Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien is a Pre-Raphaelite; Cate Blanchette as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings trilogy

I don't get it.

Some of the people I most respect, admire and am proud to call my friends just adore Lord of the Rings.

It's sort of a quasi-religious text in some circles, particularly in software engineering where in a group of 10 programmers, at least seven will have read it. Of that seven one or two will be true experts, able to recall passages and scenes in almost photographic detail. It's sort of a common cultural language amongst men who often care little for culture.

Tolkien's influence is massive; single handedly and unwittingly he launched an entire genre - called 'Fantasy' in most bookshops - that features hundreds of writers assembling brick-like volumes about elves, wizards, dwarves, dragons, swords, orcs and associated bollox. I've read a few of these books, mainly shorter ones and all because friends and relatives have insisted I do. Back in the 80s I shared a house with someone who chain read Micheal Moorcock. Later my first brother in law (a software engineer - hah!) insisted I read some book or other by David Gemmel.

As for THE WORK itself, no way.

I read a few pages at school, and a few more at university - more than enough to realise it wasn't for me. Decades later, the films were released - big news in the software community. I didn't see them at the cinema, but a while back they were broadcast in order on consecutive nights or weeks and I sat through them all, sometimes while on the phone with the sound down.

Tonight, the first one which is called The Fellowship of the Ring is on again on ITV1.

Watching it again, its easy to be reminded that all three films are well made and visually stunning, at least in parts. Tolkien's World War 1 experience of mass slaughter in huge impersonal battles is brought to vivid errrr... can we call it life? Scenes (distressingly few scenes alas) that don't feature those irritatingly cute and bumbling and 'lovable' hobbits are generally excellent. Sir Ian McKellan is outstanding playing the kind of role Sir Alec Guiness made his own in the Star Wars films.

And yet... I still don't get it.

There's something very unimaginative about the pseudo medevial set-up, somewhat reminiscent of the whole Victorian Gothic thing. In fact, that might be a way to approach these interminable, technically excellent and ultimately kitsch films - a sort of animated pre-Raphaelite world. The set designers and costume people seem to agree; the achingly lovely Cate Blanchette is straight out of a Rosetti painting, as are the carefully chosen romantic landscapes and elaborate castles. But Pre Raphaelite art is ultimately just over the top pseudo-historic kitsch and often unitentionally hillarious with brave gallant androgynous knights and swooning ladies.

Last thought.

In the United States the works of Aryan Rant seem to occupy the same position and readership as Tolkien does here. I say disturbingly because whereas Tolkien's Edwardian romanticism is essentially harmless, Rant was a genuinely nasty pseudo-philosopher pushing a kind of free-market fascism with narcissistic psychopaths as the heroes.

But I'll write about her another day...



Blogger Karen said...

I don't get it either. But I'd love to go to New Zealand!


3:31 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

I wouldn't; nothing on earth is worth that many hours on a plane!

11:21 AM  

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