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RTC's Pocket Guide To The Lord Of The Rings

By Shorty LaBrea

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness to bind them

We here at Right Turn Clyde fully realize that we tend to be rather harsh on Hollywood films. We thought it might be nice to take a break from our usual caustic diatribes and spend a little time foaming at the mouth over a series of movies that we are really excited to see.

In 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien, a professor of English Language at Oxford, published The Hobbit and the world was introduced to the mystical land of Middle-Earth. Over the next twenty years he wrote his seminal work, the fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings in three books, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.

Over the course of the last few years, Peter Jackson, the director who brought you the gore-fest classic Dead-Alive and the critically acclaimed Heavenly Creatures, has been hard at work developing a film adaptation in roughly the same trilogy format as the novels. He started shooting The Fellowship of the Ring on October 11 in his New Zealand homeland. One of the rather unique aspects of this series of films is the fact that they are being shot consecutively in an eighteen-month production schedule for release at Christmas 2000, Summer 2001 for the second, and Christmas 2001 for the final.

There is plenty of information available on the Internet, in the trades and various entertainment publications about the advanced technical achievements use to bring this story to the silver screen. What most of these articles lack is information about the story itself. Obviously the best thing for any interested party to do is to pop on down to the local bookstore or library and actually read the books, but we understand that many of you probably suffer from various degrees of ADD. (Why else would you be reading this zine?) So in an attempt to help our "special" readers, we've put together a brief "Cliff Note" version of the background to The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien imagined Middle-Earth to be roughly equivalent to Northern Europe. The events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place late in the Third Age of Middle-Earth, about 7000 years ago. The Ages of Middle-Earth last anywhere from 3000 to 4000 years in length and typically end with a radical change in political power and/or geography.

The world of Middle-Earth is populated with many fantastic creatures that only exist now in our legends and fairy tales. Hobbits look like miniature people typically only being around 3 feet tall with hairy feet and tough leathery soles so the never wear shoes. They are usually farmers or millers or hold other "country" trades and live in nice homes dug into the sides of hills. Dwarves are slightly taller, about 4 feet tall, but bearded and very stocky. They often work as metal-smiths, jewelers or stone-cutters and live in expansive underground cities carved under mountains. Elves are the ancient woodland guardians of Middle-Earth, usually living for thousands of years. They are roughly the same size as men but much fairer and with pointed ears. There are also all manner of nasty creatures like wolves, dragons, orcs (goblins), and trolls.

Like all good mythologies, the basis of Middle-Earth is the ultimate struggle between Good and Evil. Sauron is the embodiment of this evil. He and his minions have existed since the beginning in many different forms with the goal of world domination. During the Second Age, Sauron made the Rings of Power. Pretending to be for the good of all, he gave these out to men, elves and dwarves. Unbeknownst to these unfortunate individuals, Sauron also made the One Ring for himself with which he could enslave the other races of Middle-Earth. This lead to an apocalyptic battle that ended the Second Age when the One Ring was cut from Sauron's hand by the mighty warrior, Isildur, after which Sauron went into hiding. Unfortunately Isildur was possessed by the evil of the Ring and decided to keep it for himself instead of destroying it. One of the powers of the Ring is to impart invisibility on to the wearer, which lead to the demise of Isildur. While trying to slip away from an orc ambush, the treacherous Ring slipped from his finger and was lost in a river. Isildur was discovered by the orcs and killed.

The Hobbit takes place almost 3000 years later during a period of decline and isolationism in Middle-Earth. The magnificent kingdoms of the past have all but disappeared with most of the races retreating into their own territories and distrusting the others. Bilbo Baggins, a typical hobbit living a quiet life, is swept up into an adventure with thirteen dwarves and the wizard Gandalf. The object of the quest is to steal back the dwarves' treasure from a dragon that has taken over their mountain kingdom. Along the way, in the darkest caverns of Goblin Kingdom in the Misty Mountains, Bilbo comes across the vile creature Gollum who sometime in the past discovered the One Ring. Bilbo wins (steals) the Ring from Gollum in a riddle contest.

Some seventy years later, Frodo and his hobbit friends also set out from their quiet lives in the Shire, the hobbit homeland, in the series of adventures that are told in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo inherited everything including the One Ring from Bilbo before Bilbo went to live with the Elves. Gandalf the wizard had stayed in touch with Bilbo and Frodo over the years suspecting that the magic ring that Bilbo had found was the ancient evil One Ring. Sauron who had been in hiding, growing his powers, returns to his evil land of Mordor. After hearing rumors that his Ring had been found he sends his Black Riders, possessors of the Nine Rings of Men, to find the Ring and return it to him. When the Black Riders enter the Shire, Frodo and his friends flee for Rivendell, the home of Elrond the wise elf and where Bilbo has taken residence. There they meet up with Gandalf and many representatives of the various races who decide that the only way to finally defeat Sauron is to take the One Ring into Mordor and destroy it in the volcano in which it was forged.

The story is far too involved to fully recounted here not to mention the fact that there might be some people who don't know it and want to surprised by the movie. For those of you who cannot possibly wait an entire year for the first of the films should really think about picking up the novels. Read them again if it has been a few years. I did for the preparation of this piece, and all I can say is that I for one am VERY anxious to see Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien's vision brought to the screen.

The Best Completely Unsubstantiated Rumor

It is not at all hard to believe that for years Disney has drooled over the idea of getting their grubby little rodent paws on the rights to Tolkien's work so that they can turn it into a shiny-happy Disney-fied cartoon complete with hobbits as cute as buttons, and a soundtrack full of positive, life-affirming and non-threatening Elton John / Phil Collins songs. This is of course one hundred percent conjecture on my part.

Here's the unsubstantiated rumor part: Supposedly Mr. Tolkien stated in his last will and testament that in no way was Disney EVER to be allowed to get their grubby little rodent paws on his Middle-Earth saga.

A brief note from the author: I'm going to bet that J.R.R. Tolkien never actually used the words "grubby little rodent paws". Those words are mine but the ideas remain the same.


Need Help With The Intricacies Of Tolkien's World?

One of the most daunting tasks when trying to tackle the Lord Of The Rings is keeping all the characters and places straight. Here's a couple of suggestions for both the confused wanderer and the knowledge-thirty adventurer.

The Complete Guide To Middle-Earth: From The Hobbit To The Silmarillion
By J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Foster

This excellent resource is a mini-encyclopedia of every name, place and thing in all of Middle-Earth. Keep it next to you whenever you need a quick reference.

The Atlas Of Middle-Earth
By Karen Wunn Fonstad

This book is simply amazing. Fonstad is an actual cartographer and shows the depth of her skills by recreating maps and diagrams for Middle-Earth in its first Three Ages with special attention paid to the travels of the various adventurers in both the Hobbit and the Lord Of The Rings. If you are like me, half the fun of the story is continually flipping back to Tolkien's maps at the beginning of his books, trying to trace their path.


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