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J.R.R. Tolkien: “Film my books? It’s easier to film The Odyssey”

British daily newspaper, The Telegraph, have released online an interview with Tolkien which was originally published on 22 March 1968. The interview – a must-read for Tolkien fans – covers a wide range of topics including monsters, the films, and his success.

Following the release of Peter Jackson’s final Hobbit film, the interview reveals Tolkien’s feelings about any potential adaptations:

Tolkien receives innumerable offers for film rights, musical-comedy rights, TV rights, puppetry rights. A jigsaw-puzzle company has asked permission to produce a Ring puzzle, a soap-maker to soap-sculpt Ring characters. Tolkien worshippers are outraged by these crass approaches. “Please,” wrote a 17-year-old girl, “don’t let them make a movie out of your Ring. It would be like putting Disneyland into the Grand Canyon.”

The song cycle, the only commercial venture so far, began when Donald Swann, half of the “At the Drop of a Hat” team, set to music six of the poems which punctuate the Ring. One is in Elvish.

He feels strongly that the Ring should not be filmed: “You can’t cramp narrative into dramatic form. It would be easier to film The Odyssey. Much less happens in it. Only a few storms.”

He also talks about success and the beginnings of The Hobbit:

“I never expected a money success. In fact, I never even thought of commercial publication when I wrote The Hobbit back in the Thirties. It all began when I was reading exam papers to earn a bit of extra money. That was agony. One of the tragedies of the underpaid professor is that he has to do menial jobs. He is expected to maintain a certain position and to send his children to good schools. Well, one day I came to a blank page in an exam book and I scribbled on it. ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I knew no more about the creatures than that, and it was years before his story grew. I don’t know where the word came from.”

As well as the very specific nature of Shelob:

“The female monster is cer­tainly no deadlier than the male, but she is different. She is a sucking, strangling, trapping creature.”

The interview also includes a quote by Sir Stanley Unwin, forecasting the enduring popularity of The Lord of the Rings:

“Of all the books I’ve brought out in 63 years, there are few that I can say with absolute confidence will sell long after my departure. Of this one I had no doubts.”

But despite that, Tolkien wasn’t able to persuade the publishers to release The Silmarillion:

Although The Hobbit was no run­away bestseller, readers were fascinated by Middle-earth, and Allen & Unwin asked for a sequel. Tolkien then offered The Silmarillion, a saga of the mist-shrouded beginnings of elves and men, which he had begun in 1916. But it was turned down in Museum Street as being too dark and Celtic. “They were quite right,” Tolkien recalls. He is now revising it.

Thankfully, The Silmarillion was released on 15 September 1977. You can read the full article on the Telegraph website.

About the Author: Shaun Gunner

Shaun is the current Chair of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2013, Shaun regularly speaks about adaptations of Tolkien’s works whilst passionately believing the Society needs to reach out to new audiences. In his spare time can be found in the cinema, playing video games and Lego, or on Twitter.