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January 9, 2002

Why the Book Cannot Be Perfect
Andrea H.

Hey, Razors, don't you fear; this is not going to be a death threat, although I don't completely agree with what you wrote. Let me explain: You've pointed out the rather long-winded narrative, Tolkien's obsession to take note of the tiniest detail, the lengthy descriptions of places and histories, the flat (I guess one-dimensioned were your words) characters. You feel the story often gets lost over that, and your essay conveys that you somehow miss suspense and dramatic atmosphere; do I get you right? Well, in a way, you're right. If LOTR was the new Tom Clancy thriller or, let's say the new Barbara Wood novel, I'd completely agree with you and regret every minute of reading. But I don't think you can read LOTR the same way you read any other book. If you do so, your expectations will be deceived. I don't think it was Tolkien's attempt to write an ordinary fantasy novel with suspense, drama and thrill. It's more like some historical chronicle or something like that. Imagine that he spent years inventing every little detail of middle-earth; its history, its landscape, its creatures. His middle-earth is not just the pictureresque scenery for a powerful story, it has its own history. The characters appearing are not archetypes, they have their own history which dates back thousands of years... Whole middle-earth is the story. Tolkien wanted us to share this. And that's what's so great about this book. You don't feel like reading a novel, it feels so real. Of course, it is not as exciting to read as any other fantasy novel. Ever tried reading the Edda? Or that medieval Song of Roland? They're damn boring, in a way. But those ancient chronics are the basis for all those powerful tales and legends we know today. It's up to us to reveal that heartbraking lovestory between Arwen and Aragorn when reading through those few lines in the appendices, or to figure out Boromir's toils (liked your description; you put it exactly the way I felt it...). The film finally delivers what you missed in the book, and I think they fit perfectly. The book with its depth and rich details impresses you just as much as the film with its powerful pictures and emotions.

Okay, everyone's been ranting on about LOTR and complaining - often to the point of pettiness - about all the mistakes that Peter Jackson has (apparently) made in the movie. Well, I'd like to point out some of the mistakes that J.R.R. Tolkien made when he wrote the books. Don't get me wrong - Tolkien tells an excellent story in the LOTR trilogy. The thing is (and I know I'm going to recieve death threats over this) he just doesn't tell it particularly well. His narrative is incredibly long-winded. His characters are one-dimensional. He seems so obsessed with presenting the ENTIRE world of Middle Earth in the books that the relevant details of the plot get lost in the general miasma of history, songs, walk-on characters and lengthy descriptions of everything from Hobbit cuisine to the trees of Lothlorien. The Council of Elrond is far too long and completely kills the pace of the story. When Merry and Pippin are captured, you get so lost in all the comings and goings of the different Orc factions that you can barely tell who they've actually been captured by. And as for the much-lamented Tom Bombadil - what purpose does he actually serve in the story, other than to provide a fairly pointless diversion from the plot for three entire chapters?

Then there's the things that should be portayed in the books but aren't. Important elements of the story - Boromir's obsession with the Ring, Saruman's corruption, and Aragorn's relationship with Arwen to name but a few - aren't explored with nearly enough depth. And Boromir's death, as portayed in the book, is one of the biggest non-events in literary history. This is the moment where Boromir conquers his demons, redeems himself for his fall from grace and lays down his life in a courageous and ultimately futile attempt to save Merry and Pippin from the Uruk-Hai - and it boils down to about half a page of text. Gandalf's plunge into the abyss in Moria is handled slightly better, but not by much.

Okay, so the movie isn't perfect. I spotted a few things that could have been done better. But it's faithful to the essence of the story, it fixes almost all of the problems I've mentioned above, and it only improves the better elements of the book.



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