NewsWire: A Englishman in Middle-earth - El Comercio
From Star Wars to Dungeons & Dragons, many are the epic fantasies that have populated the public's imagination in the twentieth century; none, however, has achieved to equal the degree of elaboration of The Lord of the Rings, the mythic saga created over fifty years ago by J.R.R. Tolkien, of which filming has just begun, to the delight of the thousands of followers that have made of its author a true cultural icon.
AN ENGLISHMAN IN MIDDLE-EARTH
Fans of Tolkien in Peru awaiting the upcoming trilogy filmed by Peter Jackson
Around the middle 20's, Oxford University students dedicated the hours of their class of Philology to write poems or to look at the tip of their pencils. They didn't imagine that the boring professor, who they could barely understand because of his terrible diction, was in those days inventing the universe, creating a new language, based on his knowledge of Anglo-Saxon, Gaelic, Finnish, Greek and Latin already classic.
Already since his childhood in peaceful Birmingham, Tolkien had displayed an early talent for languages and had begun the practice, strange to his mother's eyes, of creating his own symbols. Those articulations, hollow sounds at first, gradually acquired meaning until conforming a whole system that the Oxford student would later refer to as Quenya, the first and most elaborated of the languages he would create. However, as he furthered the development of those codes, he became aware that there wasn't a single language that didn't have a great mythology as its basis. Tolkien then decided to embark on the ambitious task of providing his Elvish languages with a whole development in time and space, this is, he gave them their own history. And so Middle-Earth was born, an imaginary territory set in a fantastic European medieval time, inhabited by Elves, Hobbits, Dwarfs, Humans and the terrible Orcs, among other races of fantastic creatures and semi-gods.
PERFECT ENGLISH GENTLEMAN
There were books everywhere, and also empty cans of tobacco, and everything was covered by a layer of dust of the most distinguished kind. When in front of his old Hammond typewriter, professor Tolkien didn't like to be interrupted. He laughed frequently, however. He pronounced words so quickly that, even to his closest friends, it was hard to keep up with him. Also, the professor was perplexed at the surprising success that his first little book had had. One day, correcting exams, he wrote: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." From that moment he created the story of Bilbo Baggins, curious character barely over 3 feet tall who, during the course of his adventures, would stumble upon a ring. The Hobbit, published in the autumn of 1937, had meant to the peaceful gentleman of Oxford the beginning of a fame that did not convene with his sedentary ways and his few close friendships. The book, first conceived as a tale to entertain his children, generated so much interest that the editors did not delay in asking for a sequel. They waited a long time. During some odd fifteen years, professor Tolkien only read fragments of the new book to the members of his club (because our professor had a club), an informal society of intellectuals self-denominated as the inklings. These fragments were full of hundreds of fantastic adventures in which the battle between good and evil was told and, above all, the corruption that power brings over those who possessed a certain ring that had the property of making invisible those who worn it, but hid within itself the power to exacerbate the ambition of its occasional owners. After a series of events the ring is found by a Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who passes it onto his cousin Frodo, and he is destined to destroy the powerful ring by casting it into the very cracks where it was forged by the maleficent Sauron. To this purpose is created the Fellowship of the Ring, an alliance in which participate Gandalf the wizard, Legolas the Elf, the Humans Boromir and Aragorn, Gimli the Dwarf, and fellow Hobbits Sam, Merry and Pippin. That is, in few words, the central plot of The Lord of the Rings.
The novel was published in 1954 and, due to its length, was presented as a trilogy, an epic full of references to past Ages of Middle-Earth, as well as to long dynasties of human kings, Elven kings, Dwarfs and other creatures. Each race had its own language, the Elves spoke either Quenya or Sindarin , the Dwarfs spoke Dwarfish, the Ents Entish and the minions of Sauron had the Black Speech. This way, the quiet Tolkien, with his typewriter and his invariable pipe, kept the Oxford scholars busy, as well as an increasing number of followers that, the professor would have never suspected, would one day be counted in the millions.
Tolkien used his ability in the crafting of languages from ancient European tongues to do the same with mythologies. In his books can be found elements of several traditions; the Greek, the Jewish-Hebraic, the Saxon and Germanic medieval stories (there are notable similitudes with the legends of the ring of the Nibelungs, for example), among others. That same abundance of references is what has seduced the great majority of his readers, and it is that same complexity that director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures) will have to struggle with. Jackson started last October with the simultaneous filming of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, with a cast led by Elijah Wood in the role of Frodo, the Ring-bearer; Liv Tyler as Arwen, a young Elven warrior princess, and Sir Ian McKellen (nominated to the Oscar for Gods and Monsters) in the role of the wizard Gandalf. The chosen location is New Zealand, which, according to those with knowledge on the matter, is as close as it gets to Middle-Earth. In spite of having a big budget and the ultimate advances in special effects, Jackson's challenge is to condense that entire mess of adventures and succeed in pleasing the avid fans as well as the demands of the marketing branches.
In Peru, the diffusion of Tolkien's novels has given a great spectacular leap since a little more than five years ago, partly because of the role-playing games based on many of his stories. For Cesar Zamalloa, the Devil, for more detail, professor of Intercultural Processes of the University of Lima, everything began much earlier. In 1975, he saw an interesting movie directed by Ralph Bakshi, in which real characters had been merged with animation. Then, the film had been colored frame by frame to achieve uniformity. "After seeing that version of The Lord of the Rings -Zamalloa says- I dedicated myself to look for the novel in every bookstore in Lima, but nobody knew about it." It was not until1984 that he found the second volume of the trilogy. He didn't read it. He preferred to guard it zealously during two years until his sister brought him the other two volumes from Argentina. What came then was several days of following the adventure of Frodo and his comrades. Now, he says, his students approach him to discuss about Elves or to exchange books. To him, this enthusiasm from young people is not surprising. He explains that much of the success of the novel is due to the explosive enthusiasm that it generated among hippies during the 60's. "The story is set in a utopian land, and its protagonists, the Hobbits, are creatures of the forest, pure and innocent, who live in a primary ecological surrounding -peace and love that they call it- and, besides, it's so full of adventures that it doesn't even let you breathe."
To Fernando Revoredo, specialist in Marketing and Internet, someone gave the book eight years ago and now he thinks it a true classic. "It's like reading the Iliad -he says-. Tolkien not only created a fiction novel, he was founder of an entire modern mythology". Between maps of Middle-Earth and role-playing games, Fernando does not hesitate to confess his devotion to the saga. "Whomever reads Tolkien becomes a fan. If you can finish the book, you already are one. To give you an idea: not long ago there was a mega poll on the Internet and The Lord of the Rings was chosen as the number one book of fiction of all time."
Camilo Torres, literary critic, read the novel for the first time in 1990. A friend brought it to him from Cuzco, where it was easy to find. Camilo is not happy with the unexpected boom that Tolkien has had. "It almost feels like an obscenity that the book sells indiscriminately. Before, it was like approaching a secret." With studies on writing and philosophy, Torres believes that Tolkien's success is due to his being a pre-modern writer. "The pre-modern man justifies his accomplishments to the extent in which they are the representation of an archetype. One is worth something to the extent in which one is fused with something more elevated. It is in that scheme that the characters from The Lord of the Rings move about. It's a world where even pain is justified, because it comes from an orderly universe." And of course, that could be interpreted as a reaction to the reigning individualism, or what is the equivalent: certain youths prefer to seek refuge in a story that, though manichæistic, is clear and direct, and is distanced from the moral ambiguity that predominates in the literature of the twentieth century.
Fernando Revoredo shows concern when asked about Jackson's movie. "Tolkien did not conceive his work to be a commercial product," he affirms. "My fear is that the result will turn out to be only a product of the market, and even more important, that the director takes shortcuts to summarize the story and make it more accessible." Zamalloa and Torres are resigned to accept the personal interpretation of the scriptwriter and the director, although they're not too hopeful about the final result. "Well, with the new technology maybe it could work just fine," concedes Zamalloa.
Everyone feels a kind of nostalgia for those stories that professor Tolkien would conceive over fifty years ago and that now, about to reach the massive public, are in risk of arriving in this narcissistic and straight-lined modern age.