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January 10, 2002

Re: Why the Book Cannot Be Perfect

First of all, an apology – I realize this is supposed to be a forum about the LOTR movies, and here I am going on about the books. But Andrea H. has responded to my comments, and I feel I should explain my position a bit better. To be blunt, Andrea – your opinions are valid, but I think you might have misunderstood me.

My problem with Tolkien’s story isn’t to do with the lack of “suspense, drama and thrill” (although now that you mention it, they WERE kind of lacking…). It’s more to do with my feeling that a fictional novel shouldn’t try to be too broad in it’s scope – the emphasis should be on the characters involved, the events that directly affect them, and their perception of those events. I know that LOTR was intended to be an historical chronicle of Middle Earth, but should that be where the main focus lies? For example, if Saving Private Ryan had been an historical account of D-Day, would it have had as much impact? By basing the story around the relationships, thoughts and feelings of a group of people in the middle of the historical events, the real meaning of the events themselves was brought to life. And that’s where I feel Tolkien’s story falls short.

When I mentioned the things that “should be portayed in the books but aren’t”, I was talking about his failure to make us understand the characters, who they are and where they’re coming from. The history of the elves is important, certainly, but does it tell us who Legolas is? We know that Saruman wants Sauron’s power for himself – but is it just lust for power or does he honestly think he deserves it? And has he really been corrupted as such, or was he always this way under the surface?

And as for Boromir – I just felt that Tolkien didn’t do him justice. He’s apparently intended to be a tragic, noble but flawed hero whose weakness gets the better of him. But that isn’t really how he’s portrayed – as Claire B. so aptly put it, he comes across as an “arrogant blowhard”, and he just isn’t written with enough feeling to make us give a damn when he dies. Whose fault is that – the readers for not “figuring out” the subtext, or the author for not fleshing the character out enough?

To make a long rant slightly shorter – a big world-encompassing epic is all very well, but if you want the reader to care about the world then you have to make them care about the people who inhabit it. And Tolkien, sad to say, didn’t quite pull it off.

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