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JRR Tolkien: Lord of the Rings

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
--J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings"
by Georgia Temple, Entertainment Editor
Published in the Midland Reporter-Telegram 12/12/2001

Before recorded time cast history on mankind, there existed in Middle-earth a place called the Shire. This was the home of an ancient and peaceful folk -- who stood between three and four feet tall -- called hobbits.

One among them, Frodo Baggins, inherited a gold ring from his Uncle Bilbo that had the unusual ability to make its wearer invisible. The hobbits were unaware of the happenings outside the Shire and didn't know a malicious power was seeking just such a ring.

The wizard Gandalf knew and urged Frodo to leave. Closing in on his tracks were the Ringwraiths who sought to find the One Ring and return it to their Dark Lord. At stake was the fate of Middle-earth.

When Frodo and his three friends arrived at the Prancing Pony in Bree -- a community inhabited by men and hobbits -- they met a Ranger called Strider who offered his help. Frodo trusted Strider even before a letter from Gandalf validated his instincts.

"You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way that servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine," Frodo told Strider. "I think one of his spies would -- well seem fairer and feel fouler."

Now, decades after the trilogy first appeared in print, Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece has been brought to the silver screen. Directed by Peter Jackson, the trilogy represents an unprecedented undertaking: three films made simultaneously over a year and a half of production at a cost of more than $270 million. The first, "The Fellowship of the Ring," opened in U.S. theaters nationwide this month.

Perhaps this retelling will seem fairer to fans than the animated version, which many found lacking in depth. Then again, the reaction among some may be akin to the exchange between Gandalf and the wizard Saraman, whom Gandalf realized was no longer clothed in white but in a robe of many colors.

"I liked white better," Gandalf told Saraman, who sneered, "White! It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken."

"In which case it is no longer white," Gandalf replied. "And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."

Tolkien fans may debate for time out of mind the merits of the films as well as whether or not Tolkien, who died in 1973 at the age of 81, would have liked them.

Michael White, author of a biography about Tolkien that was published this month, said of the Oxford professor, "He had a hatred of all things Hollywood and did not believe in the idea of imitation being the best form of flattery."

Christopher Tolkien, literary protector of his father's works, told newspapers earlier this month, "My own position is that 'The Lord of the Rings' is peculiarly unsuitable to transformation into visual dramatic form."

The debates over the films can join the one Tolkien endeavored to put to rest in his foreword to the Ring trilogy.

The author served in the trenches in World War I, and "The Lord of the Rings" was partially written during the years of the Second World War. Following the first printing, some writers and fans theorized that the mythic battle between good and evil for a world known as Middle-earth was inspired by events leading up to and including World War II.

"It is neither allegorical nor topical," Tolkien wrote. "The crucial chapter, 'The Shadow of the Past,' is one of the oldest parts of the tale.

"It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels."

Tolkien introduced the world to Bilbo Baggins and his fellow Middle-earth residents -- dwarves, elves, wizards, hobbits, trolls, orcs and dragons -- in his 1937 children's book, "The Hobbit." He followed with "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy in 1954. In both, he created a world with its own language, genealogy, history and geography. Few, if any, fantasy writers since have not been affected by his work.

"I don't think there's a single writer in the field of fantasy who doesn't own something to Tolkien," Terry Brooks, author of the "Shannara" series, told the Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela.

Those who don't like fantasy have difficulty understanding the passion fans bring to the discussion of all things Tolkien. Author Peter S. Beagle in his article, "Tolkien's Magic Ring," described the enthusiasm of fans, thusly, "'The Lord of the Rings' and its prologue, 'The Hobbit,' belong, in my experience to a small group of books and poems and songs that I have truly shared with other people.

"The strangest strangers turn out to know it, and we talk about Gandalf and mad Gollum and the bridge of Khazad-dum while the party or the classroom or the train rattles along unheard.

"Old friends rediscover it, as I do -- to browse through any book of the Ring trilogy is to get hooked once more into the whole legend -- and we talk of it at once as though we had just read it for the first time, and as though we were remembering something that had happened to us together long ago. Something of ourselves has gone into reading it, and so it belongs to us."

He credited Tolkien's success to his talent as a writer and the integrity he brought to his story telling.

"Tolkien believes in his world, and in all those who inhabit it," Beagle said. "This is, of course, no guarantee of greatness -- if Tolkien weren't a fine writer, it could not make him one -- but it is something without which there is no greatness, in art or in anything else."


Editor's Note: Peter S. Beagle's article was first printed in Holiday Magazine in 1965 and reprinted in "The Tolkien Reader." Other comments in this article are from the Ring trilogy, from the official Web site for "The Lord of the Rings" film, from other Web sources and from stories by The Associated Press.
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