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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

Counting the days to Middle-earth

Despite the many terrible things that have gone on in the world recently, most of us can still find plenty to be thankful for.

Personally, I could mention health, family, and things like that. But what I am really thankful for is a reason to be excited again about seeing a new movie. No, I’m not talking about that Harry Potter flick. I suppose I will have to go see it, but I will have to try to gather more information on it first. It is so hard to find out anything about it.

No, I am talking about a flick that I have mentioned in this space a couple of times already. My heart is racing at the thought of seeing in just a few weeks’ time, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the first installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. This is a work of literature that made such an impression on me in my adolescence that for years after I couldn’t even consider a narrative worth bothering with unless it came in three volumes.

While there are articles and web sites and newsgroups abounding with information on the new flick, my anticipatory juices didn’t really start flowing until I read a great cover story in (of all places) the October issue of Wired magazine. Penned by Erik Davis, the article gives a handy overview of Tolkien, his writings, the trilogy and the devoted fan base it spawned, as well as the novels’ path to the coming movie adaptation. Davis has basically saved a lot of time for those of us who are too plain lazy to spend endless nights surfing the web for info on this movie. And he has evoked a lot of fond memories for those of us who were touched by Tolkien’s fantasy world in a way that has lasted the rest of our lives. He aptly calls the 1937 predecessor to the trilogy, the children’s book The Hobbit, “the Harry Potter of its day.”

The Lord of the Rings faces the same challenge as any book, or series of books, that comes with a huge established fan base. We’ve seen it with Harry Potter, as well as Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and even movie versions and new teleseries of Star Trek. How do you make the movie accessible to the greater movie audience which may not already be familiar with the work, while not alienating the established fan base needed to make the movie a success? The problem is even more prickly with The Lord of the Rings because the fan base (that seems almost too trivial a term for them; they might be more of a cult) has studied, debated and absorbed the text almost as if it were a religion. And we know all too well what happens when religious fervor gets fanned.

Of course, we won’t know for sure which way Jackson leaned and the Tolkienites’ reaction until after The Fellowship of the Ring premieres next month. Or more probably until after we have seen The Return of the King in December 2003. But it seems that fan lobbying has had its effect. Jackson became more inclined to treat the film as history rather than out-and-out fantasy. “The result,” writes Davis, “will be a film that’s less Dungeons & Dragons than Braveheart with elves.” Jackson also included more accurate use of Tolkien’s famously invented languages and runes, which will give die-hard fans plenty to peruse when they get a hold of the DVD version.

This isn’t the first attempt to adapt the trilogy for the silver screen. But it is certainly the most ambitious. The question is: will this version become definitive? There have been lots of illustrations for various editions of the books since they first came out (The Return of the King was published in 1955), but everyone who has read the trilogy has always carried his or her own personal images of what Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf and the others look like. In a way, this fact has given the books a dignity that is denied to fantasy or science fiction works that have been born on TV or in the movies. This is why at sci-fi conventions you can pick out the Vulcans and the Klingons but you can’t be sure if any of the elfin folk are supposed to be out of Tolkien or out of fairy tales in general. There may be a prospect that after these movies appear, there will be irrevocable universal images of Tolkien’s characters that are seen as the “real ones.” Sort of the way that no one can read Gone with the Wind without seeing Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh or The Wizard of Oz without seeing Judy Garland. If that should occur, it would be a paradigm shift of galactic proportions in the history of Middle-earth.

Personally, I’m betting that the world Tolkien created is much bigger than these three new movies. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t be queuing up to see each of them as soon as I can!

-S.L., 22 November 2001


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