Thursday, May 30, 2024

Bored Of The Rings!

I'm not sure how much off a crossover there is or was for The Lord of the Rings and The Harvard Lampoon, but there must have been enough for Signet Books to publish Bored of the Rings in 1969. Parodies of this kind are exceedingly timely affairs, speaking to the concerns of a moment, but this book has stayed in print for decades ever drifting off the sails of its highly successful inspiration. The main purpose of a good parody is to take the source material and identify what makes it silly and stupid if pushed to a limit. The writers Henry Beard and Doug Kenney saw clearly that the somewhat overly serious and sanctimonious tone of Tolkien's epic was easy pickings. And they were right. 

Michael Firth produced the first cover (see above) which takes a slap at the wonderful triptych covers produced by for the Ballantine paperback editions of the trilogy. That is my favorite cover image for the series, which sadly has gotten far duller and more traditional in the ensuing years. The map seen in the books is parodied and evokes the feel of the tasty originals. 

In the story itself we follow four Boggies named Frito, Spam, Pepsi, and Moxie as they follow the questionable advice of the wizard Goodgulf and are assisted by Arrowroot the son of Arrowshirt as they leave Bug End and follow a quest begun years before when Frito's uncle Dildo Baggins stole a ring from Goddam, a ring coveted by the sorcerer Sorhed. They encounter all manner of friends and foes such as the helpful but stone Tom Benzidrine and his best gal Hashberry. Resistance is futile as someone said. 

Even as a devoted Tolkien fan it's a hoot to see this nigh sacred text shredded in this way. The Middle-Earth books are if anything earnest and that's something which is well ripe for parody. Tolkien was building a mythology, and he spent a lifetime making it a vibrant and rich one. The two chaps who churned out Bored of the Rings took a few weeks to show us all that even the mightiest of epics can withstand mockery. If it can't, then it wasn't as potent as we thought. 

It was the success of Bored of the Rings that at least in part inspired the creators to license the "Lampoon" name and begin the humor magazine National Lampoon which poked holes in sundry sacred cows for years to come. 

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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Unfinished Tales!

Unfinished Tales gives us the last of the raw texts J.R.R Tolkien produced about his Middle-Earth mythologies. These are fragmented and as advertised unfinished stories. They are unfinished in two ways, both lacking an end and unrevised. Tolkien's son Christopher gathers these together and arranges them chronologically. This cache of tales, legends and lists is more like an expanded appendix in many respects and a short story collection in others. 

Part One: The First Age 

"The Fall of Gondolin" is the first of two stories of this earliest era and is perhaps more accurately titled "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin" since we never actually get to the falling part. Tuor is a great hero who seeks the land of the Elves hidden away. He is on a mission from the water god Ulmo and has the assistance of an elf and after much travail finds the exceedingly well-hidden kingdom. This is supposedly Tolkien's earliest story in Middle-Earth. 

"Narn i Hin Hurin" or "The Tale of the Children of Hurin" is a lengthy and dark piece and tells of a young hero named Turin Turambar who after his father Hurin is captured by the forces of Morgath is sent to the Elves and finds sanctuary there until he is able to grow to manhood. Hurin leaves the Elves, becoming a man of great strength and great temper. He possessed a black blade named Gaurthang and he himself came to be called  Mormegil which translates to "Black Blade". Turin's mother Morwen and sister Nienor left the Elves and Nienor encountered the dragon Glaurong who robbed her of her memory. Turin gives himself another name, calling himself Turambar and so when they met after many years, they did not know one another and so after a time married and Nienor became pregnant. But the tragic truth was revealed when Glaurong was slain and ultimately both Nienor and Turin took their own lives. The tragic nature of this story and the presence of a black blade did evoke memories of Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone. 

Part Two: The Second Age

"A Description of the Island of Numenor" is exactly what is says it is. We get a tour of the island Westernesse (another name for it), visiting its cities and other important sites. 

"Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner's Wife" tells the tale of a the king Aldarion who loves ships and sailing more than his responsibilities at home as the heir apparent to the throne. The beautiful but somewhat tragic Erendis weds him with warning that his attentions will always be split. We get the story of how they made a go of it for some time and even had a daughter who went on to become Numenor's first Queen. But we learn that there is more to Aldarion's sailing, a reason with dark portents for all the world. 

"The Line of Elros: Kings of Numenor" is once again as advertised. We get a rundown of the kings and their deeds as they slowly but surely fall into tyranny. 

"The History of Galadriel and Celeborn" tells the many varied versions of Tolkien's alluring elf and her mate. Galadriel is clearly a character near to Tolkien's heart and her story is one which is infused through most of the sagas of Middle-Earth and beyond. This is a patchwork of different stories which detail how she came to Middle-Earth and chose to stay there with Celeborn facing the threats from Sauron which manifested time after time. There is also quite a heavy dose of info on the nature of names and such. 

Part Three: The Third Age

"The Disaster of the Gladden Fields" tells the tragic story of King Islidur and how he came to his end and lost the One Ring which had been ripped from Sauron but not destroyed but rather lost setting in motion those events which we know as the tale of The Lord of the Rings. He was headed home with his three eldest sons, and the company was attacked by Orcs. There were only a few survivors to tell the tale. 

"Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan" gives insight into how the kingdom of Gondor and the kingdom of Rohan developed a lasting relationship which served both well in the time of the war of the ring. This is a very fragmented telling. 

"The Quest of Erebor" is told from Gandalf's perspective and gives details about how he came to know of Thorin Oakenshield's quest and how he came to be in possession of the map that allowed the party to find the secret door in Erebor. We also learn more about Gandalf's attitudes toward a certain Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit of unusual habits.

"The Hunt for the Ring" is really interesting and gives us to some extent Sauron's perspective in the search for the One Ring. It really gives insight into how the Nazgul, the Black Riders operate and what they were really up to as they shambled across the land looking for their prize. We get a few versions of some aspects of these tales. 

"The Battles of the Fords of Isen" reveals how the sone of Theoden died defending against the forces of Sauron. We learn that Sauron was in particular trying to kill Theodred at the cost of greater strategic victories. We are introduced as well to the leaders of the Eorlinga who defended after Theodred's fall. 

Part Four: Assorted Tales

"The Druedain" introduces the bewildering wild men of the woods who appear and help in the war at a critical time. These are a diminished people who hide from men for fear of what will become of them. While the Hobbits exist largely unknown in the Shire and by and large lived charmed lives before the war, these Duredain seem to be little people who have suffered, though they are by no means victims. They hunted Orcs with particular efficiency, such that that Orcs were wary. 

"The Istari" are the wizards who came to Middle-Earth. There were five of them. Saruman the White (Curumo), the two Blue Wizards (whose names might be Alatar and Pallando), Radagast the Brown (Awendil), and Gandalf the Grey (Olorin). Saruman and the Blue Wizards head South and only Saruman returns. What became of the Blue Wizards is speculative at best. Radagast dedicates himself to protecting the natural world. Gandalf becomes a traveler and consorts with the Elves. He is trusted so much by them that he is given the Red Ring one of the three Elven rings. This possibly triggers Saruman's jealousy and later of course we know that he becomes totally corrupt. 

"The Palantiri" are the orbs that allow users to see great distances, but with specific limitations. They were used for many long years successfully but then became dark secrets when some of the orbs went missing and trust was less common in Middle-Earth among men and others. It was suspected that Sauron might have a palantiri but it was not certain. Saruman had command of one in Orthanc and Denethor another in Minas Tirith. But this was not generally known. 

And that's the lot. Unfinished Tales is more like reading a reference text in many places, like The Silmarillion is like reading history. The stories are less compressed in some sections. If one accepts that like myths, the stories might not have ready finishes, then reading these segments can be rewarding. But if you're looking for a narrative which will snap you up and sweep you along you will be mostly disappointed.  

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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Tolkien In The Perilous Realm!

When one picks up a copy of Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham you are getting one of J.R.R. Tolkien's earliest works alongside his final published work in his lifetime. These two stories are often sold together for two reasons, they both operate within Tolkien's fairy world, and both are quite short. Farmer Giles of Ham was first written in 1937 and published in 1949 while Smith of Wootton Major was published in 1967 and began as an essay on fairies but then Tolkien just decided to write a children's story instead. 

I first encountered these two tales when I picked up the sleek and handsome Ballantine Books paperback with the two stories. The cover showing Father Giles talking to the dragon Chrysophylax was a test for the Brothers Hildebrandt to see if they were up to painting more pieces for Ballantine's already successful Tolkien publications. 

Farmer Giles of Ham begins when his faithful dog Garm decides to raise the alarm that a giant decides to wander onto the property. Giles uses a blunderbuss full of nails and such to repel the giant. He becomes a local hero and is rewarded by the King with a neglected sword from the armory. Later the giant tells the dragon Chrysophylax that he found no knights in the little kingdom. That inspires the dragon to travel and begin to cause trouble by destroying property and gobbling up friars and suchlike. Giles is pressed to do something about it and is obviously reluctant, 

Turns out that the sword is called "Tailbiter" and is especially keen to kill dragons. The dragon is cowed and negotiates a deal to enrich the people if they let him go. They do and he reneges. The King wants those riches and sends Giles and more knights to get it. When Giles confronts Chrysophylax a second time, he comes up with a different scheme. 

This a lovely breezy whimsical story with lots of humor. Garm the dog is especially the focus of several jokes. The King is presented as a greedy bastard and deserves what he gets. The dragon is also a specific personality, not a wily I suppose as the more famous Smaug, but certainly of a devious bent. There's a haplessness to Farmer Giles at first, but he changes, not something that always happens in stories of this sort. 

The Smith of Wootton Major is a more somber story about how the magic of the fairies can slip into our world in almost unknown ways and delightful and lasting effects. The story takes place of course in a small village called Wootton Major and concerns a tradition of baking special cakes every twenty-four years for children who are lucky enough to have the right birthday. When the regular baker leaves unexpectantly his young apprentice is looked upon to help a substitute baker fill the order. That young apprentice is a quiet young man who himself does eventually become the baker. 

But the focus of the story is on a young boy named Smith who is at that party and gets a special prize in his piece of cake, a dazzling white star that gets embedded on his forehead and which seems to give him the power to perceive and even travel to the land of the fairies. 

But as a man and a husband and a father he meets the young man who was the baker and learns the true nature of gifts. What Smith decides to do warms the heart of any reader. 

I heartily enjoy both these stories and it's difficult to choose between them. But if pressed I'd have tos ay that the humor in the story of Farmer Giles and his dog Garm wins the day. These stories have been available in various collections over the years and currently you can find them both in Tales from the Perilous Realm along with many other of Tolkien's lighter supernatural tales. 

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Monday, May 27, 2024

The Silmarillion!

What's a "Simaril"? To get the answer to that question one has to read J.R.R,. Tolkien's The Simarillion. This tome is part of the grander scheme which incorporates The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but it's relationship to both works is distinct. 

Ainulinadale (The Music of the Ainar)

This short section details the creation of this fictional world. Iluvatar creates the Ainar from his mind with music and they sing creation into existence. Melkor is an Ainar who develops his own tune and breaks with Iluvatar. The Ainar become the Valar and the Maiar some of whom will in time become such familiar characters like Sauron and Gandalf among others. 

Valaquenta (The Account of the Valar)

This offers up a pantheon of the Valar and the Maiar. There are fourteen Valar and this short tale reveals how Melkor corrupts some of the Valar and Maiar. 

Quenta Silmarillion (The History of the Silmarils)

Most of The Silmarillion is this elaborate and ornate history of how the Quenya (Elves) came to Middle-Earth from across the sea after Melkor (who gets a name change to Morgath) brings darkness to Middle-Earth and constantly destroys their light with the help of the great spider Ungoliant. The Quenya created the Silmarils, three gemstones that contain precious light. Melkor steals these gems and Noldor Elves pursue him to Middle-Earth. Eventually other elf clans such as the Sindar follow. We follow what seems like an endless array of elves, humans and dwarves as the saga plows ahead with a great deal of death and mayhem. Morgath seems to be plotting all the time about how to enslave, torment, torture and kill an elf who offends and any friends or relatives they have as well. He's assisted by dragons such as Glauron, and henchmen like the notorious Sauron. He has Balrogs, Orcs, and Wolves at his command as well as corrupted men. We take extensive looks at the legends of Beren and Luthien, a mismatched couple of man and elf who presage to some extent what we will see with Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings, and Turin Turambar, a misbegotten soul who seems to move from tragedy to tragedy with a bloody black blade. (I was reminded of Elric of Melnibone which is ironic since Moorcock professes a disdain for most of Tolkien's work.) In the end the three Silmarils are regained and then lost as one is conjoined with a woman made into a bird, one fell into the depths of the seas, and the other into the depths of the Earth. Morgath is defeated and imprisoned, but the threat always remains. Elves leave Middle-Earth save for a few such as Galadriel, Elrond, Celeborn, and others we will meet again. 

The narrative is dense and filled with unfamiliar names and as soon as you get used to a batch Tolkien kills them off and introduces another gang of elves with funky names. In his defense, I don't know that Tolkien intended a schlub like me to be reading this stuff, so I perhaps cannot fault him. There is no dialogue, precious little indirect character development, and the pacing is relentless. 

Akallabeth (The Downfallen)

This is the story of the Numenor, an island kingdom established for men who had in before times bonded with elves and so had a greater lifespan and greater power. These were noble men to begin with but eventually despite their long lives, which spanned centuries they began to crave yet more life and looked to the West and the land of the Valar for the means to that end. They were spurred on by Sauron, the former servant of Morgoth, who came to the Numemoreans in deceptive and pleasing form. After the rise and fall of nearly two dozen kings, there came to power a tyrant named Pharazon who decided to sail West to the land of the Valar, the one direction these great mariners had been forbidden to travel and the result was a disaster that caused the island of Numenor to sink and the whole of that culture to die save for a few ships that sailed for Middle-Earth. 

Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

Here we learn what happens to the survivors of Numenor who various established the kingdoms of Gondor to guard against the forces of Mordor and became part of a wandering cadre of protectors ever on the lookout for a risen Sauron. This section tells us of the events which happened on Middle-Earth in anticipation of the events of the Lord of the Rings. We learn of the creation of the various rings and how they are distributed. We learn of the great alliance between Elves and Men which rose up to stand against the revived power of Sauron and which succeeded then threw that success away when the One Ring was not destroyed. We learn how events unfolded and the wizards came to Middle-Earth, and we see that one of their number also falls under the spell of the grasping power. And we finally are introduced to the Perinnath, or as we know them Hobbits. 

I'm not going to lie. Reading The Silmarillion is a bit of a chore. The towering babel of names which pelt the reader relentlessly makes for tough sledding. The speed of the accounts is also something to be aware of. Events come and go swiftly as with any history it is only necessary to describe then move on. The Silmarillion was clearly written for Tolkien's eyes only. I will confess the reading gets better as you go, or maybe I just get hardened to it. Perhaps the success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings made it possible for this dense tome to be published but without the former this complex narrative never would've seen the light of day. 

Next, it's off to read The Unfinished Tales

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Memorial Day!

Reading high fantasy such as the works of Tolkien is delightful. It's invigorating to follow along with heroes as they struggle against deadly foes. In a work like this war and battle are glorified, and death is filled with meaning and the dead are venerated. That's what we're doing today. Many have given their lives to protect the democracy which is so at risk in the current year. 

The United States has never been the ideal it strived to be. It was a reaction against monarchy, there was to be no return of a king in this land of the mostly free. Slowly, much too slowly all of its citizens came into their sufferance and were allowed to participate in the control of their own lives. Slavery was ripped away in a bloody war. It was replaced by decades of a bitter segregation which sought to foil the dreams of free citizens. Later still women at long last got their right to vote and later than that the right to control their own bodies, if only as it turns out for a few precious decades. 

Always there was the struggle against those who had the power already, just as we see today. They guard it jealously, just the enemies in Tolkien's works guarded their wealth. They seek power over others just as the villains in Middle-Earth sought control over everything. We cannot allow the sacrifice of so many to be in vain. We must, with our action and our votes do what we can to protect the land and the freedom to control our own lives. We must do this in memory of those who have given their all.

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Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Extended Lord Of The Rings!

It's pretty impossible to express the excitement I was filled with anticipating the film version of The Lord of the Rings. Rumors had rumbled for decades that someone was going to do this eventually. But properly, we all wanted it done correctly, with a sufficient budge and with proper attention to the elaborate text. Tolkien himself had resisted film versions of the saga, especially when Disney considered the project. Apparently, Tolkien had a low opinion of Disney's efforts in regard to fairy tales. 

Writing up reviews for these movies at this date is difficult. So much of that world has been seen, that it's hard to remember how it was to enter Hobbiton for the first time or visit The Prancing Pony alongside four naive Hobbits about to enter a wild dangerous world. The Fellowship of the Ring remains my favorite to this day. In this story we are introduced to the vistas of Middle-Earth as reimagined by director Jackson and the small army of talents New Zealand brought to the task The movies showcase the splendid territories of New Zealand. The story starts small in Hobbiton as we meet our heroes who soon enough are forced to enter the larger and more dangerous world with murderous Dark Riders on their trail. The company of Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin is a spritely gang, and the addition of Strider gives the story a heft and seriousness it previously was missing. 

The action is beautifully paced in this movie with respites between action scenes, scenes still grounded in reality and not having yet fallen victim to overwhelming CG elements. Just as in the novel the world continues to expand for us as we go to Rivendell and then beyond and ultimately the tragic mines of Moria. It is only in Moria that the creators lose their way a bit with the special effects getting a bit large and subjecting our heroes to impossible stresses. But it's a near thing still, not yet the cacophony we will endure some years later. 

I was struck watching it this time how much I'd forgotten how central Frodo is to the proceedings. As portrayed by Elijah Wood his gentle nature gives the movie a pleasantness it might otherwise lack. Ian McKellan's first turn as Gandalf is magnificent and his demise gives this first movie an emotional high it is never ever really able to match in subsequent films despite the ever-increasing stakes. I'd never noticed Viggo Mortensen before his turn as Strider, but he's become a favorite actor in the years since. I was especially struck by Sean Bean's performance this time, a part often overcome by braying. He gave it an emotional value which makes you genuinely mourn for a man who despite his mistakes clearly wanted what was best for his father and his people. 

This first foray into Middle-Earth was and is magnificent and holds up well after more than two decades. The battles had not swollen to engulf the warriors and we can still feel the potency of the battles. Jackson and his team do a grand job of getting the important bits in, creating a big movie from an even bigger story. I mourn the loss of Tom Bombadil, but it's easy to see why we have no time for him or the Barrow-Wight as well. 

But it was a darn good start. 

I remember waiting for The Two Towers to show up the following year. I was extremely eager to see the next installment of this epic movie series, a series I'd never imagined I'd see in my lifetime. With the second movie, we know most all our characters, though we will meet plenty of new ones as well. But what we'll really get a grand look at is the sprawling landscapes of New Zealand, even more so than the first film. What makes these films so much better than the trio of The Hobbit movies is that the CG has not yet overwhelmed the project. We are still watching people move across sweeping landscapes, real places which makes the fantasy feel more vital and alive. But we do see the beginning of the end of this in this movie as well. 

The fellowship has broken up and we follow three plot threads though The Two Towers and that's always made it a less coherent story by necessity. Merry and Pippin are kidnapped by Orcs and then find their way into Fangorn Forest and into the care of the Ent Treebeard. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli pursue to save them until a revived Gandalf redirects them. Frodo and Sam are joined by Gollum who begins to lead them to their destination. At the time much was made of the Gollum character and how it was done technically and that's a warning sign. I'm of the opinion that no movie should be about how it's made rather than what it's about. But things are still fine as we are dealing with real people behind these characters, they have not lost their connection with humanity. We are still concerned with Gollum's moral choices and not so much how they made him so fishy. 

The highlight of this movie is the introduction of the Riders of Rohan and the culture found at Edoras and later at Helm's Deep. These are human places occupied by humans. The crews built real places for the characters to stand in, vast edifices which I know are surrounded by movie magic, but it remains invisible for the most part and doesn't call attention to itself. 

Legolas and Gimli are a lot of fun with their banter, and Legolas as superhero begins to assert himself. He was a nimble and deft fighter in the first movie and in this one he's Captain America, doing clearly impossible things. The Battle at Helm's Deep is the best battle of this kind that Jackson will ever stage. In the next movie the action will grow too large with the human connection being lost. The balance is on a knife edge but works, and that's in no small part due to the darkness and rain. 

Very entertaining stuff, and that's darn hard for a middle part of a trilogy to be since resolution is never on the table. 

The Return of the King brings the trilogy to a conclusion adapting, more or less, Tolkien's third novel. This is finale and in this one sadly the spectacle begins to swallow the story a bit. Nonetheless it's a rousing movie with the various plot threads finding their way either to Minas Tirith to defend against the hordes from Mordor or to Mount Doom where Frodo and Sam work relentlessly to get shed of the One Ring for all time. 

The transformation of Gollum is complete, and he is an utter villain as he leads the doughty pair into the clutches of the spider Shelob. Aragorn must walk to his own death of sorts to gather a ghostly force which will it's hoped will help defend against the deadly forces Sauron has launched at greatest city in Gondor. Legolas and Gimli help him out. Merry becomes a helper to King Theoden while Pippin finds his way to become a soldier for Gondor in service of the duplicitous Denethor. There's this and more as we follow Arwen's choice and Faramir's sacrifice, while Gandalf tries to save them all. 

The siege of Gondor is a spectacle for sure, filled with wild action sequences. And that's the lovely poison which is beginning to be felt, the action is overwhelming the character development to some degree. A major sticking point for me in the third entry is that it fails to pay off Saruman's story in any meaningful way. We get a few scenes, but they feel meager. Since we won't get a scouring of the Shire and Saruman's comeuppance in that, he needs a stronger send off. I also was very much disappointed in the ghostly army that Aragorn brings to save the day. They look like something from a science fiction giant monster movie. Here was Jackson's time to shine, to how ghosts battling Orcs for all the marbles, and we instead get a strange rambling blob. 

But having said all that, the movie is still a success and has emotional power. I enjoy it every time, and every time it makes me weep just a little. 

Making all three movies at one time was a brilliant stroke, though a heavy lift indeed for all concerned. Jackson is able to give each movie its flavor and still make them a coherent whole. With another studio in another time, I can imagine each installment getting its own director. But Jackson perceived that which is obvious really, there is not a trilogy of books which make up The Lord of the Rings but rather a very long novel which was divided up into three parts for reasons both logistical and economics. And he approached this movie adaptation in the same way. 

What makes these three movies successful is that Jackson and his team were charged with taking a mammoth tale and whitling it down to its necessary elements to translate the story to the screen and at the same time give it some modern flavor to make more than palatable to folks not already devoted to the late Professor's works, and they did just that. And they used the technology at hand to place real people in unreal places. What makes The Hobbit so relatively unsuccessful in the final analysis is just the opposite, a small work ballooned to giant-size while armed with all the CG money could buy, depending on animated characters too much of the time. 

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Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Animated Lord Of The Rings!

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings had touched off a renaissance for fantasy literature. Publishers were agog to get something onto the racks that smacked of fantasy, whether it was in the vein of high fantasy as is Tolkien's classic or of a more blood-handed quality such as the works of Robert E. Howard, there was an absolute hunger for such stuff. But how to bring The Lord of the Rings to the big screen. 

It seemed too large a tale for the cinema, at least the cinema of the 70's which had seen the collapse of the studio system and the rise of independent filmmakers. Star Wars had pointed the way forward for movies, and multiple installments of epic stories seemed viable. So, it was decided to make The Lord of the Rings into a movie after all in 1978. Peter Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn was brought in to revise the screenplay by Chris Conkling. Animation was the format the format selected, and the director would be Ralph Bakshi. 

Ralph Bakshi was a wild card. He was a veteran animator, having risen up in Terrytoons and had gained some cache with is creation of The Mighty Heroes and other projects. He'd broken into cinema with Fritz the Cat which brought Robert Crumb's feline avatar to a public ready for the adult nature of the storytelling. Bakshi knew how to get an animated feature made and delivered, and outside the Disney studios he was nearly the only game in town. Artist Mike Ploog's work showed up a lot in the designs. He'd worked with Bakshi on Wizards, a science fiction fantasy which had the misfortune to debut the same week as Star Wars. British actors were brought on to do the voices. It was an epic effort to bring an epic story to the screen, and it was originally intended to be the first of two parts. Alas, we never go that sequel, at least not by the Bakshi team. 

The movie is criticized today and was criticized at the time for the extensive use of rotoscoping to make the animation work, and the to give the work a greater sense of reality. Rotoscoping is looked down upon despite being one of the earliest techniques in animation and was used extensively by the Fleischer Studios in the 30's. That said, there more than a few sequences in the movie which don't really work. The rotoscoping doesn't always blend with the traditional animation and creates a jarring effect on the viewer. This movie unlike Wizards which used much the same styles required an approach which didn't take the viewer out of the movie. Here is an interview with Bakshi talking about the film. 

I give the movie high marks for its realization of the Shire and the bucolic regions adjacent to it. There are some gorgeous scenes with our characters moving through them. As the movie goes along and we get further away, that kind of thing diminishes. The Black Riders are also effectively realized in some places. They are favorites of mine, truly frightening creations.  Less successful is Sam Gamgee who comes across as a goofball. Frodo is okay but he and the other Hobbits look like they are about thirteen. The battle at the end of the movie is the low point, with the Orcs poorly realized and the sense of animation minimized. The strength of this production are the outstanding background paintings which successfully create a compelling world, not unlike the masterful backgrounds in the classic King Kong almost become a character. The movie ends abruptly with Gollum leading Frodo and Sam into Shelob's clutches and the heroes successful at Helm's Deep. 

Despite a potent advertising program, the movie failed to live up to expectations in theaters. The sequel was cancelled, and Tolkien fans were left hanging with only half the story told. That is until the Rankin-Bass operation stepped in. They'd brought The Hobbit to the screen some few years before and now they'd wrap up Tolkien's greater epic in the bargain. But it wasn't part of a plan necessarily. 

The Return of the King from 1980 has the Rankin-Bass operation picking up the story just about where Bakshi's movie had left off more or less with Frodo and Sam having survived Shelob but Frodo having been captured by Orcs. It is important to note that the production was not intended as a sequel to the Bakshi film. It's merely a fluke that the Rankin-Bass outfit started the story just about where Bakshi left off. The original title was Frodo -The Hobbit II, but better heads prevailed. The style shifted back to the Arthur Rackham inspired character designs, and the ambition was singular, to finish the story. Like The Hobbit before the Tolkien estate did not approve of this little outing and filed suit, but a deal was cut.  

Joining veterans from The Hobbit such as Orson Bean (Frodo this time), John Huston (still Gandalf), and Brother Theodore (Gollum again) were Theodore Bikel (Aragorn), Roddy McDowell (Sam Gamgee), Casey Kasem (Merry Meriadoc), and others such as veterans John Stephenson and Don Messick among others. This 1980 production was done for television by the same Japanese outfit that had don The Hobbit

People bicker about it. Consider it a weak addition to the Tolkien world, and the Tolkien Estate even tried to stop its production. But for my part, I cherish it, for all its flaws for giving the story an ending it otherwise would not have. I rather liked The Hobbit and I like this one, though it has a harder path to walk. Despite the decision to only adapt the last novel for the sake of time, there still seems to be a terrible feeling of padding in the beginning of the story.  For Tolkien fans today it might seem a weak offering, but for us then it was a triumph if only a small one. The epic saga had been transformed into a story which walked and talked, if imperfectly. 

Two decades later, a New Zealand director would take on the story again, this time armed with new-fangled computer technology and people eager to do a greater justice to J.R.R. Tolkien's great story. But we'll get to that tomorrow. But first a song. 

Frodo of the Nine Fingers 

Music by Maury Laws
Lyrics by Jules Bass
Sung by Glenn Yarbrough

When Bilbo found that shiny ring
In Gollum's cave of gloom,
He never thought that it would turn
Into a ring of doom.

The Dragon Smaug, the Spiders too, 
The Goblish, the Evin-King,
They came to know the power of
The Hobbit and his ring. 

Frodo of the Nine Fingers
And the ring of doom.
It started with a Hobbit in
Gollum's cave of gloom.

The power of the ring, it grew,
And Gandalf sat in thought.
He knew that it must be destroyed
In fires where it was wrought. 

For is in evil hands it fell,
The earth would know its end.
No force of arms would win the day,
No army could contend. 

Frodo of the Nine Fingers
And the ring of the doom
Accepted a heavy burden
For the fires to consume.

Frodo of the Nine Fingers
And the ring of doom.
Why does he have nine fingers?
Where is the ring of doom?

We know of course. If you'd like to enjoy Ralph Bakshi's version of The Lord of the Rings, then check out this Internet Archive link. To see The Return of the King by the Rankin-Bass outfit check this Internet Achive link. 

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