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Posts Tagged ‘The Lord of the Rings’

I have a penchant for seeking out obscure adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, if you haven’t noticed. First was my quest to play every pre-film trilogy computer game remotely related to Tolkien’s work. Then there was my long-time interest in a Finnish television series from 1993 called Hobitit (The Hobbits) based on The Lord of the Rings. I was first made aware of its existence back in The Tolkien Forum’s heyday, when one user made an offhand mention. Those were the days of my high school Tolkien obsession, so when I got wind of this, I just had to find it.

There was a problem. The series aired on Finnish television all of two times, and was never released on VHS. Because of the huge cost of the license after Jackson’s films, it’s not likely we’ll ever see a DVD release. Thus, I immediately met with frustration on trying to find it, and once my willingness to hunt after these sorts of things wound down, I stopped looking. But never fear, the internet has come to the rescue and finally sated my curiosity: the entire series is now available on YouTube, complete with English subtitles. Would it live up to the mystique that slowly built over the years due to its rarity? Or would it be like the Soviet adaptation of The Hobbit (i.e. “What did I just WATCH”)?

Warning, there be spoilers ahead. This review also assumes you’ve read the book, because hey, why else would you seek out an obscure Finnish adaptation like this?

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I’ve seen two bits of criticism of The Lord of the Rings pop up repeatedly on various forums, and thought they deserved a final response. Not only because I decided on doing some Tolkien defence today but because I’ve seen the same claims show up about various other recognized classics of somewhat higher pedigree than The Lord of the Rings and…guys, this needs to stop.

1. “The Lord of the Rings breaks every rule of novel writing.”

Rules? What rules? I can pull any “write that novel” book off the shelf, or visit any writing blog, and the hard, unbendable rules will be different. Even widespread ones, like “show, don’t tell”, aren’t very helpful when you start thinking about them (surely to show something I’ve got to tell you about something else?). The rule “never start stories with dialogue” appears constantly, but guess which novel, often considered the greatest novel of all time, starts with dialogue? War and Peace.

There are no set rules to writing novels. To take it further: There are no set rules to writing fiction besides those involving basic grammar, and writers can break those every once in a while too. There are helpful guidelines, sure, but just because a writer ignores Elmore Leonard’s rules of writin’ doesn’t automatically make that writer bad (in fact, Leonard’s rules are only useful if you want to write books like Elmore Leonard’s). I’ve questioned traditional rules of “good” writing before because, if you followed them to a “T”, you’d end up with fairly generic prose, the sort of stuff you’d read in any forgettable thriller/mystery/other piece of mass-market fiction.

That doesn’t mean the prose, characters, and pacing of Tolkien’s work or other classics are above criticism; it’s fine to say why you personally found something clumsy, awkward, ill-defined, over-described, just don’t act like there’s an objective set of “rules” governing how to write a novel because there isn’t.

2. “If Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings today it would’ve never been published.”

Let’s get counter-factual, shall we? But this assumes that if Tolkien (or insert any other long-dead author in his place) wrote the novel today he would’ve written it in exactly the same manner, despite a much-changed cultural and literary environment. While I doubt Tolkien would’ve ended up with A Game of Thrones, I also don’t think 21st-century The Lord of the Rings would’ve looked exactly the same as the book we got.

Next, this claim assumes that publishers are somehow more discerning what novels they publish now than they were in the 50s. The same contemporary publishers who’ve printed Eragon, Twilight, Modelland and 50 Shades of Gray, which are just so much better than *insert work by long-dead author here*.

Let’s try this for something else: “If Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales today it would’ve never been published.” To which the only response would be: “Well, yes. So?”

In other words, statement (2) is meaningless.

Classics aren’t above criticism. But they are above petty, ill-considered criticism, just like any other work of fiction from whenever. You’re free to rip into The Lord of the Rings or Frankenstein or Crime and Punishment if you want, but please, put some thought into it first.

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I’m resigned to the fact that post-2001, computer games based on The Lord of the Rings will look to the films for inspiration. I recently watched the game trailer for Guardians of Middle Earth with a touch of sadness at this state of affairs. I like seeing different visual interpretations of Tolkien’s books, and now they’ve become a homogenous blend of John Howe and Allen Lee. More to the point, I have a kind of fascination with older Tolkien-based games and the wildly different styles between them.

When I was 12 I bought my first computer, and I didn’t have an internet connection until I was 17. However, I would drop by the school library at lunch with a floppy disk and download abandonware off Home of the Underdogs to play at home. I also had something of a Tolkien obsession, so when 13 year-old me stumbled across the Tolkien Computer Games page I ended up trying to get my hands on all of the games listed. Thus began my DOS-based adventures in Middle Earth.

I often at least attempted to play these games straight to the end, even the bad ones, and if I didn’t finish it usually had to do with glitches caused by running DOS games on a Windows machine. Why? I’m not sure, now, but rather than let all those hours spent playing go to waste I thought I’d review them all here.

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