Happy Tolkien Reading Day

I’m posting this today since there is usually no Wednesday post around here. I wanted to remind you that tomorrow is Tolkien Reading Day. So dust off your copy of the Fellowship and give it to someone who has never read the books before. And tell them it’s more awesome than the movie.

Speaking of the movie – can we please not put movie stills on every Tolkien single book? Last time I was in the book store, the only copy that did not have the face of Viggo Mortensen or Orlando Bloom was the super large hard bound version for collectors. If you want paperback, you get movie stills. Sigh…

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I’m also amazed how many people claim to be LOTR fans but have never read the books. It saddens me! Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t have been better if the LOTR movies were never made. It used to be that if you met a fan of Tolkien’s work you knew you were dealing with a kindred spirit. These days you never know.

You would think that the movie would actually encourage people to read the books, but in my experience this is not the case. I actually had people tell me they see no reason why to read the books now that they have seen the film. It’s sad really…

Though I have to admit that I did not discover Tolkien’s work until very late in my life. In high school my friend got me into Middle Earth: The Wizards collectible card game. Great game btw – much different from Magic the Gathering. It was almost like a RPG, but with cards. You would travel from one location to another, fight monsters collect magic items, and try to recruit powerful factions and armies to support your cause. It was awesome. You could theoretically field the whole fellowship, but it was rather difficult (they were all rare cards) so you would normally play a group of minor characters lead by one of the wizards (not necessarily Gandalf). Or you could play a company of Sauron’s minions lead by a Ringwraith. I still have a deck of cards somewhere, though I haven’t played they game in years.

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The little glimpses of Middle Earth I was able to see through the blurbs on specific cards fascinated me. I literally fell in love with Middle Earth before I even read the books. And when I did read them, it was a blast since I already knew most of the names of the minor characters that would pop up here and there. Tolkien would drop a name of some random elf in Rivendell and I would be like “Holly shit, I have this guy in my deck”. Good times!

My high school was essentially a one long Tolkien fest. I read The Hobbit, LOTR, some of the Lost Tales and as much of the Sillmarilion, all the while playing METW. Eventually I moved on but I always fondly remember these times.

I always had mixed feelings about the movies. On one hand they were great, and Peter Jackson did a hell of a job. I don’t even blame him for all the big and small changes he made for the sake of narrative. On the other hand however, they sort of removed that certain fairy tale charm the books held for me. The universe they portrayed was much grittier and less magical than the Middle Earth I knew. Tolkien’s books were full of little details that made Middle Earth feel like a very old place, with it’s own history, it’s own legends and many, many secrets that were yet to be discovered. Movies failed to capture that intangible atmosphere of ancient magic and untold legends that I found so captivating. They sort of flattened and streamlined the narrative.

I’m sure that people who have never read the books were blown away by the size, scope and complexity of the world portrayed on the screen. I personally was a bit disappointed with it, as it felt smaller and shallower. I couldn’t really articulate this disappointment for a while. I just felt the movies were somewhat lacking. Only after multiple viewings I realized that what they lacked was the depth, and the resonant magic of the originals. It doesn’t mean they are bad. I just like these movies less than I like the books, if that makes sense.

How about you? How did you discover Middle Earth? What is your take on the movies? Let me know in the comments. And tomorrow, force someone to read some Tolkien!

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14 Responses to Happy Tolkien Reading Day

  1. astine UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    My father had an old copy on the shelf that he’d never read. When I was around 11 or 12, I pulled it down and started reading it.

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  2. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I know what you mean about the difference between the films and the books – despite the dark parts the books managed to maintain the sense of magic-y-ness (that is now a word, anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong :mrgreen:) whereas the films told the epic story, at the expense of the little things. It does make more sense to have it that way in a film, where you can’t pause for a second to examine the little nooks in the scenery in the same way as you can in a narrative, but it means there’s an bit missing.

    I hear rumours of a Dune movie (supposedly coming in the next few years… not sure whether it’s actually underway properly though) and that would probably suffer from similar things – there’s a lot of built up cultural detail in there, and if the focus is on the big important things then the little things tend to get lost.

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  3. Adam UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    Would you believe that I have only seen the movies?

    Yet, I definitely don’t consider myself a real LOTR fan. I know the books are more awesome than the movie. That is pretty much always the case (a lone exception being Blade Runner, maybe? Every frame of that film is amazing)

    I’ve been meaning to pick up the books, but as you mention it is damn near impossible to get a copy without Bloom’s smug mug smack on it.

    I think tomorrow’s holiday is a good enough excuse for me to finally plop down the cash to get myself a nice set.

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  4. marianne UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    a friend shared this entry on google reader and I wanted to chime in, since I am one of the few who read the books after seeing the movies. er, the first movie–I saw Fellowship and was desperate to know what happens next, so I read the books. prior to the movie, I had tried reading either The Hobbit or Fellowship (I don’t remember), but my brain just couldn’t imagine everything plus figure out if I even cared about the characters, and I gave up quickly. but the movie plunged me into the world and gave me a shortcut to mushrooms, so to speak. I immediately saw that the world did interest me, that I did care about the characters and what they were doing, and I had to know more.

    I bought The Silmarillion several years ago but still haven’t read very far in it because it’s so beautiful that it hurts. I want to pick it up again today.

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  5. Marcus GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    Read his letters too. There is stuff to discover there.

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  6. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux Terminalist says:

    I have too discovered Tolkien because of the movies. I never had many friends to talk about books (none of the guys read books, and the girls only read cheap, sappy novels), so Tolkien “passed” by me, although I had read The Neverening Story and some works by Ursula Le Guin.

    But after seeing the movies (and thought they were great, especially the second – I saw the whole 3 hours without breaks and felt I could watch another 3 right after :P ), the books appeared everywhere and I read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion, and loved them all.

    But you’re right: there much in the books that the movies don’t have, but I think it would be almost impossible to do it; Movies have a different way to tell a story, and “conversions” always have that drawback.

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  7. Ricardo INDIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I started reading the three books for the first time after my brother finished the first, some 4 years before the movies. At the time, I had no idea who Tolkien was and how big impact he created and still does.

    Then I read The Hobbit and the LOTR one more time. Never had a chance to read Silmarillion or the letters.

    I saw the movies some 3 times and I agree with you that they do not capture all the magic – although they are great movies. Then again, I don’t think that would ever be possible. When you read, you construct in your mind what the author is describing. It is very personal and no movie would ever match your imagination unless they both coincide.

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  8. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I have to admit, I had to read the book a few times to finally “get it”. It was quite some heavy reading for me. The movie kinda helped a bit.

    Oh and mine is a paperback without movie stills! ;)

    Incidentally, have you tried playing LoTR Online?

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  9. Victoria UKRAINE Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’ve read Hobbit when I was little, and in mid school I found the Two Towers. I’ve read it a thousand times (there were not so many Fantasy books around) and it’s still my favorite in the whole LOTR thing. It was much later that I was able to read Fellowship and Return of the King. The saddest thing ever was the list of death dates as an appendix to the 3rd book.

    I even managed to read Silmarillion but it was seriously too much for me :) yet one of my friends thinks that S. is the only great work of Tolkien, not the trilogy.

    Since then I’ve read a LOT of fantasy and near-fantasy books. LOTR is like the Old Testament of fantasy for me and I never found the New one :) I don’t even like LOTR. I respect and acknowledge it :) (the closest thing to New is Song of Ice and Fire by G.R.R.Martin).

    I liked the first movie the most: during it I even forgot that Frodo was wearing chain mail and gasped at the moment.

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  10. jambarama UNITED STATES Galeon Debian GNU/Linux Terminalist says:

    My mother read these books to me at night when I was growing up. I think I was 7 when we’d finished The Hobbit and the LOTR Trilogy. A few years later, I think I was 10 or 11, I read them myself. This was after I read all the other good fantasy series I could get my hands on – and my mother was an excellent book pusher. She loves to read, in fact, she can’t remember the names of her children, but still knows the stories she read in the Silmarillion as a teenager. Anyway, I read the Susan Cooper Dark is Rising series, the Lloyd Alexander High Kind series, CS Lewis & all 7 Narnia books, etc etc etc.

    Having exhausted all the classics, then I got into the trashy fantasy novels – like Dragonlance & such. My mother read a few and frowned, but let me read the thousands of pages of that dreck before I got enough taste to discern quality – and it took years. Since then, I’ve reread Narnia once, and LOTR twice – and there’s really no comparison. No other series for me contained as much excitement, none had such richly textured universes – histories, ethnicities, culture, old myths & stories, and a full spate of languages. The Silmarillion is brilliant as well, if you read it like a history book.

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  11. ExxonValdeez UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I actually learned about the books because of the movies but read them first. When the trilology was being filmed, my mom’s friend lent me really old copies of the Hobbit and the other three. I read through the Hobbit and ended up buying my own set of books because the old ones started to fall apart. That said, the covers were really neat. If I remember correctly they had Elven designs similar to those in the architecture of Rivendell. After reading the books I couldn’t wait to watch the movies and wasn’t too disappointed though I agree that the books are better. Over spring break I watched the Two Towers and the Return of the King again and I think I will read the books again this summer hopefully with the Simarillion and The Children of Hurin.

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  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Matt`: I haven’t heard about the Dune thing. So far there has been a movie and a miniseries.

    The movie was pretty much just using names and themes from Dune as background material and re-wrote most of the story. Still, I never really hated it because I saw it before I read the books. So while it’s treatment of source material was atrocious, I remember enjoying the hell of it as I watched and re-watched it over years. Along with Star Wars this one one of these movies that I would watch again as I got older, only to see new interesting things in there that I was to young to get before.

    Then I read the books (all of them) and now I’m torn whenever I watch it. On one hand, it fills me with a sense of nostalgia. On the other hand I scoff at all the things they changed.

    The miniseries was decent – much closer to the book but suffered from some bad acting, and small budget. Somehow it felt much less epic than the movie.

    I’d love to see another crack at adapting the books. It would be great to see something as faithful to the story as the miniseries realized with a Hollywood budget. They will likely fuck it up though.

    @Adam: Definitely give it a try. Keep in mind that Hobbit is easier to read, and simpler but nowhere near as epic as the LOTR. It pretty much reads as a fairy tale, while LOTR is heroic fantasy proper. You actually don’t need to read the Hobbit to get LOTR but it is a good introduction to Tolkien’s literature as a whole.

    @marianne: I know what you mean about Silmarilion. I made various valiant attempts to read it in the past but I always get stuck somewhere in the middle and get distracted.

    @IceBrain: I was lucky enough to meet bunch of people passionate about books in HS. I sort of got a crash course on awesome when I got introduced to LOTR, Dune, Pratchet (well, not in the same league but funny), Role Playing Games and Wahammer Fantasy Battles in a single semester. :) Since then I’ve been avid reader and encouraged other people to read.

    Also, my dad was a bookwork but he preferred action/spy novels and only occasionally dabbled in Science Fiction. So I sort of grew up reading Clive Cussler and David Morell novels. :P

    @Ricardo: Yup, you are right – after you read a book you already imagined the world and the characters. Whatever you see on the screen will not be a perfect match. That said, I really don’t know if the LOTR movies could have been made better. Especially since I’m really not taking the offense with the various changes introduced by Peter Jackson but rather with the rather intangible “lack of magick”.

    @Mart: Well, I actually don’t own a matching set. My Fellowship is a old edition paperback, in Polish. My Two Towers is some special edition paperback which is twice the size of Fellowship (widthxheight). The Return of the King is standard pre-movie paperback. Just by looking at these 3 books you would never be able to tell they were a single trilogy. Ive been itching to buy a nice matching set, but I’m waiting for a nice looking affordable one without Orlando Bloom’s mug on the cover.

    Oh, and I haven’t tried LOTR online. Did you? How is it?

    @Victoria: You are right. Tolkien pretty much invented Fantasy and no one else has really been able to do anything even remotely close in scope, literally eloquence and awesomeness.

    It’s probably because most Fantasy writers are not accomplished linguists and philosophers. Thanks for the G.R.R.Martin recommendation.

    @jambarama: Yup, Ive read a lot of fantasy and nothing even comes close.

    @ExxonValdeez: Good luck with the Silmarilion. It is quite different from LOTR – just to let you know. :)

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  13. ExxonValdeez UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    @Luke: That is what I have heard. My best friend says it read more like a history book so I might try to read it concurrently with the trilogy so I stay intrested. I realize it is not about the fellowship but I think the combination would make both more interesting. We will see. Between graduation and college I might not have time anyway.

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  14. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Luke Maciak: LoTRO is quite a good MMO. I’ve tried it for a few months, but quit soon after. I just can’t seem to commit to MMOs. It’s very WoW-ish in a way, so it’s quite accessible. It’s one of the few MMOs launched after WoW that seem to have a good following after it.

    I like the way the main storyline quests are handled, organized into “volumes” and “chapters”. If I remember correctly, most of these main quests are instanced. The best part is that it gets its source material from the book, not the movie, so you can expect ol’ Tom Bombadil to make an appearance in there.

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