Monday, July 25, 2011

On Re-Reading The Lord of the Rings

As I mentioned on Friday, I regularly re-read The Lord of the Rings, as it's one of those books that repays multiple readings. Originally, I hadn't planned on re-reading it anytime soon, since I'd been on a science fiction kick in the weeks prior, but I changed my mind when my 11 year-old daughter asked if I might read it to her before bedtime. My daughter is a voracious reader on her own, but it's been a longstanding tradition in our house to read to our children before they go to bed. As she's gotten older, the books we've been reading have gotten longer and more sophisticated and, honestly, I'm grateful that my daughter, though coming ever closer to being a teenager, hasn't yet outgrown her enjoyment of having my wife or I read to her each night. So, when she asked that I start reading The Fellowship of the Ring to her, a chapter at a time, I leapt at the opportunity.

In re-reading Tolkien, I've noticed a couple of things I never noticed before. The first is that The Lord of the Rings is quite amenable to being read aloud. I'd never done this before, so this is a bit of a revelation to me. But as I read it to my daughter, I've been regularly surprised at how natural it sounds in speech. I say "surprised," because, though I love Tolkien, when reading him to myself, there are often passages that seem more stilted and formal than I like. This has often led me to mistakenly believe that, as a stylist, Tolkien isn't that great. Now, it may be true that, compared to many authors, he isn't, but my experience reading him aloud makes me think that he's better than he's often given credit for. This is particularly true of his dialog, which not only sounds better than it reads but is also quite moving at times. I found myself wishing we'd heard more of it in the film adaptations.

The other thing I noticed is that Middle-earth is both more and less magical a place than I often imagined its being. The Lord of the Rings is regularly called, by myself as well as others, a "high fantasy," a term used, at least in part, to distinguish it from swords-and-sorcery stories such as those written by Robert E. Howard or Fritz Leiber. Part of what supposedly distinguishes high fantasy from S&S is that high fantasy takes place in a more magical and less "real" world, whereas swords-and-sorcery is "gritty" and "down to earth." There's some truth to this distinction, but what I've discovered in my re-reading of The Fellowship of the Ring is that Middle-earth is, without even excepting the existence of hobbits and elves and Black Riders, a fairly mundane place. I don't mean it's a boring place, just that it's a well constructed world filled with animals, plants, and people doing everyday things. If I were being cheeky, I might even say that Middle-earth was a Gygaxian naturalistic world. At the same time, it's hard for me to read Tolkien's lengthy descriptions of, say, the Old Forest or even the Bree-land and not find then magical -- not hocus-pocus magical but "naturally" magical, if that makes sense. By devoting so many words to describing the physical environs of the novel's setting, Tolkien invested them with an understated kind of magic that too many fantasy worlds lack.

I'm glad I'm having this chance to revisit Middle-earth, as it's made a few things clearer in my mind than they once were. Of course, it's also made me regret all the more that the characters we saw in the film adaptation of the novel were so different than their literary counterparts. Merry and Pippin, for instance, are much more interesting and admirable characters and, almost from the first, Aragorn exudes true kingliness. I also miss Frodo's being older, if only because it highlights the parallelism between his and Bilbo's earlier adventures, something I'm pretty sure Tolkien intended. In any event, I'll likely have more to say on this topic as I get further in my readings with my daughter over the weeks and months to come.

55 comments:

  1. I had the pleasure of reading LotR to my wife and she to me, some years back. If you haven't sampled Corey Olsen's (The Tolkien Professor) podcasts, you should. Even his introductory lectures are well worth it.

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  2. I too have enjoyed reading Tolkien aloud. My wife and I have read it that way together a couple of times. I think I may even now prefer reading it aloud to my wife over reading it silently to myself. Mind you, it could just be the company...

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  3. I seem to recall reading a number of years ago someone connected with D & D (possibly even Gygax himself), in comparing the amount of magic in LotR to D & D, commenting derisively that the One Ring in Lord of the Rings was nothing more than a cursed Ring of Invisibility. I got the impression they did not think too highly of the level of magic in Middle Earth. I wish I could remember where I read this but it had to have been at least 20+ years ago.

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  4. Guess I'm not the only one -- I've also read it to my wife. We used to go on road trips with her driving and me reading. It's a great read out loud, as you say.

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  5. I prefer a rougher Aragorn to a "kingly" one. He's been living in the woods for years, and has never been a king. And in the film he did for sure exude a certain higher existance than his appearance would lead a stranger to believe in a brief meeting.

    And Merry and Pippen in the film were fine. Although often exaggerated, they didn't really do anything in the film their book counterparts would not.

    We are never really going to get a perfect adaptation of beloved works like this, Conan, etc. But to get one that makes a good movie viewing experience, and has at least more than a few loving nods to the original works, then just be glad it didn't break your heart.

    I know how you feel about the Ah-Nuld Conan film from the 80s, but I rewatched it (for a the millionth time in my life) over the weekend and I'm still touched by how good it is. Not just as a film, but as CONAN film. The setting, the motifs, and yes, even Conan's sense of humor is there to certain degrees. Even Conan's companions like Subatai and the old beach dwelling wizard have the feel of the types found in those books.

    The one thing I hear from fellow lifelong LOTR fans who saw the films when they came out, that so many have in common, is that they teared up in joy from the dipiction of beloved characters, places and situations from the book. They waited their whole lives to see these things depticted, and Peter Jackson delivered in spaces. That speaks some serious volumes about how much they got right. That should be the focus, not that a couple of side characters didn't get enough dialogue in from the books.

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  6. I don't see why you're surprised that the story flows well when read allowed. Wasn't Tolkien a linguist who actually spent a good deal of time working with Old Norse Sagas? It's awfully hard to translate the prose eddas and other such things without reading it, and it's awfully hard to read something without learning. I know when I studied Old Norse, even though I rarely speak, I kept catching myself reading the words allowed and that it somehow made it seem somehow more.

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  7. Uh, "...Peter Jackson delivered in spades..." is what I meant there, Beavis...

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  8. Although I've read it on my own several times since, as a child, I was introduced to Tolkien when my father read the Lord of the Rings to me. I think it made all the difference in the world.

    Verification word - mahjyq. 'Magic'. Very nice.

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  9. Well, Tolkien's creation was always intended to be only a variation on our own world, an imaginary mythology for the British Isles. And Tolkien explicitly indicates (both in his letters and within LotR, via Galadriel) that magic (at least of the elven variety) is a sort of artistry within nature more than something literally "super-natural".

    And speaking of the naturalism of Tolkien: one of the most pervasive ways the Jackson films sharply diverge from their source material is the injection of action & horror movie dimensions and melodramatics. The Ringwraiths, e.g., are (almost literally) silent shadows, not faceless, shrieking horsemen clanking in armor. They are terrifying, but on the page and in Tolkien's intent, their terror is almost entirely spiritual (as opposed to physical). There is no physical battle at Weathertop, as in the film version -- instead the Ringwraiths are suddenly confronted by (1) light, and (2) someone who does not fear them. Likewise the Balrog is a silent shadow of man-shape and size ("maybe"), not a gargantuan, roaring computer-game end-bull.

    LotR is high fantasy, but the "high" is defined by its literary tone and moral tenor. As a fictional setting and narrative, though, it is naturalistic to the core: "The Lord of the Rings may be a 'fairy-story', but it takes place in the Northern hemisphere of this earth" (Letters, p. 272).

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  10. I have always considered Tolkien to be a great (if unusual) prose stylist. James, if you haven't already done so, I strongly recommend reading Tom Shippey's book "J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century", which ably demonstrates Tolkien's technical facility with styles (plural!) and registers. The fourteen-page analysis of the Council of Elrond is nothing short of revelatory.

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  11. "I prefer a rougher Aragorn to a "kingly" one. He's been living in the woods for years, and has never been a king."

    What's the line from Frodo about how if Aragorn were an enemy, he'd "seem fairer and feel fouler"? It implies to me that Frodo perceives Strider as "seeming foul but feeling fair".

    As for Tolkien being read aloud -- think of his background and scholarly love. This is a guy who translated Beowulf, and styled the Rohirrim on the Saxons; of COURSE he meant them to be read aloud.

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  12. What's the line from Frodo about how if Aragorn were an enemy, he'd "seem fairer and feel fouler"? It implies to me that Frodo perceives Strider as "seeming foul but feeling fair".

    That's right. In fact, I just read that section of the book two nights ago. My reference to a "kingly" Aragorn was more to his demeanor, not his appearance. I didn't much care for the conflicted, self-doubting Aragorn of the films is all that I meant.

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  13. James,

    One of the better tips a friend gave me for a reread was to read it from the perspective that the ring itself is a central character; with goals and an agenda of its own -but no lines. It is a major mover of the plot not just a passive excuse for failing spot checks and resistance rolls.

    My 2CrImp

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  14. What I understand of Tolkien is that he actually did intend the words to be sounded, at least in the mind. The beauty of the *sound* of the language was important to him. (And I'm too distracted to find the citation right now...)

    Try reading The Hobbit aloud. Its beautiful to the ear.

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  15. >I didn't much care for the conflicted, self-doubting Aragorn of the films is all that I meant<

    If it is all that different between book and film, I feel it is an improvement. Aragorn's claim to anything beyond the woods in his life (not counting friends) comes from things that happened hundreds of years before he was born. I'm a fan of LOTR since childhood, and I was able to embrace a far more human Aragorn than the books may have presented. Supermen with no self doubts are boring in movies if they aren't the all powerful villain.

    >There is no physical battle at Weathertop, as in the film version -- instead the Ringwraiths are suddenly confronted by (1) light, and (2) someone who does not fear them. Likewise the Balrog is a silent shadow of man-shape and size ("maybe"), not a gargantuan, roaring computer-game end-bull<

    Sorry, but again, shadowy nothings are great in books but boring in film, unless you are talking Blair Witch or The Exorcist or something along those lines. The Weathertop scene was an exciting action scene (needed in the film at that point), and the Balrog conception was a masterpiece whether it harkened to the book or not (it sure got flame and darkness right). You want a shitty Balrog, go check out Bakshi's film.

    One place (especially as a kid) in the books that was a chore for me was the Council at Rivendell. I loved that they condensed it and altered it the way they did. Perfect for a movie. Start interjecting more of that dialogue and stuff from the book into it, then for me you may as well be pumping sleeping gas into the theater.

    It helps a little bit to look at these films more from a place of childlike wonder than a grown persons analytical mind. Not to say I'm not guilty. The apparently beloved X-Men: First Class to me was a mess of failure when it came to characters and situations (although the Xavier/Magneto leads were the best things about it), not even to mention continuity. Just the fact that they didn't even bother to make Banshee an Irishman killed me (are there no young actors right now who can at least mimic the Lucky Charms leprachaun?). So I get what you are saying. But somehow kids who love the Harry Potter books are not all broken up by the liberties of the often crappy films (my god, do none of these directors know how to direct a action scene?). We need to be more like these kids when it comes to adapations, and a lot less like Allan Moore viewing the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for the first time.

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  16. At the same time, it's hard for me to read Tolkien's lengthy descriptions of, say, the Old Forest or even the Bree-land and not find then magical -- not hocus-pocus magical but "naturally" magical, if that makes sense.

    Magical in a similar sense to the "magical realism" of writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude is clearly set in our world, but it shimmers with the suggestion of fantastical elements and that feeling of wonder that maybe there really are fairies at the bottom of the garden. (Not that there are any fairies in the town of Macondo, and if there were they would be stealing the children)

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  17. http://batintheattic.blogspot.com/2010/03/power-of-tolkien.html

    I have to say that Tolkien is about the best author I ever read aloud. Not by a little but a lot. From his foreward to the Lord of the Rings itself his words flow off the page when read aloud. Also when reading aloud it is very evident the guy has a sense of humor, in a British sort of way. Even in the drier sections of his foreward and Concerning Hobbits my kids were laughing at his turn of phrases. Of course it helps I am using a light faux British accent while doing this.

    I concur that Tolkien meant his works to be spoken in the mind or out loud. So are you doing the funny voices or not? :)

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  18. I'll echo Rob's question here - are you doing voices for the characters? When I read the trilogy aloud to my 8-year old (and wife, who listened in), I attempted voices. It made it memorable, but very much harder (particularly in trying to recall which variation of my pseudo-English accent I had assigned to different characters).

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  19. Brunomac, please note I was not suggesting the Jackson films should have rendered Weathertop or the Balrog as described in the book. I was, rather, describing a fairly substantial line of differences between Tolkien and the films. Whether this is an improvement, a flaw, or something else I leave to the individual viewer/reader.

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  20. I can second the recommendation for the Tolkein Professor's podcasts. I especially was surprised by the ones where he reads Old English poems and sagas in their entirety.

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  21. James -- I reread LOTR a little while ago myself, and wrote about my thoughts on it in three posts at Blackgate.com:

    http://www.blackgate.com/2011/05/09/the-lord-of-the-rings-a-personal-reading-part-one/
    http://www.blackgate.com/2011/05/15/the-lord-of-the-rings-a-personal-reading-part-two/
    http://www.blackgate.com/2011/05/22/the-lord-of-the-rings-a-personal-reading-part-three/

    The second post in particular seems to resonate with what you're talking about in terms of Tolkien's depiction of landscape and the physical world. You might also find the first interesting, since my point there was how deep Tolkien's sense of character went, and how his approach to character seems different than the standard 'novelistic' idea of character.

    Brunomac: My problem with Weathertop in the film was that it was hard to take the Ringwraiths seriously as a threat afterward -- since Aragorn, on his own, had defeated five of them in combat. Tolkien gives reasons for the wraiths' retreat; the film didn't, as I recall.

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  22. The more you study Old English and Anglo-Saxon writing, especially the poetry, the more you realize Tolkien is a great stylist who is recreating a style that was almost lost by his time.

    He was in some ways trying to recreate the lost pagan Anglo-Saxon mythology, though made more compatible with Christianity, so he could write the British national epic that could have been had history gone differently. And of course, all true epics have their roots in oral culture, not written culture, so the style is sometimes awkward on the page but powerful when read aloud. His use of assonance, consonance, alliteration, and kennings is widespread, not just in the poems, but sometimes in the prose itself, especially in The Return of the King. Some of the passages that are the most lifeless on the page are the most moving read aloud.

    If you search online, you can find a recording of Tolkien reading his own words from the entmoot, the section where the ents shift from deliberation to rage. You really want to hear his delivery, which accelerates and grows in volume like a Mannheim steamroller. Honestly, hearing him roaring Treebeard's last couple lines makes you a little afraid of the ents and start to feel some pity in advance for the angry power awakened from ancient slumber that's about to descend on Saruman.

    Among the words we've lost a lot of in the transition from Old English to Modern are words for the land, words to make clear distinctions in describing the folds and ripples of rock and earth, of foliage and water. Rill, tor, tarn, mere, dale, dell, fells, coombs, and many more linger on at the edges of our language, as components of names whose meanings we no longer fully understand. Tolkien hauls a lot of these nearly lost words back into service to help him describe Middle Earth in part because this is a story about people's relationship to the land, a subject that bothered him greatly about the shifts he was seeing in the early twentieth century. He wanted the reader to fall in love with the land and really see it so they would care what Mordor and Isengard had planned for it. All these land words with their old roots look uncertain to us now on the page but positively sing when spoken aloud because they hail from a time when the spoken word had to sing to be memorable.

    If you search for the rhythm and tone of his words, you'll usually find a cadence he has put a lot of thought into, creating a text that flows off the tongue and into memory in that same way Beowulf does.

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  23. Old English is of course a variant of Germanic brought over to Britain from the Baltic sphere of northern Europe after the 5th century. The sense of magic naturalism in Middle Earth is found in Swedish literature for example. One of the masters of the form was Nobel winning Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940), her short story "The Outlaws" is a good example of the natural world alive with magic. It can be heard via audiobook here:

    http://www.archive.org/details/invisible_links_0810_librivox

    It's from a book called Invisible Links (1898) because in Swedish folk belief the real world is linked to the faerie world that determines the fate of the characters.

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  24. Fairy-tale author Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić (1874-1938) has been called the "Croatian Anderson", or more recently the "Croatian Tolkien". The artwork (from 1923) is uncannily Tolkien and worth checking out:

    http://www.archive.org/stream/croatiantalesofl00brli#page/n20/mode/1up

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  25. The one thing I hear from fellow lifelong LOTR fans who saw the films when they came out, that so many have in common, is that they teared up in joy from the dipiction of beloved characters, places and situations from the book. They waited their whole lives to see these things depticted, and Peter Jackson delivered in spaces. That speaks some serious volumes about how much they got right. That should be the focus, not that a couple of side characters didn't get enough dialogue in from the books.

    I certainly don't begrudge anyone who derived pleasure from the films. Despite my many complaints about them, I don't hate them and actually think they're better than they have any right to be, given how much Jackson got wrong. But, that said, I'll be honest and say that I grow tired of the regular implication from the films' defenders that only anal retentive pedants could find serious fault with them.

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  26. James, if you haven't already done so, I strongly recommend reading Tom Shippey's book "J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century", which ably demonstrates Tolkien's technical facility with styles (plural!) and registers. The fourteen-page analysis of the Council of Elrond is nothing short of revelatory.

    I've been meaning to check it out for some time, but time has often worked against me. Perhaps I'll make a better effort after I finish re-reading LotR with my daughter.

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  27. It helps a little bit to look at these films more from a place of childlike wonder than a grown persons analytical mind.

    It's funny you should say that because, from my perspective, that's part of what I find lacking in the films: a sense of wonder. To me, they seem more in tune with the jaded 21st century worldview than anything found in Tolkien.

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  28. So are you doing the funny voices or not? :)

    No, I'm not, partly because I don't generally even do that when I'm roleplaying, so why would I do that when I'm reading? It's also because I think Tolkien's dialog is well written enough that it's clear when one character is speaking as opposed to another.

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  29. My dad read me Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit) when I was little. I've always appreciated that.

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  30. My 6th-grade teacher read us the Hobbit for a period a day over some months, which was (a) the only full book anyone ever read to me, (b) the only Tolkien book I got all the way through, and (c) a treasured memory.

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  31. "it's a well constructed world"

    It 'feels' natural/real, I think. I was a bit shocked though when I dug down into the history of Arnor, Osgiliath, and the Line of Isildur and found that the timelines didn't seem to make any sense.

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  32. I'm reading it aloud to my wife and I'm taken with how good it sounds aloud. Since I first read it thirty-five years ago I've re-read it countless times and I always find something new, or at least forgotten enough to seem new, but this is the first time I've encountered the beauty of the sounds of his words.

    As to the old bugaboo of the movies versus books - my wife who'd only read the books once utterly hated the movies for their almost gleeful changes to the characterization of Gandalf and Aragorn in particular. I, at least with FotR, was initially happy to see "beloved characters, places and things" depicted on the screen.

    Eventually her arguments started to make sense. Why should Aragorn be so conflicted? Why would Frodo turn on Same? And so on.

    All the problems I had, and by the TTT they were piling up fast and furiously, finally overwhelmed any goodwill I retained for the films. I can't go back and watch them anymore.

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  33. the timelines didn't seem to make any sense.

    In what way?

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  34. What I most appreciate about this post and the accopanying comments is the subtle rejection of the sloppy formulation that Tolkien = "high fantasy" = "lots of magic."

    Recently a friend offered his theory that "Star Wars ruined movies," his rationale being that today, movies are marketed to kids-- they rely heavily on special effects and a steady flow of choreographed action sequences. And the movie is ultimately just an advertisement for toys and happy meals. So don't blame Peter Jackson, blame George Lucas.

    word verification: parynann: one who needlessly stirs up the embers of an argument when the conversation has moved on to a more congenial subject

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  35. Like the Jovial Priest, I read it to my wife when we were first married. I had read it before (and continue to do so today), but was stunned at how well it read out loud. I think it's not so much a magical world, as a mythical one. There's magic all around since, in the ancient myths, that was part of the world. But it's not 'here's the natural world, and there's magic.' It was all part and parcel of the whole Created order.

    FWIW, I also lamented Jackson leaving out much of Tolkien's dialogue when it could have helped. I saw the old Rankin and Bass Return of the King not long ago (I know), and was taken by the attempts to keep his dialogue in place at key moments. At the confrontation between Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul, they pretty much took the encounter from Tolkien's pages, and it sounded the better for it (including the so-cool 'foul dwimmerlaik).

    But the thing I like about Tolkien's creation is how he takes it all for granted. It's as if he's not writing a fantasy, but just telling how it happened in a world that seems real on its own.

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  36. "So are you doing the funny voices or not? :)

    No, I'm not,"


    Though I can't help but slow down whenever I read the chapter on Treebeard.

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  37. Count me among the number who's read it to his wife as well :)

    Definitely the best way to experience the books. We did The Hobbit too, before the trilogy (of course), not more than a year or so ago.

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  38. The unabridged audio books are also well worth a listen. Bob Ingles gives an excellent solo performance.

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  39. My father read the Hobbit to us one warm summer long, long ago, weather rather like this in fact. Then when he finished it he dived straight into the Lord of the Rings. I suspect my brother is considering doing the same soon with his daughter who is 6½.

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  40. Tolkien always struck me as high fantasy more so due to the inner workings of his world and how most of his characters are influenced by it rather than an abundance of magic.
    Contrast Middle-Earth's inherent forces of good and evil to Howard, Smith and Leiber's more apathetic worlds.

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  41. I don't know him, but of the posters here Michael nailed it 100 %. The middle-earth is a much scarier place than the films depict. It is mostly a wild, empty place filled with scary things. The films lost much of the horror.

    ...and also the wonder I think. Because do you really think elves are only fake blondes? Is that all to them? Is Galadriel only Cate Blanchett? She is good-looking, but can she truly reflect Galadriel.

    Unfortunately the movies locked the envisioning of these characters for a long time. Wraiths should have been scarier, elves should have been more wondrous & ethereal and maybe Aragorn could have been...

    http://archives.theonering.net/movie/cast/townsend.html

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  42. "At the confrontation between Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul, they pretty much took the encounter from Tolkien's pages, and it sounded the better for it (including the so-cool 'foul dwimmerlaik)."

    The movie tie-in video game did this also and it similarly sounded better than the film.

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  43. Reading LotR with different character voices was half the fun for me. I especially enjoyed realizing my boys could distinguish Shagrat from Gorbag, and the gasps when "Sharkey" reveals himself at Bag End.

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  44. I tried reading The Hobbit to my wife at night during the later months of her pregnancy a few years ago while she was very uncomfortable, partly to help her relax, and partly because she's never read it (nor the LOTR books - she's only seen the movies). Apparently my goal at helping her relax worked too well, because she usually was able to fall asleep after only about 10 minutes or less. We didn't get very far. :)

    I'm looking forward to reading it to my daughter when she's a bit older.

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  45. One bit Jackson did keep verbatim was Theoden's speech to the Riders of Rohan just before they charge at the Battle of Pelennor Fields. In fact I think most of Theoden's speeches in the film come straight from the book, and Bernard Hill makes them sound pretty grand stuff. But then Hill has played Shakespeare, including Macbeth, and I suspect had more of an idea how to give archaic sounding dialogue a bit of gumption than some of the more 'filmy' members of the cast who are more used to doing TV. And Tolkien stuck closest to his Norse/Anglo-Saxon Saga source material when writing those speeches - that verse spoken before the battle could have come straight from Beowulf. Dare I say it, but the book comes off weakest when it is 'dumbing down' this archaic tone of fantasy for modern readers (Old Forest, Fangorn), and the films do worst when dumbing down the dumbed down bits even further to make allowances for the short attention spans of cinema goers.

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  46. that said, I'll be honest and say that I grow tired of the regular implication from the films' defenders that only anal retentive pedants could find serious fault with them<


    Didn't know you were getting pounded in that regard James, and I'm not sure that is what I said. Look at it this way - as a lifelong comic book fan, I've known since the 1970's Spider-Man series (ugh, with "Larry Tate" from Bewitched as JJ Jameson) that movies and shows based on beloved properties were created to break the hearts of fans. Until the Tim Burton Batman film (highly dated an flawed now, but a fans delight when it came out) all we had was the first Superman film. Anyway, maybe we comic geeks are battle hardened in that regard, and we are just happy when they make a good film about our beloved icons, even if liberties are taken. The fact that I finally came to grips with Spider-Man shooting actual webs from his wrists instead of a gadget means I can accept and even enjoy these changes to some degree, while at the same time being annoyed by them. I'm sure you feel that sometimes as well. Although, uh, yeah I do think you can be a little anal retentive sometimes ;)

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  47. Re: Fangorn, humor was an integral part of medieval taletelling, even in the Nordic lands.

    And there's nothing dumbed down about Fangorn. It's a very thoughtful piece of writing, tackling a very interesting writing problem, with a lot of pointed comments in it and a great deal of beauty. One of my favorite parts, in fact.

    One of the great strengths of British fantasy as a whole is the ability to shift tone and thus strengthen the overall effect. Diana Wynne Jones' great essay on Tolkien's theory of composition and what she learned from taking a class from him, talks a lot about this -- how you make the motifs safer and gentler at first, and then wilder and stronger later on; or you do it once humorously and another time horrifyingly.

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  48. I also read it to my wife. I used to read to her every night. I was going to do 3 of the classics, Hobbit/LOTR, followed by the Foundation trilogy and then Dune; I called it completing her SFI classical education. She could not stand Asimov (I found it pretty juvenile myself, which shocked me since I had re-read it as an adult, though not in many years.) so we switched to Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave books, which I love nearly as much as Tolkien, but had a baby part way through so that ended (for now). Anyway. LOVE Tolkien’s dialog, it’s my favorite part.

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  49. Add me to the "read it to the wife" club. I didn't realize there were so many of us. I do do the voices, though.

    "The Weathertop scene was an exciting action scene (needed in the film at that point),"

    Oh, right. You must have seen a different film from the one I saw. It left the audience in no doubt that the nazgul were a bunch of clowns of no significance. The book version would have worked much better on screen that it did in the book even, as the scene in the book leans heavily on the visual effects of the uncloaked nazgul against the starry background and the fire.

    But a bad film is a bad film without any need to compare it to its source material and in truth the Weathertop scene has problems in the book which mostly stem from JRRT's lack of personal clarity about who or what the back riders were when he constructed the scene initially. I think it could have taken a bit of revision myself. The visuals that Tolkien describes are scary and that maybe carries the reader over the problems the first time, but on a second reading almost everyone wonders exactly why the nazgul don't finish the party off or, if Aragorn is THAT dangerous to them that they dare not try, why Aragorn doesn't simply walk to mount doom with the ring and leave poor old Frodo out of it all. Being a ranger and all, he would seem to be a good choice anyway.

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  50. I'm in the middle of this same project, myself. I read HOBBIT aloud to my 9-year-old daughter this past autumn into winter, proceeded to FELLOWSHIP this spring into summer, and we're working through TWO TOWERS now. HOBBIT was particularly fun to read aloud; you can tell that is sprang from the stories he'd tell his children. It is playful and cunning in wordplay, while LOTR is more sober and literary. My 9yo is absolutely hooked.

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  51. >if Aragorn is THAT dangerous to them that they dare not try, why Aragorn<

    In the books a frail chick with zero battle ground experience defeats a nazgul (at fuller strength than the Weathertop encounter) and it's mount pretty handily. So once again your observations fall flat as a Hobbits pancake breakfast.

    Bitch about and be embittered by the movies all you want. It was not only great entertainment, but it brought millions of people to the books who might never had even heard of them, and out of the hands of fantasy dorks. That they upped the action and cut back the dialogue will never erase that fact. Some of us like that they kept the heart and soul of the saga,and care not for niggling details that you somehow have the time to pick apart. Personally, I can enjoy the books and the movies as two different things. But I'm cool like that :)

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  52. The Inklings read their works aloud to each other in The Eagle and Child in Oxford. LotR was written to be read - or at least intimately tied to reading.
    [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inklings]

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  53. "In the books a frail chick with zero battle ground experience defeats a nazgul (at fuller strength than the Weathertop encounter) and it's mount pretty handily. So once again your observations fall flat as a Hobbits pancake breakfast."

    I see. So what you're saying is that my complaint that the nazgul seem under-powered for the fear they instil in characters is countered by the fact that they are in fact under-powered for the amount of fear that they instil? I hadn't thought of it like that...

    "Personally, I can enjoy the books and the movies as two different things. But I'm cool like that"

    Absolutely. As I said, a bad movie is a bad movie without having to constantly refer back to its source to pick on detailed differences of dialogue or plot. In the particular case of Weathertop it was you who made the claim that the book version of the scene would not have worked, and I think that the book version would have made a better visual than the Keystone Cops version that was literally laughed at in the cinema I was in. I actually felt a bit embarrassed for the director at that moment.

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  54. I´ve always envisioned Middle-earth as very gritty and gloomy world, a place where magic and wonder is slowly fadding away. The Third Age is a shadow of the former glory of older days, with crumbling kingdoms and vast wilderness -like Eriador- litered with the ruins of ancient empires. The true magic are rare, the province of a handful of very magical creatures, divine or diabolical, and the magic items are even rarer. The sorcery of men is a dark business, often bringing dark fates to its practicioners. Add hordes of spawned monsters, undead-infested barrows and distant and uncaring deities and you have a truly badass, S&W hell of a setting, IMHO.

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  55. I can't but wonder why LOTR is labelled as "High Fantasy". Middle-Earth elves are not sprites whith firefly wings dwelling in a silver castle over the rainbow, but skinny forest people who's homes are made of logs or carved in ordinary stone. There are not rivers of liquid gold, nor waterfalls pouring from floating mountains. Hobbits don't believe in dragons, and laugh at the idea of a walking tree. Many men don't even know what thing is a hobbit. Winter's cold is more deadly than Smaug's fiery breath. Wizards can't teleport or going around in flying broomsticks. Good guys ride horses, not pegasus or unicorns. All in all, it feels more like "Feet-to-ground Fantasy".

    The one thing I hear from fellow lifelong LOTR fans who saw the films when they came out, that so many have in common, is that they teared up in joy from the dipiction of beloved characters, places and situations from the book. They waited their whole lives to see these things depticted, and Peter Jackson delivered in spades. That speaks some serious volumes about how much they got right.

    I would stab my mother's back for a movie like the one you are depicting. And I would stab my eyes rather that withstanding for a second time the aberration commited by Peter Jackson. Must admit that it made me feel like crying, but not from the joy. If he got something right, I missed it entirely. Now, I wonder if you and me are talking about the same movie.

    The problem with 'The Fellowship of the Ring' is that it shamelessly borrowed names (of both people and places) and situations from the book going from the same title. From example, the movie's main character is a "Frodo" from "the Shire" who gots a cursed ring from his uncle "Bilbo". To anybody who has read the book, it's pretty obvious where the screenwriters got their inspiration.

    These coincidences lead to misguided morons like myself to expect FotR to be an adaptation of the book. Now I've grown wise enough to know that an adaptation of LOTR is gonna suck, no matter what. It's materially impossible to shoehorn in the narrow boundaries of one, or even three movies, without loosing the inner coherence, the richness of detail and the pace. You would need a multi-season series for this (cfr. 'The Tudors').

    If you are looking for a sample of a doomed adaptation, let's have a look at 'The Golden Compass'. Peter Jackson didn't even try it. The "Sauron" in his movie has nothing to do with Tolkien's Sauron but the name, and so has "Frodo". It's not that the characters in the movie doesn't match their counterparts in the books (and the One Ring is a character. And Bree is a character. And the Weathertop is a character), is that they frontally contradict them. "Frodo" is no longer the brave adventurer we know and love, but a chickenheart with frog eyes, his companions are a bunch of drooling idiots, "Gandalf" a fool old man, and the princess a tomboy.

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