The Real Middle-Earth (Multi Media Arts, 2004)


Come in. I was just admiring the shipping edition of The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm that Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling edited. If you haven't checked it, go read our review now. Speaking of realms beyond this one, we had a DVD arrived this week that has a unique look at Tolkien's Middle Earth. Ok, I'll assume that you, me dear reader, have not sated yourself yet with material concerning The Lord of the Rings. If you have, please leave now. Unlike the other Tolkien related material I review this outing of which I said 'Me opinion for what it's worth is that this is the sort of source material that role playing geeks with too much spare time on their hands will really want this, or fan boys with a pressing need to get a life, but the rest of us more sane folk would sleep easy not knowing about The Road Goes Ever On...', this is a keeper!

This DVD which was sent along rather recently for review by Luke McLaughlin at Multi Media Arts. Good chap that he is, our Editor tossed this over to me as he's been busy with 'nother project these past few weeks. Now I admit that I groaned at first, muttered somethin' 'about all the shite that Jackson films have loosed upon the buying public such as Gollum bookends and Gandalf hats to name but two products. However I found this DVD to be both pleasantly low-key and well-worth watching. Indeed it's narrated by Ian Holm, a definite reason to watch it! So let's take a look at The Real Middle-Earth... Quoting from the press release they sent along is a good way to tell you what the producers thought they were doing with The Real Middle-Earth: 'It is Middle-earth - The Lord of the Rings' unforgettable setting - that remains Tolkien's greatest achievement. In The Real Middle-Earth, Sir Ian Holm (Fellowship of the Ring, Alien, Chariots of Fire) narrates a fascinating exploration into a world that, although imaginary, seems so real we pore over its maps and contemplate the journeys made from one place to another. Was there a shire to inspire the Shire? What shaped the darker and more troubled lands beyond its borders? How did European languages fuse in Tolkien's mind to create words that evoke extraordinary places and heroic adventure?'

What I personally really like about the world that Tolkien created in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is a sense of place so strong that it really did feel like the places he described existed. When I first read The Hobbit more years ago than I care to admit here, I really wanted to live in Bag End. (And Peter Jackson and his crew of film makers did spoil that for me as they captured the feel of his words very nicely.) But I assumed that was no place in this England. Wrong! There's the farm that owned by Tolkien's Aunt Jane which was the lane that local folk called Bag End! No, it doesn't look like Bag End, 'tall but it's a lovely brick and timber farmhouse complete as was (and still is) common in Worcestershire. the Shire itself as detailed in Tolkien's writings. is a depiction of Worcestershire itself. In some sense, Middle-Earth is indeed Tolkien's literary invocation of the England he wanted to exist, not the England that actually was. Yes, you can contrast this was Joyce's Ulysses where he wanted to create a textual image of the real Dublin for readers to remember.

Dear reader, there is no way I'm going to spoil your fun by detailing what's here as you deserve, beyond the note about Bag End, to discover the delights of tour on your own. Sir Ian Holm -- I know that you know that Bilbo in the Peter Jackson films, but did you know that he also voiced Frodo in a BBC radio adaptation over twenty years ago? Our reviewer noted that 'all paled in comparison to the dramatic range of Ian Holm' in that production. Some years ago, a vicar at a church in some nearly forgotten part of England gave me and Brigid, me dear wife, a tour of his parish. Ian is as entertaining as that vicar was on that fine midsummer day.

The extras on here are the usual mixed grill that one gets on any DVD these days. I enjoyed the profile of Peter Leather, historian and newspaper columnist He's an expert on the local history of Birmingham, the city in which Tolkien grew up. When not lecturing at the University of Birmingham, Peter leads tours of where the young Tolkien called home. The other interesting extra was the look at Stonyhurst College, a four centuries old boarding school in Lancashire, England. where Tolkien's son John boarded in the 1940s. The College website notes 'Research has shown that it is likely that JRR Tolkien took some of his inspiration for the trilogy from Stonyhurst and the surrounding Ribble Valley where he was a frequent visitor during the war years to see his son, John, then training to be a priest with the English College, evacuated from Rome and temporarily housed at the College's prep school, St Mary's Hall. The Professor's signature appears in the Visitor's book of one of the College's guest houses at the time and as a gift to his host he left a pencil sketch of the house where he was staying.' These two pieces are definitely worth seeing.

This copy of The Real Middle-Earth DVD will be filed in the Green Man library where I expect it'll get many viewings in years to come. It's certainly a must-see for anyone interesting in knowing more about Tolkien and the amazing mythos he created!  

[Jack Merry]