Lord of the Rings

A touch of nostalgia


lord of the rings weapons and warfare

When I was about twelve, I had a serious thing for The Lord of the Rings. It was, to be fair, exactly the right time to do so; Peter Jackson’s film adaptations were rumbling to a conclusion, and the world was basically saturated with Tolkeinalia.

One of my most prized possessions at this time was a copy of “Lord of the Rings: Weapons and Warfare” by Chris Smith. It sadly fell apart — as, actually, many of my books did… — on a Cub Scout camp with a Lord of the Rings theme, a few years back.

Last weekend I decided to track down for myself a new copy, and midweek, as lunchtime was approaching at the office, I had a delivery.

Read on…

Hersey of the Week – Aragorn has more character in film than book


aragorn shards of narsil

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

For all the shouting that books are better than their film adaptations (and it usually is true) it is not universal. Sometimes films, or even parts, are better than the books they draw on — in particular, the character of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings films.

Read on…

Heresy of the Week – Not everything needs to be filmed


dragonriders of pern

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

There is, with high profile and successful book properties, always a rush or a drive for that property to be adapted for screen — whether for TV or cinema. Alongside the film industry’s ongoing originality drought, books are proving the go-to option for film companies. But not everything is filmable, and not everything should be filmed.

Read on…

Boys and their toys


york armoury

So after the rest and relaxation of a week in York (and the consequent destruction of said rest by the nightmare that is the British rail network), I am left to reflect on a holiday in one of my favourite cities in the UK.

It has been a long time since I was last there, not since I was ten or thereabouts, and so my memories are nostalgia-tinged at the same time as being a little hazy through the mists of time.

We did the usual things, touring the Shambles, Jorvik Viking Centre, the York Dungeons, and so on. But it wasn’t any of those which particularly struck me, but rather the shop above, the York Armoury.

Read on…

Heresy of the Week: Is your film too long?


peter jackson

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

The perception of cinema-goers is that films are getting longer. Over the last few decades, blockbusters in excess of two hours have topped box-office rankings, and it seems an expectation has grown up that if a film isn’t long, it isn’t good value.

Read on…

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A Review


the hobbit an unexpected journey

After taking so long to actually get around to seeing The Hobbit, I did harbour a fear that I would have built it up to such proportions that the actual film would be a disappointment when I finally did see it. Reading reviews — rarely a smart move — didn’t help either. The criticisms were manifold, ranging from it being too long, Martin Freeman being annoying, all the way to some problem with the frame rate it was filmed at.

Happily, I can report that such criticisms were unfounded. The Hobbit was a triumph which made me nostalgic for both the childhood evenings when my Dad used to read the book to me, and when (as a slightly older child) I looked forward to a new instalment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy each December.

The plot will be familiar to anyone who has read the book, but it features the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (uncle of the main hobbit in LOTR) as he joins a company of dwarves trying to retake their subterranean home from a dragon. Hijinks ensue, including the formative moment setting up the initial film trilogy involving a CGI-ed Andy Serkiss and a piece of gold jewellery.

If you’re hoping to see a dragon here, you’ll be disappointed — that won’t be until the second instalment (in the meantime, might I suggest the third season of Game of Thrones for your fire-breathing winged reptile needs?). No, here we get goblins and orcs. And some elves.

One of the things which I, and many others, have been a little apprehensive about is the stretching of a book a fraction of the size of LOTR into a comparably lengthy three-film epic. Having watched An Unexpected Journey, those fears are largely allayed. Clearly the extra material is going to come from some of the mentioned-but-not-seen events of the book — some which I am very keen to see (the Necromancer at Dol Guldor, anyone). Tolkein’s mythology is rich and beautiful, so seeing more of it being dragged kicking and screaming into the mainstream is excellent.

And the inclusion of some unexpected characters was a stroke of genius (but one I won’t spoil for anyone).

The frame rate I had no problem at all with, though we do need to have words about this 3D thing. This fad is getting out of hand. As a new gimmick it was interesting in the same sort of way as the Wii. But unlike Nintendo’s bastard gaming/shortcut to A&E hybrid, 3D hasn’t kept its annoying self out of my way. I shouldn’t have to chew off  my own arm (an exaggeration) to see it in 2D. It was worth it, mind (not an exaggeration), but it shouldn’t be that difficult.

So after seeing An Unexpected Journey I am thoroughly entertained and (though still slightly nervous about Benedict Cumberdragon) looking forward to the next instalment. Let’s hope you can deliver, Mr Jackson.

Not More F**king Elves!


Tolkien wrote "The Lord of the Rings". It was very good. Now write something of your own.

There is a story, the veracity of which I am unsure, about a group of writers at Oxford University called the “Inklings”, which featured J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis amongst its members. These literary giants would meet to discuss literature, and to read extracts of their current projects to each other. Legend has it that Hugo Dyson, during a reading from Tolkein’s seminal The Lord of the Rings, irrately declared “Oh God, not more f**king elves!

I have some sympathy with Dyson’s position.

Understand that I am a big fan of The Lord of the Rings (though it is far from a work without flaw), and I started off writing fantasy in my early-to-mid teens. But nowadays, I can hardly stand it, and actively shy away from anything under the label “fantasy”. I know it’s an illogical position, but it is not entirely without reason.

Today, on a writing-themed forum which I frequent, a new writer had started a thread asking for something along the lines of a reference book for fantasy races and religions “widely accepted” by known fantasy authors. I know that new authors are prone to misunderstanding, and Christ knows I probably did when I set out, but as I threw my hands up in despair it occurred to me that this is exactly what turns me off fantasy.

Particularly the case with high fantasy, there seems to me to be a real dearth of originality. The beautiful noble elves, immortal and above worldly troubles. Greedy, bearded dwarfs, who can’t stand elves. Goblins/orcs which are deformed things, really only animals to be slaughtered by the heroes. Elderly, bearded wizards, who play the (grand)fatherly role. And of course, some magical mcguffin which drives the plot along.

I had a little twitter outburst on sunday morning which was related to this. It was directed at a story in the Independent about Christopher Paolini’s latest novel. The tweet said:

Yes, it’s churlish (and misspelt- “excied” should be “excited”, typing on my Kindle can be a pain at times), but Paolini has always exemplified to me what’s wrong with fantasy. His books are manufactured, repackaged tropes. Having inspirations is fine, but when your writing looks like a patchwork of other peoples’ then you have problems. Eragon, his first book, was an unimaginative mix of Anne McCaffrey’s brilliant Dragonriders of Pern books, The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars.

The excuse always seems to be that he wrote it at 15, but I don’t buy it. For one thing, I was writing at 15, and I was determinedly trying to be original. Yes, what I wrote was almost certainly awful, but it was mine. Paolini cobbled together a novel of rip-offs which was only published because his parents owned a publishing house.

It’s ironic, because there’s so much potential for imaginative originality in fantasy as a genre. But so often it ends up pigeon-holed in ridiculous stereotypes, with orphaned farmboys grinding out the same miserable quests over and over. And there is life in fantasy. The work of Neil Gaiman, for example, is brilliant. Terry Pratchett uses humour to break the relentless grim seriousness of it. And HBO’s recent series Game of Thrones (adapted from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series) was excellent; it’s only concessions were dragons and a little bit of zombie-ness, and the only dwarf in it was beardless and far more interested in whoring than mining.

Lord of the Rings was, as a child, one of my favourite books. It still is. But the endless cavalcade of would be imitators has left me weary and jaded. Aspiring fantasy authors, heed Hugo Dyson’s advice: “Not more f**king elves!”