21 June 2013

Mrs Readalot's Guide to Middle Earth

or "Lord of the Rings: Book vs. Movie Trilogy"

I live in Middle Earth: New Zealand, the proud home of Peter Jackson and the Lord of the Rings movies. The real-life home of Edoras and Minas Tirith. The place Gimli and Legolas battled orcs and dreamy Aragorn wooed elfin Arwen.

Of course a lot of the imagery in the movies was computer generated but the basic raw beauty of the landscape was 100% pure New Zealand - which only makes me love the trilogy more.

Recently our family spent a couple of weekends watching the movies back-to-back.**(see below)

The Fellowship of the Ring (where there were moments of muting the scary bits and explaining to Scrag about the Orcs being just rugby players with bad makeup), followed by The Two Towers and The Return of the King one rainy Sunday.**

I was lost in Middle Earth and I didn't want to leave.
So I did something I haven't done in ten years: I picked up the book and dived right in.

Now, anyone who knows me and my alter ego, Mrs Readalot, will know that I am always a "books are better" kind of gal.
Very very rarely have I watched a movie that I enjoyed more - and thought was better - than the book.

But having watched the movies and THEN re-read the book straightaway, I have to say that I actually far prefer the movie version of these tales.

Firstly, Peter Jackson has literally created Middle Earth on the screen. Where Tolkien's book is top-heavy with overly wordy descriptions, watching Sir Peter Jackson's movies is like seeing what you imagined in your head brought to life. (As to the "SIR": they gave Sir Pete a knighthood for his LOTR efforts - that's how much these films mean to NZ)

Secondly the characterisation is superb. Re-reading the book, I could hear Elijah Wood's voice speaking Frodo, Ian McKellan really IS Gandalf. And Aragorn, O Aragorn - could Viggo Mortenson have been any more perfect? (lucky, lucky Liv Tyler)
The characters come alive on screen. Forever after Sean Astin will be Sam Gamgee, that heroic Hobbit.

Thirdly, the films are much faster paced. The book suffers (as I said) from over-wordiness in places. And too-many characters with too-similar names. And some characters are known by three or four names each.

At the start of the book, between Bilbo disappearing and Gandalf warning Frodo to keep the ring hidden,  and when they actually leave Hobbiton, there is a gap of NINE YEARS! Then once the Hobbits depart with some (but not much) urgency, they take a long, annoying and completely unnecessary diversion through the woods and meet a character called "Tom Bombadil". Whole chapters are given to this encounter, with lots of lengthy descriptions of food eaten, and poems shared. I love that Sir Pete cut this bit out COMPLETELY and just sent them right to the Inn of the Prancing Pony where they met Aragorn. *sigh*

One thing that Peter Jackson also does far better than Tolkien, is picking up on the love story between Arwen and Aragorn. Tolkien hardly alludes to it at all - but has a section in the end pages where he gives the history of Arwen and Aragorn's long desperate all-but-hopeless romance. I call that a missed opportunity. In my humble opinion the book could have been much more engaging if Tolkien had integrated the story in to the main body of the book, instead of it just being an afterthought. How much better to have woven THAT thread through the story, than have those long boring chapters at the beginning.

Although the book picks up pace for and is easier to read in the middle section, at the end it drags out rather painfully.

In the movies, our Hobbit heroes come home to the Shire and find it unchanged and peaceful as ever, where nobody realises wall that they have been through to keep it safe for them.
At this point I got a wee lump in my throat.

But in the BOOK, they come home to find that Saruman has wrecked the Shire while they were gone and so, having just returned from defeating Sauron and destroying the One Ring, now they have to turn around and save the Shire. Poor poor Hobbits and their poor poor (ugly) (tired) feet.

All in all, I far prefer Peter Jackson's Movie Trilogy to Tolkien's book.
But I'm glad I re-read the giant (1083 page) tome, because it allowed me to linger for longer in Middle Earth. Now that I'm done, I have to conclude that Middle Earth is all the better for Peter Jackson's version.

And it only makes me wish that Tolkien had had a really good editor so that this most-excellent imaginative, inspiring tale of good vs evil, hope in the face of hopelessness, friendship and small people becoming unlikely heroes could have been an even better, more readable BOOK.

However: at least we have the movies now. I can only imagine what Sir Pete will do for The Hobbit.
(But I don't think I'll be re-reading it any time soon.)

Have you read The Lord of the Rings? Watched the Movies? Which do you prefer?

You can get the DVDs from the nice people at Fatso:

If you haven't tried Fatso Online DVD rental before, check out my post about why I love it. Then click the box above and use the magic code FAMILY45 to get a Month's Free Trial on the Super Plan (worth $28.99).


**P.S. TO CONCERNED PARENTS WHO MAY QUESTION OUR JUDGEMENT IN WATCHING THESE MOVIES WITH OUR PRE-TEEN KIDS: Ten years ago I would never have dreamed of letting my five year old watch these movies. They are rated [PG13] and do have a lot of battles, tension and scary-looking creatures but no swearing, profanity, sex or adult innuendos. But with loads Parental Guidance, we have watched these as a family, carefully editing it ourselves (with the use of the mute button for the tension-music, and fast forwarding) and explaining how things were made: special make-up, drawn on a computer etc. It helps that my brother was an Orc in The Hobbit movie. So we can say to Scrag: Look, "Uncle John dressed up in a costume like that too". there are so many great themes in this movie that we decided it was worth watching as a family. Friendship, loyalty, bravery, persevering through trials. This was viewed as a family and guided by us 100%. Not one nightmare but lots of great conversation ensued both during and after.

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