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The Lord of the Rings: The Houghton Mifflin Preview
© Rachel K. Ivey

On Thursday, November 8, 2001, the publisher Houghton Mifflin held a special event in bookstores across the U.S. to mark the release of book tie-ins for the upcoming Lord of the Rings movies: The Fellowship of the Ring Visual Companion and The Lord of the Rings Official Movie Guide. I attended one of these events and watched a special 20 minute exclusive, behind-the-scenes video about Tolkien, his books, and the making of the movies.

Bringing the Ring to Print: Rayner Unwin

The video began with a montage of many of the scenes from the movie which have been previously seen in the three trailers. Over the montage was some of the musical score for Fellowship [now available streaming online here]. It was beautiful and sweeping and seemed very fitting to the movie.

Next up was a short interview with Rayner Unwin. His father was a friend of Tolkien and was the British publisher of The Hobbit. Mr. Unwin at the tender age of 10 years was given a manuscript copy of The Hobbit to read and review for his father. As part of the interview, Mr. Unwin read a copy of his review. It was very positive, and he recommended it to his father for publication. "If I said [a book] was good enough to be published, it was [published]."

Years later, Mr. Unwin had cause to read the manuscript for The Lord of the Rings. He considered it "a work of genius" and lobbied his father to bankroll publishing it. We can also thank Mr. Unwin as the person responsible for breaking up Rings into three separate volumes: Mr. Unwin said that he had developed a friendship with Tolkien over the years, which allowed Tolkien to trust him to split up Rings despite being personally opposed. (The video noted that Mr. Unwin died shortly after taping his interview for this event.)

Cast and Crew

The video featured interviews with many of the cast and crew of LOTR, including director Peter Jackson, artists Alan Lee and John Howe, Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Viggo Mortensen (Strider), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), and WETA president Richard Taylor. It was clear that the experiences of making these movies had a tangible impact on their lives. Cate Blanchett described it as a "once in a lifetime experience."

When it came time for Peter Jackson to select a spot for Hobbiton, he brought Alan Lee and John Howe with him to make sketches and help pick the right place. The scenes in the video of Rivendell show a similar attention to detail. Alan Lee designed it while he was out in the woods where it would be built and filmed. He said that he was trying to think like an elf, and he described how they tried to fit the buildings into and around the trees, which made for a much more minimal impact to the environment.

Some fun video segments included watching some of the cast as they practiced their sword-fighting skills and watching Orlando Bloom (Legolas) practicing marksmanship with his bow. Bloom had nothing but praise for the WETA folks, espcially with regards to the weapons they produced for the films. "Mine [Legolas' knife and bow] happened to be outrageously beautiful... a lot of time, energy, and love [went into the making of the weapons]."

New to the Screen: Gandalf at Bagshot Row

One scene in the presentation which stands out is a clip from the film itself, which, to my knowledge, has not been seen in any trailer or commercial. You first see the familiar scene of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) riding in his cart up Bagshot Row. Next, you see him standing outside Bag End, rapping on the door with the end of his staff. Seen from over Gandalf's shoulder, you see the door slowly open and Bilbo (Ian Holm) standing in the doorway. His face alights as he says, "Gandalf! My dear Gandalf!" Gandalf responds with a warm smile, "Bilbo Baggins!" At that point, your heart just melts. The scene is just as I imagined it.

If the Rings movies fail to capture the hearts of fans worldwide, it won't be for lack of trying. So much blood, sweat, and tears from the cast and crew went into the making of these movies, we can rest assured that this labor of love is the best they could possibly make it, and if the stunned silence at the end of the Houghton Mifflin presentation is any indication, these movies are powerful enough to overcome every fan's criticism.

Rachel K. Ivey is a contributing writer for RevolutionSF.

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