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August 12, 2001 - August 22, 2001


Tolkien Mania, Tolkien's hobbits still charming readers after more than half a century
Xoanon @ 12:08 pm EST
LONDON (AP) _ Before Harry Potter and wizards, there was Bilbo Baggins and hobbits.

The hairy-footed, diminutive creatures charmed children and adults worldwide when British writer J.R.R. Tolkien introduced them in his 1937 fantasy book, ``The Hobbit.''

Since then, ``The Hobbit'' has continually graced children's recommended reading lists. Tolkien's fantasy epic, ``The Lord of the Rings,'' was named the top novel of the 20th century in numerous surveys of British adults. And poet W.H. Auden once declared it ``one of the best children's stories of the century.''

Fan clubs have sprouted across Britain and the world, as die-hard Tolkienites seek each other out to converse in Elvish, read aloud parts of the novel and debate whether or not Balrogs have wings.

Now the first installment of the $273 million ``The Lord of the Rings'' film trilogy is due to hit theaters in December, not long after the first Harry Potter movie, putting Bilbo and Frodo in direct competition with the students of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And HarperCollins, Tolkien's publisher in Britain, is releasing a new edition to tie-in with the film. Houghton Mifflin is doing the same in the United States.

If Tolkien's enduring popularity in his home country is anything to go on, the elves, orcs and wizards that inhabit Tolkien's Middle-earth should hold their own against Harry Potter.

Tolkien ``is not ironic and modern and all-knowing, but he appeals to people,'' said Ian Collier, a member of the British-based Tolkien Society, which welcomes fans from around the globe.

``It is a great story and like all great stories, it connects with people in some way,'' said Collier, (35), who has read ``The Lord of the Rings'' 25 times.

The trilogy describes the perilous journey by hobbit Frodo Baggins across Middle-earth to territory deep inside the control of Sauron, the Dark Lord. Baggins must reach the Cracks of Doom, a fiery chamber, and destroy a magical ring before Sauron can recapture it. If the ring falls into Sauron's hands, he will be able to dominate the world.

But it is the background scenery of the novel, rather than its plot, that seems to captivate most readers. Tolkien creates a new universe with its own fantasy creatures, language, genealogy, history and geography. For many readers, Middle-earth becomes as vivid as the real world, though slightly more exciting.

``A lot of us lead fairly humdrum lives, so sitting on a commuter train and having something to read which takes you away from that is very attractive,'' said Tolkien Society member Trevor Reynolds.

Plug Tolkien's name into an Internet search engine, and hundreds of devoted Web sites appear. In Britain, the Tolkien Society boasts about 400 active, fee-paying members. Smaller clubs can be found in most British cities.

Britain's Tolkien Society also has about 150 members in the United States, where smaller city or university-based fan clubs are equally as numerous. Tolkien groups sponsor Internet chats, meet to discuss their favorite author and attend Tolkien-related events across America.

Tolkien's popularity also stretches far beyond English-speaking countries. ``The Lord of The Rings'' has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, and fan clubs exist everywhere from Germany to Russia to Japan.

But academics and other writers have been reluctant to embrace Tolkien, who died in 1973. Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock once said, ``The Lord of the Rings .... is Winnie the Pooh posing as an epic.''

Tolkien's literary popularity has perhaps been hurt by his enormous popularity, said Thomas Shippey, a former Oxford University fellow and Tolkien expert who now teaches at St. Louis University in Missouri.

``There is a deep philosophical and literary snobbery, a strong class element,'' Shippey said. ``There is a literary bourgeois that believes it shall decide what is literature and what is not, and they get very annoyed when they aren't followed.

``I wouldn't say academics have been cautious; they have been violently hostile for nearly 50 years,'' said Shippey, who wrote ``J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century.''

Even at Oxford University, where Tolkien taught, the press office concedes that the closest they can come to a Tolkien expert is a specialist in 20th-century English literature.

Shippey said that one of the reasons may simply be professional hostility between English literature and English language professors, who often must compete for jobs in the same department. Tolkien was the latter.

``He challenged the notion that the language side was hopelessly fuddy-duddy,'' Shippey said. ``His work suggested that the language side, in fact, had something interesting to offer that had been ignored or suppressed.''

Shippey also believes that academics wrongly viewed Tolkien as reactionary, out of place with his contemporaries. Tolkien's work, with its dramatic themes of good and evil, said more about the 20th century than other so-called modernist writers, such as John Updike, Shippey said.

Tolkien is ``part of a group of traumatized authors,'' Shippey said, naming also war veterans Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell.

``They had a personal involvement in the major political changes in the 20th century and these have revolved around industrialized warfare and the growth of totalitarian systems,'' he said. ``The modernists school ... is not politically very important.''

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in 1892 in South Africa to British parents. After his father died in 1896, he returned to central England with his mother and younger brother, Hilary.

The geography of Tolkien's childhood home _ a mix of idyllic farmland and Birmingham's grim urban center _ had a strong influence on his later writings. The proximity of Wales, with place names such as Llanfihangel-Crucorney and Nantyglo, also left an impression on the young Tolkien, who developed a strong interest in languages.

As a student at Oxford, Tolkien studied Welsh, Finnish and German before switching his major to English language and literature. During World War I, he served on the Western Front until trench fever forced him to return home.

In 1925, he accepted what seemed to be a dream job: to return to his former university and teach. At Oxford, Tolkien befriended C.S. Lewis and served as a founding member of ``the Inklings'' _ a loose grouping of literary friends.

It was during those years that ``The Hobbit'' was born.

``I wrote it as a relief from examining school (tests),'' Tolkien said later. ``One of the candidates had mercifully left one of the pages with no writing on it, which is the best thing that can possibly happen to an examiner, and I wrote on it, 'In a hole on the ground there lived a hobbit.' Eventually, I thought I'd better find out what hobbits are like.''

From the start, ``The Hobbit'' was geared toward children. Tolkien's son, the Rev. John Tolkien, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he grew up hearing the tales that would later make up the best-selling book.

``We used to hear two or three chapters each Christmas,'' the author's son said.

``The Hobbit'' was followed by the epic-length ``The Lord of the Rings,'' published in 1954. The book, which recounts a battle between good and evil, attracted audiences of all ages. By the 1960s, it was a must-read on most American college campuses. Ironically, Tolkien _ an elderly man and conservative Roman Catholic _ had become a hero of a generation of pot-smoking, anti-authoritarian students.

Fans phoned Tolkien at all hours to ask about the book, Oxford's Merton College received bags of mail for the professor and crowds of students pestered him for autographs.

``Tolkien was more than a little bemused by the fuss,'' said a former neighbor in Oxford. Tolkien was also disturbed by all the hidden meanings that readers _ and critics _ tried to attach to his work. Some saw it is an allegory depicting World War II or the ideological battle between East and West.

``The prime motive was the desire of a taleteller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them,'' Tolkien wrote in a forward to the book's second edition.

Tolkien admitted that the primary joy for him in writing was his made-up linguistics. ``The invention of languages is the foundation,'' he once said. ``To me, a name comes first and the story follows.''

Tolkien's fans said they aren't sure what the author would make of the ``Lord of the Rings'' trilogy, being filmed by New Zealand's Peter Jackson. His family reportedly dreads it. Lawyers acting on behalf of the Tolkien Estate did not return repeated telephone calls from The Associated Press.

The Tolkien Society has taken a wait-and-see approach, but individual members, such as Reynolds, said they are excited. Reynolds said he expects the movie will introduce a new generation to the tales of Middle-earth.

But as most Tolkien fans agree, getting people to read the books has never been much of a challenge, despite a lack of critical approval.

After ``The Lord of the Rings'' was voted the best book of the 20th century in a survey of British readers, writer Germaine Greer agonized over what that meant for 20th century literature.

``It has been my nightmare that Tolkien would turn out to be the most influential writer of the 20th century,'' she said. ``The bad dream has materialized.''

Media Watch: Extreme Collectors Magazine
Xoanon @ 11:52 am EST
Ringer Spy Joelk sends along these scans from Extreme Collectors Magazine, check them out:


Council of Elrond Change?
Xoanon @ 11:00 am EST
We recieved this report from a production insider concerning the council of Elrond.

Sources tell me Bilbo wasn't present when they were shooting the Council scenes - which isn't to say that he couldn't be added in later I suppose, but I doubt it, because Frodo was there at the time.

Also, we've seen many pictures of the Council, and none of them have shown Bilbo. I'm pretty sure the hobbit sitting next to (anticlockwise) Gandalf (or rather his empty seat) in "889.jpg" is Frodo (or rather, his small stand-in) - c.f. 1166 and you'll notice the clothes are the same.

You'd think that if Bilbo was there, he'd be sitting next to Frodo, but you can see from pic 889 that no-one is. Hmm, you know what else is weird? In the trailer (trailer02_49.jpg) where Frodo is standing up, there isn't a chair next to Gandalf at all...

Seems an odd change to have, what do you folks think?


WizardWorld: Nothing New
Xoanon @ 10:25 am EST
Ringer Spy Rob sends along a dissapointed word that Chicago's WizardWorld convention was devoid of anything new in the world in LOTR:

Im disappointed to say that there was nothing, and I mean NOTHING, new (concerning LOTR) at WizardWorld Chicago. WETA had a booth set up, and I did get video of the sculptures, but there wasn't anything on display that we havent already seen on TORN. There were a couple of the life-size cutouts of the movie characters floating around at random booths as well. I managed to watch the FOTR trailer several times on a couple of different monitors, but again, I saw no new footage, either.

As much as I wanted to break something new for our community of "Ringers," there really wasnt anything to report. I do have my own printed copies of the WETA brochures now, which is nice. =)


More from SIGGRAPH
Xoanon @ 3:45 pm EST
Gorgoroth here again with more updates from SIGGRAPH.

Yesterday on the main exhibition floor, SGI had presentations from various visual effect companies showing off their work. WETA happened to be sharing when I went and they were showing off MASSIVE, the Behavioural Intelligence software that is being used for crowd generation and the battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings.

The software looks very much likie Houdini's node view. There were hundreds of nodes that connected to create a master "brain".

They showed several examples of crowd generation that was brilliant. The basic process is they take motion capture data from real actors, then plug them into individual nodes in MASSIVE. The software make decisions IN REAL TIME of what the next behaviour will be based on how the user creates the brain.

They had an example of 2,000 characters (1,000 for each army) charging and going into battle. What they didn't predict was that if a character didn't see an enemy, he would run away. The "brain" was basically evolving on its own and making logical (or illogical depending how you look at it) decisions.

Another example included a warrior walking on uneven terrain. What was spectacular about this example was the walk cycle was updating in real time based on the steepness of the terrain so it was constantly changing to look like a natural gait.

Then they showed fully rendered orcs walking together based on this same approach and each had a distinctly different way of carrying their weapons and striding. In fact, the simulation showed how some of the orcs stride and drift to one side to give diversity to the scene.

What was really intriguing to hear was that WETA is creating battle scenes that will have 100,000 characters interacting with each other in battle...this includes fighting, clothing animation, blood, behaviour, and death. Eat your heart out ILM.


More info on Premieres and Asia
Xoanon @ 10:15 am EST
Ringer Spy PT follows up on yesterday's news about the LOTR premieres around the world and more info on what they plan to do about pirates in Asia:

Apparently a contract between New Line and the cinemas displaying the films will be enforced world wide. This contract is something that apparently American cinemas have already had a chance to see.

The contract has been re-written to include rules on the viewing of the films. The document includes restrictions such as "No person may enter the theatre with any form of recording device" these devised include cameras, laptops, tape recorders etc etc.

"No employee of the theatre may view the film during work hours" - so all you projectionists will have to put it on then turn away. It apparently goes on and on and I questioned the validity of some of the things I heard such as enforced searching of patrons however it does appear the New Line are trying to put the emphasis on the theatre to stamp out illegal practices and spoilers. Not that much different to the way the release of Star Wars went down.

However the Asian release will be late due to some apparent translation problems - or is this just a cover for the truth (pirates in Asia beware)...


More on Asian Release Date Change
Xoanon @ 8:27 pm EST
Ringer Spy PT sends along more news regarding a possible Asian release date change. All this is still a speculative rumor, so who knows. Especially considering this bit of news from IMDB. But check out what PT has to say none the less:

I heard the Asian Rumour from a distributor. I rang him again to see if he could shed any more light on the subject. He said the Asian release is subject to some strict laws in an attempt to prohibit the pirate film industry. Apperently 20th Century Fox has alos issued statements that since the release of "Planet of the Apes" - several versions have appeared on the internet all with Japanese sub-titles, as a result the Japanese distributers for 20th Century Fox will not receive their movies until after the world wide release dates. So it sounds like LOTR is not the only film that will NOT go to Japan on time. He also said there are comprimises and contracts to settle the dispute. Apparently the problem is not the release date but rather cinemas allowing paying individuals to view the films in private before the actual date allowing them to film it and release it before the actual release... Plus no rules on what you can take into the cinema itself...

FOX LOTR Special News
Xoanon @ 9:28 am EST
From: Oleg

The Fox channel in the states is supposed to run a LOTR special over the Thanksgiving weekend, a making of type thing I believe. And when TBS, or TNT, I can't remember, premieres Matrix, there will be a five minute montage of interstitials from the film. The cable channel will probably tease it on ads for Matrix (think, "you'll love traveling to the future in the Matrix, but stay tuned until the very end and travel back to Middle Earth through scenes from New Line's event of 2001, LOTR...").


Xoanon @ 4:07 pm EST
Gorgoroth sends along this great report from SIGGRAPH, take a look at a few details about SFX!

I went to the SIGGRAPH Houdini Users Group Meeting on Sunday at the Westin Bonaventure.

When WETA took the stage, one of the Effects Animators gave the presentation who was a skinny fellow that had a British accent. Projected on a enormous screen, he began by showing a breakdown of the fireworks that Gandalf launches during Bilbo's party.

The first sequences showed wireframes of the particle system erupting over Hobbiton and the "streams" of the fireworks explosion swooping down over a river like a wave toward the camera (if you recall from the 2nd teaser trailer of LOTR there was a shot of the fireworks exploding but not the streams that animated afterwards). The commentator explained how Peter Jackson wanted more of the "streams" that make the tentacles of the explosions.

Then he showed a halfscreen test of the explosion (basically only half of the entire screen was rendered since both sides are symmetrical) that looked wonderful but really nothing could have prepared you for the final render.

It was gorgeous! To me it looked so remiscent of a fairy tale. The intial explosion was white/orange/red and as the tentacles swooped toward the camera they were blue/purple. The greatest effect to these streams were the trail of "dust" they left behind. It was really magnificent. The attention to detail in the reflections as the streams coursed over the water looked perfect.

Then, we were treated to another particle effect that involved a "dragon" that was made out of particles. Apparently this effect was a continuation of the fireworks and was vastly more complicated. The commentator showed multiple R&D images of this effect from concept to tackling issues with UV coordinate systems of sprites. The idea was to have 3 points located on the thumbs and the tongue that emitted the rest of the dragon.

The final composite reminded me of those fireworks that sparkle and linger in the air for awhile. Bilbo and Frodo were in the foreground ducking as the dragon swept from the sky and vanished in a glowing ball of light. The particle systems that were flowing off the dragon moved like drapery as they sparkled and faded.

Truely magnificient all of it.


Media Watch: Parabola Magazine
Xoanon @ 12:08 am EST
From: Lady Kenobi

Parabola ("Myth, Tradition and the Search for Meaning") is a great magazine that I recently subscribed to, so I was very happy to see Tolkien once again featured within. The piece on 'foolish Hobbits' that was mentioned is excellent and gave me yet another way of viewing the Lord of the Rings story.


More LOTR coolness in the book trade.
Tehanu @ 6:06 am EST
A message thanks to RingerSpyOliver:

"....just thought I would let you know that Houghton Mifflin are sending LOTR brochures out to English book distributors which preview the latest and upcoming LOTR books (i.e. the essential guide due out in November) and the display stands which come out with them. It even shows pictures from the books - one that includes Gil-Galad and some old shots of the Fellowship and orcs. The brochure is beautifully presented and really a collector's 'must.'

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