The Secret Lives of Hobbits

Nothing on Middle Earth could come between them: Elijah Wood and Sean Astin in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'
New Line Cinema

"Sam?" Sam turned to see Frodo sitting up, his eyes looking at him as he placed his hand on his own again. Sam was about to turn away when he felt his friend's lips touch his own, they were fiercely warm as his tongue forced its entrance into his own mouth...
--"Love Comes in All Sizes,"

There's so much online slash fiction and photo-mashing featuring boy-on-boy pairings from The Lord of the Rings that we may need a whole new internet to hold it all. The combinations are endless: Frodo and Sam, Aragorn and Legolas, Gandalf and Pippin, Gollum and Frodo, Pippin and Merry, Peter Jackson and his...biggest fan? One thing's for sure: With all those lingering stares, tender hugs, and caressing of hands, Jackson's The Return of the King is the most gloriously gay Hollywood movie since...well, since Master and Commander.

Married, Catholic, Victorian-throwback fusspot J.R.R. Tolkien was no Oscar Wilde, but his passionate, WWI-shaped notions of boy-love certainly form the core of the Rings saga. "I love him," Sam realizes mid-journey as Frodo sleeps. Later, when Sam's master is Orc-trussed, we're told that his "love of Frodo rose above all other thoughts." When Gimli admits to being inspired by "the will of Aragorn," Legolas reponds, "And by the love of him also, for all those who come to know him come to love him after his own fashion." Aragorn kisses Merry after the battle of Pelannor, and when Frodo takes his final leave, we're told he "kissed Merry and Pippin and last of all Sam." Gimli, too, professes his love for the hobbits--"and not only Sam and Frodo here, but you too, Pippin. I love you," he says, "to bed now you go, and so shall I."

Girl germs and all, I decide to crash in on the intimate fellowship at Manhattan's Regency Hotel, site of the King junket held just hours before the film's release. Actor Sean Astin, a.k.a. Sam, says Jackson and the screenwriters tried to preserve that "very powerful love" between two males. "It's so different from how males are represented in culture," he says. "But hobbits, you know, there's a kind of purity to their existence. They love their friends. When Merry and Pippin are bouncing on the bed with Frodo, it's not erotic. There's no eros in it. That would almost ruin it."

Asked whether working on the film changed his sense of the erotic, the intensely pensive Elijah Wood drags on the cigarette he'd asked our permission to smoke and replies, "I don't know about that. It certainly changed my sense of what a friend can be in your life, of how one relies on friends." Wood, whose sexual preference is a favorite topic of online speculation, says he's open to all Rings interpretations. He notes that many in the gay community have embraced the film. "A lot of people have interpreted it like that," he says, adding, "It wasn't something that we felt, but [the series] really is whatever you put on it." Of the bond between Frodo and Sam, he says, "There's an element that's incredibly affectionate. Tolkien based it on [the relationship between] an officer at war and his closest assistant, the one who would do anything for him."

Wood also reveals that Sir Ian McKellan, who reportedly dubbed himself "Gandalf the Gay," nudged the cast toward bolder same-sex physicality. "Ian would always try to get in an affectionate moment. When Sam sees Frodo in bed and he comes up to him, Ian said to Sean, 'You know, you have to take his hand--the fans are going to be looking for that!' And I think that does show up in the [extended] DVD version."

Taking the safest line on Middle Earth sexuality, Billy Boyd (Pippin) and Dominic Monaghan (Merry)--a Scot and a Brit who'd rather talk New Zealand surfing than fanciful snogging--reject all notions of hobbit foreplay. Says Boyd: "The hobbits are very open with their emotions--that's it, really." When challenged with the observation that we don't see this kind of thing very often, the now-scowling Monaghan counters, "I see it all the time. I'm affectionate with my male friends. When I see my mate, I'll give him a hug. I don't understand why it's such a double standard. Girls can kiss and whatever--and if you're a guy, you're gay!" And what of the eroticism of swords and towers and, you know, horses? Boyd looks blank. "If you read romance novels," he says, "there are always knights, swords, a guy on a horse, the dashing hero." Exactly.

When an eager scribe rushes in to rescue the junket's diminishing excitement, asking the boys about their on-set pranks, Monaghan perks up, gleefully recalling his having placed an entire salmon in actor Sean Bean's trunk. "If you put a group of guys together on an island, with high energy, they're gonna always be taking the mickey out of each other. We would constantly be rocking each other's trailers."

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