steve sends along a great article which was in the latest issue of ‘The Globe and Mail’, take a look:
Life is full of second and third chances, so , if you missed wearing a “Frodo Lives” button back in the sixties, now’s your opportunity to delve into Middle Earth by cracking the spines of J. R. R. Tolkien’s sprawling Lord of the Rings trilogy. The LOTR series has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide since it was published in Britain in the mid-1950s. The first volume, The Fellowship of The Ring, has sold more than 50 million copies all by itself.
Now that Tolkien’s classic fantasy has been adapted for the screen, legions of old and new readers are buying the books before the premiere of the Peter Jackson movie in mid-December. The movie hype began last year with the announcement that New Line Cinema was producing three back-to-back movies of Tolkien’s trilogy beginning with The Fellowship of the Ring this year, followed by The Two Towers in 2002 and The Return of the King in 2003. They boast a stellar cast, including Elijah Wood as Frodo the hobbit and Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Wizard. Even world-weary and cynical media types applauded and whooped at the special effects when director Peter Jackson screened a 20-minute trailer for Fellowship at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Fans downloaded a 90-second trailer for the film some 350 million times in its first three months on the Web.
Frank Mendicino, vice-president of marketing for Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis, which owns the film. distribution rights in Canada, says the launch of the movie will be the biggest in the history of the company. He expects the film could do at least $50-million in Canada. “This is a worldwide event film,” he explains. A book and movie tie-in works both ways. The books help sell the movie, and the movie in its turn draws attention back to the books. Mendicino won’t reveal Alliance Atlantis’s marketing plans but he says to watch for more trailers in the fall, and billboards and superboards. ‘It is going to be all over the place,” he says.
“Sales are already bigger than I have ever seen,” says Lloyd Kelly, vice-president of sales at HarperCollins Canada, which has been distributing Tolkien titles in this country for the last dozen years.
“We’ve been selling 25,000 copies of The Fellowship of the Ring a year,” says Kelly, “and I’m estimating we are going to sell 150,000 of that edition — the black one as everybody calls it ” Then there is the movie-cover edition that will arrive in stores by the end of October. Kelly expects to sell 300,000 of that edition. Then comes The Fellowship of the Ring Visual Companion ($32.95), a coffee-table picture book, and the LOTR Official Movie Guide ($23 95), a coffee-table paperback on all of the movies, both of which arrive in the stores in November. “We have three years to sell this stuff,” he says, his voice rising in excitement, “and then there is the video and all the rest. It is a thrill because we have set up a budget and this is blowing it to smithereens.”
Tracy Nesdoly, a spokesman for Chapters Indigo, says: “Everything Tolkien or LOTR is flying out of the stores. This is a phenomenal seller for us right now.” While she refuses to give sales figures, Nesdoly says the books are hitting two categories of buyers. “There are a significant number of adults, people who read Tolkien when they were kids and who are buying it again for their children, and children who fell in love with Harry Potter and are ready for something else.”
J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973), who was a professor of philology at Oxford University, is an unlikely cult figure. A committed Catholic and a good friend of C. S. Lewis, the creator of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the Narnia books, Tolkien had “no extramarital affairs, no sexual oddities, no scandals, strange accusations of political involvements,” according to his biographer T. A. Shippey in his book, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century.
Tolkien, who was an orphan by the time he was 12, survived the horrors of the Somme in the First World War, but saw all his closest friends die. Shippey argues that Tolkien belongs to a literary troop of war-ravaged writers who wrote books that future historians will call the “most representative and distinctive works” of the last century. They, all used fantasy and irony to condemn the grotesque absurdity of war. Besides The Lord of the Rings, these fantastic works include George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.
Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in 1937 in the dark years leading up to the Second World War and completed the LOTR trilogy after the war as a way of making sense of the world. The story of LOTR, which Tolkien insisted was really one book, follows the quest of hobbit Frodo Baggins and Gandalf the Good Wizard to take the One Ring across Middle Earth to the Crack of Doom and thwart the dark power of the evil Lord Sauron and his army of orcs.
Tolkien claimed that the dwarves, orcs and trolls who people his Middle Earth all sprang from a common mythology of the Scandinavian countries, old Germany and England. This ancient, largely unrecorded world, which is older than fairy tales, was “a merciless world without a Geneva Convention,” writes Shippey. He believes that Tolkien’s enduring appeal “rests not on mere charm or strangeness,” but on “a deeply serious response” to the origin and nature of evil.
This classic tale of the struggle between good and evil is a timeless theme in literature, especially books written for young people. The nuanced richness of LOTR and its lack of specificity made it appeal to rebellious college-aged boomers in the Vietnam era. For many it was an indulgence, for others, who dreamed of changing the world, it was an addiction. As one dyspeptic academic commented: “When I was in university, there were people who read LOTR, those who played bridge, and the rest of us who passed our courses.”
If the books were once considered a slightly subversive and cult pastime – back in the days when kids sported “Gandalf for President” buttons as a political statement – they are now simply read for themselves as absorbing tales in which the eternal battle is joined between good and evil.
Boomer parents, whatever they might have been doing in the sixties, are now often to be found reading the books for the first time either to themselves or to their children. And some of them have spawned a new generation of college-aged kids who are reading the books. LOTR is also a good summer antidote for kids who are suffering Harry Potter withdrawal pangs because author J. K. Rowling has denied them a new fix this summer.
Knowing he has already sold more LOTH this year than last, John Snyder, vice-president of purchasing for Book City in Toronto says he expects sales to increase steadily through the summer and then reach a crescendo when “the real hype starts before the release of the movie in December.” Snyder has already read LOTR twice, once, when he was about 14 and again when he was in his late 20s. He enjoyed it more the second time around. “I got a lot more out of the historical parallels due to maturity and a bit more knowledge of the world,” he says.
Ben McNally, manager of Nicholas Hoare in Toronto, admits he was “a semi-superior shit in the sixties,” who thought that “if all those clowns were reading them, I don’t want to.” He says that even now he “tends not to read things that everybody else is reading.” Even so he has been reading an LOTR set to his youngest children, a girl of I1 and a son who will be 8 this summer. They’ve finished The Hobbit and are about halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring.
“I find them almost Dickensian in the amount of superfluous detail, but the storyline is pretty good,” he says. “My kids don’t exactly doze off during the dead parts, but when things start heating up, they get excited again.
I figured my kids were going to see the movie and I didn’t want them to do that without reading the book first. The movie is going move a lot faster and they tend to hijack your consciousness. So if you read the book, you can still have that overlay on top of the movie.”