The Kansas City Star
March 30, 2001

Movie Images Dilute the Imagination
Barbara Shelley

There's a curious role reversal going on in my home. When we should be turning off the lights at night, I'm telling my son, "One more page," instead of him pleading the same case to me.

Odd behavior, but I'm trying to stay ahead of the hype that is accompanying the first of three Lord of the Rings movies, coming to a theater near you in December.

If you haven't heard much about this yet, you will.

The film has been seven years in the making. It is the first attempt to dramatize J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy on the screen with live actors. Two attempts at animation bombed.

Don't get me wrong; I am anxious to see this film. Tolkien himself, before he died in 1973, wrote that he intended for other creators to carry on his mythology.

"I would draw some of the great tales in fullness," he wrote, "...and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama."

Given that permission, and the popularity of Tolkien's work, it's surprising that Hollywood has waited this long.

So why am I trying to expunge any mention of this movie from my home? Let me attempt to explain.

I have raised a demanding child. He wishes to be read to while he wakes up in the morning, during meals, and to ease the arduousness of tasks such as picking up his room.

Heaven help me, but I indulge him. I do so, rationalizing that there are worse ways to spoil a child. Then too, as long as I'm reading, I can avoid my own chores.

And so we have read our way aloud through the four Harry Potter books, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, and assorted other volumes.

We started in on Tolkien some weeks ago, beginning with The Hobbit and moving on to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Just reading, a little bit at a time, and forming pictures of the fantasy characters.

My son, for instance, envisions Frodo Baggins, the hero hobbit charged with disposal of the evil ring, as short and chubby, with dark skin and spiky black hair. I see him as diminutive, stocky, pock-marked and bald. My husband thinks he looks like Yoda, from Star Wars.

None of us had envisioned Elijah Wood, the youthful actor of angelic features, dark curls and perfect skin cast by director Peter Jackson to play Frodo.

That's why one recent morning I whisked The Star's feature section off the breakfast table before anyone else could see it. It had Wood's picture on the cover, along with the actors who will play Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen), Arwen Evenstar the elf (Liv Tyler), and Galadriel the high elf (Cate Blanchett).

These are fine, well-cast actors. But we readers have the right to envision our heroes, villains, orcs and elves in whatever wonderful or imperfect image we choose. It is good mental exercise to form a picture of a giant ent -- half human, half tree -- before a filmmaker does it for you.

Once created, the image is ours, and no one can take it away.

On behalf of that principle, I am racing to finish the trilogy before pictures of Wood and Blanchett begin appearing everywhere from television commercials to school menus.

"One more page," I say, and doggedly continue our own journey through Middle Earth.