Sunday, April 26, 2009

Harry Potter vs Lord of the Rings: whoever wins, you lose

Nerds like holding pissing contests about stuff they didn't do themselves. Grand Theft Auto vs. Saint's Row. Thundercats vs. GI Joe. Laces in vs. laces out. A biggie used to be Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings (and it is imperative that you only like ONE, okay?) but that's not one I particularly care about, as there is a very clear winner. Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings, however? Hoo boy.

The standard reaction here from respectable and intelligent individuals is Lord of the Rings. Surely, those movies have won awards and the books are like... very old... and stuff. And if they're really old and people still read them, they must be good, right? Indeed, it must! Good stuff, short blog post.

No! You are not rid of me so easily, you buttbabies! Much more recently, a new player appeared on the block. The block being a block inhabited by fiction filled with wizards and trolls and shit, so not a very tough block, but still. The literary adventures of boy wizard Harry Potter have been enrapturing the imaginations children of all ages since '97. Quick to jump on what's popular, Hollywood would bring these magical adventures to the screen in '01 starring every British actor who ever lived.

After a good forty years of trying, it was kiwi director Peter Jackson who finally succeeded in bringing that other fantasy story to the screen in the very same year: the first part of the Rings trilogy The Fellowship of the Ring.

Having successful film adaptations come out in the same year, featuring wizards and following a fairly typical Hero's Journey plot are about the only things the two sagas had in common, but it didn't stop them from being mentioned in the same breath in many a conversation. Eventually Lord of the Rings became ACADEMY AWARD WINNER Lord of the Rings, and the LotR (acronyms, something else nerds love) crowd knew "their" series was the better.

I remember sitting in the theatre watching The Return of the King for the first time, when I hear a man in his thirties telling the two ladies he was with that the book was more "spannend", a Dutch word meaning something between "exciting" and "tense". I wonder what book he read, cuz it couldn't have been Return of the King.

The Return of the King I read featured near two-hundred pages of appendices. Appendices featuring exciting stuff like pronunciation of names, chronologies, genealogies, etymologies and little easter egg details like the entire relationship between a main character and his wife.

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the damned thing, was a scholar, first and foremost. He spent most of his tragedy-stricken youth coming up with far away lands filled with fantastical creatures, even going as far as to make up different languages for different creatures. Dude had a shitty time as a kid (everybody got sick, died), a shitty time as a young man (everybody went to World War I, died) but he managed to pick himself up by the coattails and become a fucking professor of linguistics at some fancy university. You could say the man did pretty well for himself. In fact, he used his knowledge of ancient sagas and legends combined with all that shit he made up as a young fella to tell his kids very elaborate stories. One of those he brought to a publisher and saw the light of day as The Hobbit, a relatively straightforward adventure story about timid tunnel-dweller Bilbo Baggins and a bunch of interchangeable dwarves, one of which was very fat, looking for treasure.

A few years later, the publisher asked for a sequel story. This would become The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien envisioned LotR more as a straight up sequel to The Hobbit at first. Bilbo was still the protagonist in an early draft, accompanied by comic relief hobbit Trotter. Although Bilbo and Trotter eventually became Bilbo's cousin Frodo and his gardener Sam, the early chapters of the work still showcase Tolkien's Hobbit state of mind. Just like in that earlier work, our protagonists just kind of skipped along from encounter to encounter, each step a bit closer to the end of their adventure.

And yes, in the initial chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and Sam get lost in the Old Forest, almost get strangled by Old Man Willow (all trees in this forest are kind of sentient, but Willow's a straight up sociopath) and also almost stabbed by ghosts! Well, that sounds kind of cool, right? That's a lot of adventure in a pretty short period. Well, it would be, if not for the intervention of one of the most baffling literary characters of all times.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tom Bombadil.

Neither Dwarf nor Hobbit nor man, Tom Bombadil is an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in shit. For the uninitiated, Frodo and Sam are on a quest to destroy the One Ring, an evil artefact that can grant great power to its bearer, but ultimately corrupts all who come into contact with it. Great kings of men have fallen prey to its will, and now it's up to these little Hobbits to destroy it before Sauron can reclaim it. Bombadil don't give a shit, though. He plays with it, wears it, sings a few songs to it. That's how he rolls. We've just spent a good one hundred pages detailing how evil and awesome and corrupting the One Ring is, only to have Bore-a The Explorer here just casually undermine all that. Oh, and remember all that adventure Frodo and Sam were having?

  • Trees of the Old Forest moving about to make them get lost? They give up and go to sleep by a riverbed.

  • Old Man Willow tries to strangle them in their sleep: Tom Bombadil shows up and tells the willow to fuck off. In song.

  • Stabbed by ghosts? Tom Bombadil shows up and tells the ghosts to fuck off. In song.

For some reason, Bombadil didn't make it into the movie.

If you've noticed song is kind of a big deal here in Middle-earth, you're right. Tolkien loved song, and by gum, don't you wanna hear these poems he wrote? Bet you do! Especially Fellowship is just riddled with them, some of them stretching over pages and pages.

Did you think Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli were cool dudes? Would you like to know more about them? You're in luck! My man J.R.R. will tell you all about where they came from in excruciating detail. He will tell you about Aragorn's grampappy and where he came from! He will tell you who designed the Rivendell shithouses! He will tell you what kind of azaleas Elrond likes to keep! He will... huh? That girl? Uh, yeah, she's Aragorn's fiance or some shit, I dunno. Look, they decided to take it easy, we'll see where we can pick it up from once he's king, okay? Jeez.

You may also remember the classic scene from the movie where wizard Gandalf faces off with a huge demon in an underground kingdom? If not, spoilers follow.

Before the movie, there was a decades-long debate over whether or not the demon had wings. Now, even if you've seen just the above YouTube, you'd think that scene would bear at least a little concrete description. Hahaha fuck that, let's get back to describing trees. Am I glad to be out of that cave! Coincidentally, the first thing they enter after they're out of there is a beautiful elven forest, filled to the brim with beautiful and noble elves descended from even more beautiful and nobler elves.

There's only a few character voices in Lord of the Rings. There's Epic Saga Character (every elf and noble human), British Country Squire (the Hobbits) and Retarded Approximation Of What Blue Collar People Sound Like Because I Am A Professor And I Have Forgotten What That Sounds Like (Sam, the orcs). Character identification? Fuck that shit, I've got some fucking vistas and lineages to describe like you wouldn't believe.

I've heard a librarian once say she thought it was a shame how children who came fresh off of Harry Potter and wanted to read more and what was like Harry Potter please? immediately got forwarded to Lord of the Rings because hey, 's got wizards and shit, right?

Harry Potter's also got a whole bunch of likeable characters, situations easy to identify with and clever mystery plots unravelled by the cunning and bravery of the hero and his allies. Almost every little derail used to enrich the world is also used in the plot somehow and isn't just empty window dressing. It's not great literature by any means, but it's a fun read, which is definitely more than one can say about LotR.

My final argument: a fox calls the Hobbits queer.

"Hobbits!" he thought. "Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There's something mighty queer behind this." He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.

I rest my case. Also, this is a deleted scene from Fellowship where the fox sees them.

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