You Go, Glen Frodo: Understanding The Lord of the Rings with Mean Girls
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J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy masterwork remains among the handful of best-regarded books in the genre, but the simple fact is that there are many readers who have difficulty with it.
Many would-be Tolkien fanatics find that they get too bogged down in fundamental questions about how the world of The Lord of the Rings works to enjoy its narrative. Obviously, there are readers who need no help, but for those of us who find ourselves wishing we had cliff notes on the characters and broad themes of Tolkien’s masterpiece, things can get rough. There are some larger theological implications of the Lord of the Rings that may take longer to grasp, but if you just want the broad strokes, your first step should be to watch the 2004 cinematic classic, Mean Girls.
Go now, we’ll wait.
While Mean Girls is ostensibly based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, it also happens to contain all of the tools you’ll need to fully unpack and understand the setting and characters of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The first thing that you'll need to understand is that, while much of the plot The Lord of the Rings (and even Tolkien’s lore lap-of-honour, The Silmarillion) revolves around magic jewellery, the central themes are those of power and friendship. Similarly, much of the plot of Mean Girls might appear to centre on looking hot, but the real theme is, once again, that of power.
For the moment, you can simplify everything by boiling things down to the fact that Sauron and Regina George are fundamentally very similar. Obviously, Sauron loves rings and Regina George loves hoop earrings. That one dichotomy aside, the two are very similar. Sauron may be a polarising figure, but just as there are those who are surprisingly wowed by Regina George, there are those who we are surprised to find would love to be friends with Sauron. Saruman, for example, loves the idea of being part of Sauron’s crew, despite the fact that he otherwise seems ideologically opposed to literally everything Sauron does. Before long, he’s even making orcs of his own to be more like Sauron. Sauron has his loyal Nazgûl, Regina George has her plastics. All we’re saying here is that, despite all appearances to the contrary, Sauron is very much the queen bee of Middle Earth.
More to the point though, the two use similar tactics. It can be a little difficult for us modern readers to relate classic evil mage-king tactics, but as ever Mean Girls provides a down-to-earth example that’s easy for us to follow. Where Sauron uses his mystical scrying orb to exert control over his less trustworthy minions, Regina George uses the power of a secretive conference call to control the relationships between her followers.
As Gandalf himself says,
“We do not know who else may be watching!”
Things get tricky when Sauron uses his dark power over fashion to make sure that everyone in a position of power is wearing a magic ring. These rings, of course, make them subservient to him. Just as the Plastics’ devotion to Regina George enhances the power she wields over the other teens, the kings in their undying state become the Nazgul that act as the leading arm of Sauron’s influence outside of Mordor.
Even among this group of damned once-kings, all is not equal. The Black Captain sits above the rest of the Nazgul and is commonly referred to as the “Lord of the Nazgul.” You could be forgiven for thinking that Mean Girls has no natural analogue for The Witch King of Angmar, but you would be incorrect. Gretchen Wieners is Regina George’s right hand, placing her firmly in the role of the Witch King. Obviously, the Witch King is a powerful figure in his own right, but for the most part we only get to see him act as an extension of Sauron’s will.
Of course, in The Lord of the Rings, Sauron's downfall comes when he fails to take into account the heroic actions of one brave little hobbit from the Shire, Frodo Baggins. Despite his constant exposure to the pull of the ring of power, Frodo manages to break free of it all and oppose Sauron. To do this, he must consciously decide to carry the One Ring with him at all times, effectively entering into a scenario in which he must pretend to wield a ring of power so that he can bring down Sauron’s clique from the inside.
Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,
And none for Gretchen Weiners, goodbye!
Like Frodo Baggins, Cady Heron is a reluctant hero, and one who doubts herself constantly. She is drawn by the allure of becoming a "mean girl" just as Frodo is drawn by the power of the ring. Moreover, we see the toll that these noble quests take on both characters in terms of both the friends they lose along the way (whether those friends are Boromir or Janis Ian) and their own wounds (in one case emotional, in the other inflicted by a morgul blade).
Another figure that people tend to have difficulty with is the ancient and inscrutable Elrond, the half-elven lord of Rivendell. There is, of course, only one clear correlation for Elrond in Ms. Norbury. Like Elrond, Ms. Norbury is a wise figure, incalculably old compared to the people we see… and like Elrond, she offers wise counsel to Cady when her responsibilities seem too big for her to manage alone. Though she tries to deny her duty for a long time, Cady is eventually persuaded to Ms. Norbury’s cause, when she joins the (fellowship of the) mathletes to engage the forces of Marymount Prep.
Of course, we can round out the Council of Elrond if we consider the similarities between its members and the school’s faculties. Take, for example, the conservative stances taken by both Glóin (son of Gróin, of the line of Durin) and Coach Carr, or the extreme power wielded by both Galadriel (Lady of Lothlórien) and Mr. Duvall.
The end of The Return of the King, and thus The Lord of the Rings as a whole, leaves the reader with the War of the Ring coming to a close at the end of the Third Age and the beginning of the Age of Man. In its own way, the end of Mean Girls signifies the end of a great conflict, as well as the beginning of a new age.
It would have been a real mercy if, after Mean Girls, the elven ships had taken Lindsey Lohan away West to Valinor, but sadly reality is seldom as kind as fiction.