Peter S. Beagle is known worldwide for his novels, non-fiction, and screenplays. His most famous work, The Last Unicorn, has sold more than six million copies and routinely polls as one of the Top 10 fantasy novels of all time (Its follow-up, “Two Hearts,” just won the 2006 Hugo Award). Peter is deeply involved in Middle-earth, having written the famous introductory page in Ballantine’s LOTR paperback editions and the screenplay for Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. This coming February 6, 2007, Lionsgate Entertainment will release a special 25th Anniversary DVD of The Last Unicorn, with a screenplay by Beagle [FANS: help Peters cause by purchasing your autographed DVD exclusively from Conlan Press!].
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As a fiction writer with some experience with the film world, I’m very clear on at least one aspect of the business: you never know the whole story. That applies to other people, as well as writers — it’s entirely possible that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh don’t really know the deepest motives behind New Line’s behavior, and never may. I think it’s been so from the days of The Great Train Robbery.
Once, long ago, I said lightly to Ralph Bakshi, “Of course, everybody down there in Hollywood keeps three separate sets of books.” To which Bakshi replied, “Hell, yes!” I was joking. He wasn’t. I learned all about that when it came time for me to collect the last half of my own miserly $5,000 pay for writing the animated version of Lord of the Rings, only to find that I had to threaten to sue Saul Zaentz in order to get it. (And I am still fighting, all these years later, to try and make him live up to his other promises. Click here if you are curious.)
I am far less knowledgeable and opinionated about directors than I am about scripts and screenwriters. But I do believe that, certain flaws aside, Peter Jackson made as good a Lord of the Rings as we are ever likely to see outside the multiplex of our minds. Someone else quite possibly might have made it as well — as someone else may well make a perfectly good film of The Hobbit — but I know something of LOTR’s nearly-half-century journey to the screen, and I don’t believe that anyone else could have gotten it made. We’re not talking about special effects unavailable twenty years ago, but about obsession: about a certain kind of madness, if you like. Madness allied to talent, to commitment, to love… as George Gobel, a comedian of my youth, used to say, “You can’t hardly get them kind no more.”
And you can’t.
Peter S. Beagle