December 10, 2001
Tolkien 'Would Have
Michael White, whose book about the Oxford professor and creator of the trilogy set in the mysterious Middle Earth comes out this week, predicted the film would even outsell fantasy flick Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
"The Harry Potter film has broken the box office records," White said in a telephone interview. "But I am going to put my head on the block and predict that The Lord of the Rings will just pip it."
The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in a trilogy of films based on Tolkien's best-loved novels, premieres in London on December 10 amid intense hype over its box office potential.
Ironically its creator, a mild-mannered British academic who fought in the trenches in France during World War 1, would have loathed the whole project.
"I think he would have just closed his eyes to it," White said of Tolkien, who died in 1973 aged 81.
"He had a hatred of all things Hollywood and did not believe in the idea of imitation being the best form of flattery. As a writer I find that staggering."
The dark tales about Frodo Baggins the intrepid hobbit became best-sellers only late in life for the pipe-smoking family man, a fact Tolkien is unlikely to have regretted.
"Being a cult figure in one's own lifetime..." he is quoted as saying "...I am afraid is not at all pleasant. In my case at any rate it makes me feel extremely small and inadequate."
The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit have sold 160 million copies between them and Tolkien has been voted the 20th century's most popular writer in numerous polls.
Comparisons between the two big-budget films based on best-selling books of sorcery and dragons and released almost simultaneously are inevitable.
And while some members of the Tolkien family choose to have nothing to do with the Hollywood adaptation, the stakes for the movie industry are high.
The Tolkien series will cost an estimated $US300 ($NZ731) million to make. The film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, meanwhile, has already netted over $US200 million in North America alone.
JK Rowling, author of four Harry Potter adventures which sold a total 100 million copies in just four years, is reported to be on track to become the world's first billionaire writer.
White said the comparisons had been overdone, and that the books upon which the two films are based differ significantly.
"The Harry Potter books are much more rooted in everyday life while The Lord of the Rings is set in a totally alien world with no direct link to the real world at all."
But the competition between the two films is likely to benefit both sides in the long run.
"A lot of Harry Potter film and book fans are getting interested in The Lord of the Rings," White said.