - in the end it just portrayed him the way he essentially was, a coward who would have sacrificed his surviving son, and who believed victory was impossible and that all greatness was pastward. Bad steward. Very French.

I was less disappointed by the failure to draw out his character than to the total omission of Tom Bombadil and his good lady, Goldberry. They could've made a 4-hour movie of the escape from the Shire to Bree.

24 posted on 12/28/2003 6:54:21 PM PST by kcar (A gov't big enough to give you everything, doesn't really care about YOU anymore.)
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To: Ditter
One of thems name is Mary

His name is MERRY, short for Meriadoc.

25 posted on 12/28/2003 6:55:48 PM PST by baseballfanjm
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To: phil1750
Nay! 'Twas one of the greatest films ever made! The Trilogy, in its eventual 10+ hour mini-series style form, is now my #2 favorite film ever.
26 posted on 12/28/2003 6:57:15 PM PST by baseballfanjm
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To: baseballfanjm
I wondered about that. lol
27 posted on 12/28/2003 7:00:41 PM PST by Ditter
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To: 2Jedismom; 300winmag; Alkhin; Alouette; ambrose; Anitius Severinus Boethius; artios; AUsome Joy; ...

Ring Ping!!
There and Back Again: The Journeys of Flat Frodo

Anyone wishing to be added to or removed from the Ring-Ping list, please don't hesitate to let me know.

28 posted on 12/28/2003 7:00:54 PM PST by ecurbh (There's gonna be a hobbit wedding!)
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To: radiohead
Tolkien was creating a myth for England, a pre-history. That is not the same thing as a fairy tale. You might want to actually read the books.

I thought Tolkien was creating an etymology for an imaginary/invented language.

29 posted on 12/28/2003 7:03:03 PM PST by lepton
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To: kcar
It's funny, the different things we all focus on - I'm not so much bothered by the omission of Tom Bombadil or Saruman's anti-climactic return as "Sharkey" as I am by the smaller changes such as the crossing of the Ford of Brunien, changes in Eowyn's, Faramir's, and Denethor's characters, the de-emphasis of the palantirs, Frodo's truncated claim of the Ring at Sammath Naur, etc.
30 posted on 12/28/2003 7:15:48 PM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
I was also sorry about the omission of the palintirs influence as well, and of the scouring of the Shire, which basically showed how much the four Hobbits had matured versus the simpler ones left behind.

Would have at least liked to have seen them sail beyond the Grey Havens - one last glorious view of Faery - like the view inside the spacecraft in Close Encounters

But that's expecting too much of the non-print media. Tolkien was a master of words, and will always be someone who is best read than envisioned. Like SciFi master Poul Anderson.

31 posted on 12/28/2003 7:24:44 PM PST by kcar (A gov't big enough to give you everything, doesn't really care about YOU anymore.)
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To: Chi-townChief
I thought #2 was a little better than #3. ROTK just seemed to push all the characters aside except Aragorn and Frodo.
32 posted on 12/28/2003 7:29:02 PM PST by Sir Gawain (Don't make me slap you with my pimp hand)
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To: Chi-townChief
"Our present administration might do well to heed Gandalf's caution that there is no way to defeat evil militarily.

True, but one can limit its effectiveness militarily. Soldier on!

33 posted on 12/28/2003 7:29:29 PM PST by Uncle Miltie (Leave Pat Leave!)
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To: baseballfanjm
Nay! 'Twas one of the greatest films ever made! The Trilogy, in its eventual 10+ hour mini-series style form, is now my #2 favorite film ever.

I agree. A grand film. What an adventure. But sad to say it is #2 for me as well. Right behind "Jeremiah Johnson".

34 posted on 12/28/2003 7:36:06 PM PST by Bloody Sam Roberts (Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.)
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To: Paul Atreides
There has been talk that RoTK will be nominated for Best Picture.

As much as I would thrill to that news, IMHO, it cannot be.

For ROTK cannot stand alone as a complete story without the other 2 films. I hope I'm wrong and this film captivates the voting members as much as it did me.

35 posted on 12/28/2003 7:39:58 PM PST by Bloody Sam Roberts (Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.)
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To: Chi-townChief
in the movie, he's merely a buffoon to be shoved aside.

I too thought he was portrayed as too psychotic for comfort.

36 posted on 12/28/2003 7:45:27 PM PST by Bloody Sam Roberts ("The only thing we can decide is what to do with the time that is given us.")
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To: Chi-townChief
read later
37 posted on 12/28/2003 7:48:29 PM PST by LiteKeeper
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To: Chi-townChief
The Ring is pure power. It is the love of it that must be destroyed. Mankind has a weakness for power, however.
38 posted on 12/28/2003 7:49:42 PM PST by B Knotts (Go 'Nucks!)
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To: Chi-townChief
Tolkien, never an admirer of allegory,...

He didn't like allegory, but was a big admirer of applicability...

The guy who wrote this was going okay though, until the end. I don't think he understands Tolkien very well.

39 posted on 12/28/2003 8:00:26 PM PST by keri
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To: Chi-townChief; Corin Stormhands
"a fairy tale"


Sheesh

Corin, there any "fairies" in LOTR? I don't remember any.

40 posted on 12/28/2003 8:01:56 PM PST by xzins (Retired Army and Proud of It!)
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To: Chi-townChief
Theres only 2 things I got from the movie that I took personally.

1) the comment: of becoming all God created you to be.

2) the comment: the only thing that is important is what you do with the time that's been given you.
41 posted on 12/28/2003 8:01:57 PM PST by chicagolady (Jesus, Be my Magnificent Obsession)
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To: Paul Atreides
First of all, the author of this article would do well to realize that Tolkien did not write LOTR as a "fairy tale," but as a mythology for England.

For a modern press writer to find value in a "fairy tale" is surprising enough. Expecting one to recognize the difference between fairy tale and myth, and find value in both, is pushing it. Tolkein had trouble himself in this within his own department of philology at Oxford.

42 posted on 12/28/2003 8:19:07 PM PST by Snuffington
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To: Ditter
Long movie, 3hrs & 20 min, no intermission

I really don't understand why there can't be an intermission. When we saw a movie in Amsterdam, they took an intermission half way through a regular 1.5 hour movie so we can get our espressos, beer, etc.

I loved this movie, but the ending a bit too long.
43 posted on 12/28/2003 8:30:24 PM PST by conservcalgal ((I've been here since 1967 and I'm not leaving!!!!!!!))
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To: conservcalgal
My 6 year old daughter watched all 3:20 on the edge of her seat. Two other little girls sitting near by also watched intensely for the entire film (one cried halfway because she needed to go potty & they couldn't 'pause' the film! - sure she would agree with you about an intermission). I thought the ending a bit slow - would have prefered a vocal summation at the end to tell what happened to each of the characters. But overall, liked it better than #2.
44 posted on 12/28/2003 8:37:38 PM PST by Mr Rogers
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To: Bloody Sam Roberts
The movie industry has become too political. In decades past, a movie could win for being a good movie. Now, the only things that seem to win are obscure movies with political messages. It has eased up, to a certain extent. However, rarely does anything in the scifi/fantasy genre win anything other than technical awards. I say that RotK will be nominated for Best Picture, but will not win, which is okay, given that it would be passed over by an organization that gave an award to Michael Moore.
45 posted on 12/28/2003 8:50:15 PM PST by Paul Atreides (Is it really so difficult to post the entire article?)
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To: Mr Rogers
There were many young children at our showing and they too were mesmerized - that was wonderful to see.

I agree with you on a vocal summation. I definitely liked #3 the best!
46 posted on 12/28/2003 8:57:04 PM PST by conservcalgal ((I've been here since 1967 and I'm not leaving!!!!!!!))
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To: Chi-townChief
Saw the movie last night. Probably the best movie I have ever seen in my life! I thought it had many spiritual themes.
47 posted on 12/28/2003 8:58:31 PM PST by Saundra Duffy (For victory & freedom!!!)
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To: Bloody Sam Roberts
My #1 favorite is Princess Mononoke.
48 posted on 12/28/2003 9:03:20 PM PST by baseballfanjm
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To: Samwise
"Stand your ground, sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers. I see in you eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me, a day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship but it is not this day. An hour of wolfs and shatterd shields when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day, this day WE FIGHT!!! And for all that is dear to you in this world, stand your ground men of the West and FIGHT!!!"

I got chills right there.

49 posted on 12/28/2003 9:05:09 PM PST by Luis Gonzalez (The Gift Is To See The Trout.)
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To: Bloody Sam Roberts
BTW, for some reason I doubt most Freepers would enjoy Princess Mononoke. Just an assumption.
50 posted on 12/28/2003 9:06:26 PM PST by baseballfanjm
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