March into Middle-Earth: Rejoining the Fellowship

March into Middle-Earth (text banner over background of Tolkien's map)

The delightful Rinn proposed a month-long love-in for all things Middle-Earth (and designed the banner – thank you Rinn!). As I haven’t read The Lord of the Rings since that Jackson fellow made it easy not to, I decided to join her. And oh my. Yes, that’s right, this was my favourite world for years.

I read hard from a young age. My mum was pushed to keep me in books (the local library knew me well), and when I enjoyed The Hobbit she didn’t hesitate to suggest I try the ‘sequel’ (she likes to say I was precocious. I like to say I was encouraged). One of my earliest memories is sitting under her desk staring at the baleful eye and the fiery ring on her old paperbacks, so I was delighted to be allowed to actually pick them up and read them. I dived in and loved them so much I promptly went back to the beginning and read them again when I finished. I was – at most – 8 years old.

Fast forward a few short years, and the BBC re-ran their amazing radio dramatisation on Sunday afternoons. For a quarter of a year, there was an hour a week where I would sit transfixed on the floor listening to the radio (or sit sulking, because we had gone out and there was no radio). For Christmas, I received the cassette tapes in their gorgeous black box, and played them until the ominous theme tune warped.

The point being, I fell in love hard and young. I didn’t notice the lack of female characters. I didn’t recognise the historical underpinnings or mythical influences. I learnt at the feet of a master that being small and insignificant didn’t stop you being steadfast and achieving great things (and about the same time, I met Alanna, and learnt that being a girl was no hindrance either. Phew). And I took for granted a wealth and depth of world-building that continues to shape my preferences and affect my enjoyment of books to this day.

Then Peter Jackson came along, and it became easier to watch the films (flawed as I think they are) than read the books. So I find myself re-reading for the first time in at least 15 years, and it’s an odd experience. On the one hand, I’m so familiar with two excellent adaptations that it’s impossible to read certain phrases without hearing actors’ intonations; on the other, it’s a voyage of discovery. I’m remembering why certain bits of Jacksons’ films always bothered me; and equally realising just how much dialogue (in every dramatisation) is lifted straight from the book.

In spite of 15 recent years of re-watching the films, I’m also finding that it does matter who gets to you first. I may have spent all of Thursday with Howard Shore’s excellent score for Concerning Hobbits rattling around my brain, but the actors I hear are almost always from the radio play. The theme tunes of either version can move me to tears in about 3 seconds flat. So can Tolkien himself, on the one hand with pathos that I blame entirely on my love for The Silmarillion:

It is said that Celeborn went to dwell there after the departure of Galadriel; but there is no record of the day when at last he sought the Grey Havens, and with him went the last living memory of the Elder Days in Middle-Earth.

and on the other with sheer, exuberant excitement:

Then the weather clouded over. That was on Wednesday, the eve of the Party. Anxiety was intense. Then Thursday, September the 22nd, actually dawned.

*happy flailing* Par-tay!

I’m going to destroy crates of hankies on the way through this book.