“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 27 January 2012

The rule of the last inch

Over the last few days, I have been indulging myself by watching the series of documentaries about how the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings films were made. And I have been struck, not for the first time, by the loving attention to the smallest detail of every aspect of the production - the ethos seems to have been "why make a good film when you could make a great film?" I have been awed by the trouble and time taken by everyone involved to go that extra mile, to ensure that every single aspect of the production was the best it could be - the art and design work is extraordinary, to give just one example. There must have been thousands of people involved in the work (including two poor souls who actually wore out their fingerprints making chain mail for two years!) and all of them seem to have been infected with the same desire. I think it is admirable and praiseworthy.

It reminded me of the Rule of the Last Inch, as propounded by one of the characters in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle:

"Now listen to the rule of the last inch. The realm of the last inch. The job is almost finished, the goal almost attained, everything possible seems to have been achieved, every difficulty overcome - and yet the quality is just not there. The work needs more finish, perhaps further research. In that moment of weariness and self-satisfaction, the temptation is greatest to give up, not to strive for the peak of quality. That's the realm of the last inch - here, the work is very, very complex, but it's also particularly valuable because it's done with the most perfect means. The rule of the last inch is simply this - not to leave it undone. And not to put it off - because otherwise your mind loses touch with that realm. And not to mind how much time you spend on it, because the aim is not to finish the job quickly, but to reach perfection."

None of us can work to that pitch, in the realm of the last inch, all the time. But we can surely strive to do the best job we can, whatever that is. And we can "put the thought of all that we love into all that we make" as Tolkien's Lothlorien Elves do. As Kahlil Gibran writes in The Prophet:

"Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man's ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night."


  1. Interesting - when I saw that this post was about The Lord of the Rings and the last inch, I immediately thought of Frodo at the crack of Doom in Mordor, unable to throw the ring into the fire, but saved in the end by the fact that he had shown mercy to Gollum - so although he had reached the end of his strength and had succumbed to the lure of the ring, his earlier good action saved him. Who knows whether any of us would succumb to the lure of the ring after having carried it for so long?

  2. Hi,
    Arrived here from Mr. Kokkarinen's page and I wanted to respectfully point out that the transparent panel behind the main text div with the white candles in the background combines to make your text a tad bit difficult to read.

  3. Hello LDiracDelta,

    I know, but it looks so beautiful. If you go to the top right of the page, you will see a Trouble Reading This? notice. If you click on it, it turns the text to black on white. Hope you enjoyed the post.