EAnotes

Posts Tagged ‘The Return of the King’

Adventures in Bookland: The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

This was my first rereading of The Lord of the Rings since the films came out at the beginning of the century. I did wonder how much the film’s version of Middle-earth would intrude into my reading of the story and I was more than a little worried that it would shoulder aside every other imaginative engagement with Tolkien’s story. I’m pleased to say that, in most areas, it did not. Middle-earth remained, in my mind at least, largely uncontaminated by Peter Jackson’s vision. The one exception was were the films themselves succeeded best: in their design. The film designers’ imagining of Gondor and Rohan, of Moria and Rivendell, was, to be honest, better than anything I’d ever imagined, and I’m glad to accept it. The only areas were it failed for me were those were Jackson’s inveterate tendency to over-egg the pudding affected the design. So, for me, Barad-dûr, as pictured above, is simply too tall, more Burj Khalifa than a proper fortress, and the same criticism applies to Orthanc. But, apart from that, I generally loved how the designers made Middle-earth come alive.

As far as the actors are concerned, only Ian McKellen’s Gandalf the Grey has fused with my own idea of Gandalf, so that now when I think of Gandalf I see him, standing on the bridge of Khazad-dûm. But, to my surprise, I’ve learned that another dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings has left a far deeper and more long-lasting impression: the BBC radio dramatisation that came out in 1981 and which I have listened to (as technology has changed) on radio, cassette, CD and digitally. Reading The Lord of the Rings, I heard parts of the dialogue exactly as those radio actors said the lines, with their voices speaking. When Faramir, in the radio play, finds he has Frodo and Sam, and the Ring, at his mercy, the actor playing him, Andrew Seear, does the most extraordinary job of conveying the life-defining struggle that Faramir endures for the space of a few seconds, as he has ‘a chance to show his quality’. Similarly, when Ian Holm, as Frodo, on the Cracks of Doom, chooses not to consign the ring to the fire but to claim it. Robert Stephens, as Aragorn, conveys Tolkien’s description of Strider as a man of doubtful appearance but true heart brilliantly, and Peter Woodthorpe’s Gollum is simply extraordinary.

I am sure Tolkien would be pleased at this: sound and words endure longer and go deeper in memory than images and pictures. For a philologist, this would be only right and proper.