Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Grave mistake

It's taken some courage to write this post. I'll be broaching a subject that is freighted with embarrassment, even shame for a man of my age. T and I talk about just about everything, but this is one area she will not address. If I try to broach it she'll refuse to engage - it's beyond the pale.

But when I started this blog, I decided I would write about anything and everything I was interested in. So - with severe misgivings - here goes.

I've just completed watching the extended play version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Whilst there are a number of small irritating alterations made in the film version versus the book, presumably for the sake of making things clearer for a cinema audience (e.g. pointy ears for Elves and Hobbits), as well as some necessary abridgements (the episode on the Barrows) there is one misconceived additional scene that I just find totally unacceptable. It's bugging the hell out of me.

You're spared this solecism in the cinematic version - my enjoyment that Christmas of 2003 was unalloyed. But in the extended play DVD version of Return of the King, there's a scene where the Witch-King of Angmar (aka the Lord of the Nazgul), lands his flying beast on the battlements of Minas Tirith at the height of the siege and has a confrontation with Gandalf. The Witch-King totally overwhelms the Wizard, breaking his staff, and insulting him by calling him a defeated old man. The Witch-King is only distracted from going in for the kill by the charge of the Rohirrim down on the plains below, the opening engagement of the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

This scene doesn't appear in the book and must have been created to add drama and an additional sense of incredible achievement to the final fall of the Witch-King at the hands of the woman Eowyn and the hobbit Merry. This is unnecessary in my view - their achievement is remarkable enough without their victim being made more formidable in this way.

I object so strongly to this scene - it seriously detracts from my enjoyment of the whole latter part of the film - as it's not credible in the context of the book or even that of the film. It's inconsistent with the internal logic of the world of Middle-Earth and this is critical for maintaining suspension of disbelief. At this point of the film my own disbelief just comes crashing down, shattering the carefully constructed fantasy.

Why? Well, the Witch-King is a man whose powers have been enhanced by possession of one of the Nine Rings given by Sauron to the race of Men. It's turned him into a near-immortal Wraith and he appears to have great powers of inspiring fear. However, he is not necessarily a great warrior or a possessor of great and destructive magical powers. For instance, Aragorn drives him and, I think, another four Wraiths away from Weathertop without too much trouble earlier in the book and film (there are other instances in both book and film where the Ringwraiths are shown not to be formidable fighters or wielders of powerful magic).

Gandalf, on the other hand, is much more than a man enhanced by possession of a Ring. Far from it: as is revealed in The Silmarillion, he is from the class of being called the Maiar. These are like lesser gods or angels and can have enormous powers. Sauron is a corrupt Maia, as are the Balrogs (an indication of Gandalf's fighting prowess is that he defeated a Balrog in the previous film). What's more, Gandalf is the head of his order of Wizards at this point of the trilogy and also wears the Elven Ring of Fire, Narya (however, you'll only know the latter from reading some of Tolkien's other writings).

When set out like this, I think you'll agree it's ridiculous to think that the Witch-King could fell Gandalf, breaking his staff in the process. Setting to one side the incommensurable prestige of their respective Rings of Power, we're looking at a Wraith-man versus a semi-divine being. Gandalf is a worthy foe for Sauron, whose status as a Maia he shares, not a plausible victim for one of his Wraith servants. I will be campaigning to have this scene deleted from future editions of the extended play DVD of Return of the King - I think we owe it to future generations.


Brit said...

But what about the omission of Tom Bombadill, that was a... - no, sorry, I can't do this, it's too embarrassing. Can't we talk about hemorrhoids or porn or something?

worm said...

eek! My older brother must be the same age as you Gaw, and he also is well versed in the fantasy genre - I seem to recall his festering digs at Cambridge being full of weighty tomes about Thomas Covenant and The Worm Ouroboros (sp?) Never really read anything like that meself as the lack of vowels in everybody's names makes me dizzy

Sean said...

Never got LotR, just too much like hard work, when you sit down after a hard days toil, you want to disengage your brain. Ive always found magic roundabout, clangers and MB potty time really hit the spot.

I like the Matrix, thats interesting without having to blow you brains out.

This is a link

Francis Sedgemore said...

My sympathies are with T.

Anonymous said...

What meds are you on? Poor, Poor little T!

Sophie King said...

Gaw, you old LOTR nerd, this is utterly shaming - and could just as easily have been written by my husband.

Gaw said...

Thanks all for your generous forbearance. I feel a lot better for getting that off my chest.

I'd like to promise it won't happen again. But we recovering Tolkaholics like to take things one day at a time.

Anonymous said...

Gaw, you are going to need all your strength to stay clean. I hear a new genre will be coming out soon called fantasy fantasies. The first one pits Gandalf against Aslan.

Steady on, man, you can do it. Call us anytime, 24/7.

Gaw said...

Peter: Thankfully, my strong streak of pedantry will prevent my enjoying any bastard children of fantasy novels. Too far fetched for a start. Thanks for your support - I'll probably need it what with The Hobbit about to go into production.

BTW Sophie, funny how it's always the boys, eh. Ever met a female Tolkien fan?

Brit said...

Oh they do exist, Gaw. They tend to have long black hair and be called Morag or similar.