Tag Archives: The Lord of the Rings

Green thoughts

Back when his friend J.R.R. Tolkien was grumping about the way people were reading all kinds of allegorical meanings into The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis offered both sides a way out by drawing the distinction between allegory, which presumes to read an author’s intentions, and applicability, which is what the reader himself brings to his reading of an author’s work.

I wonder what Lewis– or, for that matter, Tolkien — would have had to say about the way the Iranian government is trying to keep people off the streets by broadcasting, among other things, a marathon of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, or the way people are subverting the government’s intentions by reading all kinds of unflattering meanings into the characters and situations.

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Friday finds


Richard Mosse has an online portfolio of photographs taken at Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Iraq. The huge stone heads of Saddam shown above once glowered from the roof of the Republican Guard palace. 

Elmore Leonard on dialogue, literary genres, and ten tips for writing. Marcela Valdes on the new biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Elise Valmorbida on books about migrants and migration. Paul Muldoon on poetry past and present.

“Casey may be a Renaissance man, but in the 1970s he demonstrated an unsung talent for making children nearly soil themselves out of terror. For that, to some of us, he’ll always be truly medieval.”

Iggy Pop . . . Michel Houellebecq . . . Cafe Carlisle? Huh?

Beautiful, striking Japanese magazine covers from the early 20th century.

The late David Carradine once tried to get Ralph Bakshi to drop the idea of an animated version of The Lord of the Rings and go with a live-action epic, with Grasshopper as Aragorn. True story

“I played the tape of Tony Bennett and I with Count Basie in 1983, when I looked like some kind of animal caught in the headlights. I don’t even know what I was doing there, trying to sing ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).’ I couldn’t have swung if you put a rope around my neck at that time.”

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Ian, William, and Richard (and Gandalf)

Watching Ian McKellen play King Lear a few nights ago reminded me of how much I liked his take on Richard III, released in 1995. It may be heresy, but I much prefer it to the Laurence Olivier adaptation, even if the text has been cut pretty drastically. The setting is still England, but an alternate-history fascist version in the 1930s. So, no, this is not a straight version of the play. If that’s what you want, there are other places to look. With a production like this, you either stamp your foot and complain about gimmicks and cultural vandalism, or you assume you’re watching the work of intelligent artists —  McKellen himself co-wrote the screenplay — and pay close attention. This Richard III warrants it.

 The prologue, devoid of dialogue, takes the events from the conclusion of Henry VI, Part 3 — the direct predecessor to Richard III — and shows Richard leading the Yorkist assault that destroys the Lancastrians, ends the War of the Roses, and puts King Edward IV, Richard’s brother, on the throne.    

I particularly like the way the film sets up the “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech, and McKellen’s delivery. It starts about five minutes in, once the credits are done.

By the way, nothing is wasted in this title sequence. Not only do we get glimpses of all the major characters, but the song — Christopher Marlowe’s contemporaneous poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” redone as a swing tune — ironically foreshadows Richard’s later words of seduction to the Lady Anne, whose husband and father he has just killed.

When Richard rises to speak, he is full of praise for Edward:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visag’d war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front,
And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries . . .

Here is where Richard’s tone curdles from fawning praise to acid contempt. In traditional stagings of the play, this entire speech has been delivered straight to the audience — we as viewers are made Richard’s co-conspirators right from the start. The film, however, begins as highly stylized realism, with Richard delivering the first lines directly to the triumphant Yorks. How will the film manage the transition?

By jumping to a men’s room, of course. Richard now literally pisses on the good fellowship and merriment taking place around him: 

He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I — that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass —
I-that am rudely stamp’d,
and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph —
I — that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them —
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.

McKellen does something quite bold here by injecting some famous lines Richard himself delivered in Henry VI, Part 3. It’s in Act 3, scene two:

Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,
And cry ‘Content’ to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.

And then, Richard catches our eye — the audience’s collective eye — in the men’s room mirror. From this moment on, we become complicit in Richard’s plans. McKellen then returns to the original text:

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid,
inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams
To set my brother Clarence and the King
In deadly hate the one against the other;
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up —
About a prophecy which says that G
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul. Here Clarence comes.

Now watch the film’s conclusion at the Battle of Bosworth Field, with forces led by Henry, Earl of Richmond, coming to depose Richard. (Fans of The Wire take note that Richmond is played by Jimmy McNulty himself, Dominic West.) Richard’s last words are actually taken from his speech to the troops just before the battle:

Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law!
March on, join bravely, let us to it pell-mell,
If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell. 

What a wonderfully cynical ending. Richard cheats Richmond of the chance to kill him. As he topples off the roof, Richmond — who hesitated with Richard in his sights — fires a couple of ineffectual shots and then, like Richard, locks eyes with the audience just as Richard did at the beginning. I guess that tells us everything we need to know about how this new ruler will turn out. And what a sendoff for Richard, eh? Straight to hell, a taunting smile on his face right up to the end. What a cur, what a swine — outstanding!

A few years after Richard III came out, McKellen went from murderer to maia in another big movie role that involved a spectacular, fiery fall:

“Hand in hand to hell” indeed. To paraphrase a rather Shakespearean line from a completely different film, that’s falling with style!

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Gollum’s parenting tips

The Lord of the Rings has been called a lot of things, but I don’t know if it’s ever been cited as a parenting guide. Particularly not anything in the story involving Gollum. So this may be a first, if I do say so myself.

At home, both The Divine Miss T and Dances With Mermaids are serious Webkinz fiends. (For those not in the know, Webkinz are little stuffed animals that come with a login code. This allows you to sign onto the Webkinz site and take care of an Internet version of the stuffed animal you just bought.) The girls also have birthdays that fall only about a month and a half apart.

So things were a little slow yesterday, and The Divine Miss T remembered her gift certificate from the local toy store, which also happens to sell Webkinz. As it turned out, the Webkinz toys had been marked down, so The Divine Miss T strutted out of the store with three little plushies instead of the expected two.

Back home, when the toys tumbled out of the bag, Dances With Mermaids’ eyes became very wide and greedy. Though she has something like ten of the things in her room — or in the back yard, where the Westies like to take them when nobody’s looking — she instantly unleashed a Panzer batallion of legalistic arguments for why The Divine Miss T should give her one of the Webkinz as an early birthday present. 

Kid sister dug in her heels, and the arguments became more and more strident. In fact, it was beginning to sound a little too much like the flashback at the beginning of The Return of the King. I was listening from the other room, so I called out in my best Smeagol impersonation: “It’s my birthday! And I wants it!”

After a long pause, Dances With Mermaids (who has watched all three movies with me a few times) called back: “Daaaaaa-dy, stop it.” But the argument ended. Not even the most tyrannical of big sisters wants to think of herself acting like Gollum.

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Foreclosing on the Shire

Even hobbits have to keep up the payments on their bank loans.

I’m not sure the idea of a Tolkien-themed housing development would have flown even when the real estate market was at peak froth. I mean . . . thatched roofs in Oregon? Doesn’t sound all that practical to me.

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