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Old 04-06-2008, 09:13 AM   #192
Illustrious Ulair
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Location: In the home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names,and impossible loyalties
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davem is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.davem is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
A few things struck me during this episode. First, the encounter with Theoden. I'm so glad we got the 'book' version rather than the histrionics of the movie. Its clear that Theoden is not 'possessed' or the victim of any kind of 'magic', but simply worn down by Grima's ill counsel. In short he has lost all hope in the face of what he has been convinced are overwhelming odds. I love how Jack May plays this. Again, I don't know whether he knew the book beforehand, but he captures the character's pshychological state. This Theoden is a warrior who has been convinced there is no point fighting but deep down is just waiting for the slightest glimmer of hope. As soon as Gandalf arrives & shows him that glint he forgets his despair & rallies not simply himself, but his whole people.

I mentioned previously that battles on radio are necessarily difficult. You can't see what's going on & you can't really have a narrator giving a blow-by-blow despription. The battles in this adaptation are very stylised - this one has character conversations intercut by choral singing - Pelennor Fields, as we'll see, uses character conversations intercut with a song which was composed after the event:
Narrator: And so King Théoden and the last of the Rohirrim came to Minas Tirith, to the Pelennor Fields. It was a great battle, afterwards told in many a song in the feast-hall of Meduseld.
This is something I like about this adaptation, because I think it brings out the 'legendary' nature of the story - as in the book we get the sense that these are events that happened a very long time ago.

Thankfully, because of these limitations the battles don't overwhelm the adaptation. Both Helm's Deep & Pelennor Fields take up about 10 pages of the book & maybe ten minutes of the production. All they need, really. LotR is a book about a war certainly, but one written by someone who had been in a war & knew that war is usually like that - a lot of slogging around, a lot of hanging around, & then a short, bloody battle.

The Frodo/Sam/Gollum scenes are again perfectly judged. Frodo's increasing resignation (Are we ever likely to need bread again?) is brought home. He has convinced himself that the end of the Quest will mean the end of his life - one way or another. I think Tolkien mentioned in one of the letters that Frodo expected to die & that he couldn't actually cope with surviving. Increasingly now we'll find Sam trying to warn Frodo of the danger they face from Gollum & Frodo merely responding with a 'don't worry, we aren't throttled yet...' etc. The scenes in the Dead Marshes again follow the book. The 'horror' is rooted in sadness & waste, in the fact that all that beauty & nobility came to nothing but rottenness, not in 'spooks' coming to get you! The danger of the marshes is that despair & hopelessness will overwhelm you, & its wonderful how this reflects back on the events at Meduseld. You get the sense that the real horror of battle is not the battle itself but the aftermath. Ian Holm nails that perfectly. And on that note - I'm not sure this adaptataion doesn't bring home the real facts of war better than the book - the stark contrast between the horrors of the old battlefield full of the corpses of the dead with the 'glorious' victory over the armies of Saruman at Helm's Deep is shocking. The Last Alliance won a victory over Sauron, but its lasting memorial is the corpse-ridden Dead Marshes. The Rohirrim defeat the forces of Saruman, but both good & evil fell. Even as we exult at the appearance of Gandalf with Erkenbrand & the annihilation of the enemy we can't help but hear Frodo's words echoing across the long leagues of Middle-earth & down the long years to us today:
I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, with weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead.
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