Tag Archives: Lord of the Rings

Another Road to Middle Earth

15 Dec

Fifty years after its first publication, The Lord of the Rings found a new and even larger audience in a new medium, the three films directed by Peter Jackson and released in successive years 2001–2003. These are some of the most successful films ever made. The three between them had taken some £1,279 million at the box office, a figure certainly multiplied by VOD and DVD sales, especially of the extended versions which will give a final total running time of close on twelve hours. It is impossible to estimate how many viewers this will represent, since one DVD can be seen by many people, and conversely the box office takings are inflated by repeat viewers, but it is safe to say that hundreds of millions of people have seen or will see the films. There will almost certainly be more viewers than readers (though of course they are often the same people). In light of this it may seem bizarre that while Peter Jackson was making the films, the moguls of Hollywood, alarmed at the ever-increasing scale and cost of the production, sent to New Zealand a ‘script doctor’, whose job it was to get the films back on track. The ‘script doctor’ immediately saw the faults in the Tolkien plot. Having heroes riding (or in this case walking) to the rescue of a threatened people was of course perfectly familiar and acceptable, as in The Magnificent Seven: but there was no need to have two threatened peoples, Rohan and Gondor. One of them could be cut out, which meant that the battle of Helm’s Deep could be amalgamated with the battle of the Pelennor Fields. A love-interest for Aragorn was also clearly vital, but once again there was no need for two of them: either Arwen or Éowyn should go, preferably Arwen, and Aragorn should then marry Éowyn instead of politely dissuading her. One could then make a further saving by eliminating the figure of Faramir. Meanwhile, though there was some doubt about the wisdom of having such small and unheroic figures as hobbits as heroes, they might be retained as a gimmick: but four of them were one too many. And it was absolutely vital that one of the hobbits should die. With changes like these, The Lord of the Rings could be converted into a perfectly acceptable, run-of-the-mill movie script–at the expense, of course, of cultural contrast, originality, emotional depth, and a few other inessentials. The script doctor’s advice was ignored, and Jackson’s films perhaps convinced even the moguls in the end that there was something they did not know about popular appeal. Nevertheless, the changes proposed do say something about the individual and even eccentric nature of Tolkien’s work. So often it does not do what one might expect. But the success of the films does raise a more important issue. For many people, The Lord of the Rings now means the film version, not the books. In what ways are the two versions different, and would Tolkien himself have approved of the difference?

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Of Wood Woses and Wild Men

24 Apr

In The Lord of the Rings a strange and primitive folk named the Woses came to aid the men of Gondor in breaking the siege of Minas Tirith. These wild woodland people lived in the ancient forest of Druadan, below the White Mountains. In form they were weather-worn, short-legged, thick-armed and stumpy-bodied and they knew wood-craft better than any man. The men of Gondor called the Woses the Wild-men of Druadan and believed that they were descended from the even more ancient Pukel-men of the First Age. These Wood Woses or Wild-men were an example of J R R Tolkien’s seemingly boundless capacity to invent plausible and memorable fictional races from the gaps and errors in ancient literature – in this particular case the mysterious medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. For Tolkien was by no means the first author to make use of the literary and mythical archetype of the Wild-man. This is a mythological figure that appears fairly frequently in the artwork and literature of medieval Europe, comparable to the satyr or faun type in classical mythology and to Silvanus, the Roman god of the woodlands. Tolkien’s skill is in adapting this archetype to the landscape of English folklore through his fantasy masterpiece.

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Out of the Pit

23 Aug

In the writings of Tolkien it is said that in the Elder days, within the deepest pits of Utumno, the first dark lord Morgoth committed his greatest act of blasphemy. For in that time he captured many of the newly risen race of Elves and took them to his dungeons where, with hideous acts of torture, he made ruined and terrible forms of life. From these he bred a goblin race of slaves, who were as loathsome as Elves were fair. These were the Orcs, a multitude brought forth in shapes twisted by pain and hate. The only joy of these creatures was in the pain of others, for the blood that flowed within Orcs was both black and cold. Their stunted form was hideous: bent, bow-legged and squat. Their arms were long and strong as those of an ape, and their skin was black as wood that has been charred by flame. The jagged fangs in their wide mouths were yellow, their tongues red and thick, and their nostrils and faces were broad and flat. Their eyes were crimson gashes, like narrow slits in black iron grates behind which hot coals burn. Tolkien’s Orcs have been copied many times in fantasy media – debased, changed and even made humorous. But nothing that has been published since the Lord of the Rings has truly done justice to this, one of Tolkien’s most original and fearsome creations: the brood of Morgoth, spawned from the deepest, foulest pits of Utumno.

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The Art of Alan Lee

15 Dec

I appreciate fantasy artwork both for its aesthetic merits and for its importance to selling fantasy novels. They say you should never judge a book by its cover but I will freely admit that there has been more than one occasion on which I have been drawn to read or buy a book because of a spellbinding illustration on the cover that has made me just itch to find out more. Some illustrators have become as synonymous with certain writers’ work as the words themselves – it is difficult to imagine Alice in Wonderland without John Tenniel’s iconic sketches, Dickens and Phiz go together like salt and vinegar, and even today most editions of C S Lewis’s Narnia novels are adorned with the illustrations of Pauline Baynes. Perhaps the most perfect example as far as fantasy novels go of an author and illustrator being artistic soul-mates is that of Alan Lee and J R R Tolkien.

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