Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Middle-earth samizdat

You remember the joke from That Mitchell and Webb Sound where a characters suggests that Mordor might not be getting a fair hearing? It appears that Russian scientist Kirill Eskov (Кирилл Еськов) had a similar thought and he's turned it into a novel. The Last Ringbearer (Последний кольценосец) is a narrative inversion of Lord of the Rings, told from the perspective of the other side. The novel has been published in several countries, but it hasn't appeared in English due to restrictive copyright laws. Until now that is. As Salon reports, Yisroel Markov has produced a free fan translation that he is making available via his blog.
More than 15 years ago Russian scientist Kirill Yeskov [sic] tried to settle certain geographical problems in Tolkien's fantasy world. One thing led to another, and he tackled a bigger project - what if we assumed that it's no less real than our world? His conclusion was that in such a case, the story of the Ring of Power is most likely a much-altered heroic retelling of a major war - but what was that war really about?

The result of this re-appraisal was the publication in 1999 of The Last Ring-bearer - a re-thinking of Tolkien's story in real-world terms. Dr. Yeskov, a professional paleontologist whose job is reconstructing long-extinct organisms and their way of life from fossil remnants, performs essentially the same feat in The Last Ring-bearer, reconstructing the real world of Tolkien's Arda from The Lord of the Rings - the heroic tales of the Free Men of the West written in that world. We have a pretty good idea how well heroic tales map to reality from our own world...
Don't look for any hobbits, those fanciful stand-ins for doughty English yeomen. They don't figure in this retelling, which is much more an attempt to treat the trilogy as though it were a legendary retelling of actual events. In some sense what Eskov has cleverly done is produce a work of fictional euhemerism, stripping the legendary accretions from the "real" historical events of a fictional world.

The Salon article comments that some Tolkienites (who are as notorious as Trekkers for getting in snits) are trying to dismiss the novel as being nothing but fanfic. If true, that's as asinine as saying that The Lord of the Flies is "just fanfic" because it's a response to Ballantyne's sappy The Coral Island. In fact there's a long tradition of sf novels like this, such as Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965) and Saberhagen's The Dracula Tape (1975) which does something similar with Stoker's classic. The Last Ringbearer is a provocative interrogation of Tolkein's novels, and will hopefully find a wider audience and a publisher.

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