Friday, September 19, 2008

Rereading Lord of the Rings

I've been reading Lord of the Rings for the first time in years. For a while, I would reread it once every year or two, but when the movies started coming out, I decided that I wanted to go into them clean, without details from the books freshly floating around my head. This is the first time I've opened them up again since my freshman year at MIT.

The first thing I noticed is how slow the start is. I mean, really, it took me weeks to get around to finishing the first few chapters, and I even skipped the Prologue ("Concerning Hobbits") this time. I can understand how it took me three tries before I made it to Rivendell the first time I read them.

But once I was able to get back into it, Tolkien's voice is so much more measured and dignified than the movies. The movies were great, but they punch everything up with music, and quick cuts (especially in the non-extended versions), and the occasional dwarf joke. In the book, all there is is the words, and they just... flow. They set a pace, and it's a slower pace than the movies. When orcs appear, there's no de-duh-daaaaaa Da Duh Dum pause clang clang, it just happens. It sounds obvious, but it really struck me how much the movie depends on the music to carry things through, and how much the book, well, can't.

Relatedly, I was very relieved that I didn't hear all of the dialog in the actors' voices, or even really imagine the characters looking like the actors. Though I did notice every bit of dialog that got used in the movie, especially the ones that got moved from one place to another, or switched between characters.

Plotwise, the changes in the movie were more significant than I remembered. It wasn't just Tom Bombadil who got cut from Book I... it was everything to do with the everyday dangers around the Shire. In the movie, the entire trip to Rivendell only has the Black Riders as the opposition. In the book, they show up first, but then the hobbits wind up getting trapped by the Willow, from whom Tom rescues them, and again by the barrow-wights, from whom Tom also rescues them. Unlike every villain in the movie, they have nothing to do with the Ring... they're just hanging around waiting for hobbits to show up. (Kind of makes it understandable why hobbits don't leave the Shire much.)

The distances between places in general hit me harder reading the books, too. Part of it is that the passage of time is more explicit. But a bigger part of it is how isolated each outpost of civilization is. At one point, somebody mentions that there's hardly any travel between Lorien and Mirkwood anymore. But then you look at the map, and they're right next to each other! All right, the map says the elves live on the northern bit of Mirkwood, and Lorien is near the southern bit, but still. Even Rivendell, where everybody coincidentally shows up just in time for a Council, is a mysterious, distant, near-mythical place to the people who are arriving there, especially Boromir.

Book II diverged less than Book I did. I was surprised to see it observed that the Watcher in the Water went after Frodo first, suggesting that it wasn't just Peter Jackson's idea that it was after the Ring. I also noticed that the whole thing of Frodo blaming himself for Gandalf's death was invented for the movie (mostly for the extended edition), or at least I didn't notice any evidence for it in the book.

And now, on to Two Towers. Ooh, "The Departure of Boromir." I wonder where he's going!


At 9:38 AM, September 19, 2008, Anonymous Laura Dickerson said...

I'd liked the Hobbit (read in the 8th grade) but it took me three high school summers (1 each) to get through the other books. This from a person who read The Grapes of Wrath in about a week, so it wasn't the number of words. Something must have kept me going, but I've never re-read them.

At 4:55 AM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Nira said...

You write very well.


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