Elvish: Live in N.Y.C.

“No one knows this yet,” said Lord of the Rings screenwriter Fran Walsh. “But we need to get it out, because the fans are going to be really upset by it.”

Ms. Walsh stood in the back room of Michael‚s restaurant on Feb. 22. Around her milled other members of the creative team that had produced Oscar‚s most nominated movie. The film’s director and Ms. Walsh‚s companion, Peter Jackson, was padding about, as were the musical composer, Howard Shore; actor Christopher Lee, who plays Saruman the White; New Line co-chairman Bob Shaye; and LOTR‚s executive producer and the head of Fine Line Features, Mark Ordesky.

Ms. Walsh, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Shore each glowed with Oscar‚s kiss, but seeing that Ms. Walsh was itching to spill her guts, The Transom stuck with her.

So what exactly was burning a hole in the screenwriter‚s hard drive?

“Shelob is not going to be in part two,” she said.

For Tolkien neophytes, this may sound like news from a different dimension. But for pale-skinned Lord of the Rings nuts who have spent an estimated $700 million on tickets to the first film, it‚s big news.

“I checked [the fan site] One Ring, and there‚s a poll about what they‚re most looking forward to in the second film,” Ms. Walsh said. “They all say Shelob!”

Shelob is the evil spider-like creature that plays a pivotal role at the end of The Two Towers, the second part of Tolkien‚s trilogy.

“Of course Shelob is a major villain, and once Sam and Frodo get past her it’s basically one plot…we needed to add something, so we simply moved the Shelob bit to the third film,” Ms. Walsh said.

Mr. Jackson loped by with actor Matthew Modine in tow, and Ms. Walsh sighed. “I call him “shaggy chic‚” because he has no style,” she said of her companion. “And he has the most unruly hair.”

Although Mr. Jackson is known for his propensity to go barefoot and wear the same shorts and T-shirt for days on end, he had dressed for the luncheon in a button-down shirt that strained against his prodigious gut. The diminutive director wore weathered sneakers and walked on the balls of his feet. His brown hair was long and scraggly.

Ms. Walsh said that Donatella Versace has offered to make Mr. Jackson an Oscar suit, but that his initial response was “Aaaaaaah!” [I think she means “Aaaaaaarrggghhhh!” – Tehanu]

“He was screaming in terror,” she said. But Ms. Walsh added that her partner will “grudgingly acquiesce.”

“Oh, wait,” the screenwriter said. “Better not say grudgingly.‚ Just acquiesce.‚ No, no, not acquiesce‚ embrace‚! He’ll embrace it!”

Mr. Jackson was going to be doing a lot of embracing in the next 12 hours. Later in the evening, the crowd was headed to a swanky dinner hosted by directors Barry Levinson and Martin Scorsese and writers William Styron and Norman Mailer. The dinner had been arranged by publicist Peggy Siegal to introduce the contingent of New Zealanders and Brits to an eclectic group of New York‚s cultural cognoscenti, albeit one that could also double as the cast for an It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World remake. Guests at the dinner included actress Kyra Sedgwick, comedian Billy Crystal, essayist Stanley Crouch, director John Sayles, actress Sigourney Weaver, journalist Lally Weymouth, germ-warfare expert and anthrax target Judith Miller, writer Gay Talese, publisher Nan Talese, author Salman Rushdie, and Early Show host Bryant Gumbel.

But first there was lunch. “This is worse than the Carnegie Deli. How am I supposed to eat all this food?” said Mr. Lee when his salad was put in front of him at Michael‚s.

Mr. Lee looked more like Sherlock Holmes than Saruman. He was dressed impeccably in a checked jacket, olive vest, bright green tie and mustard corduroys. A red silk handkerchief poked from his jacket pocket.

In an earlier chapter of his life, Mr. Lee had been a military sleuth, searching for Nazi war criminals as part of Britain‚s Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects. “I have seen man‚s inhumanity to man,” he said softly.

The actor, who said he‚ll “be 80 in May “hopefully,” seemed miles from Michael‚s as he described meeting Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien in an Oxford pub.

“He was a devout man, no question about that,” said Mr. Lee, who has reread The Lord of the Rings every year since its publication.

Suddenly he erupted in what sounded like gibberish.

“Ash nazg durbatulúk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulúk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul!” he said, in an accent that was heavy on the rolled R‚s.

Mr. Lee was merely recitingˆin ancient Elvishˆthe inscription found on the ring that’s at the center of Tolkien’s trilogy.

“I’m not very good at these things,” said Mr. Lee of the event. “People misunderstand what I’m saying.”

This column ran on page 3 in the 3/4/2002 edition of The New York Observer.