Thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring

Spoilers, for both the film(s) and the book!

 

Difficulty in Comparing
While books and movies are often two different beasts, sometimes the difference is more stark than others.  Jurassic Park felt like two stories from the same style in the same genre (albeit the book was far deeper and easily superior!), but The Lord of the Rings feels almost difficult to compare.

While writing a novel that would kickstart an entire, modern genre, Tolkien also wrote something harkened back to earlier days of storytelling.  LotR feels like it could almost be a bridge between the fairy tales of old and the epic fantasy of today.  The dialogue is proper, the heroes are noble, songs abound, and the world is explained.

LotR’s film treatments–movies that I adore–are thoroughly modern beasts.  Movies craft experiences differently, combining music, sights, and sounds.  They’re paced quicker, the characters speak in a down-to-earth, clipped tongue, and heroic deeds are shown in cinematic detail that sits viewers directly next to the players.

 

Going A Little Deeper
They both bring different virtues to the table.  The book answered quite a few of my questions, especially regarding the other rings (rings which feel like an afterthought in the films).  The build up to Moria was much better in the books than in the movies, both in terms of explaining its history and building up the question of its current state.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t note how I came to appreciate the locations more deeply.  The Shire, Rivendell, and Lothlórien were all wonderful places, and Tolkien did an amazing job of creating a desire to stay there–not just for the characters, but for as the reader as well.  The magical pull of ancient, warm times past that the  the two elven cities carried (and, perhaps even moreso, Tom Bombadil’s place, which wasn’t in the film at all) was much stronger in the books.  With the movies, I wasn’t overly sad to leave the Shire or the two elven cities; with the books, it was a maelstorm of excitement, fear, and profound saudade.

That’s not to say the movie isn’t without its virtues in that regard.  Bree, for example, was a fairly warm and interesting place in the books–logical, seeing as how it’s near the Shire, and hobbits and Men mingle.  Yet it pales in comparison to either the Shire before it or Rivendell afterward (or, in the book, Tom Bombadil’s before it), leaving it rather bland.  In the film, Bree stands more on its own, and the change in atmosphere does a good job of ratcheting up the tension by letting us know that we’re not in the Shire anymore.

While sticking with the movie’s virtues, I think the film handles dialogue better.  To a modern ear, the book’s dialogue feels a little stodgy and archaic (probably intentionally, to be fair).  It’s a little more difficult to pick up who is speaking when, as they seem to have a similar manner of speaking, sort of like going back and reading Shakespeare.  It took me much of The Fellowship to really get into the flow of it, and the movie feels more natural.

That being said, the trimmed dialogue and faster pacing of the movie excised quite a bit of detail in terms of events and in terms of explanations.  Obvious omissions related to the pacing include the Barrows and Tom Bombadil/Goldberry, but the book goes on to explain quite a bit I had wondered about, particular in relation to the rings.  In the films, the other rings seemed like an afterthought.  They were just gone, with little mention.

While we know what happened with the rings given to men, in the book, we learn the elven rings were untouched by evil, and even get to see one.  The dwarven rings are explained to be partly lost, and partly recovered by Sauron–and it’s noted that the dwarves managed to mostly resist their evil, outside of an infatuation with gold.

It’s a toss-up when it comes to tension.  In the book, we wait something like 17 years between Bilbo’s party and the start of the adventure, but once the adventure starts, we have Black Riders already in the Shire, as well as a mysterious figure actively interrogating hobbits trying to find Frodo.  Then shortly afterward, we spend days at Tom’s, and months in the elven cities meandering about.

In the movies, evil is constantly right behind the door, and there is no time to dally in Rivendell or Lothlórien.  The trip through the Mines of Moria goes south far quicker, and there is significantly less downtime overall.

 

In the End…
I couldn’t begin to guess which I’ll prefer!  As of this writing, I’m a good 60-70 pages into The Two Towers, and so still have more than half of the novel to finish.  To give a fair comparison, I would certainly have to watch the movies again–probably the extended versions!

I can say I’m the most excited I’ve been in years for a fantasy novel, and to my next little write-up for The Two Towers!

 

The Endless Options of Writing

Perhaps one of the most daunting prospects of the whole writing thing is the presence of wide-open doors all around.

Idea-wise, I’ve always adored high fantasy, but science fiction and westerns are all in my areas of interest.  Then there are the more nuanced aspects of the genres: the modern-day fantasies with everyday magic, the magictech words of spells and steampunk, the paranormal and horror edges that often show themselves in the dark recesses of elven ruins or derelict space freighters…

There’s also the issue of breaking out and, more pressing, simply making a living.  I could work on tidying up my novels and approaching some publishers, all traditional-style.  Or I could forge ahead independently on the internet, and take on everything from writing to marketing (and in that regard, I’m quite grateful that my wife has an eye for editing and cover-art!).

If I go the independent route, what next?  Do I focus on a few high-quality novels, or crank out a half-dozen in a year and hope for quantity over quality?  Do I start with a few short story collections for cheap, to get some income rolling in and get my name in people’s minds?

What genres?  What names do I use, and where?  When is a book “done”?  What merits a sequel, and what’s a tacky cash-grab–and a cash-grabs really all that bad when you’re just trying to make a living?  You can’t write a masterpiece if there’s no food on the table!

I guess the thing to do is gobble up all the knowledge I can, throw myself in there, and take some risks!

Somday, Sometime, The Wheel of Time

Thanks to a little excursion to Half Price Books, I have the last book I needed to complete my The Wheel of Time series: The Towers of Midnight.  (In my quest to obtain them on the cheaper side of things, I came across A Memory of Light first!)

My first experiences with Robert Jordan were second-hand Conan books.  Somewhere in my teens, when my epic-fantasy motto was “the bigger, the better” I stumbled across The Eye of the World from, I believe, the venerable John K. King bookstore in Detroit.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized the name on the cover was the same as some of my Conan books!

I loved the first book of the Wheel saga, and felt it was exactly what I wanted from high fantasy.  The Great Hunt lost me a little bit, The Dragon Reborn rekindled my interest somewhat, and somewhere in the middle of the fourth book–The Shadow Rising–I wandered off.  The first half-dozen (give or take) sat on my shelves for years, but over the past few years I’ve decided to shore up that little hole in my library.

Actually reading the 15-book series will be an undertaking somewhere in the future.  While we often read about massive undertakings in high fantasy novels, reading The Wheel of Time series is a massive undertaking in itself: According to Wikipedia, it manages nearly 12,000 pages in paperback form, and is comprised of nearly 4.5 million words!

Someday, Mr. Jordan, I’ll join you on that journey!  For the moment, I’ve promised my time to Mr. Tolkien.

Goals and Timelines

The Writer’s Daily Companion recommends setting some goals, and if there’s one thing that motivates me, it’s a deadline!

With that, my primary goal is to finish up my latest novel (Not The Mad Queen, which is probably getting pushed back) within the next two weeks.  It just needs a bit more polish and another scene or two, and then it will be done–or, rather, “done enough”.  The hardest part of cooking if knowing when to take something out of the oven (I don’t think that’s the case, but it sounded good, right?).

There’s always something else I can tweak, a character I can better form, a plot thread I can better handle, and part of the challenge in front of me is letting go.  I can always revisit it down the line, and I can certainly revisit the characters whenever I’d like.

So it’s time: two weeks from now, I’ll be done with a near-final draft, with a single once-over left.

Reading The Lord of the Rings, Part 1

 

No, not “Part 1” of The Lord of the Rings, just part 1 of this series of blogs!

I’m about a sixth of the way through the book, or just past Book One if you go by the in-book designations of books one through six, or halfway through book one, The Fellowship of the Ring, if you split it into a trilogy.  Sheesh!

It’s definitely a heavier fantasy read than I normally indulge in.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing: it’s filling in quite a few blanks left by the movies, which is pretty shocking considering that the Extended Edition of the trilogy runs more than twelve hours!  The prose does occasionally take a moment for me to digest, written in an older, high hand, but it’s a powerful learning experience.

Here’s to the remaining 5/6ths, five books, or two-and-a-half-books, whichever you prefer!

Reading the Lord of the Rings for the First Time

Somehow, I never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece.

Even in during my preteen years, when I devoured dozens of high fantasy novels in rapid succession, I never read anything Tolkien past The Hobbit.  The Ralph Bakshi and Rankin-Bass movies were a part of my childhood, so it wasn’t even like LOTR wasn’t on my radar.

I just never attempted them, outside of a brief, 80-page foray somewhere around the hype and release of the first and second Peter Jackson films.

Adding some irony to it all, after the Narnia books, it was The Sword of Shannara that solidified my interested in the genre.  Terry Brooks’s first book was a deep, exciting effort that blew away my young mind–and, I learned years later, it was somewhat controversial in that it borrowed so heavily from The Lord of the Rings that acclaimed fantasy author Lin Carter referred to it as “the single most cold-blooded, complete rip-off of another book that I have ever read”.

And so it dawned on me that, if I want to I reclaim any shreds of credibility, I really need to indulge in Tolkien’s epic.

Usually, you start with the best in a genre to get a feel for it.  How often do you get to experience the master of a genre decades after you’re already thoroughly ensconced in it?  I’m pretty darn excited.

Terry Pratchett and The Truth

I’m referring, of course, to his 25th novel, The Truth.

It’s my first experience with Mr. Pratchett’s works, and it was a positive one.  My wife is a major fan and has recommended him to me for years, finally suggesting The Truth as a good starting point.

It’s hard to write good, consistent humor, but he managed to do so.  It rarely felt forced, and managed to remain off-kilter without being so wacky as to make the world unbelievable.  I’ll definitely consider more Pratchett books in the future, because the people I know who like them swear by them!