The Glorfindel Syndrome

James Bow refers to what he calls the Glorfindel Syndrome, which appears to be what happens when the law of economy of characters is applied to a sprawling epic with a huge dramatis personæ when it’s adapted for the silver screen:

The name is taken from J. R. R. Tolkien’s [elven] character of the same name, who rides out from Rivendell to meet the Hobbits and Aragorn, and takes Frodo back to the Elvish kingdom, facing down the Dark Riders along the way. In Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, Arwen takes Glorfindel’s role, giving her valuable extra screentime. In the 1970s animated version, Legolas steps up to the plate, for roughly the same reason. Glorfindel is, basically, chopped liver.

During the heyday of the Peter Jackson movies, I actually conceived of a related idea: a Web site protesting the exclusion of Glorfindel from movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, replete with foaming invective against the characters that replaced him. (For example, impugning Arwen’s racial purity — she’s only 78.12 per cent Elf!) I never finished it, probably because I couldn’t make it funny enough to make it worthwhile. I also imagined it as a satire of nitpicking fans (the kind who were upset at the omission of Tom Bombadil or “The Scouring of the Shire”); there was too much risk of it being taken literally. So it never came into being.

Narn i Hîn Húrin

The geek world is a-twitter with the news that an unfinished work by J. R. R. Tolkien has been completed by his son, Christopher, and will be published next spring.

The book is The Children of Húrin, and we’ve seen the tale before, in broad strokes or in fragments: it’s chapter 21 of The Silmarillion (“Of Túrin Turambar”) and the second chapter of Unfinished Tales (“Narn i Hîn Húrin”). The latter version was fragmentary (though not as fragmentary as some other parts in Unfinished Tales) but it seems that Christopher Tolkien has completed that narrative:

It has seemed to me for a long time that there was a good case for presenting my father’s long version of the legend of the children of Húrin as an independent work, between its own covers.

I can see why he’s done it. Large portions of the story are complete (see Unfinished Tales) and the story itself is quite powerful: a full-on epic tragedy that is Shakespearean in ambition and operatic in scope. (There are at least half a dozen operas in The Silmarillion alone; Tolkien produced enough material for an entire culture’s mythology.)

LOTR musical opening reviews

Kelly Nestruck has seen, and reviewed, the Lord of the Rings musical; he’s got a post that rounds up the opening reviews of this show, which are mixed. (Update: See also the Toronto Star’s point that it may be a critic-proof show.) His take, in a nutshell, is that the problems stem from the play being too ambitious:

There’s no doubt that the show has many problems. They all stem from one large one, though, it seems to me: Too much ambition. Too much of a desire to be innovative both technically and artistically. Too much respect, even reverence, for the source material. I had nowhere near as much fun as I did watching, say, The Producers, but I found elements of this show much more interesting, challenging, and beautiful. And this is coming from someone who is by no means a fan of the books and movies.
The idea of putting the entire 1,000 page Lord of the Rings trilogy onstage in one musical evening is an insane one. And the fact that it worked at all, when it was initially seen as pure folly or the punchline to a joke, is a triumph of sorts.

I’m looking forward to hear what Jennifer thinks about it when she sees it next month.

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