It’s still Tolkien week! Here’s how to play: 1.) Take the Tolkien Week banner and place it at the beginning of a blog post. 2.) Link to gracemakley.com (because I made the banner and that’s good manners). 3.) Write a post about anything related to Tolkien (how did you first discover the books? What is your favorite movie interpretation? Any scenes or lines from the book that you find especially meaningful? Do you have a rad Tolkien collection you’d like to show off? Who’s your favorite Tolkien illustrator?). 4.) Let me know about your post by commenting here, and I will happily link to you as part of the Tolkien Week festivities.
The Return of the King (1980)
In case you missed it, yesterday’s post was about the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit by Rankin and Bass.
We’re gonna stick with Rankin and Bass for another day. They made The Hobbit, it was great, lots of people liked it, even if the wood-elves looked like ogres (seriously). Then, in 1978, Ralph Bakshi makes his animated version of The Lord of the Rings (which we’ll discuss in a day or two). But this movie ends at Helm’s Deep, not even all the way through the second book of the Trilogy. Enter Rankin and Bass to save the day! In 1980, they released The Return of the King, a movie that steps in roughly where Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings leaves off. Remember how I said The Hobbit is an animated children’s movie with a great soundtrack? Well, they tried to do the same thing with The Return of the King. The obvious problem here is that, unlike The Hobbit, The Return of the King isn’t actually a children’s story. The result of this awkward combo (serious plot + singing orcs?) is entirely laughable.
And that’s what you should do. You should laugh, and keep laughing. Don’t cringe or cry, because what’s the point? And if you laugh long enough, you might work your way around to finding some real delight in the ridiculous sincerity of this lovely little film.
For examples, you may return to the same playlist I linked to yesterday, this time with animation included. I once found this entire film on youtube, but those days have passed (the days have gone down in the West behind the hills and into shadow…) The last time I watched it was more than a year ago, when a gentleman I was seeing managed to procure it for us via internet download. It’s probably high-time I purchase an old VHS copy or something. Anyway, by far the most representative track is ‘Where There’s a Whip There’s a Way‘. What is it about this song? It must be that disbelief, that, “Wait, is this really happening?” feeling you get when you’re following Frodo and Sam through Mordor and suddenly there’s a chorus-line of orcs. The funny this is that the lyrics are even inspired by the book. “Where there’s a whip there’s a will, my slugs,” says the orc slave driver (Lord of the Rings page 941). It’s a catchy tune, and its placement (and very existence) is hilarious. It’s one of those things that, any time you encounter another person who knows what you’re talking about, the two of you simply can’t help breaking into a rousing rendition, complete with whip sound effects. Basically this song, which is sort of an abomination, is also a beautiful thing, and the world would be just a little less fun without it.
I genuinely like all the music in this movie. It opens with Glenn Yarbrough’s rendition of ‘Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom‘—another nod to the book; in the chapter The Fields of Cormallen when the quest is completed, a minstrel of Gondor begs leave to sing and says, “I will sing to you of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom” (Lord of the Rings page 965).
I’m running out of time for deep analysis and would like to post this before the day gets any older, but both ‘The Bearer of the Ring’ and ‘The Towers of the Teeth’ are songs with some real foreboding in them. Amongst all the silliness, there’s something in them that catches at the heart.
That’s all we have time for today. More Tolkien topics to come—please stay tuned! And if you have anything to say on any Tolkien-related matter, please use my banner and join the Tolkien-week festivities (details at the top of this post).
Has anyone else seen the 1980 Return of the King? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, whether you share my delight in the movie or find it too silly to take.