Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


Cool Tolkien Link of the Week (3/29/06)

"One Ring To Rule Them All..."

Ever wonder how this famous verse is spoken in the Black Speech or Quenya? Wonder no more. The folks at Web Tolkien have the entire thing translated into both.

I've heard Christopher Lee utter the second half in the Black Speech on one of the DVD special features of the Extended Edition of Peter Jackson's "The Fellowship of the Ring". The Quenya version is more pleasant.


Cool Tolkien Link of the Week (3/23/06)

Probably the best fan site to compliment both the books and the films is

This site was created after the announcement of the film project and chronicled every aspect of it from early rumors to DVD release. It continues to follow the comings and goings of every actor associated with the project as well as major contributors such as Peter Jackson, Howard Shore, Alan Lee, John Howe, Weta Workshop, etc.

The webmasters are a group of rabid Tolkien fans. Be sure to check out the Green Books section for fascinating original work by the contributors!


Cool Tolkien Link of the Week (3/15/06)

This week's link is located at the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Site.

They have a page that features four "Guided Tours" of Middle-earth:

1) Middle-Earth Locations

2) People of Middle-Earth

3) Middle-Earth Creatures
4) Weapons & Items

Each tour is actually "self" guided but features "facilitation" courtesy of Bilbo Baggins. Many of the entries have audio links that open in a separate browser. These audio files are taken from a British radio broadcast of The Lord of the Rings and they add a nice extra dimension to the tours. Enjoy!


Top Ten Casting Choices For Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" (Part II)

In the last post, I listed the first half of the Top 10. I want to re-emphasize that these are not necessarily the Top 10 performances (though many are). I'm sure there's already plenty of disagreement on numbers 5 - 10. But again, this is all subjective. Don't cheat and scroll down to the end!

So here we go with 1 - 5...

Sean Bean

as Boromir

I have to be honest. Before the films, I never really liked Boromir as a character all that much. Notwithstanding his repentance for trying to take the Ring from Frodo, I found him untrustworthy and a little arrogant right from his introduction at the Council of Elrond. The character as written - to me - lacked depth. Sean Bean completely changed my perception of Boromir in "The Fellowship of the Ring". Bean made him more likeable and, while maintaining the character's proud nature, he allowed me to sympathize with him. While there is no doubt that Bean's Boromir was just as determined to persuade the other members of the Fellowship to ultimately go to Minas Tirith, he seemed reluctant to do so by force until Frodo rejected his counsel at Amon Hen when he finally snapped. Up until that point, I felt that Boromir was dedicated to Frodo's protection as much as any of the others. He even seemed to have a soft spot for Merry and Pippin. When Boromir died in the book, I felt no real sense of loss and was actually a little relieved to have the danger of his presence removed from the dynamic. But because Sean Bean allowed me to connect so strongly to his Boromir, I was deeply saddened by his death.


Viggo Mortensen

as Aragorn

Originally, Jackson had cast actor Stuart Townsend in this role. But at the last minute Jackson and Co. realized that they'd made an error. Townsend just didn't have the gravitas for the role. Not to mention the fact that, at the time, he was barely in his late twenties. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, is supposed to be 87 in Numenorean years. Luckily for Jackson, Mortensen accepted the role at the prodding of his son Henry who was a big fan of the books. Viggo had never read them, but he completely immersed himself in the role - even going so far as to carry around his sword everywhere he went. Mortensen is an accomplished actor who plays Aragorn as an "everyman", worn and world-weary. Some have complained about his portrayal, saying he seemed too wishy-washy and reluctant to assume his birthright. But the many years of carrying the burden of this responsibility (as well as his isolation from the one he loved), made him a troubled character. He had a lot of time to dwell on the fact that his actions would determine the fate of Middle-Earth. Fans already knew of Aragorn's remarkable lineage and the exceptional Numenorean blood that gave him his nobility. But Mortensen's performance revealed how the character's remarkable courage and true heroic nature came from his heart. And the man really knows how to wield a sword!


Miranda Otto

as Eowyn

The part of Eowyn was expanded in the film version of The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson needed someone who could not only be feisty, charming and vulnerable but also an actress that had the discipline to handle the physical demands of the role. In the books, Eowyn is mostly sad and sullen. She regrets her responsibility as "caretaker" of Edoras in Theoden's absence and longs to take up arms to defend her people. But Otto exudes an inner strength for Eowyn that was a bit lacking in the books. It's a tough job being one of only two major female characters in this story (and playing the more active one as well). But Miranda Otto's talents made Eowyn a vital part of every scene she was in. She was no wilting flower, that's for sure.


Sean Astin

as Samwise Gamgee

Like Boromir, the character of Sam was always hard for me to like all that much. Even though his instincts about Gollum were correct, his disposition through most of "The Two Towers" was kind of cranky and irritable. Astin did a great job of conveying Sam's inherent innocence and optimism, as well as his steadfast dedication to Frodo. Astin lobbied Jackson hard for the part, even going so far as to increase his girth to be more physically like what the director had in mind. I believe that Jackson's giving him the part was one of the most important casting decisions he made. When the time came for the Academy Award nominations of February 2004, the absence of Sean Astin's name among "Best Supporting Actor" was a glaring error. His performance was - in my opinion - one of the best in the entire saga. Go back and watch the scenes in Mordor, particularly at the Pass of Cirith Ungol and on the side of Mount Doom. You can't help but be moved.

and the #1 Top Casting Choice for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings is...

Sir Ian McKellan

as Gandalf

This really shouldn't come as much of a surprise as Gandalf is, of course, my favorite character. Frankly, if this performance couldn't win me over, I would have had a hard time with the rest of it. When I was a kid, my first exposure to Tolkien was the Rankin/Bass cartoon of "The Hobbit" and John Huston's voice became the template for Gandalf. When Jackson's film project was announced, I couldn't imagine who could possibly take on this role to my satisfaction. But McKellan is Gandalf, hands down. In my reading experiences, I always preferred the Grey Wizard to the White. The first Gandalf was more kindly and self-deprecating. After his transformation into the White Wizard, Gandalf became more stern and business-like. But then he had to be, considering the greater responsibility that had been placed on his shoulders. McKellen seemed to be able to retain some of the gentler elements of Gandalf the Grey while still projecting the authority and self-confidence of his new persona. I appreciated that. Sir Ian has so claimed this character that if they ever get around to filming "The Hobbit", his reprisal of this role is critical if it's going to succeed.

There you have it. I'm sure I'll get a full round of criticism for leave out this actor or that actor. I'd like to point out that Andy Serkis deserves honorable mention for his contribution to the Gollum/Smeagol character. I have my reasons for leaving him out that no doubt many of you will take exception to. The focus here was on the actors and actresses themselves. While Gollum could not have been properly brought to the screen without Andy Serkis, the fact is that there was so much more in addition to his performance that went into that character. Literally hundreds of the good folks at Weta Workshop played at least an equal part in bringing Gollum to life. It just seemed to me to be an apples and oranges comparison throwing him into the mix.

Now if I were to do a Top Ten Performances list, Andy Serkis would definitely be among them.

But that's my list with all my reasons. Not to take away from the rest of the ensemble, but if I had to force-rank them, this is what you'd get.


Top Ten Casting Choices For Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" (Part I)

The result of Peter Jackson's efforts to translate J.R.R. Tolkien's work to film has been met with both cheers and jeers. There are some fans who completely hate them and there are also a few that love them more than the book itself. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

Some of the performances, in my opinion, were not only superb but how good they were had as much to do with the actual casting choices as they did with the portrayals themselves. In several cases, the actor or actress chosen for their particular role redefined my understanding and appreciation of the character. So here's the first half of my list for the Top 10 Casting Choices. Keep in mind they are not necessarily the Top 10 performances (though many are). It's also extremely difficult to limit it to ten, but that's the way it goes. It's totally subjective, I know, and I'll list the reasons why I think they are.
So here we go...

Christopher Lee

as Saruman

There was probably no bigger Tolkien fan among any of the actors than Christopher Lee. He knew the book backwards and forwards. The guy could recite the "One Ring To Rule Them All..." verse in the Black Speech without missing a beat. He had always dreamed that one day he would be a part of a film project for The Lord of the Rings and having worked with such directors as Tim Burton and George Lucas he probably knew how special these films had the potential to be when he got the call from Peter Jackson. He was, however, a little disappointed that Jackson hadn't considered him for Gandalf. But after the director explained how expanded the role of the White Wizard was to be, he signed on to be Saruman. And, honestly, as talented an actor as Lee is, he wouldn't have been as believable as Gandalf. His long history of playing classic bad guys prepared him well for playing the cunning and ruthless Saruman. But if there is one qualification that makes Lee perfect for the role it's his deep baritone voice. Now whenever one reads Tolkien's dialogue in the chapter "The Voice of Saruman" it's impossible not to hear Christopher Lee's own melodious voice.

Bernard Hill

as Theoden

As with many readers, the King of Rohan was always an old man in my mind. The way Theoden was written, he seemed to be past his prime even after the spell of Saruman via Wormtongue was lifted by Gandalf. Bernard Hill brought a strength and a vitality to the role the made Theoden more heroic. We never get a sense of Theoden's loss in Tolkien's "The Two Towers" over the death of Theodred. In the film, Hill conveys the full emotion of a man who has outlived his son when he breaks down at Theodred's gravesite, covered with Simbelmyne. He was as a man who had been locked away in a prison only to find upon his release that his flesh and blood had been taken from him before he had a chance to tell him one last time that he loved him. As a parent, I can really connect to that and I applaud Jackson (and Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens) for writing that scene. Hill's Theoden stared into hopelessness on the Field of the Pelennor. He looked death in the face and defied it. When he passes on he is at peace, looking upon the loving face of his niece. It was not the death of an old man who's time had come but one of a great leader who gave his all for his people. Very powerful.

Billy Boyd

as Pippin

Before the films, I never really had a clear idea in my head what I thought either Merry or Pippin looked like, so whomever filled those roles would become the template my brain used for a visual. Both Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd did terrific jobs in these roles, but in my opinion Boyd stands out more. A lot of fans complained that the younger hobbits (as well as Gimli) were too often used by Jackson for comic relief. But when you watch the films - as long as they are - in one sitting, frankly you need an occasional light moment to break up the tension. Boyd's puckish disposition certainly filled the bill in the that respect. More than that, however, he brought a range to the hobbit that was worthy of the literary counterpart. "The Return of the King" in particular, gives Boyd a chance to shine. Two scenes especially stand out in my mind: when Boyd sings at the request of Denethor (offset by Faramir's futile charge against the Orcs at Osgiliath) and his discussion with Gandalf during the siege of Minas Tirith about what lies beyond this world. The development of Pippin's character really stands out between the second and third films.

Cate Blanchett

as Galadriel

Tolkien describes the Elves as looking ageless - both ancient and youthful at the same time. I always had a tough time visualizing this - until I saw Cate Blanchett as Galadriel. Perhaps I'm influenced by her previous portrayal as Britain's Elizabeth I, but Blanchett definitely knows how to play a Queen. Tolkien's description of Galadriel's personality borders on the creepy. There doesn't seem - for me - to be enough warmth in her. Through Cate Blanchett, however, Galadriel is as engaging as she is mysterious. Jackson has one major opportunity to illustrate for the non-fans in the audience the nobility and wonder of the Noldor Elves. By choosing Blanchett as Galadriel, he scores a home run in this respect.


Brad Dourif

as Grima Wormtongue

It would have been very easy for Jackson to rely more on Weta's make-up talents than an actor's performance to convey how distasteful Wormtongue is. Brad Dourif, however, is one of the premier character actors in film today. In the books, it's easy to write him off as simply a miserable creature enslaved to the power of Saruman. But Dourif is able to remind the audience that underneath the loathsome exterior is a man with very human qualities. Imagine Wormtongue as a faithful servant to the King who has always been seen as a miserable wretch because of his appearance. He longs for Eowyn, knowing he can never have her. But when opportunity presents itself he has the chance to turn the tables on those who have scorned him in the past and he chooses to betray his own people for the chance to fulfill his selfish desires. It's the dream of every unpopular kid in high school. This is the kind of underlying subtext that an actor like Dourif can communicate with a simple look. And before he is killed in the end, he's even able to elicit a bit of sympathy from the audience.

That's the first half of the Top Ten Casting Choices. To see choices 1-5 go here.


The Appendices

Introduction to The Appendices

Appendix A (Part One) - The Numenorean Kings, The Realms In Exile: The Heirs Of Isildur, The Realms in Exile: The Heirs Of Anarion/The Stewards & The Tale Of Aragorn & Arwen

Appendix A (Part Two) - The House Of Eorl (Rohan) & Durin's Folk (the Dwarves)

Appendices B & C - The Tale Of Years & Family Trees

Appendices D, E & F - The Calendars, Writing And Spelling & Languages Of The Third Age