Tag Archives: Lord of the Rings

Essay: My Many Selves as a Geeky Fan

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I’ve been thinking a great deal in recent months about what it means to be a fan; bear with me, I think a lot, I write it all down, and I’m not averse to an unhappy ending. This essay is the story of who I have been all my life; I am a geek. I’m not just a geek, but that aspect of who I am has evolved over the years and is a large part of my life.

For the first time ever though I’ve evolved because of other fans and I’ve been hurt by that change. For you to understand my heartbreak you need to know the context that came before.

The Early Years

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I can remember being an obsessive person from a very young age. As a geek, it started with the Ewok cartoons, before I even knew about the Star Wars films. I was also into ‘Back to the Future’, something I have since identified as being one of my first real obsessions a one, unlike the Ewok cartoons, I am still captivated by.

I’ve always been relatively secure in my interests; if I had periods of trying to conform to ‘normal’ because of peer pressure then they were short lived. I know they did happen, and generally speaking they stopped because I was bored.

I was the kid that got called a geek, a nerd and a swot. When I was younger that hurt. Then, when I was about twelve and I turned around to someone shouting it at me with a simple reply; ‘And?”. They were confused; ‘So what if I’m a swot?”. It didn’t stop them from shouting it at me for a while, until they realised it didn’t bother me. They started shouting other things instead, but that’s different. I was sure of myself and my interests, and it stopped hurting.

This was before the internet and social media were all the rage; I spent my teen years having hushed conversations with friends about whether Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or Voyager was the best Star Trek Series (for which the answer is Deep Space Nine), or whether the Klingons, The Dominion or the Borg were the best villains (despite previous answer, The Borg, hands down). That was about as much interaction as I had with other people about geeky things; I talked with like-minded folks, who also had things like ‘swot’ shouted at them down the corridors.

And I never considered myself lonely; I had friends for other reasons. Being a geeky fan was an entirely different part of my life. It had more to do with my parents than with my peers.

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The first time I saw the Star Wars films was when they re-released the films in the cinema in 1997, branded as the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy. Like the generation when Star Wars was first released, I got to see it for the very first time in the cinema.

My parents introduced me to Star Trek. I can even remember being excited about the last few series of Deep Space Nine and Voyager broadcasting for the first time. It’s the same with Stargate SG-1, which I think we watched because of me and my love for the fact they combined science fiction with Ancient Egyptian mythology.

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And then there is J.R.R. Tolkien. I was never taken with ‘The Hobbit’, which I read as a child, so Tolkien was a bit of a mystery to me overall. All I knew was that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was one of the few books my dad would read again and again. I can remember seeing the trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring, and being intrigued by the fact my dad was excited by it. And then I saw the film for the first time. Wham! In the space of 178 minutes, I became a fully-fledged fantasy fan as well as a sci-fi geek.

It was my first evolution; it changed everything. I still didn’t like ‘The Hobbit’, but I devoured ‘The Lord of the Rings’, its appendices, and swiftly moved onto ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘The Unfinished Tales’. It made me take interest in Harry Potter. I discovered Trudi Canavan. The Chronicles of Narnia, which I had already loved as a kid, became even more important. As a writer now I write about magic, and it is all because of Tolkien and Peter Jackson.

It was also the beginning of my passion for special features; how it was made, how they did it, how the actors felt being part of the production. I read the movie guides and re-read the books again and again. It wasn’t just with ‘The Lord of the Rings’ I did this. It spread to other passions. I practically memorised the Star Trek Encyclopaedia by Michael and Denise Okuda as well.

Being a geek was something I did with trusted friends, my parents and in the privacy of my room where I could devour my interest, safe in the knowledge that no-one could stop me from enjoying myself. I didn’t know what it meant to be an introvert at the time, but knowing that now, explains a great deal about why I was a private geek. This continued on for many years.

Discovering Fan Fiction

Up until I was about sixteen the internet had nothing to do with my life as a geek. The geekiest thing I did on the computer was read the Encarta Encyclopaedia. Despite the internet becoming more popular, it was something the cool kids did.

Given they called me names in person and my books didn’t, I didn’t really gravitate towards using emails, MSN messenger or MySpace, because books were better. The first email I sent was when I started university in September 2006. I didn’t join Facebook until 2007 because my boyfriend (now my husband) persuaded me, and also set me up a personal email account at the same time.

Before then I hadn’t shown much interest; I can even remember the first time I accessed a website. It was at school, and one of the German teachers looked at me as if I was completely thick when she told us we needed to access a website and I said didn’t know how; conversation went like this.

“Miss it doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Type in the correct web address.”

“Yeah Miss, I’ve done that, but it isn’t coming up.” So I closed it down and started it up again because she thought it must have been the connection. She watched me type in the address again. I waited. “See Miss it isn’t working.” Then the look came.

“You need to press enter,” she said in an incredibly condescending tone.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I said. I pressed enter; it worked.

“How did you not know that?”

“Never used the internet before Miss,” I answered. The look again; I got it from quite a few classmates as well.

Admittedly, I must have been about fifteen, this was 2003 and the internet wasn’t exactly in the flush of youth anymore. I think using the internet was expected to be a basic skill. Needless to say I try and watch my tone when people admit they can’t do basic things; if you’ve never been shown then, HOW are you supposed to know?

And now I had been shown, I still wasn’t interested.

It’s rather miraculous really that I ever discovered online Fan Fiction. I’m not even entirely sure why I found it. I think it was because I’d been writing Harry Potter fan fiction (from the Marauder Era, but my protagonist was a character I created, and J.K. Rowling’s characters were just there for me to practice with). When I discovered other people did this too, it never occurred to me to join them and publish my writing online.

I was taught that sharing online was a dangerous thing to do because there were nasty people on the internet. There still are and I’m still careful, and I think the re-definition of ‘troll’ is one of the best examples of how language can be re-purposed.

It was also because I had no desire to share my stories online. If I was going to be a writer, then I wanted my work to be in a book and printed on actual paper with ink. I still want that now. I dread to think what people would have thought of my writing, because reading it back it is terrible. But it was practice. I did however have a very short phase of reading other people’s fan fiction with great interest, but I was only ever interested in Harry Potter. I knew Lord of the Rings stuff existed, but I had no interest in it.

It was I guess my first introduction to what we now call shipping. As a fan of the Harry Potter books I always thought Harry and Hermione would end up together. I still think that, but I’ve always been of the opinion that J.K. Rowling as the writer had the right to do what she wanted with her story, and I accepted that. In Fan Fiction though I was drawn to Hermione and Severus Snape ending up together.

It is weird thinking about it now, but all I can assume attracted me to it was the fact that I related a great deal to Hermione as a teenager, in the same way I did to Matilda when I was even younger. They were both girls that loved books and were rather clever, and they were accepted as such; I say the shouting of ‘swot’ down the corridor stopped hurting. It would however have been nicer to not have to hear it at all.

And Snape was for me the perfect complex character. I didn’t quite know what he was really thinking or who he was really working for; he was a mystery and I loved him as an anti-hero. At this point Alan Rickman had also been cast, and I have a soft spot for him, because I loved him as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

I cried, several times, when I learnt he had died; I do that very rarely for celebrities, Natasha Richardson having been the previous instance. All I can assume is that I liked the combination of Hermione and Snape, because as a hormonal teen, it was a weird way of having a crush on an actor.  This phase lasted probably about three weeks as a deep obsession, before I got bored and it petered away, and I went back to how I had been before; private.

There is however a reason why I have mentioned it; it was my first foray into the idea that people explore stories outside of canon. I’ll come back to that.

The University Years

I consider being a student at University as my formative years. Because in university, I met more geeks, and being into geeky stuff at university isn’t uncool. I didn’t have to talk in a hushed voice about my opinions. People in university are a lot more grown up than school kids.

I also theorise that alcohol, partying, and the freedom to do whatever you wanted outside of parental constraints but within the law, changed most people that thought being a geek was a bad thing by teaching them a lesson. The lesson being that people are allowed to be whoever they want to be. All the geeks, nerds and swots actually had a head-start on the cool kids with that freedom, because we had been free being ourselves for a lot longer.

I went out in Newcastle on my first night as a student; I was out until 3am with a girl I didn’t know but who I had to now share a bathroom with. I was also utterly naïve to partying, and I hated every minute of it. I stayed sober, and somehow managed to get myself to my 9am introductory lecture in the morning. I was bleary eyed, but I paid attention enough to discover I could be a student representative, and thus started my interest in politics, but that’s another story.

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That night, rather than go out again I stayed in reading a new book I’d treated myself to with my student loan ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger. It is the only time I have read the book, because the context I read it in is too important for me to consider going back to it just yet (this is how I still feel ten years later). I lost myself in its pages, rather than go out to ‘have fun’ just because I could. I already knew who I was as a person, and it was the sort of person who curls up with a good book rather than light up the ‘Toon’.

I did meet people at university though, including the man that is now my husband. I did it my way though, via social interaction that didn’t involve being hungover the next day. I was bruised, but that happens in Karate. I made friends on my history course, and through my hobby, and discovered commons interests with them. With my partner, we shared our interests by binge watching box sets, and talking about geeky stuff we loved as we got to know each other.

I was no longer a private geek; I had my partner and I had friends at university that were a lot more open to accepting me as being a geek. I was also becoming a great deal more certain about the fact that I want to be a writer. This lead me to the internet.

Social Media

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I have this blog, and it is the foundation stone for my platform as a writer. It links to Facebook and to Twitter. It linked to Google+ and being a good little social networker, I set myself up on Pinterest and Tumblr too; I was connected.

Google+ was the first to fall away due to it being mysterious. Pinterest never really worked for me and my blog. Tumblr just became somewhere else where I copied my WordPress posts to without much readership. It is only really on Facebook and Twitter that I’ve maintained my author platform.

Pinterest and Tumblr though become something else to me; they became the places I went to follow my geeky interests. I find crossovers amusing; there are some really great examples of fan art out there, and while I don’t participate myself I have been stunned by the creativity and dedication some people put into their passion.

I evolved again; I was no longer a private geek, I was a social media geek. I laughed alongside everyone else at the joke about the ‘basic’ girl being a bit frightened by fandoms.

I began to identify as being part of fandoms. I connected with other like-minded people. It became something that I would share with my partner; I’d even share content on Facebook with my non-geek friends as a demonstration of who I am as a person. I would laugh at, like, re-blog, pin, and tweet about things geeky that I loved. While my platform was still there for writing, it also became the online extension of the geeky part of my personality.

I was no longer a private geek, and when on this very blog I started to write reviews, I deliberately developed sections dedicated to certain fandoms. I doubt that I am alone in having done this, and I would very much correlate this rise in geeks creating content for the internet with the rise in franchises. Because why not? Fan content is free marketing. Why create something new, when what you can do instead is simply add to an existing franchise with a fandom that will go on to passionately share their fan-art and memes. Many will even go on to write fan-fiction.

This is who I became. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t admired everything that I’ve seen over the years with wide-eyed naivety. There are things that don’t amuse me, there are fandoms that I’m not a part of, and I don’t always agree with everything shared on the internet.

I am also just not that into shipping; the foray into Harry Potter fan fiction was brief. I also very briefly developed in interest in Reylo because of one sketch by a fan. I read one fan fiction dedicated to Kylux. Then people started shipping Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, and alarm bells went off in my head. I stopped paying attention to shipping and went back a step to crossovers, memes and great art work.

To be honest, I ashamed that I didn’t see what happened next coming from a mile off.

‘The Final Problem’

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Needless to say I no longer laugh at the joke about the ‘basic’ girl being a bit frightened by fandoms. Whether she was ever real or not, the joke was real and that girl saw something I didn’t. She saw the obsession of some fans and was frightened by how intensely protective they are their interest.

I’m not frightened; I am really disappointed.

As you can see from my essay, I have evolved as a fan over the years. I was the little girl pouring over books, and watching the television with my parents. I dipped my toe here or there into the internet, before becoming a confident half of a partnership not scared to be geeky together. And then I became the social media geek.

Over the years, what I have liked has changed. I mentioned ‘Matilda’ before; I was a massive Roald Dahl fan. That faded for years until I recently read ‘Love from Boy’.

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I am still a massive fan of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Silmarillion’, and I also like ‘The Hobbit’ films, despite the fact I dislike the book.

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I have had a love/hate relationship with the MCU for years; I hate Tony Stark, but ‘The Winter Soldier’ made me fall into love with the rest of the MCU. Now though I’m a bit ‘meh’ about it because I’ve got bored.

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I’ve also figured out why I’ve struggled to connect to Doctor Who in recent years because of the cancellation of Doctor Who Confidential which satisfied my love of knowing how it was made.

And there are many more; I am a Browncoat; I find joy in Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus books. There are standalone books like ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ that have wormed their way into my heart. I’ve never blogged about Harry Potter, but Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them re-sparked inspiration for my own writing.

I blog reviews and I talk about my passions a lot. However, except from having the odd discussion on WordPress with other bloggers, all of which have been pleasant even if we haven’t always agreed, I was only ever really an observer of internet fandoms.

I’m really struggling to be that anymore. Every time I go on Tumblr now I leave it feeling low. I’ve pretty much stopped because instead of cheering me up and being a place of refuge it has become a place where I only find hatred. If it was not for the fact I go on Tumblr to also read about Feminism, LBGTQIA and INTJ, I might have already followed through with my deleting my account entirely.  I’ve retreated on Pinterest; I haven’t deleted my ‘Geek!’ board but it is now a private place just for me and my husband.

I want to be a private geek again; someone who talks with like-minded people in person. The appeal of being part of a fandom died a sudden death and it utterly broke my heart. There have been actual tears because I loved going on the internet and seeing that I was not alone as a geek. I even tweeted this not long ago before I’d come to fully realise and process all of my recent feelings.

Like I said I wasn’t lonely as a geeky child, but there were fewer of us. Before the internet I hadn’t really been able to discover the true richness of being able to share your passions with other people. I was able to become that person over time and through the development of technology that put other people in the palm of my hand wherever I was, provided I had enough battery and a decent 4G signal. Pulling back from what I had become hurts.

It hurts all the more, because it isn’t what I love that’s changed and changed me like it had been before. Other fans crossing the line has forced this transformation.

I have been disappointed over the years by things I love. I don’t like ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ all that much, either the book or the film. I don’t hate J.K. Rowling because of it though. I was deeply disappointed by ‘Civil War’; I don’t hate the creators of the MCU though. I don’t dislike Tolkien just because I’ve never liked ‘The Hobbit’. I might never forgive the BBC for cancelling Doctor Who Confidential, or Fox for cancelling Firefly; I don’t hate the people who made that decision though.

And I might not have been thrilled with ‘The Final Problem’ the last episode in the fourth series of Sherlock, but I mostly certainly don’t hate Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss because of it. I certainly don’t send threating tweets or blog on Tumblr about how the creators are now not allowed to identify themselves as being who they are because people disliked what they didn’t do in Sherlock. I don’t lash out angrily at other fans because they are fans of Sherlock in a different way, and didn’t have the same hate-fuelled reaction to the episode. I don’t believe my opinion is the only one that matters and anyone else is wrong, which therefore justifies bullying.

I have never hated a writer because they did something I disliked. I’ve been disappointed, and fine yes the first time I watched ‘The Final Problem’ I was a bit bored. I wasn’t the second time though and while it will never be one of my favourite episodes it is still better than most television I’ve ever watched. In fact I would credit Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss with sparking off a bit of a television revolution. I doubt clever shows that don’t dumb it down for their audience such as ‘The Man in the High Castle’ or ‘Westworld’ would exist if the foundation of modern clever television that started with Sherlock hadn’t been laid.

I will never agree with the reasons people are justifying those actions ; the creators are human beings and that in itself is enough for me to be respectful. I reserve hatred for rare examples of human beings who are actively making the very real lives of human beings miserable. I’d never hate someone because of something fictional.

The fact people are acting like this has actually made me ashamed of being a geek, something I have never felt in my life.

I shed tears when I first saw Gandalf fall in Moria; I still cry when Dumbledore dies; I struggle to watch John Watson talking to Sherlock’s grave; and the ending to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress chokes me up just thinking about it. I’ve been moved to tears many times over the years because of the books, films and televisions shows that I have let into my heart.

I never thought I’d ever cry because another fan had hurt me, but I have, and those tears have been the most painful, because they came from the very last sort of people I ever thought; the sort of people who like me probably got called a ‘swot’ or a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd’ when it was meant as an insult rather than as a way of identifying ourselves.

Moving forward…

I detest the word fandom now; I’m seriously contemplating editing my entire blog to remove the word. If it does disappear then you know I did.

I’m in two minds about keeping my Tumblr account, and I doubt my ‘Geek!’ board will ever re-emerge as a public board on Pinterest. I’ve stopped reading the comment threads on twitter, especially on anything Mark Gatiss tweets. I’ve followed him for years, for various reasons and loved reading the commentary because many of his fans are witty and respectful. Now, I always find one that isn’t.

I don’t want to be associated with that backlash. I don’t want to be thought of as a member of any fandom, because for me the word has come to be associated with being part of the ownership of what has been created. Rather than the writer being the owner, the audience is instead, which is a very postmodernism viewpoint and I dislike postmodernism for many reasons.

Fan Fiction in the days when I developed an interest in Snape/Hermione was a bit of fun. I should have known when people started shipping Daisy and Adam, rather than Rey and Kylo that the lines between reality and fiction, canon and fan fiction have become blurred. For some people I don’t even think they exist at all.

And I think it is going to take me a long time to come to terms with the disappointment I felt when fans of Sherlock lashed out in hatred.

For now I’m just pottering along; I’m still going to blog, because I’m not going to silence my voice because I’ve been disappointed by what others have said with theirs. I’m using twitter to tweet some geeky stuff, because I’m not going to deny part of myself because other fans have made me feel ashamed.

But the most recent evolution of myself as a geek has shaken me to the very core and I’m not going to get over that easily. I also don’t see this evolution of myself as a geek being able to move forward with the sort of positive progress I have made over the years; I can’t ever go backwards, but I don’t see forwards as being an option either.

I’m stuck as a geek who can no longer entirely trust other geeks to have my back even if we have a different opinion. We didn’t all hush our voices because we were ashamed of being who we are, some of us just weren’t as confident about being a geek as others. We whispered to save those that were a bit embarrassed from being overheard by our bullies.

I never thought the geeks would become like the bullies. Maybe I am just a bit more wide-eyed and naïve than I had thought.

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Film Review – The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey

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I have to admit, I wasn’t as excited about the Hobbit coming out as I was about Lord of the Rings. I’m not a big fan of the book, I’m not keen on the character of Thorin, and just generally it doesn’t compare all that well to the Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion. However, it was Peter Jackson in charge, Ian McKellan as Gandalf and Martin Freeman who I love from Sherlock as Bilbo. That and they pulled Richard Armitage out to play Thorin, which could never be a bad thing.

From the moment I first watched it though I absolutely loved it. A lot of people I know are sceptical about how they can make a short book into three films, but when you do read the book a lot does happen, but it lasts two paragraphs in the book and then it moves on. There is also a lot of backstory in the films can you can only find in the appendices of the Lord of the Rings. It is also a lot easier to focus the story and work on the character interaction in the film, compared to the book and even to the LOTR films because there actually is a main character in the Hobbit.

Focus on Bilbo, and then you can draw out the story line around him basically being the audience and asking the questions about what happened and what the other motives of the characters are. In the book it is just sort of we’re going to the mountain to reclaim our homeland but the story of how it was lost isn’t that drawn out.

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The tragedy of the mountain being taken and Dale being destroyed is mentioned but not in great depth, and what the dwarves did afterwards is barely mentioned at all. All of the characters have depth and personality, some with backstories that add to the story. The opportunity of the filmmaker is to visualise all of this, make it more real and expand upon the book, where the story is there but it isn’t as interactive and immediate as in the Lord of the Rings books.

Another thing that people also tend to forget is that to make the Lord of the Rings into just three films they cut an awful lot of material out, which is why the extended editions are treasured by die-hard fans, but even then entire storylines are just brushed aside. So making one book into three films I suspect was less of the challenge than making three extensive and long books into three films.

And then there is the scene in Gollum’s Cave. Riddles in the Dark is the single greatest scene in all six of Peter Jackson’s films of middle earth. The Fellowship of the Ring might have Arwen fleeing the Nazgul, The Two Towers might have Helm’s Deep and the march of the Ents, and the Return of the King might have the one ring melting in the fires of Mount Doom, but none of it compares to the sinister yet sweet  interaction between Bilbo and Gollum.

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Gollum who has lived so long in the dark can think only of riddles about the world he knows around him; the mountain, time, the wind, whereas Bilbo has teeth and eggs, before Gollum accidently slips up and tells him to ask him a question rather than a riddle. The horror Gollum faces when ‘what is in my pocket?’ makes him lose the opportunity to have a decent meal (Bilbo) for the first time in centuries. And then he finds the ring is gone, he snaps and Bilbo has no choice but to flee.

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Pity though stays Bilbo’s hand, which means Gollum lives and waits for decades to hold his precious again, admittedly in the fleeing moments before he falls into the fire of Mount Doom and is part of the destruction of the one ring, because it is only in accident when Frodo and him are fighting over who gets to keep the ring that the ring is even destroyed. All that history and importance in one scene, you can’t help but love it, and because of it even the most sceptical person like myself can fall in love with Middle Earth again.

If you liked this you like these film reviews too:

The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Film Review – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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Firstly, The Return of the King gets a lot of stick because of the multiple endings and the large amount of time it takes to get to the Grey Havens. Well, anyone who has read the books will tell you that most of the plot Sam and Frodo have is actually in the Two Towers book, and in the The Return of the King book there is a lot more ending than what is in the film. Peter Jackson and his team had a lot more material that they could have included but didn’t.

I also really like the ending to the film. Sam and Frodo are rescued, they are reunited with the rest of the Fellowship, Aragorn becomes King and marries Arwen, the Hobbits go home and Sam marries Rosie Cotton, and then Bilbo and Frodo travel to the undying lands in order to find peace from the destruction the ring inflicted upon them.

There isn’t anything in there that isn’t unimportant, so while it took longer than most people’s patience can manage to end the film, there are no loose ends and the film ends perfectly. I even think it ends more perfectly than the book does, as I really don’t like the destruction of the Shire by Saruman that the Hobbits return to in the book.

Beyond the ending though, the film itself is about people making a stand to defend themselves. Everyone must have heard Samwise’s speech at the end of the Two Towers, because the amount of determination in the film is just inspiring. I also really love everyone’s motivation, to defend something they love. Aragorn steps up to become King and defend Sauron, not just because he knows it needs to be done but to also save Arwen.

Both Merry and Pippin pledge their allegiance to the world of men, and overcome all the prejudices that came with it. They proved themselves in battle, despite the reach of their arms being shorter, and pretty much induced an army of men to follow them because they didn’t hesitate for a second to follow Aragorn’s charge at the Black Gate. They might have been quickly overtaken, but they charged down the enemy full of the belief they were doing this for Frodo who had taken on such a heavy burden.

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And it is burden’s beyond the measure of normal life that the film is really about. It is why I like the ending so much, because it is uplifting and about the lightening of those burdens,even if the scene at the Grey Havens is heart-breaking. When you see the colour return to Frodo’s cheeks just simply because he has physically stepped away from Middle Earth which he helped save, the impact of the rest of the film suddenly hits you, because the impact on Frodo is internal, and while Elijah Wood portrayed it beautifully Frodo’s struggle is not apparent until right at the end. Everyone else’s burden is more apparent, but no less inspiring.

The Hobbits are burdened with the guilt laid upon them by others that because they are small and therefore they cannot help. They overcome that prejudice (which as a petite person I greatly appreciate). Aragorn is burdened with the responsibility to rule and to redeem the world of men, which in the eyes of the Elves in particular needs redemption after the fall of Numenor and Isildur’s Bane. There are two burden’s though that the film for me and I suspect a load of people can relate to more easily, is that of Sam and Éowyn.

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Samwise in the book is under appreciated, because he is seen as a servant who is loyal to Frodo, rather than the friend that is portrayed in the films. It isn’t a servant/master dynamic. Sam doesn’t have to watch his master fall into darkness and despair, he has to watch his friend instead. The only analogy that best depicts what Sam has to watch, is that of a friend falling into an addiction, a one that they struggle to give up even though it is slowly destroying them. On top of that the ring burdens Frodo with feelings of emptiness and despair akin to depression.

The person Sam knew is destroyed by this addiction and depression, while he helplessly watches. So when Sam heroically starts to carry Frodo up Mount Doom, shouting about how he cannot carry the burden Frodo endures, but he can carry him, I tear up and I hope that everyone else out in the real world, who suffers from addiction and depression has a friend as good as Sam to pick them up and help them.

And then there is Éowyn, who has to overcome a prejudice that sadly is still prevalent in the world; that she is a woman and that her place is different to that of men. She rides into battle all the same though, taking Merry with her, and slays the Witch-King of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgul. And she does so, because she is  woman.

Here in lies how deep-seated the meaning of the word ‘man’ really is when it come to defining that it means to be one and what it means if you aren’t. It could be used to define humans in general, but in the field of battle it means males. So while Éowyn rides into battle to take up the duties of a man, in truth what she is doing is riding into battle as a woman who is defying the expectations of her gender.

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In battle the Witch-King of Angmar is so held with the belief at a man could not slay him, that he falls to Éowyn’s sword because of a twist of linguistic definition, because Éowyn does not believe herself to be a man, she believes herself to be a woman who is equal to man and whose place is no different. It’s a massive shout out for equality, and Tolkien’s love for the viking legends of shieldmaidens helps to prove that women, even if it is only certain women haven’t always been seen as lesser than men.

Anyway, yes the ending might be longer than the tradition of Hollywood would demand, but it ties up all the loose ends, and it is a lightening of the burdens they have all endured in the pursue of destroying evil, that started with the hobbits fleeing the Shire and ended with a King of Men and his people bowing to them.

green dragon ending

If you liked this you like these film reviews too:

The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Film Review – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

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balrog

Gandalf falling through the caverns of Khazud Dum while fighting the Balrog has to be one of the best opening scenes to a film ever. I just love it. The visuals, the dramatic music and Ian McKellen wielding a sword against an ancient evil of the first age of Middle Earth. What’s not to love?

Beyond the opening scene though, the film, like the Fellowship of the Ring, is a classic, but unlike the first film which I reviewed earlier this week, I love the second film for an entirely different reason. Yes the morals of working together to make a better world are still a strong under current, but the real reason I love the film is actually because of the writing.

The first film was very respectful of the original source, but The Two Towers wouldn’t work if it followed the source material, because the structure of the book just wouldn’t make for a very good film. Here in comes the writing genius of Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and Peter Jackson truly shines in this film, and the reason I appreciate it so much is because the blending of the three separate story lines in the film is seamless and respectful of Tolkien’s book, whilst also being a brilliant example of a Hollywood  blockbuster.

It is the perfect example of writing for budding and even experienced writers to gain insight from.The script weaves seamlessly through the three story lines, and in the extended version especially the use of flashback to inform the audience of the character’s thoughts is a fabulous example of how a filmmaker can adapt a book. They use it several times, to depict the fate of Merry and Pippin escaping into Fangorn; the parting of Arwen and Aragorn; and for Faramir and his inner grief and torment.

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In the extended version, Faramir’s flashback the victory celebrations with his brother Boromir and his departure for Rivendell, demonstrates beautifully his relationship with his brother and also his strained relationship with his father. While the films only hint at Faramir’s relationship with Gandalf, which in the book is a teacher-student relationship, the films portray Denethor’s disdain for his younger son. The flashback then moves to Faramir’s vision of Boromir in his funeral boat, and you fully understand now his actions towards Frodo and Sam. He has his beloved brother’s legacy to live up to and a distance father to try and impress. All of which is portrayed in less than five minutes, of admittedly the extended version of the film.

Fangorn_forest_by_ElizabethCameron

Another great example of how the filmmakers made the book come to life, is the inter-cutting scene between Aragorn analysing the battlefield, for what they think is Merry and Pippin’s last movements, inter-cut with the actual actions of Merry and Pippin, as Aragorn realises they managed to flee into Fangorn Forest. The tension until that moment when you learn they are actually alive is wonderful, until of course Gimli opens his mouth and mentions that only madness would have driven them in there. And the story is driven forward again, into the next perilous adventure for the two young Hobbits.

I mentioned in my review of the Fellowship of the Ring, that Merry and Pippin in the film are growing up via their experiences, and my favourite story line in the film is theirs, because they both grow to believe that even though they are small, they can have a massive impact.

‘The coming of Merry and Pippin will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains.’ Gandalf

That line is my favourite in the entire film, because without Merry and Pippin one of the Two Towers in the film would not have been defeated. Fine they failed to convince the Ents to join in the battle at first, but Pippin’s growth in the film is just wonderful. He goes from still being a bit naïve and young, dreaming of the joy of the Shire. But from the minute Merry mentions that Isengard would potentially destroy the Shire, at the first opportunity he gets, Pippin somehow convinces Treebeard to turn around and essentially drop them off at Isengard. I honestly couldn’t speculate what Pippin thought the two of them could do to stop Saruman from destroying the Shire on their own, but we don’t ever need to know, as the Ents march to war on seeing the destruction wrought by Saruman and the orcs on their forest; cue one of Howard Shore’s greatest achievements and you get to sit back and enjoy one of the strangest but most spectacular battles in film history.

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I enjoy Helm’s Deep, and the Elves coming to fight in that battle; and I love Sam’s logic for why they are fighting in the end and Faramir’s realisation of the bigger picture. The film wouldn’t be as half as good without the special effects, the genius of Andy Serkis and the magical ability of Elves to leap onto galloping horses, but for me the Two Towers is first and foremost an achievement in screen writing and adaptation.

If you liked this you like these film reviews too:

The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Film Review – The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring

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The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.

For me the end of 2001 had a massive impact on my life; on the books I read, the music I listened to and my acceptance of myself as a geek. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was released and I can honestly say, that for me it changed a lot. I have always been a swot and a geek and I was bullied for it, but until LOTR was released as a film I had only ever felt like an outsider. Admittedly being thirteen/fourteen is not easy for anyone, but from the moment that I first heard Galadriel speak against a blacked out screen and Peter Jackson drew me into Tolkien’s world, I realised that I should wear the label placed on me by others with pride not with shame, and as I analyse the film below, it taught me to work with others and their differences not against them.

Fine, it wasn’t just Lord of the Rings that helped, I grew up a lot when I was thirteen/fourteen, but Tolkien became an integral part of my life. From the moment I was stood in a cinema foyer and on a small TV screen I saw Frodo being thrown up the crumbling stairs of Moria in a trailer, until right now when I’m sat with a copy of ‘The Children of Hurin’ next me with a bookmark halfway though, J.R.R. Tolkien has been a massive inspiration. He inspired the first series of fantasy books I endeavoured to write (which are shoddy beyond belief but still important to me at least); his use of deep and fantastical history has inspired the current series of fantasy books I’m writing; and his characters have taught me to never give up.

the stairs of khazud doom

I have immersed myself deeply in Tolkien’s world, so much so that the opening line of the film irritates me a great deal. Having just finished reading ‘The Silmarillion’, and while much as been lost from these tales, Galadriel does still live, and does in theory still remember it all. So yes, the opening line draws me in and annoys me intensely, but once I get past it, the film itself is a classic.

For many people, the Fellowship, consists of the nine companions who set out from Rivendell heading to Mordor, but for me the true fellowship of the ring is Frodo and Sam. From the very start of the threat when Gandalf hurries to the Shire to persuade Frodo to flee and Sam decides it is an ideal time to trim the verges, the two of them set off on a journey together that will cement their friendship and in the last film help save the world.

But sticking with the Fellowship of the Ring for now, at the beginning it is the two of them. While the others join them and then with an almost perfect ‘last one in, first one out’ policy, leave again, at the end it is Frodo and Sam carrying on to Mordor.

fellowship scarecrow

In the Shire when Sam suddenly stops in the middle of a field, proclaiming that one more step will take him further away from home than ever before is one of the most poignant moments in the film. Once I stop chuckling at the crows resting their wings on the arms of a scarecrow, and Sam takes that extra step he is truly beginning a journey that takes him and Frodo further away from home than most others in Middle Earth would ever journey.

In truth the fellowship of the ring, in my terms, doesn’t end at the end of the film, the first Lord of the Rings film is just the first step of Frodo and Sam’s journey together.

However, the film is not just about Frodo and Sam, and the definition of the Fellowship isn’t just about the companions who even just briefly accompany the ring. The dynamics between members of the Fellowship, is also about redemption as well. Aragorn and Boromir wish to redeem the legacy of men that Isildur had marred, by learning to get on with each other but also learning to resist the power that the one ring can hold over men so easily. Aragorn is more successful at this than Boromir, but even he redeems himself almost immediately by giving his life in the attempt to save Merry and Pippin.

The developing relationship between Legolas and Gimli as well, in a way symbolises the antagonistic relationship between Elves and Dwarfs, and how pointless their feud really is in the long run. While their relationship is prickly at first, as they begin to encounter other enemies together, they both begin to realise that being enemies with each other only makes the orcs, the trolls, and Sauron’s other followers stronger, because they are not using their full strength to work together to defeat them because they are also busy fighting each other.

merry and pippin

And then there is Merry and Pippin, who for the first film tag along and have an adventure. While it is wrought with grief for them, they are redeeming the errors of their youth, by growing in the first film. For both of them, it takes all three films for them to grow up entirely, but the Fellowship of the Ring is the beginning of that journey for them, and it nearly always makes me cry when they distract the orcs to let Frodo escape at the end.

Because while the Fellowship is about accompanying the ring to Mount Doom, what the fellowship is really about is learning to work together, to redeem themselves from the past, from deep seated prejudices and from the bliss of youth, in order to defeat an evil force. It is about different people coming together, despite cultural and generational differences trying to make the world a better place. Peter Jackson managed to create a visually stunning backdrop to this story, and Howard Shore made a beautiful soundtrack, but the real reason the film is a classic is because neither of this aesthetic things are used to detract from Tolkien’s original idea of the Fellowship, they are there only to enhance it.

If you liked this you like these film reviews too:

The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Key to a Great Story – Driving the Plot Forward

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Naomi Watts and Tom Holland star in The Impossible

In previous posts I’ve talked about the different types of plots you can create, the different ways you can combine the basics and use sub-plotting and story arcs. One of the crucial things can you need to do to make any of this work though is to use the plot to drive the story forward.

There are two places that this drive comes from: events outside of character control and character’s themselves (Pro-active and Reactive development). To explain this properly though, what you need to understand straight away is that I’m talking about how the plot is driven forward from the perspective of the protagonist. Where it gets complicated is when you begin looking at how the plot is driven forward from the perspective of other characters, but I will explain that later on.

I’ll start with how plot can drive forward the story. What I mean by events that are outside of character control, is that the events that take place are outside of the control of the protagonist. So these can be derived from natural events (for example in the film ‘The Impossible’, the protagonists are dealing with the threat posed by the Indian Ocean Tsunami) or the events can come from other characters.

The first of these two is pretty easy to understand: an earthquake, a hurricane, icy roads etc., basically anything natural, usually weather, that makes it harder for the protagonist to get on with their initial plan for the day or as with the movie example above, changes the plan into something unrecognizable, unexpected and pretty horrific.

Events can come from other characters though is a little bit more complicated, as it doesn’t fall under character driven plot as you would expect, but drive from plot outside of the main character’s influence. Where the complication lies, is that it is character driven plot, just not from the perspective of the protagonist, but from the antagonist.

For starters though, please just assume that when you are plotting a story, that you are plotting initially from the perspective of the protagonist. Later on in the development process you can look at how plots fall into different categories in terms of drive, but as the majority of stories are from the perspective of the protagonist, looking at plot from their perspective makes the most sense.

The most basic way to explain plot driven from other character’s actions is to describe it as the villain putting his evil plans into action. So Sauron sending the Nazgul to the Shire; Voldemort beginning his takeover of the world; and the annihilation of the Jedi and the building of the Death Star, are all good examples of how a villain begins his evil plans. These are however very obvious plots. Sometimes sinister plots can be more subtle.

in time clock

One of my favourite examples is from the film ‘In Time’, where the distribution of time left for people to live is very carefully restricted in poorer areas in order to ensure than the lifespans of the poor are not overlong in order to maintain population levels, but at the sacrifice of their quality of life and their chance to take on the opportunity to be immortal. This example is not an individual plotting an evil takeover, it is more of an organisational driven scenario, where individuals in this scheme are singled out by chance.

The protagonist needs to deal with plot that has been set by the antagonist. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin need to flee the shire in order stop Sauron from being reunited with the one ring. In the book the threat is less immediate than in the film, and the forgotten hero hobbit of Lord of the Rings, Fredegar Bolger, who at great risk to himself stays behind in the shire to keep up the appearance that Frodo is still in residence while the other four secretly leave for Bree, via the Old Forest and Tom Bombadil.

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Not quite the same as the film’s tension filled encounter with a Black Rider that ends with the four Hobbits sprinting for Bucklebury Ferry, in the hope they can reach Bree and Gandalf before the Black Rider’s cross the Brandywine Bridge twenty miles away. Whichever example you look at though, book or film, Sauron sets a threat in motion and the characters have to react to that threat. They then have to react to the decision that Elrond makes to not allow the One Ring to remain in Rivendell, and the Fellowship is formed.

These two examples are good examples of how plot is driven forward outside of the control of the protagonists, but equally plot needs to be driven by the protagonists themselves as well. Character driven plot, from the perspective of the protagonist, is linked to plot driven by natural events and other characters, but there are two ways in which character driven plot can work, and it depends on whether the protagonist is pro-active or reactive.

How a character reacts to plot happening around them, depends entirely on your character and the stage of development that they have reached. Now each unique character will react to things differently, so I can’t say for certain what you will need to do, only you will know that. However, there are two basics concepts that a character will undertake, and that is whether they react to an event, or are proactive. Looking at the example above of Frodo leaving the shire, in the book he know he needs to leave and takes months to do so, and while he is reluctant he is being proactive. In the film he doesn’t have the luxury of time and has to be reactive to the situation.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverHarry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_Hallows

Another good example of a character acting either pro-actively or re-actively, is to look at the difference between Harry Potter in the Philosopher’s Stone (or the Sorcerer’s Stone depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you live on) and Harry Potter in the Deathly Hallows. In the first book, while Harry is proactive in trying to figure out what the parcel from Gringott’s actually is, but when it comes to the threat the immediate course of action is to just tell Dumbledore. When he isn’t there Harry, Hermione and Ron have to react to a new scenario and deal with the threat themselves. In the Deathly Hallows though, the three of them are actually being pro-active in trying to stop Voldemort. They don’t just react to the attack on Hogwarts by being there to fight and making sure the Order of the Phoenix are there to help, they are there pro-actively looking for Horcruxes in order to stop Voldemort before anyone else has to die.

So to summarise, plot can be driven forward by events outside of the main character’s control, such as natural disasters and events that are set in motion by antagonists, but it can also be driven forward in different ways depending on how the protagonist handles the events, either proactively or re-actively. This is of course, just a simple explanation of how to drive plot forward, and in my upcoming posts I will expand upon this further.

     

The Key to a Great Story – ‘The Quest’ Plot

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The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. The book cover I know and love.

The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. The book cover I know and love.

The stock plotline of most fantasy novels is ‘The Quest’; Lord of the Rings being one of the most famous examples. The protagonist’s need to reach a specific location or retrieve a special object, and overcome the obstacles and temptations along the way. When I first started writing books, and I dived straight into fantasy novels, I wrote quests.

The thing that I always found the most difficult was that quest plotlines can very easily become very boring. More than most other plotlines, you really to plan the journey from A to Z with every step of the journey mapped out. Quest plotlines are not easy to keep in line if you don’t have at least a basic plan in mind. This isn’t just my advice either, this is the writing advice doled out by Terry Brook’s in his book ‘Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life’.

One of my all time favourite books is the ‘Elfstones of Shannara’ by Terry Brooks. It is a classic quest plotline. The main character Wil needs to first find the only woman in the world who can save the world, then they need to journey together in order to do a multitude of quests while facing demons at the same time. It’s been a while since I last read the book, but it has stuck with me ever since I was a child for one simple reason; I was never once bored while reading it.

If you want to write quests, read Terry Brooks. I’d recommend the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring as well to see how a quest can be twisted and turned, see many varied places and even (sadly) fall apart. The book’s great, but the film condenses the quest even further to give it a good, quick, more modern pace.

The key thing that you need to remember with Quest plots is keeping the pace up. I’ve read many books where the plot just sort of fell apart in the middle, and I really had to persevere to get to the end. I won’t name names, but many a book like this has put me off from reading other works by them, which if you want return readers is not a good sales technique.

The Quest itself though is one of the most varied and interesting plots that you can write. It can be literally about anything. If you have a good fast pace, nothing irrelevant (i.e. pages and pages of people travelling without seeing stuff that’s important to the story) and interesting dynamic characters who quite frankly might not get on with each other but are stuck together you have a really great story to tell.

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Taking the Fellowship of the Ring as an example, not all of the characters really trusted each other for various cultural reasons and even something as simple as encountering Crebain from Dunland (for those not in the know, they’re really large crows) forced the group from an ‘easy’ path up onto the snowy mountain paths.

So when it comes to the quest, the best advice is to plan. And plan again.

If you liked this post then you might be interested in the following post about other plot types:

‘Overcoming a Threat’ Plot

‘Rags to Riches’ Plot

‘Voyage and Return’ Plot

Comedy’ Plot

Tragedy’ Plot

The Rebirth’ Plot