A look back at a 50-year-old edition of the New Zealand magazine The Listener gives an indication of how the book The Fellowship of the Ring was received in New Zealand following its publication – and also uncovers a great coincidence involving Peter Jackson.
(Here is an excerpt from an article in a recent edition of The Listener, which reviewed articles that appeared in its January 14, 1955 edition.)
The lead book review was of ‘English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama’, by CS Lewis. That’s one forbidding title, and you can put money behind the argument that it isn’t the Lewis work that most readers would pick up nearly 50 years on. Within the review, Oxford and Cambridge are discussed as places so familiar that they could be just down the road. Buried deep within the in-brief reviews was a book titled ‘The Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring’, by Lewis’s friend JRR Tolkien. There was no inkling that this was a book that would come to have some significance to New Zealanders decades on, although the review was fairer and more open-minded than most notices the book received first time around: “JRR Tolkien, the distinguished Oxford philologist, launches the first novel of a massive trilogy without blare of trumpets,” wrote reviewer David Hall. “This farrago of the imagination running amok, this saga-crooning over the rivalries of friendship[…] of hobbits (halflings), elves, dwarfs and orcs, this homeric clashing of ignorant armies by night, is presented with unflagging and enviable zeal. Indeed we wholly accept his new world, with its arbitrary virtue and badness, its supernatural and fantastic events, though with some surprise at our indulgence.” That’s the review in its entirety. That same week, the Listener’s editorial discussed juvenile delinquency in the wake of the Parker-Hulme murder case, which also had resonances to do with repressive pseudo-Englishness and cultural isolation. Coincidentally, it became a movie (Heavenly Creatures), directed by Peter Jackson, the maker of……
Thanks to Ataahua for that.