steuard: (Tolkien)
Monday, December 30th, 2013 10:40 pm
Wow. That was something. I can imagine that for folks who don't know the book well, it was probably a pretty entertaining movie. But, well, is it a bad sign for a serious epic fantasy story that I spent a fair bit of the film laughing?

My chief impression after watching "The Desolation of Smaug" for the first time today was puzzled surprise: given that Peter Jackson has taken a single short book (far shorter than any volume of The Lord of the Rings) and expanded it to fill three very long movies, how (and why) did he manage to condense or omit so much of Tolkien's story?

Hyre be spoileres... )
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steuard: (Tolkien)
Thursday, December 27th, 2012 02:48 pm
I saw The Hobbit a few days ago, and I enjoyed it. I started to write up some brief comments on the movie to post here, but they got a bit out of hand, so I've posted them on my Tolkien website instead. For those who are interested, have a look at my full review; comments are welcome!
steuard: (Tolkien)
Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 09:04 pm
In thinking about The Hobbit today, I've hit a guess as to the proximate reason that Jackson decided he wanted three films. (The studio's reason is clearly "more money".) I think it may be significant that nobody has ever said a word about where Jackson planned to split the story into two films. My guess is that after watching a rough cut of most of what he's filmed, Jackson couldn't find any good place to make that split... but with a bit more work, he he could see a good way to split it in three.

My guess is that film 1 will run from the start of The Hobbit to the final escape from the Misty Mountains: an intense sequence fighting with goblins and wargs and a rescue by the eagles. Film 2 will be a lot like Jackson's The Two Towers: those on the primary quest will travel slowly toward their mountain destination until everyone but a single hobbit is locked up, while a secondary thread will split off and wind up occupying most of the movie's runtime with a single battle scene blown wildly out of proportion beyond the attention Tolkien actually gave it (the White Council driving Sauron from Dol Guldur, in this case). Film 3 will center on the escape to Lake Town and the various confrontations with Smaug, and will wrap up with the (overemphasized) Battle of Five Armies (and "too many endings" again). (All three films will pull in substantial chunks of historical or auxiliary content from the LotR appendices.)
steuard: (Tolkien)
Monday, July 30th, 2012 10:26 pm

Peter Jackson confirmed today that he will make The Hobbit into three movies, rather than two as formerly planned. To my eye, this is a spectacularly bad idea. Why, you ask?

Good question... )

EDIT: I just saw a wonderfully concise statement of the issue elsewhere online: "Bilbo's reaction to the announcement of a 3rd movie was actually already quoted in The Lord of the Rings: 'I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.'"

steuard: (Tolkien)
Friday, December 31st, 2010 10:10 pm

I finished reading Cryoburn, the latest Miles Vorkosigan novel, not that long ago. It was... fine. But in the end, the thought that came to my mind after reading it was this:

I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall, but it proved both sinister and depressing. ... I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a center of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage. I could have written a 'thriller' about the plot and its discovery and overthrow - but it would be just that. Not worth doing.

That's J.R.R. Tolkien (in Letter #256) discussing his abandoned story The New Shadow. From the little of it that he actually wrote, I'm inclined to agree with his assessment: I expect that I would have read and more or less enjoyed the book if he'd finished it, but I doubt that it would have held a candle to The Lord of the Rings or even The Hobbit.

And that's more or less where I am with Cryoburn. It's a perfectly good mystery novel, and I can't complain too much about further development of a world and characters that I care about. But while "not worth doing" is probably too harsh, I still don't think it said anything strikingly new about any of them. (I half suspect that it was shooting to make some sort of broad statement about fathers and sons, but if so it didn't really click with me.)

steuard: (Tolkien)
Sunday, October 24th, 2010 01:54 am
A few months ago, a newsgroup conversation inspired one of the biggest shifts in my perspective on Middle-earth since I first started reading Tolkien. I figure at least a few people here might be interested, so I'm finally taking the time to share.

As a reader of Tolkien's stories, it's obvious that Middle-earth is a very different world than our own: it's deeply infused with "Faerie" on every level, from magic spells to enchanted items to fantastical beings. Fundamentally, that difference is absolutely true. But the essence of my epiphany was that our view is tremendously atypical: to the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants (at least in the era of The Lord of the Rings), Middle-earth would have appeared no more magical than our own world.

Perhaps the clearest illustration of this is Sam Gamgee, whose longing for a glimpse of magic was a key personality point from his first introduction. He was eager to believe his cousin Hal's report of a walking tree, and he was entranced by Bilbo's stories of the Elves. You've got to figure that Sam had as much experience with Elves and magic as almost anyone in the Shire. But what did it amount to? Glimpses and legends, nothing more: at the start of the story, Sam "believed he had once seen an Elf in the woods." And while he did meet quite a few Elves once his journey with Frodo began, even as late as his last days in Lothlorien Sam was still wishing for his first clear taste of "Elf-magic". But as readers, we can't sympathize at all: we get to skip straight to the scene where he finally sees some, and in any case we've been treated all along to excerpts from the Elves' magical history.

More examples )

I could go on and on along similar lines (I haven't even commented on the folk beliefs of Rohan and Gondor as compared to those in the real world). The point of all that is that my next reading of the books will probably feel rather different now that I've thought of all this. To realize that practically every human being in the story who wasn't raised by Elves would react to elements of Faerie pretty much the same way that you or I would, and that they haven't read The Silmarillion or even heard (or heard of!) most of the stories there... that's a big shift from the way I've approached the book. I'm quite looking forward to what I'll find.
steuard: (Default)
Thursday, April 29th, 2010 06:09 pm
This weekend, Kim and I are going to Penguicon, a "Science Fiction and Open Source Software Convention" near Detroit. I've never actually been to a con before, so it should be a fun experience. This one's a little unusual with its "open source" aspect, but Kim figures that's a plus for me: if there's a time when the sci-fi side of things doesn't match my interests, I can go hang out with a bunch of Linux geeks and pretend I never abandoned them for a Mac. :) (I've still got at least some open source cred, since I've contributed a few bits of code to Firefox in the past.)

Any advice for how to have an enjoyable con experience? (I wonder if I should try to perform my Silmarillion-inspired Simon and Garfunkel parody at one of the Open Filk nights. Hmm.)
steuard: (Tolkien)
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 09:09 am
Via [ profile] ukelele, here's a video that I have to pass along:

It's surprisingly well done, with a lot of good humor. The transition into an actual KU campus library orientation video was smooth enough that it took me a minute to realize that's what it was. But do stick it out, or at least jump ahead to find when orientation ends: there are a couple of good bits when the story concludes after that bit.
steuard: (Default)
Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 07:59 pm
Utúlie'n aurë! Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatári, utúlie'n aurë!
steuard: (Default)
Friday, August 31st, 2007 03:08 pm
I've been cleaning out my desk today in preparation for classes next week (I've avoided it pretty much literally as long as I could). I'm finding a lot of useful things along the way ("Look! A stack of handouts I didn't have time to use in class last year. Guess what my students will be doing in week 2?"), but probably the central theme of the day has been the sheer quantity of paper that I've got piled up (and that's just the stuff that didn't end up in my students' hands: extra handouts or homework that was never picked up).

I keep glancing around nervously looking for angry Ents.
steuard: (Tolkien)
Sunday, June 17th, 2007 02:13 pm
For those who don't obsessively keep up with Tolkien stuff, I thought I'd mention the recent appearance of The Children of Hurin. It's a story from the First Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings, and probably as close to a classical tragedy as anything Tolkien wrote. Those who have read any of Tolkien's posthumous books probably already know the basic story, but this book is targeted at a wider audience.

My understanding is that The Children of Hurin is meant to be broadly accessible: people should be able to enjoy it immediately after reading The Lord of the Rings (without the need to make it through The Silmarillion first, for example). I'm eager to know how successfully it has met that goal, but I've found that my own long experience with Middle-earth makes it very difficult for me to guess how a newcomer to the story would react.

So I figured I'd ask all of you. If you've enjoyed The Lord of the Rings but haven't read (or at least, finished) any of Tolkien's posthumous works, try this one and let me know how it goes. If you're already more of an expert than that, see if you can get your less expert friends to read it and report back on their experiences (and read it yourself: it's even a bit more complete than the version in Unfinished Tales). I'm really eager to know how people react to this book (in part so I can figure out the best way to incorporate it into my Custom Tolkien Book List).

A final word of advice: the introduction to the book gives a useful "bridge" between The Lord of the Rings and the earlier era in which Hurin takes place. But it's a bit long; if you're finding it wearying, just skip on ahead to the main text of the story. Also, there's a list of names for reference at the back of the book; that can be handy if you're having trouble keeping track of who's who. (I'm interested in knowing how effective that introduction is as a guide for less expert readers, too.)