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Lord Of The Rings

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Postby David Whyld » Sun Oct 29, 2006 10:27 am

Greatest novel of the 20th century or overrated fantasy yarn/yawn?

Someone at work recently bought the movie box set and was going on at length about how LOTR is the greatest work of fiction ever written. I remember reading it myself years ago but it took me four or five attempts to get through it because there were parts of it (lots of parts actually) that just bored the living daylights out of me. I finished it in the end and while it picked up a bit later on - Gandalf's fight with the Balrog and the fellowship fleeing through the dwarven kingdom was pretty thrilling - I couldn't help but wonder what all the fuss was about. Sure, it was nicely written and had a few memorable scenes in it, but I've read a lot better fantasy novels over the years that have never had anything like the same kind of impact that this one did. Why has this become the defining work of fantasy of the 20th century when so many better examples exist?

Part of me wonders if Harry Potter won't be the new LOTR, i.e. in fifty years time it will have achieved a kind of mythical status as A Really Good Book 'Cos It Sold Lots 'N' Lots but most people around at the time will be scratching their heads and wondering just what all the fuss was about.
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Postby ralphmerridew » Sun Oct 29, 2006 12:11 pm

Part of the reason for its prominence is that it came early and influenced a large number of people; of the books you prefer, how many were written well after LOTR?
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Postby Ren » Sun Oct 29, 2006 12:48 pm

ralphmerridew wrote:Part of the reason for its prominence is that it came early and influenced a large number of people; of the books you prefer, how many were written well after LOTR?

Precisely. You have to remember that Tolkien invented Orcs and (for all intents and purposes) Elves. What he was doing hadn't really been done before.

LOTR does drag on (whyohwhy won't Tom Bombadil stop singing?), but I think that's ultimately because it was written a long while ago, and because it came first.
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Postby J. J. Guest » Mon Oct 30, 2006 10:17 am

I quite enjoyed LOTR when I was a kid, but The Hobbit was somehow more memorable. My favourite character in both books, and in the films, was Gollum. I did find some of the other characters quite dull, and can remember finding Boromir and Aragorn fairly interchangeable - I could never remember which was which and cared about them not one jot. The elves were also a dull and po-faced lot, but I liked the hobbits, Gandalf and that aggressive dwarf. As an adult I much prefer Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Trilogy, which originated around the same time.
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Postby MileStyle » Mon Oct 30, 2006 12:10 pm

Absolute tripe, as far as I'm concerned. I tried reading it two years ago and got all the way through The Fellowship Of The Ring to the penultimate chapter and just wondered why I was wasting my time. So I put it aside.

I wasn't too hot for Tolkien's prose, which wasn't particularly striking. His erudition as regards linguistics was what I noted, and I would tender that he was a better linguist than a writer.

I found all the poems and songs to be irrelevent. I understand that they served to enhance the world of Middle-Earth but the novel wasn't about the place, it was a plot-driven piece. The plot dragged when Tolkien wanted to show off his world. The songs and stuff may be more enjoyable to a younger readership. Twee, to me.

Gollum is a great character though. I remember him well from The Hobbit, many years later. And Tom Bombadil is one the worst characters I've ever read about. Appearing from nowhere to save them from barrow wights and then vanishing out of the story completely. (He may have come back later, I don't know. I don't care.)
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Postby Ren » Mon Oct 30, 2006 12:49 pm

MileStyle wrote:The songs and stuff may be more enjoyable to a younger readership. Twee, to me.

I was 9 when I read LOTR and, I assure you, Tom Bombadil was still godawful.
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Postby revgiblet » Mon Oct 30, 2006 3:58 pm

It's highly strange. In parts LOTR is just plain boring. It never caught my imagination the same way that, for example, the DragonLance books did - and yet I would probably still class LOTR as my favourite book ever. Now why is that?
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Postby J. J. Guest » Mon Oct 30, 2006 4:28 pm

revgiblet wrote:It's highly strange. In parts LOTR is just plain boring. It never caught my imagination the same way that, for example, the DragonLance books did - and yet I would probably still class LOTR as my favourite book ever. Now why is that?

I think it might just be a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
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Postby David Whyld » Mon Oct 30, 2006 6:48 pm

Ah, Tom Bombadull. Was he the weird guy who kept bursting into nonsense songs like "Hey, nonny-lo! Hey, nonny-ho!"? I seem to remember him as the weakest link in a really irritating part of a novel that I didn't like much overall. Bored Of The Rings (a jokey computer game of the book) parodied him as a permanently high druggie. A very realistic and telling parody it was as well.

I remember I approached LOTR expecting it to be a masterpiece. I knew of its reputation and I'd read The Hobbit, which I did regard as a masterpiece, yet LOTR just bored me from the start. It took an age to get going and just didn't make a whole lot of sense. What - the ring Bilbo found in the Misty Mountains just so happens to be the One Ring that the Dark Lord Sauron lost many hundreds of years before and which the fate of the entire world depends upon? And despite the fact that Sauron has managed without this ring for hundreds of years, destroying it will kill him and all his armies? Yeah, right. Even as a naive teenager, I can recall thinking that was a wildly unlikely bit of storytelling just to give Tolkein another excuse to include some more damn hobbits in a novel.

I didn't even like most of the characters in the book. Gandalf was fine, as was Gimli (even though no vicious dwarf fighter should be called Gimli), but Legolas seemed so camp that they ought to have given a pink ribbon and been done with it. The hobbits were annoying. Aragorn was forever going on at length about stuff I didn't care less about. Boromir was halfway interesting, but they killed him off just when he was in real danger of becoming really interesting.

All in all, I can't say I really cared for the books at all.

The films, however, I'm quite a fan of and even have them on DVD. I wouldn't say they're as good as the critics have made them out to be, and Orlando Bloom as Leg 'O' Lamb was even camper than he was in the books, but overall I liked the films. Christopher Lee was a far more impressive Saruman than the one in the books and Ian McKellan was great as Gandalf. Still didn't like any of the hobbits, and even though I knew they didn't die, I kept hoping that maybe, just maybe the director had decided to rewrite it so Merry and Pippin could perhaps meet an unfortunate end. Alas not. If not for the dire half an hour of sheer tedium tacked onto the end of the third film - apparently they cut Christopher Lee out of the third film yet left in this pile of boredom - I'd have given the films a big thumbs up all the way.

But the books...? Oh dear...
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Postby J. J. Guest » Mon Oct 30, 2006 10:50 pm

Strangely enough, there was an interview with Peter Jackson in a newspaper recently (I forget which) in which he discloses that one of the executive producers of the films had insisted he kill a hobbit, saying Jackson could "choose which one". Eventually Jackson persuaded the guy that he should stick closely to the source material or else alienate the fans. It does seem unlikely that all four of the little critters survived the adventure, though what I'd like to know is how the one with the drug habit ended up stranded on that desert island...
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Postby CrystalMyst » Mon Oct 30, 2006 11:01 pm

My daddy read a chapter The Hobbit to me every night when I was maybe 8, so it has a place in my heart.

I always liked the first chapter of The Fellowship of The Rings, but when I try to get past anything else, I usually enter a coma.

I never did understand the big deal, and I do have a long attention span. I guess it's because I don't really like fantasy things like dragons and elves.
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Postby David Whyld » Mon Oct 30, 2006 11:05 pm

I, on the other hand, do love fantasy with dragons and elves. (Well, dragons certainly but I could do without the elves and their whimsical ways.) But I never warmed to LOTR in the same way I did to, say, Terry Brooks' Shannara series or Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar series. And it certainly couldn't hold a candle to The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant or A Song Of Ice & Fire (the latter being the best of today's fantasy series).

I'd love to know why LOTR went on to be regarded as such a masterpiece when other, far better novels no one even remembers these days.




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Postby Kaos » Tue Oct 31, 2006 2:54 am

David Whyld wrote:Ah, Tom Bombadull. Was he the weird guy who kept bursting into nonsense songs like "Hey, nonny-lo! Hey, nonny-ho!"? I seem to remember him as the weakest link in a really irritating part of a novel that I didn't like much overall. Bored Of The Rings (a jokey computer game of the book) parodied him as a permanently high druggie. A very realistic and telling parody it was as well.

"Bored of the Rings" was origianlly a parody novel published by the Harvard Lampoon in the early seventies...
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Postby Chenshaw » Tue Oct 31, 2006 8:25 am

I came to LOTR with no preconceptions whatsoever. A friend read the part in the Hobbit where he has a riddle duel with Gollum, and I liked it, so I bought the Hobbit, and was just simply hooked. I was a uni student with abosolutely no money, so I couldnt' afford to buy the first book (from the single expensive bookshop in the town I lived in) so had to wait for the long list of people who had checked it out of the library before I could continue. That really whetted my appetite. I did splash out on the second one, then another long wait for the final book to be available at the library. I still don't actually own the entire series, as I very rarely read anything more than once. I loved the setting and the plot, but the characters were less interesting to me. The films I thought were good, but I prefered the books. The elves were much better in the films - and hey - leave Legolas alone! He was beautiful...
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Postby ralphmerridew » Fri Nov 03, 2006 7:01 pm

I had assumed that S. Morgenstern was meant a parody of Herman Melville; it makes sense that he could have been based on Tolkein.
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