What Does “That’s Deep” Mean?

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

When Peter read that passage from one of his favorite books, he paused for a moment and processed the words on the page. On the surface, it was merely describing what Samwise Gamgee saw and how it made him feel. 

Through the cloudy gloom, up upon the mountains, he saw a white star — and that star gave him hope because it shone through all the darkness. 

Yet, there was something more. Something underneath the literal. To which it made him say out loud, “Wow… that’s deep.” 

But what did he mean? Why did that passage out of the thousands of passages in the trilogy stop him? Or better yet, how did it stop him? 

The phrase “that’s deep” when we hear it in a literal sense, sounds like someone’s talking about the ocean floor. While that might sometimes be the case, what Peter meant when he said that’s deep was that the writing was profound. So in order for us to understand what makes something deep, we must understand what makes something profound. 

The word profound has many definitions, but the one we will be relying on is this one: going far beneath what is superficial, external, or obvious.

Yes, Sam Gamgee saw the star — but it was what the star represented that made the passage profound. It was so beautiful that it smote his heart and even looking at all the destruction, he had hope. Perhaps we have all been where Sam Gamgee was — not literally, not Mt Doom — but we have all been in a situation where we felt as though we were ready to surrender. There were moments where we felt hopeless.

Peter certainly did. He was neck-deep in student debt and looking for employment in the entertainment industry. Of course, the world was not looking for another filmmaker, and any project he wanted to get off the ground was consistently met with rejections. He was in the clouds on the dark tor, ready to quit. 

But the star, a light of high beauty can never be dimmed by the shadow. The shadow in Peter’s world was the debt. No matter how deep he falls into debt, his love for filmmaking and storytelling will never die. The star was his passion and when looking up upon it, he remembered the feeling he got when he premiered his first student film in high school. The audience laughed and cheered. It was what he loved doing. It made him happy. It fulfilled him. It kept him warm and made him feel as though life, his little life, was worth living. And that life — that will to live — hangs so high above the debt, that he knew poverty would never make him hate his passion. For he was living for his passion, not for his debt. 

He closed the book and placed it to the side. Peter, filled with hope and inspiration, his white star visible through the darkness, goes and picks up his camera and starts filming. He didn’t ask for permission. He didn’t ask for a budget. He didn’t go get approval or a permit. Like Sam, he’s focused on the twinkling star and not on the forsaken land beneath. 

For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was a small passing thing. 

We all have a Shadow — a capital problem that follows us — but Tolkien doesn’t make it obvious, he layers it with imagery and symbolism. 

Imagery is vivid and descriptive language. It creates visuals in the reader’s mind by appealing to the senses. In this case, sight: “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while.” 

Symbolism is the use of characters, settings, or objects to present an abstract idea. It holds hidden meanings and requires some deeper thinking to identify. In this example, it was the star and the Shadow. “For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

Of course, Tolkien didn’t have Peter in mind when he wrote the story. But by using imagery and symbolism, he was able to emotionally impact a wider audience and his writing has lasted generations. That is what profound writing can do. Profound writing transcends time and space. It captures what it is like to be human without ever stating the obvious, “here, this is what you have to do. These are the facts.” It lies not on the surface and requires the individual, with their own values and personal experiences, to dig underneath. And it’s the process of digging that makes a piece of writing deep. 

Is there a profound passage of writing that really resonated with you? I’d love to read it, so please share it in the comments below. And if you’ve enjoyed this article, check out these two other posts in the series:

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Your laws are too ‘precious’


Why comparison of the Turkish president to Gollum is as ridiculous as fantasy

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

In Turkey, insulting, mocking, or showing any dissension to the president is against the law. This case was proven when Bilgin Çiftçi, a Turkish doctor, created a meme of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s face side by side, matching expressions with Gollum, the despicable character from The Lord of the Rings.

Çiftçi has since been fired from his job, but now the courts are determining the next order of action. Since the chief judge—apparently too busy—has never seen any of The Lord of the Ring films, he and the court is turning to some experts of Tolkien’s epic tale in order to determine whether or not the comparison is indeed an insult. The argument in defence of Çiftçi is that Gollum is a hero of the story and therefore the meme was not an insult, but rather a compliment.

Now, I’m going to break this whole situation into two parts.

First off, Gollum, although he redeems himself (in a sense) at the end of the saga, is not a hero of the trilogy. He is a vile creature that succumbed to greed. Gollum is a victim, for sure, but at no point was he a hero. He killed his best friend, Déagol. Gollum is the epitome of a self-destructive addict.

I know what you are thinking: he ended up destroying the One Ring, doesn’t that make him a good guy? No! Because he bit off Frodo’s finger in an outburst of voracity and fell off the edge of Mt. Doom. He had no intention of destroying the ring. While it was the ring that corrupted poor Smeagol and morphed him into Gollum, we cannot honestly say that Gollum is a hero.

The second part of the situation that must be addressed is how stupid the law is. This proves that freedom of speech, no matter how benign it is, is still a luxury in many parts of the world. Moreover, the inability of some to show any sense of humour is even more disturbing than the law itself. The fact that Tayyip didn’t just brush it off and accept the little ball busting is kind of funny, too. You’d think a man with power could poke fun at the fact that his looks are comparable to, say, Orlando Bloom.

Let’s be honest, Çiftçi was not trying to plot Erdoğan’s downfall. Even if he disliked the President, the mere comparison to Gollum did very little harm to the President’s persona. All it did was call attention to the fact that Erdoğan shared similar features to a fictional character—which he totally does! Perhaps Peter Jackson didn’t need to utilize CGI or Andy Serkis. He could have just cast Erdoğan.

I’m sure many in Turkey found the comparison uncanny, too. But when a country has a law that makes it incapable of processing a joke, then it is that country that becomes the joke. Imagine a Canada where we weren’t allowed to satirize our leaders. That wouldn’t be the free country we know and love. Turkey is a beautiful place, one I wish to visit one day, but with a law like that it sounds more like Mordor than Rivendell.