One important function of some of the best literature for children is to offer its readers an escape into other worlds. Many children, especially adolescents confronted for the first time with mundane or cruel realities of the adult world enjoy the chance to be lost for a little while in a land of magic, with such creatures as dragons, elves and fairies. It is an age-old escape.
While many authors in this century have attempted to depict mythical alternate universes, perhaps no one has done so as successfully or with such impact as J.R.R. Tolkien. His Lord of the Rings trilogy is the benchmark against which all other fantasies must be compared.
Tolkien began writing The Hobbit, the prelude to The Lord of the Rings, as a graduate student at Oxford in the 19-teens - though the final version wasn t published until 1937. Then, in 1954, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was finally released. Set in a mythic pre-historical setting called Middle Earth, some have seen the battle between good and evil that occupies the sweeping story as a metaphor for World War II. Regardless of where Tolkiens inspiration came form, these were the sorts of books it was painful to finish because you knew that at the last turn of the page you would be leaving Middle Earth - and returning to the real world.
In the 1960s, the fame of the trilogy and The Hobbit soared creating what could be called a Lord of the Rings culture. By the late 70s and 80s, elaborate games set in versions of Middle Earth, like Dungeons and Dragons, were creeping into high school and college culture. Artists as diverse as George Lucas and the rock band Led Zeppelin have admitted their debt to the inspiration offered in Tolkiens other world. 2001 is a big year for Tolkien fans. At long last a film series is being made of the trilogy. The first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring is due out in December of this year, The Two Towers and The Return of the King will be released in 2002 and 2003 respectively. The 180 million-dollar production of The Fellowship was shot in New Zealand and has promised to stay close to the original story.
While the sets may dazzle us I cant help but dread somewhat how certain characters and places will be depicted. Like many Tolkien fans, Rivendale, Mirk- wood and the Misty Mountains are places I have imagined in some detail, and returned to often. I'll probably go see how the filmmakers have recreated Middle Earth but, I already know how it looks.
Copyright © 2001 by Kevin Shortsleeve
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