Friday, May 26, 2006

The Lord of the Rings Cycle

I finished TLOTR again, and properly read the appendices for the first time. Well, most of them. I really like languages, but I can't get too enthused about the supposed derivation of several fictional ones and their script. Doubtless somebody will tell me how integral they are to the comprehension of Tolkein, but there you go. And I skipped the family trees, as well.

Some more thoughts on the film. I believe that the Peter Jackson trilogy represent a kind of definitive interpretation of the books for cinema. It's unlikely that anybody else will be prepared to spend the millions necessary to do new versions when such definitive versions have been made. One of the real strengths of the films, in my opinion, is the realisation of the characters. With books, a lot of characterisation happens in your imagination, and I know some people rather resent the fact that this interpretation of the books tells them what to think. But what tends to happen is that certain details get mentally filled in by the reader, but all the rest of it is out of focus. The films give some idea of the violence of orcs, for example, which in the books one tends not to dwell on. They illustrate the terrains in the different areas, and Jackson and co have worked hard to make most of the visual details accurate, which is an impressive feat. Particularly things like the Argonath and - is it Amon Sul? - the hill where Boromir tries to take the ring?

That doesn't mean, however, that there ought to be no further visual interpretations. It would be interesting to see whether anybody would be prepared to do a television series, say - each chapter as a one hour episode. That sounds a lot - but then "24" has made it into four or five series, and at one stage, somebody had to commit to making twenty-four episodes with no certainty that the investment would be recovered.

The tone of the episodes would be incredibly varied. Some would be almost all action, and some would be almost all dialogue. This sounds taxing on an audience, but I suspect that the story is compelling enough - and also, sufficiently well known - for such a format to pay its way.

Re-reading the books, it struck me again how much had to be sacrificed even to bring the books down to around 10 hours in length - and also how many subtle ways the plot had been distorted for the sake of the medium. As I've mentioned before, everybody remembers Tom Bombadil. But the whole stretch between Hobbiton and Rivendell is substantially different. In the book, it is Gandalf who pushes to go through Moria, whereas in the film, it is he who is most concerned about what lies there. The exodus from Edoras seems different - there aren't women and children in Helm's Deep in the book. And although the battle gets marginal above ground at Helm's Deep, a large section of the army of Rohan is still intact in the book, which comes out to join in the defeat of Saruman's army when the relieving forces arrive - things don't hang by quite the thread that is implied in the film. And the role of the Palantir in Minas Tirith is disregarded.

On the other hand, there were bits in the film that, on first glance, I didn't think had been in the book, and that Jackson had added just to make the film work better. But the connection between Eowyn and Aragorn was there - it was just that, being pre-adolescent when I read it, I hadn't noticed it. The doubt about whether Rohan will respond to Gondor isn't quite done as Jackson ran it - there is never any doubt in Tolkein's book that Rohan would choose to react to Gondor, because of the two nations' oaths to one another - but Gondor remains unsure that Rohan will react in the book because Gondor's messengers fail to get back from their mission.

I'm not sure about the bits at the end of the book. The scouring of the Shire is an interesting episode - you can see how this fits into the typical hero narrative, and it ties up a whole series of loose ends, but it is somewhat anticlimactic. I don't think that killing off Saruman at Orthanc (as Peter Jackson did, albeit only in the extended version) really did any damage to the narrative.

More another time - though I've already got enough "another time" stuff to fill up several days' worth of posts, so perhaps I'm being unrealistic ....