Sometimes, in furtherance of the greater good, we have to make personal sacrifices. Here’s mine. I’m outing myself, today, as a Tolkien nerd; not just a fan (fans are 10-a-penny) but an honest-to-goodness full-on geek. The Lord of the Rings is my foundation text: my child-of-the-60s father read it to me when I was five (and to each of my three siblings thereafter); the only picture I have of myself at that age shows me in my bedroom with a map of Middle Earth on the wall in the background. I’ve read LOtR and The Hobbit more times than I can count, and have been known to while away the hours by testing my knowledge of the great man’s oeuvre via Tolkien quizzes on Sporcle. I just took the one on characters by quotation, and got all the answers right. In half the allotted time.
And the reason I’ve chosen today to alienate/entertain the half of you who think it’s all wafty, overblown nonsense? A piece that appeared in the Evening Standard this week. With the film of The Hobbit due out, the author and critic AN Wilson – a self-professed Tolkien standard-bearer, who calls him “the Englishman I admire more than any other” – took to the pages of the London paper to express his view that “the film of The Hobbit … shot in 3D … will make any but the most bullet-headed viewer feel dizzy … maybe you’d be better off staying at home and reading the book”. He goes on to summarise the novel thusly: Bilbo, he explains, “makes his perilous journey, over hill and under hill, through the caves of the dwarves and beyond the Kingdom of the Grey Elves to raid the dragon’s hoard. At Arkenstone, the very heart of the mountain, Bilbo discovers Smaug and his treasure, gold-plated rings, silver-hafted axes and that most delicate of chain-mail, the elvish mithril”.
Those of you who feel the same way I do will by now have spotted where I’m headed with this. As a fellow-devotee, it behoves me to correct Wilson on a couple of points. The Kingdom of the Grey Elves thing is borderline – he’s referring, I assume, to the dwarves’ and Bilbo’s adventures in the halls of King Thranduil in Mirkwood. Drill deep into Tolkien’s mythology and you can just about get away with calling them that (Thranduil is a Sindarin elf; the Sindar were also known as “the grey elves”) but throughout The Hobbit they’re referred to as the wood elves, and their kingdom the Woodland Realm. If Wilson can be excused as having been undone by his learning over that point, however, on the next, he’s simply wrong. Arkenstone isn’t a place, it’s a jewel – the Arkenstone – also known as “the heart of the mountain” – and it’s a big deal in the book, driving the action forward in the final chapters. Time for me to stop hiding my light under a bushel; such inaccuracies cannot be allowed to stand.
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