Tales From The Perilous Realm- A J.R.R Tolkien book review

If you ask the ordinary fantasy fan to think outside the box when it comes to Tolkien, most would return with answers such as The Silmarillion or The Children of Hurin. When imagining Tales from the Perilous Realm, one must command the fan to imagine themselves standing outside the room which holds our original box. In short, it wouldn’t be the first on anybody’s list, but having read it, I feel it shouldn’t be anybody’s last.

This novel features five unique short stories as written by Tolkien, each based around the world of Faerie, a land we commonly associate with The Brothers Grimm etc. In stark contrast to this land of pixies and toadstools, Tolkien presents a meticulous essay outlining concretely what Fairy stories actually are, and how we should consider them as literary pieces.

The first tale presented is that of Roverandom. Featuring a dog named Rover, the story revolves around the animal becoming caught up in wizard dealings and being whisked away from his normal country lifestyle. What Tolkien succeeds in here unsurprisingly (if one reads The Hobbit) is perfectly building a world for a child’s imagination. Rather than soaking the piece in meticulous detail or filling every corner with aspects of his higher writing, Tolkien maintains a lighthearted tone throughout, and manages to turn a very average plot into a memorable story suitable for all ages. Though not my favourite form the book, the piece deserves praise nonetheless.

Farmer Giles of Ham definitely feels far more like the Tolkien we are used to, with its slightly dark undertone and a plot brimming with swords, kings and dragons. Similar to a world of Frodos and Bilbos, the tale focuses on how the ordinary man gets caught up in a world of valour and higher powers, simply based on how much love even the smallest man can show for their own homeland. Farmer Giles is Bilbo-like showing quick wit and a good humour, while his exchanges with Chrysophylax the dragon are hauntingly familiar if one has read The Hobbit to the finish. Suspense was maintained throughout which kept the tale moving and so the whole thing felt far shorter than Roverandom itself. Perhaps for those who enjoyed The Hobbit this would be a welcome read.

The Smith of Wooton Major dabbled most in what Tolkien considered the faery world to be. Based around a master cook living in a small town, the plot takes us into a parallel world of Faery, all accomplished through the magical ingredients of a special cake! The further the story progressed, the more the tale stood out as thematically impressive and not just a easy read. If Tolkien had delved more into the adventures that did occur in the world of Faery, the story would have benefited undoubtedly. However,given it was intended as a short piece (in which connection to the early paragraphs seems essential to grasp the overall feel), he might have chosen correctly in keeping the length short.

The literature then shifts to poet format, with a series of nearly twenty short stories being fed to the reader on a verse by verse basis. Some of these tales seem by themselves interesting, while others leave much to the imagination but succeed from a poetic point of view. Of all the pieces in this book, this would probably appeal least to the everyday reader. However, for those Tolkien fans who understand deeply that this man valued language far more than he did archers and cavalry, the section is a valuable insight into Tolkien’s ability.

The final piece presented is that of ‘Leaf by Niggle’. Tolkien was always quoted as saying he hated allegory; that is the intentional pursuit by a story etc to give the reader some sort of message (and in many cases the value of the story lies solely in this message). That being said, it is often argued this tale is a highly allegorical one, with its entire plot echoing the recesses of an aging Tolkien’s mind. Tolkien did once quote that for many pieces allegory is itself not presented, and any meaning found in the piece by the reader is purely coincidental, and evidently down to personal interpretation (as given in a note to fans in later LOTR publications). This is reasonable, but one would be hard pushed to read Leaf by Niggle and not come away feeling the whole tale circles around a painter who mirrors Tolkien himself; a man who was awash with worry, unhappiness and regret with not having finished his epic Silmarillion before his death (with this book being if anything the primary part of his legendarium). Just like Niggle, Tolkien continues to tack pieces onto his original work, filling in details here and there as he goes, never really settling on a defined picture/image and always looking to expand when he should consolidate and finish. The ending is too good to spoil, if one really wants value for reading.

Overall, anyone who shows a good interest in Tolkien’s writing will enjoy this quick read, with Leaf by Niggle, Smith of Wooton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham standing out as a top three in my eyes. Next time I’ll be reviewing The City, a fantasy tale by Stella Gemmell, wife of the late writer David Gemmell.

 

Reaction to “The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug” official trailer

Just seen it. Admittedly I thought it was something from a couple months back I’ve already seen. But this was all different. Good different…….? I’m not so sure. I’m a big Tolkien fan. Honestly it was the movies that got me into it. Realistically how many eight year olds dive into a book that big anyway. By big I mean The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is actually a pretty easy read. So when I saw the ad and decided that perhaps it was new and deserved two minutes of my time, it’s fair to say I was still somewhat excited (even if it was the old trailer). Afterwards I had mixed emotions. On the whole it looks more of the same from last year, which in general was “Well that is a fun,not-too-ridiculous adaption of a good Tolkien novel”. That being said the movie last year got away with a lot of stuff that fans were happy to brush over in favour of seeing big screen versions of their favourite books. But with the series already coming under heavy criticism for running into three monumental sized pieces, this time the producers could be less lucky.

Even from the first few seconds the massive excitement comes from hearing Martin Freeman coolly act out more of the lines of Bilbo Baggins. Playing the lead in the series, Freeman made much of the first movie better than it probably was. He’s got a certain connection to his character that makes Ian Mckellen seem to be in two places at once. But the excitement soon starts drowning in a couple of “really…..that?”. The first big thing the movie could flop in is TOO MUCH ELVES. My god, anybody who reads the book is like “why is Legolas here?” Granted the choice isn’t too farfetched with the storyline and serves to bring in more fans, but the fact that he features so much in even two minutes has me worried. There seems to be a lot of elves fighting orcs, elves discussing the plot, and elves in love interests with elves. I’m all for examining more of Tolkien’s favourite characters, but at the moment it looks like it could venture over the top. Evangeline Lily is a fairly talented actress. She was quite convincing as Kate in Lost. But having her in there as a token just seems like the movie is lowering its standards so the masses have something to jump in for. Some may say Arwen had a similar makeover for LOTR, moving up from her (I think) two lines in the book to having significant screen time. Even so, at least she was an original character, not just some idle flick of a film maker’s wand hoping to cast a female friendly aura over Tolkien’s work. An adaption shouldn’t have to dot hat. Take what’s there or go elsewhere.

The same applies for the evidence of a ridiculous amount of fight scenes. When this franchise stretched into three bits, I knew Peter Jackson was gonna have to invent a large amount of unscripted action just to keep us entertained. I was right. The whole thing seems to be full of orcs grappling with elves or dwarves escaping in arrow ridden barrels. Seriously, it takes from the plot to have it dumbed down to nothing more than a middle earth die hard.

The only extra that seems completely justifiable is the inclusion of the appendices reference to the necromancer. If Jackson wanted to help keep this tying up well to LOTR, he was right to throw this in. With like nine hours of film, why not? It happened and it’s a nice addition for real enthusiasts. Gandalf has delivered in all four films so far so having more of him may help move the whole thing along much smoother.

The section with the spiders looks like it could be well done, and the part at the lonely mountain seems worthwhile. I’ll be interested to see where they cut off and how Jackson delivers in his last installment. Until then, I’ll tell the purely fan side of me to shut up and enjoy the fact that a great story like this has come to light in such a way that a movie is there at all. An adaption can succeed in change if the change turns out good. In fact, without Jackson and all his little twitches of the tale, would I even be here at all as a massive fan?