This month, J.W. reviews The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Annual 2013, a companion to the first Hobbit film. Meanwhile, in his mailbag section he answers questions about The Lord of the Rings films, Howard Shore’s “Complete Recordings”, and Tolkien himself.

J.W. Braun’s Mailbag:

In your review of Fonstad’s Middle-earth, you said that Jackson’s Middle-earth had a bit different geography than Tolkien’s Middle-earth. But the map in the film looks just like the map in the book so how could this be? – David

While the maps are identical, there are subtle differences in geography that become apparent throughout the course of the films. When Aragorn, for example, exits the Paths of the Dead in the extended edition of the third film, he finds himself at the Anduin River. In the book, Aragorn specifically takes his horse with him through the Paths of the Dead because he knows it’s a long way from the exit to the river. There are a few differences in the first two films as well, most notably the layout of the valley of Helm’s Deep. – JW

I just listened to the audio recording of Tolkien reading “Riddles in the Dark.” His performance is marvelous! Why oh why didn’t he record himself reading the whole book? – Amy

The recording you heard happened somewhat by chance. In August of 1952, Tolkien visited a friend to retrieve a manuscript for The Lord of the Rings that he had lent out. The friend, to Tolkien’s delight, showed off a new fangled machine called a “tape recorder” which Tolkien had never seen before. The old scribe spoke a prayer (in Gothic) into the recorder, and was thrilled to hear his own voice back. He then recorded a few poems from The Lord of the Rings before he was asked to record the riddle chapter from The Hobbit. Over the course of the next half hour, his friend (and his friend’s family) sat spellbound as Tolkien (in one take) gave the incredible, amazing reading that lives on today. – JW

Why did Saul Zaentz choose Ralph Bakshi to direct the animated Lord of the Rings? – David

It was more of a case of Bakshi choosing Zaentz than Zaentz choosing Bakshi. Let’s back up a bit. United Artists (which acquired the movie rights to The Lord of the Rings from Tolkien before his death) originally was going to have John Boorman write and direct a film adaptation, but Boorman’s script confused the heck out of the studio. (Actually, with its Frodo/Galadriel love making scene, his script confuses the heck out of me as well.) And to make matters worse for United Artists, they had agreed to pay John $3 million for this badly written piece of garbage. As they were deciding whether to move forward or not, Ralph Bakshi (a big fan of Tolkien) approached them and asked the studio heads what they thought about having him direct three animated films that were closer to Tolkien’s original books. United Artists said that was fine, but they needed $3 million to cover the cost of throwing away Boorman’s script. At that point, Bakshi approached MGM (which wasn’t hard, because they shared the same building with United Artists) and MGM was so interested, they bought all the rights from United Artists for the $3 million, wiping UA’s books clean and taking on the project themselves with Bakshi as director. Unfortunately for Bakshi, the man who made that decision for MGM (Dan Melnick) was then fired, and the new guy (Dick Shepherd) didn’t want anything to do with Tolkien. That’s when Bakshi contacted Saul Zaentz, whom he had previously worked with, which led to Zaentz acquiring the movie rights from MGM and asking United Artists if they were still interested in doing the project. United Artists was back on board, and Bakshi ended up making the animated film that cost $4 million to produce and grossed $30 million. (Despite making money, neither Zaentz nor United Artists had any interest in a second or third part.)

So you can’t criticize Zaentz for choosing Bakshi; you can however criticize Zaentz for choosing Chris Conkling to write the screenplay. Conkling was an unknown writer, and his Lord of the Rings screenplay drafts were so bad, he was fired and replaced by Peter Beagle. Conkling then left the film industry, and last I heard he was teaching High School English in California. In his favor, I’ll say that Beagle did leave some of Conkling’s ideas in the script. For example, it was Conkling’s idea to trick the audience into believing the Ringwraiths have caught the hobbits in their room at Bree, before cutting to show the Hobbits safe in another room with Aragorn. A certain Peter Jackson seems to have liked this idea, too. (You know, because both Bakshi’s film and Jackson’s film have the Ringwraiths invading Frodo’s room at Bree, a lot of fans today believe this must be in Tolkien’s books. But actually, a careful reading of The Lord of the Rings shows that the Ringwraiths never enter the Prancing Pony. Tolkien makes it clear that the disruption of the hobbits’ room is the work of men.) – JW

Why do The Lord of the Rings Complete Recordings CD collections come in boxes with different colors than their DVD counterparts? They use the same three colors as the DVDs, but they’ve been switched around. – Josh

A month before The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters, Reprise Records released a soundtrack for the film. (That was quite a treat for us fans!) At this time, a color scheme for the DVDs was not yet decided upon, but red was chosen for the first compact disc leather bound collection to honor the Red Book of Westmarch. Before the next soundtrack came out, the “green for Fellowship of the Ring, red for The Two Towers, and blue for The Return of the King” color scheme was begun for the DVDs, making the first soundtrack inconsistent. At that point, it was figured the best thing to do was to release the remaining to soundtracks in blue and green (for The Two Towers and The Return of the King respectively), so the same three colors would be used as the DVDs, though in a different order. When the “Complete Recordings” began to be issued in 2005, it was decided it would be best for them to follow the same color scheme as the previous soundtracks. – JW

(And hey, since these are newsworthy topics, why not include them…)

As part owner of the Green Bay Packers, what do you think about the ending of the last game? – Sandy (via twitter)

Under league policy I’m forbidden to criticize the replacement referees, but I will say that I’m glad the NFL and the regular referees have reached an agreement. Interestingly, while the NFL admits that Green Bay was robbed of victory in their game against Seattle due to a penalty that was not called, they still stubbornly insist that the “simultaneous catch” that gave Seattle the victory on the final offensive play of the game was not an incorrect call, insisting there’s no visual evidence disputing this. Unfortunately, there are even hardcore fans of the NFL who don’t know the nuances of the rules and believe (or assume) the league is correct. However, the NFL rules clearly state that if one player controls the ball first and a second player then subsequently gains simultaneous control, the ball belongs to the first player. So assuming the NFL knows its own rules, they appear to be saying there is no visual evidence that #43 of the Packers (in white) jumped up and got his hands wrapped around the ball before #81 of the Seahawks (in blue) was able to wrap his hands around the ball.


(Even Saruman would blush trying to tell this falsehood.)

The sad thing is that the NFL, stubbornly trying to cover for the referees, is only succeeding in confusing and dividing its own fanbase in the process. Instead of trying to make the play more ambiguous, the league should be clarifying the situation, taking us step by step through the play, explaining the nuances of the rule and why it should be called the way it should, so that everyone is on the same page the next time it happens. – JW

What do you think about your congressman running for Vice President of the United States? – Erica

Well, it’s weird that the same guy who I’m used to seeing walking down the streets of my hometown in our annual chocolate parade is now under Secret Service protection. But I’m happy for Paul Ryan. I’ve always found him to be intelligent, hardworking, and professional. That said, our political beliefs have little overlap, and I won’t be voting for him. He believes most government regulations are harmful, and he wants to completely reinvent the U.S. entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. I believe that most government regulations are common sense and important, and that while our entitlement programs have fallen behind the times and need to be updated, to radically change their nature would be counterproductive in the long run.

The interesting thing is that I’ll actually get to vote against Ryan twice. Before he was chosen as Mitt Romney’s running mate, he had already filed his paperwork to run again for Congress. Under Wisconsin state law, no candidate is permitted to remove himself from the ballot. And while it’s usually against state law to be on the ballot twice, there are two exceptions: when someone is running for President or when someone is running for Vice President.- JW

J.W. Braun is a Tolkien scholar and author of The Lord of the Films, published by ECW Press in 2009. If you have a question for him, simply drop him a line at

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