No Monroe in Lothlorien

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19-24

[page 19] NO MONROE IN LOTHLÓRIEN. by the late Arthur R. Weir. {Title Art: "NO MONROE IN LOTHLÓRIEN." is written in organic block letters, hastily filled with ink.} Some books evoke pictures as we read them. How many of us, I wonder, have seen -clear before our eyes- the grim ostrich-plumed triple ring of warriors as the Kukuana regiment of the Greys formed up for its last fight in KING SOLOMON'S MINES, or Edward Malone dropping his useless shotgun and using all his Rugby International's speed of foot for a desperate half-mile down the moonlit avenue, with the great carnivorous dinosaur of THE LOST WORLD thundering behind him? But of all books it is the myths, legends and fairy-tales that are, quite literally, picturesque; they draw their scenes, vivid with detail, colour and movement, before our eyes as we read: and, after many re-readings, we find ourselves following the text with but a small corner of our minds, using all the rest of our mental powers to decorate and clarify the well-loved scene to something more real than any of the dull realities of every day. Now of all these wonder-provokers and image-painters, one of the greatest of to--day @today@ is Professor Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and I think that most of us, in reading it, have found ourselves building, in our imagination, such a marvelous pageant of colour, action, suspense and heroism as we had never hitherto dreamed might be evoked from us. Many people, reading this great epic, have said "What a film it would make!" and it is a most enchanting and rewarding field for speculation. How would _we_ set about [page 20] turning it into the shadow reality of the cinema screen -- given unlimited money and all the world's talent to command? First, where and how are we to picture the fertile well-farmed kindly country of Hobbiton-in-the-Shire? The Yorkshire Dales? The Cheshire levels, with their high ash hedges and black and white cagework farmhouses? The mile-wide fields of wheat or of gorgeous flowers of East Anglia and the Fen country, or the snug steep-sided valleys, hanging beechwoods and orchard-bounded fields of the Cotswolds? Or shall we take Kipling's advice and cross the Atlantic to "Lancaster County back of Philadelphia -- little houses and bursting big-barns, fat cattle, fat women, and all as peaceful as Heaven might be, if they farmed there." Then, at the other end of the scenic scale, what is to portray the grim evil of the Vale of Morgul, with the wraith-haunted castle of Minas Morgul frowning at its end? The rocky desert of the Pass of Gorgoroth? The flaming ash-clad cliffs of Orodruin, the "Mount Doom" of the Story's climax? Here, again, our choice is wide:- the cliff-girt valley of grey and black rock with hardly a trace of growing green that was the scene of the famous Massacre of Glencoe; the miles of knife-edged lava clinker, bristling with poison-thorned cactus of the Sonora desert in Arizona ; the ironclad cliffs of the Sinai Desert, springing vertically from the desert, writhing and dancing in the fierce heat-haze that suddenly forms great sparkling lakes at their feet that equally suddenly shrivel and vanish; or, if we want something on the really grand scale, try South America where the Urubamba valley runs North-Westwards from Lake Titicaca, past the hidden Inca City of Machu Picchu --a rock valley barely two-hundred yards wide, with sheer vertical sides upwards of three-quarters of a mile high, of such terrifying appearance that even Pizarro's lion--hearted @lion-hearted@ iron--fisted @iron-fisted@ soldiers crossed themselves uneasily when first they saw it, muttering one to another that surely this was the gateway to Hell itself! The castle of Minas Morgul has its own very definate @definite@ picture in my own mind -that of Schloss Thaurandt on the Moselle, built in the fourteenth century by a genuine and most evil robber--baron @robber-baron@; a structure which retains to this day the marked impression of having been built with no concession to any human requirement other than sheer defensive strength. [page 21] So well was this condition fulfilled that an army that outnumbered its defenders by over fifty to one besieged it, for over two years - and failed to take it! {Image: A drawing of a male's head appears to the right of the first and the beginning of the second paragraphs. The head features long, slicked back hair and a close-cropped beard. Some shading in pointillist style surrounds the head.} Minas Tirith, the fortified hill city with its seven great towers presents another problem. Carcasonne is, of course, the ideal mediaeval city-fortress, but is so generally known to tourists that many in an average audience would recognise it, spoiling the illusion. Another magnificently picturesque fortified city is Jeysalmir in India, but that is set in bleak sandy desert, not the fertile fields of Tolkien's royal city. Two possible sites for shots a showing the city from a distance are Avila, in Spain, or, even better perhaps, the remarkable fortified hill--top @hill-top@ of Monteriggiono, near Siena in Italy. This is a great forty-foot-high curtain wall surrounding the whole hill--top @hill-top@, with a set of fourteen big square towers, each some ninety feet high, spaced at even intervals all round it, the whole looking like an outsize embodiment of the ornament called in heraldry a "mural crown". Incidentally it's the source of a very famous piece of literature Imagery in the INFERNO-Canto XXXII lines 4I and onwards, where Dante compares the great circle of the giants, towering up out of the great pit of Nether Hell to this great circle of towers. For shots inside the city of Minas Tirith there is a good site only a few miles away, in the little walled hill-town of San Gimignano, which is one of the only Italian towns still to possess a number of the fortified private family dwellings, common in the middle ages, with their great fortified towers standing up above the roof-lines, overtopping even the church towers. Those who would like to make the closer acquaintance of these last two sites should look out, at their public library, for a vast volume called "Romanesque Art in Italy" by H. Decker (translated from the German) published by Thames and Hardham. It includes 230 very fine photographs and plates 74, 75 & 76 show these places very well. The difficulties encountered in finding suitable locations for matching to the story, however, are almost nothing compared with the difficulty of casting Tolkien's characters. [page 23] With my own rather limited knowledge of film-stars I can only think of two "possibles": Alec Guiness as Gandalf and Charles Laughton as Théoden, the ageing @aging@ King of the Rohirrim. But whom can we find to portray the combination of immense physical strength and fitness, many years of hardship and disappointment and yet essential underlying youth that is the long-awaited Prince Aragorn? Even more difficult, how are we to portray Legolas the Elf, the deadly archer, the light-footed runner, who looks like a merry boy with a jest or a song always on his lips, until a chance reference shows that he has, with his own eyes, witnessed events that took place some centuries before? Most difficult of all, what are we to do about the Elf-Queen Galadriel? Anyone reading Tolkien with discernment must feel slightly sick at tbe prospect of any super-mammary American or hip-waggling Italian film-star in such a rôle @role@! But the requirements are exacting - very considerable good looks, great natural dignity, the widest range of voice at all times under perfect control, the most graceful carriage, and - on top of all this - the perfect naturalness that evoked Sam Gamgee's artless tribute: "and, with it all, as merry as any lass I ever saw with daisies in her hair in springtime!" It would have been an ideal part for Sybil Thorndike at her best; of all living actresses (stage or film) the only one I can think of who could (if she only would) carry such a rôle @role@ is Greta Garbo - and I think I shall get full agreement from those who remember her as I do in one of her last films, "Tovaritch" in which she played the part of a Soviet emissary to a Western country, fanatically Communist, touchy, humourless and suspicious. Towards the end of the story an unexpected turn of events suddenly brings home to her the completely incongruous, wildly funny side of her solemn pretensions and gives the picture of her that I still love to remember - Greta Garbo, lying back in her chair, laughing with all the artless happiness of a schoolgirl - rocking, gasping, finally weeping with helpless laughter (and all the audience at the film joining in from sheer delight!) Or would we need a ballerina to cope with the grace and dignity of motion that the part requires? Margot Fonteyn with a fair make-up? Moira Shearer's flat face and snub [page 24] nose put her out of court for this part, just as does Alicia Markova's voice - neither her "refeened" best-behaviour accent nor her unashamed London speech when at ease would fit here. Music for such a film raises, at once, issues enough to fill an article twice the length of this; just to start with, should we use familiar music, or should all the music be specially composed, so as to avoid distortion from the audience's previous associations therewith? But to cover such a width of theme and emotion the composer would need to have the breadth of feeling, power and range of a Beethoven or a Rimsky-Korsakov (_why_ aren't his operas better known in Western Europe?) and such are not to be found at a moment's notice. Naturally Tin Pan Alley will want to introduce the latest hit tunes in the Halls of Elrond at Imladris, but here luckily, we can claim priority for a _genuine_ piece of elf-music, in the shape of the strange haunting tune that appears in the Kennedy-Frazer collection of "Songs of the Hebrides" under the title A FAIRY PLAINT (Music from inside a Fairy Hill). This is supposed to have been heard by a Benbecula farmer, who, going home late one night, found one of the fairy hills open, with lights inside and a crowd of elven-folk singing, dancing and harp-playing. Scared nearly out of his wits, he hid behind a neighbouring turf-dyke, and heard an elf harpist sing this song, which stayed in his memory - as well it might. And now, with no financial considerations to worry about and all the world to choose from, who has some more good ideas for filming THE LORD OF THE RINGS? - "Doc." Weir. - N.B. The above material is abstracted from matter that has already been published in the fmz TRIODE XVII and BASTION I. {Divider: A line made of hyphens and o's separates the text above from the text below.} _IN MEMORIAM._ The above is what must be one of the last articles to come from the pen of a very erudite and kindly gentleman, Arthur R. Weir, D. Sc., B.Sc.. A few months ago I asked him if I could reprint the above article from Mr. Bentcliffe's TRIODE, and with his customary thoughtfullness he sent me the revised and lengthened version that has graced these last five pages. His demise is a great loss to all who knew him personally - and to those who have become acquainted with him through his works.

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