As part of its “Clash of the Gods” series, the History Channel is airing an episode tonight on what it calls “The greatest myth of modern times:” J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Similar to the other episodes in the series, this episode features an impressive array of experts on Tolkien and mythology, including Michael Drout (Wheaton College), Corey Olsen (Washington College), John Davenport (Fordham University) and many others. Readers of Tolkien’s complete mythology will be delighted that the episode branches out from the realm of The Lord of the Rings into some of the myths and legends of The Silmarillion. But beware! If you haven’t read The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings trilogy yet, major plot points are revealed!
The episode accurately identifies Tolkien’s initial desire to create a “mythology” for England, and goes on to identify two distinct influences on Tolkien’s writings about Middle-earth: his knowledge and research of the myths, legends and languages of other cultures, and his real-life experiences. For example, Frodo’s eventual addiction to the Ring of Power is compared to the 13th century Volsunga saga where the king’s son resorts to hiding in caverns after killing his father and stealing his ring. Similar fascinating comparisons made throughout the episode will prompt Tolkien fans to get out their pens and paper and start taking notes!
Instead of borrowing footage from the recent blockbuster films, the History Channel chose to create their own footage which blends in well with other episodes in the series. Doing so ties the mythological themes in each episode together well. Using footage from Peter Jackson’s films would have been jarring to the audience enjoying the series as a whole. This makes it easier to overlook a few mis-steps that Tolkien purists will notice, such as beardless dwarves and an old and grey-haired Bilbo discovering the Ring, when he was a hale and hearty hobbit who had barely attained middle-age at the time.
All in all, I definitely recommend tuning in to this episode if you’re a fan of Tolkien as a man and author, a fan of his writings or a fan brought into the myths and legends of Middle-earth through the recent movies! The episode airs at 10:00 p.m. EST tonight, Monday, October 5 and again at 2:00 a.m. EST on Tuesday, October 6. The DVD set of the “Clash of the Gods” series is also available for sale from the History Channel.