Full circle

Sunday September 12, 2004

I’ve been saving the last of the three Lord of the Rings video tapes for an evening when there was absolutely nothing on TV, not even a documentary I could watch on the Hitler Channel. It happened this evening. I flicked around the stations, and found nothing that lit my candle. Nothing at all.

What to say at the end of this, my second viewing of the movies? I prefer not to judge them against the books, and I’m reasonably content with the idea that everyone will take away a different visualisation from Tolkien’s original than my own. The movies are one interpretation, no more, no less. The omission of whole chunks of the story doesn’t in the main bother me too much, either, though the snipping of the entire last hazard in the return of the Hobbits to the Shire seems to me to require a much more powerful ending than the rather feeble and weepy ending contrived by the film makers. Even then it’s not so bad, really, because I was left with an even stronger desire to read the books once more.

So it’s best to judge the movies on their own merit and, as fantasy cinema, they must rank among the best ever made. The effects are stunning, of course, though I do detect a slight fading in their effectiveness already—computer generated effects are all about us and the edges are beginning to show, just as those in the original Star Wars are, shall we say, a little creaky now. Most effects-driven movies are close to being content free. Tolkien’s storyline saved these from that fate and will, I suspect, go on doing so for a fairly long time to come.

The most significant failing for me was in the visualisation and dramatisation of Gollum, which is so far from my own concept of the creature as to make him too painfully a piece of animated latex. I felt also that the film’s treatment of Saruman was sadly shallow and lacking. All in all, though, it’s a fabulous piece of escapist fantasy, and I’d recommend it to anyone, with the caveat that, having sat back and luxuriated in the movies, it’d be a darn good idea to read the books.

And that’s exactly what I intend to do next, just so soon as I’ve disposed of my current read—”Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self,” by Claire Tomalin.

I raced through the first half of this Whitbread Book of the Year with great enjoyment, only to find myself bogged down from that point on as the storyline fractures and the author waffles back and forth as if in a hall of mirrors, considering the post-diary part of Pepys life from a multitude of different aspects. It turns the book from being an entertaining biography into a dense and tedious reference work of the duller kind. Not a book I’d recommend to anyone but a research student. I’m determined to finish the darn thing, though, for the occasional flashes of insight into a period in English history that is almost as interesting as that of the Tudors.

Now I think about it, I suspect that the author ran out of story before reaching the required word-count and, rather than going back and inserting the unused material inline with the plot, tagged it all higgledy-piggledy on to the end. Not that I could do as well myself.

The problem with Pepys is his diary, which stops just as his story is getting interesting. Diaries often do that.

There is a vast library of material other than the diary, far more in fact than is contained in the diary itself, though the thing that makes Pepys Pepys is of course the diary itself. I can’t help but feel that if you could write a biography of Pepys with only side references to the diary it’d work a lot better. That said, I’m glad I don’t have to tackle the problem. Sometime soon I shall take down my copy of the diary and relish it one more. Not till I’ve read Tolkien again, though. I’m looking forward to that and don’t intend to let anything sidetrack me.

Anyway. The day came full circle, as days do, and I was glad to seek my bed when it ended.



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