Thursday, February 23, 2006

Creating a Classic

The first time I read Lord of the Rings I was struck by how the tone changed when they reached Rivendel. Tolkien's son published all of the fragments and early drafts that his father went through while writing the novel. After reading this I understand what happened.

The Hobbit was so popular that the publisher asked for a sequel. Tolkien wasn't sure. He felt that he had done about everything he could with hobbits but he tried anyway. The plot was a problem. Bilbo was supposed to have lived happily ever after which precluded further adventures.

Tolkien started by writing the Long Expected Party. He was vague about who was holding the party and why but he liked it. Originally Bilbo was holding the party before going off in search of more money or a wife or both. Later he and his wife had gone off and his son, Bingo, was throwing the party. Bingo became a nephew instead of a son and in some versions Bilbo threw the party and in others Bingo did. By this point it was clear that it was Bingo's story but Tolkien had no idea what that story would be.

At first Bingo was going off in search of gold and adventure. The ring got mixed in with it in a fuzzy way - possibly it made the owner want to go looking for dragon gold.

Regardless, the party was held by someone for some reason and Bingo departed with some friends. They didn't get very far before they realized that they were being followed and hid. Their pursuer was a figure covered in black so that not even his nose could be seen but it turned out to be Gandolf.

Scratch that. Tolkien immediately changed it to something worse. He wasn't sure what, yet nor was he sure how many riders there were. At one point the dark riders were barrow wights.

By the time they met Tom Bombadil and made it to Bree, Tolkien had worked out that the riders were wraiths and that they were after the ring for some reason.

Bree was a town of hobbits. Even the mysterious ranger they met was a hobbit - Trotter - who wore wooden shoes. They never found out but Trotter was a long-lost cousin of Bingo's.

Bingo was attacked at Weathertop and they finally made it to Rivendel. Bingo recovered and it was time for some revelations.

Except Tolkien didn't have them. He realized that it was time to figure out what was going on. While he was at it, he realized that he had too many hobbits so Bree became a village of men with a few hobbits, and Trotter the hobbit became Strider the man.

While he was at it, Tolkien changed the group of hobbits. He considered renaming the main character "Frodo" but he was too used to "Bingo".

Where Bingo had been accompanied by three young and interchangeable hobbits before, he cut that down to a pair of younger hobbits and added Sam Gamgee.

The ring became THE ring. The seven dark riders became nine nazgul.

There had to be some sacrifice on Bingo's part so he still had money but he had to leave the Shire because of the ring. There had to be a reason for him to go (Gandolf would never have left him if he had known that the Nazgul were abroad) so Gollum was brought into the plot. Bilbo was given a reason for handing over his ring.

Things were shaping up.

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