A move to Editors new, and the (very) late Hilary 2016 issue

HT16_Cover

The cover of the Hilary 2016 issue of Miruvor. Artwork by Martha Buckley.

Dear readers,

I must start this post with an apology. It has been over a year and a half since I last updated this blog, but that, my friends, heinous though it be, is not the worst of my crimes.  I compiled the Hilary 2016 issue of Miruvor, and it was printed, distributed, and ravenously devoured by the Society’s ranks of print readers more than a year ago. However, callous, neglectful, lazy Editor that I am, I managed not to give so much as a thought to you, our noble internet readers, not even mentioning that issue on this blog. My apologies. The Hilary 2016 issue may be downloaded as a PDF here. My successors as Editor may post the individual articles to this blog over the coming months; I know not.

In the interval since my last post I am proud to announce that the Back Issues page, through the sterling efforts of various Society members, has been completed! Every issue of Miruvor ever published is now available for download.

Two AGMs of the Society have been and gone since my last post. In 2016 I, fresh from the publication of the aforementioned HT16 issue, was once more elected Editor of this illustrious publication. My sole accomplishment for the Society in this last year was the calling-for of submissions for a Hilary 2017 issue; alas, the received content was too little, and the issue was postponed.

After the 2017 AGM a couple of months ago, I am now happy to be able to welcome my successors, Kristi and Tsvetana, to the illustrious position of Miruvor Editors! I am currently engaged in composing a set of handover instructions for them, and wish them well in all their endeavours, as Editors and otherwise.

Farewell, friends,

Amrit,

Outgoing Editor

The End…

And that’s it! Lynn‘s wonderful back cover art above closes the 25th Anniversary issue of Miruvor. We had some truly wonderful submissions, which successfully made the issue truly a memorable one.

Now, to look forward! I’ll continue blog-posting now and again; I have a few bits that didn’t quite make it into the issue for reasons of space. However our main task must be to look forward to the next print issue! I’m now officially accepting submissions for the Hilary 2016 issue, which I hope can be printed over the Christmas vacation to reach you at the start of term. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to be a member of the Society to contribute, and your subject need only be tangentially related to Tolkien. So get writing!

Your Editor,

Amrit Sidhu-Brar

(more of Lynn’s artwork is at http://ailinie.deviantart.com/)

Terry Pratchett – Obituary

Claire Wilkinson, previous Editor of Miruvor, closes off the Anniversary issue with a heartfelt remembrance of the master of fantasy of our lifetimes, Sir Terry Pratchett. At times, our Society can seem like the Oxford Tolkien and Pratchett Society, and with good reason, so it is appropriate that he be remembered in Miruvor. Our thanks to Claire.

There have been any number of obituaries and articles in memory of Terry Pratchett in the week since his death, and by the time this is printed I’m sure there will be many more. This is going to be one article among many, because there are so many people whom he and his writing have touched over the years, and I know I’m far from alone in finding him one of the most influential people in my life, despite the fact that I never met him.

I first discovered Discworld just before my first reading of the Lord of the Rings (my mother appears to have thought ‘comic fantasy’ meant ‘more suitable for children than LotR’, a notion I think she was disabused of around the point I asked her what ‘bugger’ meant), and both Pratchett and Tolkien were authors I latched onto hard and fast, their books taking on more or less the quality of religious texts. But where Tolkien gave me my mythology, Pratchett gave me my philosophy.

He wrote satire that cut straight to the truth of things as he understood them, humorous fantasy that homed in on serious ideas and dragged them out into the light. His stories were funny and engaging, and deeply, deeply moral without being moralistic. There are so many layers to every Pratchett novel – a story that’s easy to read, a swift fun (and funny) rollercoaster of a story, but they aren’t simple stories. Every time you come back to them there’s something new – a pun you didn’t catch, a reference you didn’t get last time. And the unexpected, sudden truths, ideas, the things that hit you with a sudden serious “Oh. Yes. That.”, the things that make you think about something in a way you’d never seen before, the moments of startling and unexpected clarity.

Pratchett is eminently quotable, both because he says things that are funny, and because he says things that are devastatingly, concisely, right – he had an amazing gift for cutting straight to the heart of an issue and dragging it out (still warm and beating) in a few well-chosen sentences.

Neil Gaiman wrote an excellent piece on Terry Pratchett’s anger and his sense of fairness, and how they fuelled his writing. Those come through clearly in his stories, and especially in those moments of sharp and devastating insight – look, for instance, at Sam Vimes and his ‘Boots’ Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness, or Granny Weatherwax’s diatribe to Mightily Oats on treating people as things. That latter, though, is also a prime demonstration of the other major facet of Pratchett’s philosophy, as it shone through in his work: caring. People are always people, always worth considering, always individuals. Sometimes that’s something that’s discussed directly by the characters, as by Granny there, or by Death in Reaper Man, for whom every strand of corn in the harvest is worthy of individual attention (because what can the harvest hope for, if not for the care of the reaper man?). Sometimes it’s in the way his stories will often focus on neglected character archetypes, flesh out what might otherwise be dismissed as figures in the background.

Pratchett always cared – about people, but not only about people, about everything. He wrote about, he referenced, he sent up everything under the sun: history, current affairs, classics, society, genre fiction, literature, folklore, religion – he writes like someone fascinated by everything. It’s why his books are such treasure-troves, why it’s possible to come back to them over and over again and find something new every time, grow up with them and have them feel as if they’re growing with you, because so many references, so many jokes, so many obscure tidbits, are packed in there. Very little was sacred to him, but everything seemed to be worth his time and attention.

He was angry, he was wise, he was witty and he was profoundly compassionate. And those things combined so, so powerfully well, so that he wrote about worlds where life was hard and unjust and people were cruel and stupid and wrong, but also where people were honest and loyal and brave, and tried their damnedest to do what was right and what was necessary (and those people were often the same people as the first lot), where things might be unfair and hard and messy and even perhaps ultimately meaningless, but there was always also beauty and hope and possibility there too. If not the possibility to fix things, to make things right, the possibility to go on afterwards.

And there was a good side to everything – we’re talking about a man managed to make Death one of his most beloved characters. And not by trivializing death, by downplaying it or by divorcing the anthropomorphic personification from the concept he personified, but by integrating them. Through the character of Death, as well as through the portrayal of death (with a small ‘d’) in his books, there is an understanding and acceptance of death as a part of the world – something that has taken on a great significance in relation to Terry Pratchett himself in the last few years, with his diagnosis and his activism around Alzheimer’s and assisted dying.

The first thing I did when I heard Pratchett had died (okay, the second thing, the first thing was to sit down at the kitchen table and cry) was to go out and buy a new copy of Reaper Man to reread. It felt like the natural thing to do, and the only way I could think of to wrap my head around what had just happened, to make it make sense.

Because that is the essence of what Terry Pratchett did for me, and not only for me. He gave me – and many other people – the words and the stories to understand the world, and to face the world. He knew the power stories have, the truths and the lies we tell ourselves and each other, and he wielded that power as a master.

Hymn to Manwë

Anahita Hoose, Treasurer 2013-14 & 2015-present, Miruvor Editor 2011-12, and Society Hero, praises the highest of the Valar.

Lord of Arda, lord of light,
Manwë sits on Everwhite
Till unforgiving darkness fall
Where the brightest shine of all
The silver-lucent fire-flowers
Sown in ancient dawning hours,
When youth was in his shining face,
Greatest, eldest of his race.
Lord of Arda, lord of light,
Manwë sits on Everwhite.

The Society Quotes Book

Your Editor contributes a selection of quotes from the Society’s last couple of years for your amusement.

Taruithorn is something of a stewing pot for utterances of the hilarious, whimsical or just plain odd kinds. In Michaelmas 2013, having become vaguely aware of the selection of amusing quotes from years gone by in our archived website and disappointed in the lack of any such repository for the current epoch of the Society, I instituted a Society Quotes Book. Recently I discovered while digging in the Archive that a similar item existed at some point in the Society’s history – although I was unable to track down the book itself. The present Quotes Book currently standing at eleven used pages, I include a selection of its more ridiculous offerings below:

  • Joe: “Is that Silmaril in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”
  • Eleanor: “Odysseus – just bad at reading maps?”
  • Caretaker [coming to lock up Community Centre after 2014 Banquet]: “I just saw a taxi leaving with a dragon in the back.”
  • Eleanor [during a particularly competitive game of Lord of the Rings Risk]: “Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo, bitches.”
  • Agata: “Elves make very good projectile weapons.”
  • Claire: “No! The Valar don’t give a sh*t if we believe in mammoths.”
  • Hebe: “The Quotes Book contains Amrit saying ‘That’s a very attractive orc.’ ”
  • Amrit: “I wasn’t talking about you!”
  • Amrit: “ ‘An Unexpected Journey’ does somewhat redeem itself by showing us dwarven underwear.”
  • Joe: “Sexy, sexy Maedhros”
  • Eleanor: “I never said that. Also, I was drunk when I said that.”
  • Amrit: “Those Orcs are very attractive.”
  • Katherine: “You just don’t like Legolas.”
  • Eleanor: “No, I just don’t like Legolas’s eyebrows.”
  • Eleanor: “The Battle of Four Armies and One Small But Strategically Placed Air Force”
  • Claire: “Children are not pieces of wood.”
  • Martha: “Amrit, you’re clearly a very camp Legolas.”
  • Eleanor: “You know when Morgoth was going around doing the BOOM DA BOOM DA BOOM thing in the Music of the Ainur.”
  • Joe: “I never pictured Boromir raising his eyebrows at me suggestively”
  • Joe: “The Sun is basically a replacement of a replacement of an illumination solution.”
  • Amrit: “Yes, whenever we have a serious speaker meeting a few of [the C.S. Lewis Society] usually turn up.”
  • Edmund Weiner (speaker): “Well, I’m glad to hear I’m not a serious speaker!”
  • Trial of Denethor, 5th Week Michaelmas 2013
  • Judge: “While it is abuse, it may not be child abuse.”
  • Éowyn: “And why not, in a country where people routinely live over a hundred years?.”
  • Pippin: “I was forced to sing while men died around me”
  • Prosecutor: “Very traumatic indeed”
  • Judge: “Especially for the dying men”
  • Prosecutor: “So how dind Denethor appear at the time?”
  • Judge: “Warm, perhaps?.”
  • Prosecutor:Before he was set on fire.”
  • Filming “Looking for the Hobbit”, -1st Week Hilary 2014
  • Director: “So now, Joseph, Hitler!”
  • Producer: “C’est toujours Amrit!”
  • Sound engineer: “Anahita, you battery is running down.”
  • Director: “Joseph, I like the way you turn your spoon.”
  • Waiter: “No dairy?… are you vegetarian as well… and you’re vegan? I’ll go get you Rick.”
  • Rick: “Where’s the vegan?”
  • Trial for the Scouring of the Shire, 4th Week Michaelmas 2014
  • “We sentence the Rangers to be placed on a small bit of Middle-Earth with Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and moved beyond the circles of the world for all eternity.”
  • “A fate worse than death.”

What has Taruithorn ever done for us?

Alex Norrish, President 1998-99 and Miruvor Editor 1997-8, as well as Society Maia, muses on our Society’s spirit.

My introduction to Tolkien came at the tender age of seven, when my parents were confronted with the horror of an 18 hour flight, and a Heathrow bookshop that had no children’s section. Fortunately for all concerned, a frantic hunt of the shelves unearthed a copy of The Hobbit. And that was that. When we landed in Brunei, while my parents were concerned with minor issues like starting a new life in South East Asia, my one and only question was where we could find an bookshop that would sell The Lord of the Rings.

For many years, however, reading Tolkien was a largely solitary pleasure. Middle Earth was my lifeline through seven unenjoyable years at boarding school; however grim an English boarding house might be in February, you could always take your mind away to Lórien, or Ithilien, or Rivendell. And even Shelob was better company than my violin teacher. But while I knew a few other people who had read Tolkien, I didn’t know anyone else who could recite The Ballad of Beren and Lúthien in its entirety, or was on their second set of the paperbacks because the first set had fallen apart through over-reading, or who got through the worst moments of Oxford entrance by thinking that in the end the Shadow was but a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.

The only person I knew of who shared my love of Tolkien was Anna Bowles – in the year above me, and therefore entirely out of bounds in the strict hierarchies of a girl’s boarding school. But both being Oxbridge candidates in English gave a tiny amount of latitude, so I think we managed to have about three conversations over the course of two years; and I knew that, when Anna duly went up to St John’s to read English a year ahead of me, she had become editor of the mysterious publication Miruvor.

And so in due course I pitched up at Freshers’ Fair in 1995, utterly terrified, holding on to Anna’s welcome-to-Oxford note and the knowledge that somehow, somewhere in this crowd of people there must be some kindred spirits.  But Taruithorn was in the last room of the whole Fair, and by that point I was starting to feel hunted: there are only so many student societies touting for your custom you can take. And then I came into the last hall, and amidst the whole terrifying confusion of OUSU, and OU, and OUDS, and the Oxford Tiddlywinks Society, I saw that someone had hung the banner of the Tree and the Stars.

And that was it. I met Anke and Ian and Matthew that day; and a few days later, a whole cluster of new members and Olden Folks who would become my closest friends at Oxford. Taruithorn went far beyond a mere literary society: it was a glorious group of people who taught me an enormous amount about how to have fun for the sake of it; how to put time and effort and creativity and delight into something which was completely mad and frivolous, but wonderful at the same time. Whether it was writing and recording superb parodies like The Song of the White Tree, or solemnly thinking up Dwarvish dishes for a five-course banquet, or spending hours on creating a fabulous Smaug costume just because you could – Taruithorn was the home of so much talent, and glorious eccentricity.

And it wasn’t just creativity. Along with the tolerance of other people’s eccentricities went an enormous amount of warmth and kindness. I will never forget Sunday evenings at 18 Howard Street, Anke and Ian’s place, where Anke had dressed the vacuum cleaner in a Vorlon costume and we spent months watching our way through Babylon 5, eating a different chocolate dessert between each episode. Or the stress-filled hours before various banquets, where the committee took it in turns to support each other through nervous breakdowns as the meringues refused to whisk; and then washing up afterwards in a haze of exhaustion and goodwill. Or Anna’s suggestion that we post a guard over the Fireworks Night bonfire to prevent people from widdling on the potatoes, which became an instant catchphrase: Sarah Mackie’s performance of Don’t Widdle On The Potatoes, to the tune of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, made it onto the Taruithorn CD and remains a classic of the genre.

Most of the other people I knew thought that Taruithorn was mad. Actually, now that I am an Olden Folk and spend my days with the kinds of people who focused their time at Oxford on becoming President of the Union, I would say that Taruithornians as a whole were outstandingly sane. So it is fantastic to see the society still going strong – congratulations to everyone who has kept the spirit of Taruithorn alive! Mae govannen!

Five-minute “fic recs”

Eleanor Simmons, Society Lembas Rep (as well as Secretary 2009-10 and Publicity Officer 2013-15, and Society Hero), gives us her evaluations of a collection of Tolkien fanfics.

I’ve recently been on a bit of a nostalgia trip, re-reading the Tolkien fanfic I immersed myself in through my teens. Some of it was even as good as I remembered. Below, a small round-up of some of the best. Or silliest.

 

The Last Elf Standing, by Suzene Campos

Link: http://tinyurl.com/lastelf

Category: Third Age, Humour; 2767 words

The increasingly vitriolic correspondence of Thranduil and Elrond through the Third Age. It is sad when two elves of noble standing and ancient lineage are reduced to desperately trying to troll one another – but it is also extremely funny.

 

King of Mirkwood,

          Though I had to scrub my eyeballs with lye to get rid of the images you planted in my brain, I want you to know that I bear you no ill will. To prove how high I hold you in my esteem, I have sent your son off on a very important mission.
To Mount Doom. With a Dwarf.

          Sleep well.

          Yours truly,

          Lord Elrond of Imladris

 

In Brethil’s Shade, by Philosopher at Large

                   Linkhttp://tinyurl.com/brethil

                   Category: Silmarillion/ Drama; 10857 words

The forging of the House of Haleth, and her infamous message to Thingol from the perspective of the one elf who runs through the Silmarillion doing his best to understand all the peoples he comes across. A lovely, nuanced look at cross-cultural negotiations – what I particularly like about this is the  depiction of a “primitive” culture from the perspective of a “civilised” one that manages to be both respectful and insightful. To say nothing of the gorgeous characterisation and character-voices of Haleth and Finrod Felagund.

“Behind and around her primitive high seat stand boys with axes, in armor of leather pieces stitched together – No, he corrects himself, only one is a boy, and he her kin: the rest young women, hair cropped as short as their chieftain’s, faces masklike and mysterious in the fire-circle’s cast light. Yet even after all these meetings and the report of her scattered folk throughout his dominion – and of his own sense – he still finds it strange to think of this girl-guard, though they do not seem to think it so. Their language is not fully clear to him yet, and he is not sure if they simply do not make the distinction, or if the usage is deliberate, but he believes they call her ‘sir’ and whether it be as strange to their ways as to his own, it is not done in irony.

 

 

A Game of Chess, by Altariel

Link: http://tinyurl.com/faramir-eowyn-chess

Category: Fourth Age, Romance/Angst; 77000 words

A really excellent ‘what happened next’. This is essentially a romance novel, following Eowyn and Faramir’s developing relationship after their marriage, as they deal with  past trauma, culture shock and misunderstandings, and learn to live with each other as partners. It’s told in alternating first-person chapters, which remain believable and consistent of voice

Light and frothy, it ain’t – Eowyn and Faramir have serious, almost relationship-ending disagreements and personal struggles to work through, and they spend much of the ‘novel’ doing their best but completely unable to understand the other’s point of view. They  work hard to earn their eventual happy ending – and the story is all the more rewarding for it.

For, despite all the time he had spent in Edoras, and for all his otherwise great gift with speech, he still failed to speak my language like one born to it. […]  For he spoke it like the scholar that he was. His diction was more perfect even than my brother the king’s. But it was not a language to learn through books; it was a language to be lived and spoken and sung. And although he had improved greatly, he would always, I deemed, sound to anyone in the Mark like a man of Gondor speaking a little too precisely a tongue that was very much not his own. And this irked him greatly, partly on my account, and partly because it was the only language he had ever studied in which he had not achieved mastery; and, most modest of men he might be, I think this did offend his pride a little.

 

The Care and Feeding of Hobbits, by Baylor

Link: http://tinyurl.com/careofhobbits

Category: Third Age, Humour/Friendship; 20000 words

This one is simply very sweet – while the Fellowship are first travelling together and beginning to become friends, Boromir attempts  to understand the ways of Hobbits. This fic is essentially an excuse to see the Fellowship interacting with each other a lot, with lots of hobbit banter and people looking after one another and generally being cute. Boromir works particularly well as a point-of-view character, and it is very heartwarming to see his relationship with the hobbits develop.

 

“So Frodo is a Baggins from Balbo?” Gimli asks, and Merry gives him a look that borders on exasperation.
“Frodo is a Baggins from his father, Drogo, one of Balbo’s great-great-grandsons, but more importantly, he is a Brandybuck from his mother, Primula, one of Gorbadoc’s daughters and sister to Old Rory, my paternal grandfather,” he says in a rather affronted voice. “But heredity being as it is, you are right, Legolas, that Frodo ended up looking like a Took.”
“What is this?” Frodo demands, swinging down from one of the tree’s lower branches. “Are you slandering my family tree again, Merry?”
“I am doing nothing but raising you in the esteem of our companions by pointing out to them your Brandybuck line,” Merry answers, “and it is not my fault you came out looking and behaving like a Took instead of a proper Brandybuck, who would never be caught running along tree branches like a squirrel. And at your age, too.”

Evidence, by Camwyn.

Link: http://tinyurl.com/vimes-evidence

Category: Silmarillion/Discworld crossover, drama/humour,

6000 words.

When you have a notorious criminal on your hands – and specifically, a god of evil attempting to destroy the world – who better to call in than a very good policeman? Particularly, when there remains some dispute about the gemstones that set off the whole mess… Normally I’m not fond of crossovers blend such different writing styles, but here the mental image of Vimes trying to get to grips with Noldor logic is just too good to resist.

Vimes shrugged his shoulders. “Asked what the hell was going on, of course, but you lot are worse than Nobby Nobbs when it comes to explanations. All I knew for sure was, there was a war over and one man to be called on the carpet for it. Nobody told me he was a god, thank you very much.”

 

The Tragedy of Gollum

Samantha Reynolds gives us her contribution to the 25th Anniversary Miruvor issue: an essay on the portrayal of Gollum in Jackson’s film trilogy.

When Peter Jackson and company set out to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings, they had the monumental task of putting a beloved and almost sacred novel on screen. As it is written, it is ill-suited for the silver screen – not at all following a conventional film story. What’s more, they had to contend with the difficult and elusive character of Gollum Producer Rick Porras said that ‘if Gollum didn’t work, it all [the films] just would have fallen apart, it would’ve been like a house of cards.’

The case can be made that they were successful. Jackson managed to create the films to critical acclaim, winning a number of awards and even sweeping the Academy Awards with the final film. However, despite the success of the films, they did not correctly portray Gollum. The filmmakers spent a lot of time at the front end and back end with the digital effects to get Gollum’s physical characterisation right, and while they certainly achieved what they wanted, his physical characteristics and mannerisms, they failed to achieve the tragedy of Gollum that so resonated with Tolkien.

Tolkien ‘[was] most grieved by Gollum’s failure … to repent.’ That is ‘the tragedy of Gollum.’ While the filmmakers characterised him correctly, by changing six key scenes they missed the point of him as the chief tragedy of The Lord of the Rings in the way Tolkien had envisioned, and by doing so, they cut the heart out of Gollum in favour of drama. He is the only main character who has a chance of being a hero but has no redemption whatsoever.

It would be unfair and incorrect to say that they completely missed the mark with Gollum. Tolkien describes him as having a ‘large head,’ ‘scrawny neck,’ long arms and legs,’ clammy fingers,’ ‘thin lank hair,’ with ‘pale eyes’ and ‘sharp teeth.’ The filmmakers certainly managed all that.

His voice is ‘creaking’ and ‘hissing.’ He ‘croaks,’ he ‘whines,’ he ‘whimpers,’ he ‘shrieks,’ and makes the miserable ‘gollum’ noise in his throat. All of the vocalizations that Andy Serkis makes could be, and should be, described with those words. The writers managed to imitate the speech patterns, making good use of: the plural in which Gollum refers to himself, the pluralisation of nouns such as ‘hobbitses,’ his frequently reference to Frodo as ‘nice master,’ the use of ‘yes, yes,’ the ‘baby talk’ his incomplete and half-formed sentences (as Jane Chance puts it in Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power), among other idiosyncrasies.

He ‘paw[s] at [Frodo],’ moves on ‘all fours … crawl[s],’ he ‘move[s] quickly, with him head and neck thrust forward, often using his hands as well as his feet,’ he ‘grovels,’ –all of these things the on-screen Gollum does as Serkis captures the physicality.

They even got the duality of Gollum and Sméagol. While they do not recreate the scene from the book exactly, the idea of Gollum and Sméagol having a conversation as two separate entities is something they make use of. In The Two Towers they have two scenes, one in the middle called ‘Gollum and Sméagol’ and one at the end called ‘Gollum’s Plan,’ where Gollum and Sméagol speak in two different voices as two distinct persons. Tolkien only shows this once at ‘The Passage of the Marshes’ where Gollum and Sméagol get into an argument about the Ring and Frodo. For now it is enough to say that the filmmakers captured the essence of what Tolkien was doing in how they physically and linguistically portrayed Gollum.

The point of all this is that the filmmakers did an excellent job at making their on-screen Gollum look, sound, and move like Tolkien’s Gollum. They gave him the same backstory, the same entrance, quite a few of the same scenes (most notably the ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’), and still had him die in Mount Doom. But there are six key scenes in the film where they deviated from what Tolkien had written and in doing so changed Gollum’s tale for the worse, lessening his emotional impact.

 

The first three scenes are found in The Two Towers: ‘Gollum and Sméagol,’ ‘The Forbidden Pool’ and ‘Gollum’s Plan.’ These three scenes can be lumped together because they all share a defining characteristic: a conversation between the distinct entities of Gollum and Sméagol. In ‘Gollum and Sméagol,’ the pair go back and forth about their relationship before Sméagol gets rid of Gollum. In ‘The Forbidden Pool,’ Sméagol is weeping and Gollum is comforting him and the animation goes so far as to have Gollum patting the weeping Sméagol on his back. In ‘Gollum’s Plan,’ Gollum and Sméagol resolve to bring Sam and Frodo to Shelob to have her kill them so that they can take the Ring for themselves.

The next three scenes are in Return of the King. The first is ‘The Parting of Sam and Frodo’ where Frodo, having been mislead by Gollum, send Sam away, back down the stairs. The next is ‘Shelob’s Lair.’ In it, Frodo tells Gollum that he is going to destroy the Ring which is what causes Gollum attack to him. Sam is not present as Gollum had gotten Frodo to send him away on the stairs. The final scene is ‘Mount Doom’ where Gollum attacks Frodo and Sam. In this scene, Sméagol confesses that he lied about his promise by the Ring to serve Frodo.

 

All six scenes are taken from passages, more or less, in the books. It bears noting the differences.

The first set of three takes a scene from ‘The Passage of the Marches’ in the book, which Tolkien referred to as ‘the debate in the slag hole,’ where Sméagol and Gollum discuss taking the Ring for themselves, using Shelob to do it, but walking away without having made a decision together about it either way. The filmmakers took that scene – or in ‘The Forbidden Pool’ scene in the film, the concept of it – and spread it over two scenes. The key differences being that in the book there is no resolution reached and that the two distinct characters are not seen conversing like that ever again.

The ‘Parting of Sam and Frodo’ appears nowhere in the book. Instead, there is a moment on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol where Gollum changes and Sméagol is no more.

‘Gollum looked at them. … A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee–but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.’

Frodo then stirs and wakes Sam who accuses Sméagol of ‘sneaking’ and calls him an ‘old villain.’ It says, ‘Gollum withdrew himself … The fleeting moment had passed, beyond recall.’ Sam does apologize for it. When Frodo awakes, he learns what Sam has said to Gollum and tells him, ‘Don’t take names to yourself, Sméagol. It’s unwise, whether they are true or false.’ This is nothing like the film.

The ‘Shelob’s Lair’ scene is also completely different than the book. Tolkien never actually has Frodo tell Gollum what he’s going to do to the Ring. Also, at the end of Shelob’s lair, Sam is present and he fights Gollum off, not Frodo. What’s more, what Frodo is going to do with the Ring is not the reason why Gollum snaps. But that will be gotten to shortly. The ‘Mount Doom’ scene is similar enough in the book, but nowhere does Gollum say, ‘Sméagol lied.’

 

This might be seen as nitpicking. The films are enjoyable, did well at the box office, and well during awards season, a rare trifecta for any film to achieve. The writers even had good reasons for changing what is the key scene for Gollum and Sméagol and creating ‘The Parting of Sam and Frodo.’ Philippa Boyens said during the Extended Edition DVD commentary, ‘We really felt the lack of dramatic development in this situation. … [T]his sort of journey up the stairs where all it’s about really is how tired they are and how cold they are and how hungry they are, is actually, um, not that interesting in terms of film.’ And she would be correct if this scene was about walking up stairs.

This is the moment when Gollum wins and Sméagol disappears forever.

The filmmakers made a mistake when they changed this scene. Actually, the mistake begins far earlier in the second film when the audience is given their first Gollum/Sméagol conversation at ‘Gollum and Sméagol.’ Sméagol was able to get rid of Gollum at that scene, he was able to have resolution in that inner debate. Sméagol is not supposed to win that conversation. What’s more, he and Gollum are not supposed to reach an agreement to give Frodo and Sam over to Shelob at ‘Gollum’s Plan.’

The way Tolkien wrote it and later spoke about it, for Sméagol to have conquered Gollum so early at a time like ‘Gollum and Sméagol’, he would have had the strength of character to help Frodo destroy the Ring. Sméagol is still procrastinating in the slag-hole. He has not gotten rid of Gollum and never gets rid of him in the book. Had he gotten rid of Gollum in the slag-hole, he would have been able to deal with Sam on the stairs saying that he is ‘sneaking.’ Had he been able to do that, Gollum would not have allowed Shelob to try and eat Frodo and Sam, Gollum would have gone with them to Mordor, and his conflicting love for both Frodo and the Ring would have see him ‘voluntarily cast himself [and the Ring] into the fiery abyss’ at the Cracks of Doom.

Gollum would have been the hero. He could have been redeemed.

But that is not what happens. Instead, because Sméagol does not get rid of Gollum at the slag-hole, because Gollum has been allowed to stay in the picture, the scene on the Stairs is a scene that, years after publication, moved the author ‘very powerfully.’ He was ‘most grieved by Gollum’s failure (just) to repent when interrupted by Sam.’ This scene is ‘the tragedy of Gollum who at that moment came within a hair of repentance–but for one rough word from Sam.’ This scene is not, as Boyens put is, ‘how tired they are and how cold they are and how hungry they are.’ It is the culmination of the struggle between Sméagol and Gollum where in Gollum wins.

Had they not deviated from the slag-hole scene, they might have been able to preserve that. But instead of building to it by allowing Gollum and Sméagol to battle it out as they do in the book, they go for a black and white dichotomy of Gollum and Sméagol that destroys the internal build to the Stairs.

In the book, after the slag-hole scene, Tolkien does not write another scene like it. Instead, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell when Gollum appears or when Sméagol appears. Prior to that scene, there are ‘rules,’ if they can be called that, as to who is in control. It is fairly clear that Sméagol is in control by the use of the ‘I,’ kindness towards the hobbits, and, to some extent, calling himself Sméagol: such as in ‘The Taming of Sméagol’ where ‘his voice and language change’ and he says ‘I don’t want to … I can’t … I am,’ when Sméagol promises to serve Frodo saying ‘I promise,’ when he would ‘paw[…] at Frodo,’ ‘Sméagol promised,’ or ‘Sméagol is hungry now.’ It is also fairly clear when Gollum is in control by use of his ‘baby talk,’ adding ‘s’ to things, referring to himself in the plural, repetition, and, generally, saying ‘my precious’ all as being fairly clear signs of that: ‘It hurts us, it hurts us’ or ‘Yess, yess, nice water. Drink it, drink it while we can.’

After the slag-hole scene in chapter two of the fourth book of The Lord of the Rings, Sméagol uses ‘I’ or ‘me’ in only three other instances in the rest of the 8 and a half chapters of that book and not at all in Return of the King. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which of the two is in control because both sets of ‘rules’ are used at the same time. For example, when Gollum/Sméagol is helping Sam cook for Frodo in ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbits’ he says, ‘Stew the rabbits! Spoil beautiful meat Sméagol saved for you, poor hungry Sméagol! What for? What for, silly hobbit? They are young, they are tender, they are nice. Eat them, eat them!’ He is being kind, he is not pluralizing either himself or other things, but the speech is juvenile and there is repetition. So is this Sméagol or Gollum? It is unclear and this happens all throughout from the slag-hole to the Stairs until finally, after one last, internal debate, Sméagol wins until Sam rebukes him and ‘The fleeting moment … passed, beyond recall.’ Then Sméagol is gone. He does not show up again in the story. Gollum has won the internal struggle. If Sméagol had won, he would have stopped at least Frodo from going into Shelob’s lair based on his promise and love for him, but because he does not it is clear Sméagol is gone.

By adding an additional two scenes of the dichotomy between Sméagol and Gollum, the filmmakers cheapen the struggle Gollum goes through. By having Gollum and Sméagol resolve to send Frodo and Sam to Shelob, they rob Gollum and the audience of the tragedy of his moment on the stairs as well as the potential for Sméagol to be redeemed. At the point in the film, he is doomed. And by having Gollum, on the steps on Mount Doom say ‘Sméagol lied,’ they negate the internal struggle entirely and assimilate Sméagol into Gollum which further cheapens it.

What’s more, by turning into Gollum after Frodo reveals to him that Frodo is going to destroy the Ring it pays, if possible, too much heed to the Ring and not enough to the humanity of Gollum. It was not the Ring that kept Sméagol from repentance, from redemption–it was his reaction to Sam. It speaks to the power of words, of how people characterize themselves and what they believe about themselves based on words.

In summation, while Peter Jackson and company captured the characterization and mannerisms of Gollum very well, they did not correctly portray Gollum and failed to achieve the tragedy of Gollum that so resonated with Tolkien. By changing six key scenes they missed the point of Gollum as the chief tragedy as the only main character without redemption in The Lord of the Rings, completely disregarding how Tolkien envisioned it, and by doing so, they cut the heart out of Gollum in favour of drama. While there is a difference in how one tells a story on screen and how one does in  novel, the filmmakers made unnecessary, fundamental changes to the character of Gollum that changes his story and character. He is the only main character who has a chance of being a hero but has no redemption whatsoever.

 

Bibliography

 

‘The Cast Commentary.’ Performed by Andy Serkis. The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition: The Return of the King. Directed by Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema, 2003.

‘The Cast Commentary.’ Performed by Andy Serkis. The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition: The Two Towers. Directed by Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema, 2002.

Chance, Jane. Lord of the Rings : The Mythology of Power. Lexington, KY, USA: University Press of Kentucky, 2010. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 18 February 2015. Copyright © 2010. University Press of Kentucky. All rights reserved.
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‘The Director and Writers Commentary.’ Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition: The Two Towers. Directed by Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema, 2002.

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                The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition: The Two Towers. Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. New Line Cinema, 2002.

‘The Taming of Sméagol.’ Produced by Rick Porras and Barrie M. Osborne. The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition: The Two Towers. Directed by Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema, 2002.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Compiled by Humphrey Carpenter. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981, 221.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of  the Ring. 1965/1966 ed. Vol. 1 of The Lord of the Rings. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954.

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