Sunday, 21 April 2013

Bored of the Rings....

So Thursday night was primary school admissions night.  Bearing in mind we had precisely one option for a school which would allow me to actually deposit both Thomas and Ben at their respective childcare/educational establishments in time to have any prospect of getting to work, and for which the admission requirements did not involve actually taking up residence on the roof in order to meet the 0.00001 metre catchment area, things have obviously been a little tense in the Chaos household and extended family.

Well, for “things have been a little tense in the Chaos household and extended family”, read “I’ve been a little tense while everyone else has apparently been breezing around with absolute confidence that everything was going to work out just fine.”

So, while everyone else was tucked up in bed, sleeping the sleep of the certain-everything-is-going-to-be-fine, I was settling in for an evening of compulsively checking the time and calculating how many minutes remained before one-second-past-midnight.

Obviously, I needed something to distract me.  So, having recently watched The Hobbit on DVD, I decided that what I really needed was a marathon viewing extravaganza of The Lord of the Rings extended edition box-set.  There’s nothing like a bit of doom-laded declaiming and unnecessarily long names to take your mind off the time.

Now I am a big Lord of the Rings fan.  I scared myself completely silly reading the first volume at age eight and giving up in the middle of the Mines of Moria.  What Lord of the Rings was doing in the infant school library of a very strict convent school, I have never quite figured out, but I was suitably traumatised and didn’t touch Tolkien again until I was thirteen, when I read the whole three at one go – in bed at night with a torch, under the desk in lessons and round the back of the squash courts while hiding from the PE teachers.

I was instantly hooked, and went on to work my way through Tolkien’s extensive “back-story” writings and even tackled the Silmarilion which is, admittedly, pretty heavy going.  And then, many years after I entirely failed to learn how to make scones in Home Economics due to my attention being somewhat distracted by speculation about whether Gandalf was, in fact, dead, I heard the news.  Someone was making the film of Lord of the Rings. 

I posted here about my huge mistrust of film adaptations of popular books.  I therefore spent a fair bit of time boring people with my extensive theories about why this book was unfilmable.  Peter Jackson clearly either never heard about my compelling theories or, inexplicably, he didn’t care, and he cracked on and made the films anyway.  I accordingly slunk into the local cinema and sat looking sulky while the title credits came up.

Two hours later I slunk back out again, feeling a little sheepish.

It was good.  Peter Jackson had done a blinding job.  This became even more apparent when I saw the full versions of all three films.  There were a couple of things that I hadn’t quite picked up on in the books, but they were in the films.  There was also some clever use of new dialogue to preserve some of the best bits of description in the films.  In short, I approved.

However, even the most hard-core Tolkien fan, would probably have to concede that the films are
fairly ripe for parody and mockery.  HWSNBN refuses to watch them on the basis that everyone has stupidly long names and that nothing is just a chair or a road – they are all the Chair of Somebody or the Road of Something Else.

To be fair, he has a point.  There is an awful lot of “Come, Men of the West.  Let us take the Road of Dimridil that leads beneath the Mountain of Doom and thence to the Mines of Moria (currently held by Balin son of Dwalin son of Stalin son of Bob, King under the Mountain, Lord of the Deep and Protector of the Stone of Scone) where we shall challenge the Hordes of Mordor and cross the Bridge of Khazad-Dum, probably encountering a Balrog of Morgoth, before making our way into the free lands of Lothlorien, kingdom of the Lady of the Morning etc etc.”

There is, in short, a good deal of declaiming and a fair bit of Going On at Length.

Unfortunately, I discovered on Thursday night, that declaiming and going-on is quite irritating while you are impatiently waiting for something to happen.  I found I was tapping my fingers every time one of the main characters made a speech.  I had the distinct feeling that Gandalf and Co were personally responsible for the fact that only three and a half minutes had passed since the last time I looked at the clock.  I also found that I had very little patience for the amount of sad pouting that the main characters went in for. 

Oh no!  The evil Ring of Doom hath been found.  [sad pouting from the Great and Wise of Middle Earth]

Woe is me!  I must leave my lady love who might decide to bugger off overseas in my absence.  [intensely sad pouting from Viggo Mortensen]

Aaargh!  Gandalf hath plunged to his doom while fighting a balrog.  [sad pouting all round]  [spectacular lack of insight into the fact that a bit less pouting and a bit more sticking sharp swords in balrogs might have avoided this outcome]

I suspect my lack of patience with the pouting and the declaiming comes from the fact that I’d just seen The Hobbit.  Now this film has had a bit of a bad press from some quarters – mainly due to the insertion/expansion of various things that either weren’t in the book at all, or were mentioned so fleetingly that they might as well have been omitted entirely.

One of the big criticisms has been the creation of a key role for a character who never actually appears in person in any of the books, although he is mentioned in passing, the nature-loving wizard, Rhadagast the Brown.  The main issue that some critics seem to have with this character is that he is off his head on magic mushrooms, has bird-poo running down his head from the nest under his hat, and rides around in a sled pulled by bunny rabbits. 

All good and valid concerns, you might think.  But I LOVED Rhadagast.  It was quite clear that the filmmakers were abundantly aware of the amount of pouting and declaiming that they had in their film, and introduced Rhadagast as a nice little antidote, a bit of gentle self-mockery.

So when the main party is attacked by goblins and wargs and Rhadagast offers to draw them off, Gandalf declaims in his usual doom-laden tones, “These are Gundabad wargs.  They Will Outrun Yoooou” [pout and glower], Rhadagast replies in equally declamatory tones “These are Rhosgobel rabbits.  I’d like to see them try.”

The rest of the scene involves the main characters fleeing (with associated pouting and sword-brandishing obviously] while a mad, poo-stained wizard hurtles past periodically in a sled pulled by bunnies.

Cracking stuff.

Unfortunately, it left me unable to take Lord of the Rings terribly seriously.  I couldn’t help thinking that the whole quest could have been despatched much more efficiently, and with considerably less pouting, if they’d just brought some magic bunnies with them.

So Lord of the Rings proved a bit of a flop as a distraction technique. 

But time did eventually pass, and at one minute to midnight I started hitting the refresh button with the kind of speed that would probably have won me the 2013 World Speed Texting Championship. 

It was like the final stages of an epic, Middle-Earth style quest.

And so it was written, in the time before the memory of men, that a day should come when the Admission Process of Doom should be ended, and when the Young of This World should be cast into the School Allocation System.

And the People of the World did wail and declaim.

And the Local Education Authority did not hear their cries, for it was engaged in forging a single, all-powerful Application Form.  And so the power of the Form did cast a long shadow over the land, and all did fall under its thrall.

One Form to rule them all
One Form to find them

One Form to bring them all
And in a catchment area bind them

He got his place.  Life will continue as normal without the need for hugely complicated, pan-county child-drop-offs.  We can forget about school applications for a while.

Until Ben’s turn comes, of course.

And in the darkness, something stirred.  Its time would come…..

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