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The Lord of the Rings (The 2020/21 Amazon Prime “Prequel” Series)

Here is everything you wanted to know about Amazon's forthcoming quarter-billion-dollar epic...

Just kidding, of course - not many hard facts are known yet. But as a lover of Tolkien's books, I am really interested in how his huge slice of dark history will be brought to the screen, thankfully in a format long enough to contain a good amount of it, and hopefully making good use of the stunning technology now available.

So here are some of the clues we have and links to help keep track of developments.

The Amazon production, so far as we can tell, will focus on the Second Age of Middle-Earth, but may eventually extend to those events in the Third Age that occur prior to Frodo's adventures.

The map provided by Amazon (click the image above for more details and click here to explore the map) contains several interesting clues for fans of the books. In particular it shows the island of Númenor (the human inhabitants of which had Aragorn as a descendent), and the Amazon series will certainly feature Númenor's cataclysmic destruction.

Tolkien was fascinated with languages and how they evolved, and his supreme creations were the Elvish languages (among others) that underpin The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings (click the image to the right for an in-depth article).

For Tolkien, the languages came first. He said that they drove the development of characters to use the languages and then the stories around the characters.

(He also wrote that “it's always good to start with a map”.)

I look forward to seeing what use of the invented languages Amazon makes, a tough but essential thing to bring to film (although Peter Jackson's team did a commendable job in their movies).

A couple of postscripts for book lovers:

I loved The Lord of the Rings, but IMO a comparable work that surpasses it in world-building, realism and story-telling (but not invented languages) is Elizabeth Moon's Paksworld Novels (an epic story in many volumes). Elizabeth Moon is, among other things, a historian and an ex-1st Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, an interesting combination. If you liked LOTR, don't miss Moon's epic if you have never read it (the link is to a major article about it on my web site).

In The Lord of the Rings (the book, not the movie) Saruman, his powers removed but still full of malice, returns to The Shire ahead of the Hobbits and does his best to wreck both its environment and the peaceful relations between its citizens. Written long ago, does anyone else not see a spooky resemblance to what Trump is doing to the USA? Saruman didn't ultimately succeed in The Shire. It will be a long time before we know the outcome in the USA.

On that cheerful note...

If you're interested...

[Amazon's LOTR Twitter Feed]
[Latest Amazon LOTR news (w.r.t. when you are actually reading this)]
[Constructed languages (including Minionese and Klingon)]

I greatly enjoyed Minions... and hearing words apparently from a number of languages, including Japanese and Spanish, that form the strangely comprehensible gibberish of “Minionese”.

I didn't realise, though, quite how many languages that French director Pierre Coffin actually plundered (and voiced) for his “Minionese”. Click the image above if you would like to know more!

Constructing realistic languages for books and films, on the other hand, seems to me to be an awesome task. The supreme example of this must surely be J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish languages (among others) that underpin The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings - a massive work of scholarship, love and time.

(Click the image to the right for an in-depth article.)

Tolkien, it is said, wanted to write The Lord of the Rings entirely in Elvish, but (fortunately for us) was persuaded that the result would not be saleable...

I was very grateful to Peter Jackson's team for letting us hear these beautiful languages (both Quenya and Sindarin) in the screen version of The Lord of the Rings.

The next most impressive example of such a language (corrections gratefully received!) must be Klingon, originally created as a basic sound and a few words by James “Scotty” Doohan for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but developed considerably thereafter - much further than I had imagined.

Like Star Trek itself, Klingon has found its way into all kinds of other popular culture (e.g. it appears several times in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). However, I had no idea how far it had spread - if you're interested, take a look here.

Along with many people, I enjoyed the remark from High Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, who said, “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”

Also like many other people (I suspect), I hadn't realised that you can read him in the original Klingon - it's a real book called The Klingon Hamlet. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek, of course, but it represents a considerable tribute to the development of the language. There's also Much Ado About Nothing: The Restored Klingon Version. Check them out!

Constructed languages, it seems, can take on a life of their own...

At a much earlier stage of development than Klingon, but obviously gaining momentum, is Na'vi, the constructed language of the sapient inhabitants of the planet Pandora in the film Avatar.

Unlike Klingon, Na'vi is intended to be only a spoken language, passed down orally from one generation to the next. Nevertheless there is a growing community interested in learning it - a strange phenomenon, but perhaps a tribute to the work that went into its construction (and is still ongoing), and to the film itself.

In following these links I came across an amazing resource:

for both real and constructed languages. You can delve there into the various varieties of Chinese, for example, and also into Klingon.

Which shows that you never know where a trip to the cinema is going to lead you...

Mathias (Richard Harrington) and Mared (Mali Harries) in the “Welsh Noir” mini-series Hinterland

From the page:

You may remember Richard Harrington from Bleak House, IMO one of the finest TV dramas of all time, and certainly one of the finest TV versions of a Charles Dickens novel. (Richard is also one of the actors featured in my previous post below.)

I have featured some of my favourite “Nordic Noir” here. On a scale of the Swedish Wallander (my yardstick) = 10, Hinterland scores for me about 7 - but that's a high score, and it's well worth watching for its highly atmospheric stories (4, so far).

The other joy of Hinterland for me was listening to the beautiful Welsh language, with subtitles. One of the reasons that I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings (the book) so much was the depth given to it by Tolkien's creation of the various languages, and Elvish in particular (he was persuaded not to write the whole book in Elvish as it would have been unpublishable).

Having also greatly enjoyed Peter Jackson's film version, and the care taken to do justice to Tolkien's Elvish language (among many other things), I found myself listening to Welsh in Hinterland and often almost hearing the Elvish that Peter Jackson's team worked so hard to reproduce. I knew that Tolkien had drawn on Celtic roots for his story, but this was still a very interesting and pleasurable surprise.

It's looking great...

[Click the image to visit the official Hobbit Movie blog]

This is a small fragment of a very large "Speculative World Map". It's a work of art produced by serMountainGoat, a dedicated fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin's epic (and still incomplete) medieval fantasy that begins with A Game of Thrones. I found it here.

(Click the map fragment to see the full map - and you'll need to click again to view it full size. I borrowed an A3 printer and made myself a (slightly reduced) tiled printout of the map on six A3 sheets, which when assembled covers most of our dining table!)

I have just finished reading all of the available books in this astonishing, engrossing and occasionally exasperating epic fantasy, which is still incomplete (only 5 of the planned 7 books have been written). If you haven't read it, you will find an excellent description of it in this Wikipedia article.

One of the few works it can be compared to (although it is very different in many ways) is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Both stories live in a richly detailed invented world with a deep history, worlds which are in some ways alternative versions of our own. Both authors have "R.R." as their middle initials (Ronald Reuel and Raymond Richard respectively). Apart from that, there are many more differences than similarities!

Tolkien's story occupied 1,215 pages in the original 3-volume hardback edition, comprising a prologue, 62 chapters and the extensive appendices.

The first 5 books in Martin's story occupy 4,408 pages in the original hardback editions (many more pages in paperback), comprising 344 chapters and in each volume a prologue, epilogue and an appendix of characters. There are over 1,000 named characters in this vast work, with the story (so far) told mainly through the viewpoints of about 12 of them.

Tolkien's story is told principally from the viewpoint of the four Hobbits, with Frodo as the main character. The Fellowship of the Ring is a continuous narrative with one main viewpoint (Frodo and the hobbits as a group). In The Two Towers the narrative splits into several streams, each containing continuous narratives of several chapters at a time. In the first half of The Two Towers Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas track down the two captured hobbits, the two captured hobbits escape and encounter Treebeard, and the threads eventually come together at Isengard after the battle of Helm's Deep. In the second half of The Two Towers Frodo and Sam trek to Mordor, ending with the cliffhanger as Frodo is captured after encountering Shelob. The Return of the King follows the war through three narrative streams (Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas in one, Merry and Pippin separately in two others), before returning to Frodo and Sam's final achievement and reunion with the others, followed by the long unwinding of the Fellowship.

Martin's story (so far) is told from the viewpoints of some 12 main characters (good and evil, intelligent and stupid, in various shades and combinations), plus some extra relatively minor ones. Each such character is featured in a single chapter, before the narrative switches to another viewpoint and another chapter. This is surprisingly effective, but means that the reader often has to wait a very long time to return to an engrossing narrative thread. Also, the sheer size of the work means that he has had to split the story intended for Book 4 into two geographical sections, the second of which was postponed to Book 5, and he has postponed natural climaxes from Book 5 to Book 6 - which might take 3 years for him to complete.

In spite of all this, I can really recommend the books so far (and the above map, which is essential). They are all available together as a single eBook, with a free sample that contains a good-sized chunk of Book 1. (We now have two Kindles in the family, since it was my wife who originally wanted to read Martin's epic. We discovered that you can share an eBook amongst up to 6 Kindles bought by the same person, so we were both reading the same eBook on our recent holiday in the Cathar region of France - see below - which seemed very appropriate to the story.)

Epping Forest in autumn, a photo I took many moons ago when it was our favourite walking spot.
I was somehow reminded of it when I came across these rather lovely walking sticks carved by the Kansas woodcarver Millard Harrell:

I think that the reason I linked the two must have been a mental picture of Ents, and the choice of Epping Forest as a filming location for Kate Madison's prequel to The Lord of the Rings, "Born of Hope", an astonishingly good amateur movie (released free on the Internet) produced on a budget that would have paid for one day's canteen bill for Peter Jackson's crew.

If you have never heard of it, don't make the mistake of thinking that "amateur" = "naff". See here.

Below are some of my screenshots of Kate Madison's prequel to The Lord of the Rings, "Born of Hope" (the extended version).

It tells the story of how Aragorn came to be born, and how he eventually reached the safety of Rivendell as an infant.

Made on a shoe-string budget (£25,000) and released free on the Internet, this extraordinary achievement reminds me that we often use the word "amateur" in a derogatory sense. This movie shows everyone what real "amateurs" can do.

Arathorn, who will become the father of Aragorn

Elgarain, played by the multi-talented Kate Madison, hides her love for Arathorn, who sees her only as a true friend

The sons of Elrond helping to defend the Dunedain's settlement

Gilraen, wife of Arathorn and mother of Aragorn, narrating the story to her sleeping son

The young Aragorn, finally safe in Rivendell

(One of the main filming locations for the movie was Epping Forest - see my previous post below).

[More about the movie]
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“St Giles in the Rain” by Francis Hamel

A place that brings back many memories for me. The Eagle & Child pub (AKA The Bird & Baby) on St Giles was the hangout of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis among others, who created many memories for many people.