Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Judge Speaks

Last October I learned that Storm Approaching had won an Honorable Mention in the 2009 Writers Digest Self-Published Book Awards. This was announced five months later, in the March/April 2010 issue of the magazine (p. 63); and yesterday I received a certificate, which I expected, and a copy of the evaluator's commentary sheet on the novel, which I did not expect. Here is what Judge 23 had to say:
What did you like best about this book?

The attention to detail here is amazing. I liked this book a great deal; it’s imaginative, well written, and thoroughly engaging. I’m surprised actually that this didn’t find an outlet at a larger house. It deserves a wider readership. The writing is clear and clean and varied without being tedious. The plot moves swiftly but attends as well to the needs of the audience. The characters are believable, as are their motivations. An intelligent, enjoyable read.

How can the author improve this book?

This is a small quibble, but I did at times feel like there were too many named characters, and though this didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the book, I was at times a bit confused about where we were as Andiriel moves throughout the land. But again, my confusion was minor, and I don’t necessarily think that anything should have been changed. The book simply has a large cast.

Author’s Comment: Thank you, Judge 23. (And remember, there are maps in the back of the book.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Mercenaries Are More Fun Than Vampires"

Does anyone think this slogan would help sell books? Really, when will this vampire craze end??

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Storm Approaching Excerpt

I posted an excerpt from And Gladly Teach some days ago. Here is one from Storm Approaching--not Chapter 1, but Chapter 5 (pp. 19-26). I hope it entices some folks to risk buying the book.

After eighteen years at the Institute, Andiriel was exhilarated to be on her own. She lived in a tenement on Larch Lane, off Gold Street, a building with six respectable households and a vigilant concierge. She had two large rooms for two silvers a week, which was more than she could have afforded had she not been willing to dig into her savings.
She worked at the Wizards House each morning. She spent almost as much time reading as cataloguing. These books, all neatly printed and beautifully bound—she had never imagined such riches. As Garjon had said, they were on multifarious topics. There were even books by contemporaries who paid the Imperial Press to publish their writings, like Farewell to Alms, the autobiography of Rellas Shai, the Institute’s benefactor, who had begun life as a beggar. Some were in Old Imperial but most of the Classics were translations, for it was the intent of the Ministry of Culture, whose imprint graced the title pages, to make these treasures available to the literate population. That population was certainly a minority of the Emperor’s subjects, but she was part of it; she would sit reading until her conscience made her take up a pen and another card.
In the afternoon came lessons at Mohar’s Equestrian Academy. This establishment was not quite so grand as its name implied—the staff was Mohar and his son—but it certainly taught a lot of people to ride. Most, of course, were men; but Andiriel’s money was as good as theirs, and Mohar did not mind humoring her eccentricity, even in not riding sidesaddle. She discovered that she had no hidden talent for equitation, but on the other hand horses seemed to know she liked them, as she did all animals, and as the days went by she found herself more often in the saddle than out of it.
In the evening she practiced at the archery range near the west wall. She was glad to have her old bow back, for she could not yet draw Sir Branlor’s magnificent gift. This inspired her to work hard, and she made progress. She entered a contest for beginners and won second prize: a quiver and fifty arrows. So encouraged, she redoubled her efforts.
On Sundays, after early service, she would read, or walk in the woods near the town, thinking indecisively about her future. She often had supper at Nella’s little house, where Jon and his wife made her feel an honored guest. (Jon deeply appreciated Andiriel’s wedding present, so useful to a man starting in business.) About once a week she would stop by the Happy Tankard for a meal, and to say hello to Boggus, whom she remembered as a kindly boss. He was always glad to see her and to provide a free cup of root-tea, her favorite drink. He also retailed the latest stories and rumors, such as the troubles in the north.
“They say the Ferals have been attacking Red Tooth Pass more strongly now. The Chancery is hiring more mercs to help out. You’ll probably see some pretty strange characters marching through Javakis soon.”
In four days there appeared in the streets 200 ferocious-looking men, dressed in an assortment of leather armor, armed with javelins and swords, called “Gambog’s Maulers.” The city authorities hustled them to a camp outside the walls and hurried them on their way the next morning. Later came some cavalry, the Coursers—lithe men on small horses—who were allowed to spend the night near the Old Gate and were likewise sent off at dawn.
Then one sunny afternoon, as Andiriel returned from her riding lesson, she heard music. A column of perhaps 400 soldiers was marching in step down Gold Street to the bracing rhythm of drums and fifes, headed by a man carrying a big blue flag on which was a white bird with golden claws diving on its prey. Officers rode beside their units. The troops wore matching equipment—helmets, mail shirts, and greaves—and carried large shields and long spears. Others, including a few young women, were archers in leather jerkins.
“Who are they?” she asked another onlooker.
“The Silver Hawks. You never heard of ‘em? Very famous they are. Fought in the Isles, and Castle Garmal, and all over. They took Vorgast and won the famous fight at Gorodel. The Pass will be well-guarded if the Emperor’s willing to pay for the Hawks.”
She walked along the broad avenue, next to the soldiers, enjoying the rhythmic music and the ordered progress of the men. They halted at the big field near the West Gate. An officer with a red crest on his silvered helmet spoke to them; then they broke ranks and started to set up camp with practiced efficiency.
Andiriel watched all this with great interest, then headed home. As she passed the Happy Tankard, Boggus trundled out to ask if she would work that evening. “We’ll need experienced help tonight. I’ll pay you C6 and there’ll be lots of tips.” She agreed, pleased to be wanted.
Boggus was not wrong. At liberty that evening, the Silver Hawks swamped every inn, tavern, and shop. Andiriel and the other four girls had their hands full taking care of customers—not only mercenaries but lots of citizens eager to hear news and stories, of which there was no shortage. Andiriel listened eagerly to snatches of talk about affairs in far-away places.
One table was occupied by a trio of bearded men. Two had three white stripes encircling the left arms of their blue supervests; the other had four. As Andiriel served them their latest mugs of ale and another chicken, one of them said, “How long have you been an archer?”
She stared at him while his companions laughed at her surprise.
“No, I’m no mage,” continued the man. “But I spent five years with the Golden Bows, and now three in the Hawks, and if I can’t tell an archer by her chest and upper arms, my name’s not Arvis Gelman.” (Andiriel blushed slightly. The costume of a Happy Tankard serving-girl was not as modest as the smock she had worn at the Institute.)
“Actually he’s Ralph Ondos,” said the four-striped man, which led to more laughter. “Tell him you’ve never fired a bow in your life and I’ll give you part of the bet I’ll win.”
“I’m afraid you lose, master. I’ve been practicing the bow for over two years.”
“There, you see? I am Arvis Gelman. And a fine archer I’ll bet you are, a tall, strong lass like you. Thinking of joining up?”
“Joining up? You mean become a mercenary?”
“It’s more exciting than carrying ale mugs to old coots like us.” More laughter.
“Is it all that much fun, Sergeant Gelman?”
“Sit down here. Your name? Sit down, Andiriel. Here’s a copper to buy you a break.”
She took the coin to Boggus, left her big tray on the counter, and joined the men.
“You must meet my friends,” said Arvis Gelman. “This brawny guy is Willem Bolton, who leads a section of heavy infantry, and the fellow with four stripes is Thrale Jermis, who’s the sergeant-major of 1st Company. We have to be respectful to him because he outranks us.”
“You’re respectful because I’m older and smarter,” said Jermis with a grin
“So why are you mercenaries?” asked Andiriel, accepting a slice of meat pie and a cup of ale. “You were going to tell me, Sergeant Gelman.”
“My dear, it’s a fine life. You travel all over the civilized lands—and some not so civilized, too. The pay is very good in a crack unit. The comradeship is wonderful. You have respect and honor from everyone. Now, I’ll bet you’ve never been far from Javakis, have you?”
“You’re right, I haven’t. Barely a mile, in fact.”
“But surely you’d like to travel? You don’t want to stay here all your life.”
“Oh yes, that’s true...”
“See the world and be paid for it: the spires of the Capital, the palaces and castles of the great lords, the cities of the Isles. Friends you can always depend on, the pride of doing a manly, I mean a difficult, job well.”
“But there aren’t many girl mercenaries, are there?”
“Very few, very few, but a small number of brave and daring women serve in fine units: exceptional women, like you, Andiriel.”
She couldn’t help smiling. Sgt. Gelman raised his arm and his voice. “Bravery calls, honor demands, glory awaits, my young friend, my future comrade-in-arms. Rise above the common herd. Embrace the life most suited for a man or woman of spirit and pride. Set your feet upon the path of glory!”
Patrons were listening. A corporal at another table began to sing:

Up, heroes, to battle, seize bow or spear!
Set your feet on the true path of glory!
Let cowards hide now and tremble with fear.
We’re the Hawks! Let the foe feel our fury!
With our weapons in hand and a song on our breath
We will vanquish the foe while we laugh at death!

Other Hawks joined in.

The world is balanced on a long sharp sword,
So hail! to the mightiest bladesmen.
The strong, brave, and skillful will gain the reward,
Not peasants or fat, greedy tradesmen.
No prize on the earth is so great or high
That heroes can’t seize it, if only they try!

And finally every mercenary in the Happy Tankard united, more or less in harmony:

A soldier of fortune alone can feel
Full life in its vigor and spirit.
We carve our future with guts and steel,
And as for Fate, we don’t fear it.
All men die but some die without being alive.
Long live courage and pride! May the Hawks always thrive!

The song ended with cheers and applause and shouts of “Hail the Hawks!” Sgt. Gelman, quite flushed after accompanying his lusty singing by pounding his tankard on the table, said, “Our hymn, Andiriel. We sang it while we broke Prince Ednis’s line at Gorodel and won the battle all had thought was lost. Ah, that was a day of glory.”
Sgt.-Maj. Jermis, who had sung out as lustily as any, spoke up: “Yes, and a day when we lost over thirty per cent. Arvis didn’t mention that he’s our senior recruiting sergeant.”
Andiriel, on the point of asking how to sign up, said, “Do you like being a mercenary, Sergeant Jermis?”
“It’s been a fine life for me. I escaped being a farmer, I met my wife—she’s one of our sutlers—and I’ve been places and seen things that were wonderful. And you can’t do better than the Hawks, if you’re infantry. But it isn’t all fun, and women have a harder time than men.”
“But what career is all fun?” asked Sgt. Gelman. “However,” he went on, calming down a bit, “you don’t have to run off with us tomorrow. But I’d like to see you shoot. We’ll be leaving Javakis about noon, won’t we, Will?”
“Yes. The commissary wants time to lay in some vegetables and wine.”
“Could I see you tomorrow at nine, at those butts near the wall?”
“Certainly, sergeant. I’ll be there.”
The sound of fifes and drums, soft but moving closer, filled the room. “That’s our song,” said the sergeant-major. “Tattoo. Twenty minutes to get back to camp.” He drained his mug, smacked his lips, got up, and bowed to Andiriel. “A pleasure to meet you, young mistress. If you want some advice from an old campaigner, keep practicing the bow and learn to ride. You may have a real future as a soldier.”
The other mercenaries were also leaving. Before Sgt. Gelman reached the door several young men came up to him. At least he recruited somebody with his eloquence, she thought. Maybe I really should... No, not yet. I wonder if Sir Branlor will come back?
Most of the townsmen also left. Andiriel and the other girls began cleaning up.
“How did we do, Master Boggus?” asked Chandra.
“Ha! Four days’ profits in one good night. A windfall. You’ll all get an extra C2.”
“And nice decent fellows, too,” said young Terini. “Hardly a broken bottle.”
“Mercs are like anyone else: there’s good and bad. Those Maulers a while back—they might’ve burned Javakis down if they’d been allowed to run loose. The Hawks are crack troops.”
Next morning Andiriel found both Arvis Gelman and Willem Bolton waiting for her. Arvis examined her old bow and said it was a decent beginner’s weapon. “But you certainly have a grand case for it,” he went on. “Must have cost much more than the bow.”
“Oh, this is for my other one.” She took out Sir Branlor’s gift.
Arvis gingerly took the bow, exchanged glances with his comrade, and exclaimed, “Dragonsteeth! You didn’t get this in Javakis.”
“No. It was a present from... from a friend in the Capital.”
“A friend? Are you a countess in disguise, my lady? Do you know what this is? It’s an Imperial Battle Bow. They only make ‘em at the main armory.” He pointed to the little green eagle below the grip. “That’s the hallmark. They cost near G30, and cits can’t buy ‘em without a warrant from the Marshal’s office. The Imperial Guard uses ‘em. There are no better bows.”
“Can you actually shoot this?” asked Sgt. Bolton.
“Not too well yet. But I practice every day, and I’m getting stronger.”
“May I try a few shots?” asked Arvis.
“Of course.”
He fired thrice at the thirty-yard target: two in the second ring and one in the bull.
“Ah,” he sighed happily. “Like a dream. Beautiful weapon.”
“Didn’t we come to see Andiriel shoot?” asked Sgt. Bolton with a grin.
“Uh, oh yes, of course. Please, show us your skill.”
Using her old bow, she put all five arrows into the forty-yard target, two quite near the bull. The men watched her closely. “Yes, she has the talent,” said Arvis. He moved her right arm a bit and her sixth arrow grazed the bull.
“You keep it up, young archer. Keep at it until you can use your Battle Bow as well as you do this one. Then you’ll really be ready for the Hawks.”
“Yes, and be nice to that friend who gave it to you,” said Willem Bolton. “Maybe you’ll get a set of Vlaster’s Plate next.” Both men laughed.
She walked with them back to camp, filled with curiosity about where the Silver Hawks were going and what they were going to do when they got there.
Arvis laughed. “You should ask our colonel,” he said. “We underofficers don’t worry much about stuff like that. Our job is to see that our men are in good shape wherever we go, and we know that wherever it is we’ll be fighting someone. Unless it’s what we call a ‘soft mission,’ like guarding a palace or escorting a caravan. But I guess that the Ferals are getting noisier than usual so they need some really good men to quiet ‘em down.”
“There was trouble in April,” said Willem. “Lots more Ferals than usual, and some of the provincial levies didn’t hold up. The Chancery must have decided to send better troops.” He smiled. “And they’re sending the best.”
“Have you ever been to the Pass?” she asked.
“Not me,” said Arvis. “Will has.”
“Twelve years ago. I was with the Savage Spears then. The Duke of Corm hired us instead of sending his levy—wanted to give his people time to get in their harvest. The Pass is quite a place. Huge fortress, of course, but so desolate—dusty plains next to an endless forest. You can stand on the battlements and see trees as far as the horizon. We were there three months and saw action on at least ten days. Got a nice scar on my leg to remember it by.”
“And did you see much of the Sovereign Order?”
“The Sovereign... You mean the Glory Knights?” asked Willem. “Sure. They command the fortress and the army. A privilege to fight alongside ‘em. But the garrison is about 3,000 men, and there’s only 300 Glory Knights. The rest are mercs or levies.”
They were near the camp; the two sergeants took their leave. “Think about what I told you,” said Arvis Gelman. “We can always use eager young archers, especially when they’re as smart as you, and anyone will tell you that the Silver Hawks are the best regiment in the Empire or the Isles. Practice. You’ll be damned lethal if you can master that grand bow of yours. And keep the Hawks in mind. We’ll be up at Red Tooth Pass for a good while, just fifty miles away.” He grinned. “I think you might become our first female officer.”
“We’ll meet again,” said Willem. “The Hawks fly all over.”
She went home, wondering why Sir Branlor thought she was worthy of so splendid a gift as her Battle Bow. Over thirty gold!
The next day, instead of riding, Andiriel shopped. She came home with a helmet, a hauberk, a sword with a scabbard and silvered belt, a dagger in a sturdy sheath, three hunting shirts, two pairs of riding breeches, a pair of knee-boots, twenty days’ supply of cured beef, spurs, a haversack, a tinderbox, a riding crop, and a small tent. After paying the porters who carried all this to her rooms she found she had spent G31/S9/C6.
She sat sipping root tea in her stuffed chair near the open window, contemplating her impedimenta and wondering what had possessed her. I spent over a third of my money and I don’t even know what I’m going to do with this stuff. I’ve got spurs and no horse. I’ve never even held a sword. What’s come over me? I’m a little orphan girl—well, maybe not so little, considering all the trouble they had finding a hauberk that fit—and I’ve never traveled anywhere in my life. I’ve got a ton of work yet to do at the Wizards’ House.
She put on her gear and posed before the mirror. At least I look like a fighter, she thought, smiling. She adjusted her helmet, thinking that she had made a good choice of the four available. It covered the skull, the cheeks, and the neck to the shoulders, and had a flat visor that left the face open. Master Ordel, the proprietor of Javakis Arms and Armor, had called it a “burgonet.” (He also said there was a ‘falling buffe’ that could be attached to the cheek plates and raised to shield her lower face, but he didn’t have one in stock.)
She took off the equipment, ate supper, and set out for an archery lesson with her Battle Bow, determined that today she’d get her thumb somewhere near her nose. And she resolved to wear her hauberk for a couple of hours each day, to get used to its weight and to moving in it.
Two weeks passed.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Culture Corner: The LOTR Film Trilogy

In posting this evaluation I risk the wrath of many, I suppose, since Mr. Jackson's trilogy is, I believe, fairly popular with several people. But Tolkien's masterpiece has been an inspiration to me since I read it many decades ago, and is responsible for the whole revival of the Fantasy genre in modern times. Therefore I must publish a few words about the cinematic rendition of the Master's story, and say, like Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms (though perhaps about a slightly less important issue), "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise."



Peter Jackson’s rendition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books has won so many awards that belaboring it might seem pointless, but belabor it I will, for I believe that Mr. Jackson’s three movies (Special Extended Edition) are a betrayal of Tolkien’s plot and characters, and that it would have been better if the films had never been made because their success will make it difficult or impossible for anyone to get the chance to do a good job.
That the films are visually impressive no one can deny. We must commend the artisans who did so masterful a job with photography, costumes, and sets. The Weta Workshop is superb. The stunt team is magnificent. The attention to detail, the thought, the hard work that went into re-creating Middle Earth, are wonderful. The opening of Fellowship is a fine interpretation of the Shire; I was enthralled to see what I had so often read about. Mr. Jackson deserves much praise for bringing together the experts he worked with, and no one can but admire the energy and organizing ability he demonstrated in making three huge films at once over a period of several years.
Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson evidently thinks he is not only a great director but an equally-great writer, so all this technical ability produced a deformed variant of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. One might say it is as though a skilled craftsman, given the score of a Beethoven sonata, carefully built a fine piano, and then, fancying himself a composer as well as a builder, tinkered with the sonata and turned it into “Chopsticks.”
Let us catalog a few of the cinematic crimes of PJ.

Frodo, instead of being a character who grows in wisdom and courage, remains a scared, clumsy, rather negligible pygmy who succeeds in spite of himself. The worst betrayal of Tolkien in the films comes in Fellowship, when Arwen shows up to rescue the wounded Frodo. Setting aside the idiocy of Arwen as an Amazonian elf-maiden, this means that Frodo is carried across the river like a sack of potatoes. His splendid defiance of the Black Riders (“By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall have neither the Ring nor me!”) is replaced by some words written for Arwen; instead of growing and rising in our esteem, Frodo remains literally inert. This is very dumb; it is the epitome of stupidity; it suggests that Mr. Jackson was unable to understand the books when he read them. (Insofar as he did: on ROTK Disc 2 (Scene 62) he says, “... because I haven’t obviously picked up the book and actually read the book for years. I’ve read little bits and pieces of it.... You lose the experience of the books as a whole and... I now... my mind is so muddled as to which is what” [i.e., he does not know how his movie differs from the book]).
As we go on, we see Frodo falling down a lot and opening his eyes very wide. Those are his main talents: falling down and staring. He falls down on every possible occasion, including an especially splendid belly-flop into the Dead Marshes.
Aragorn’s character is betrayed by completely changing his moti-vation. In the book, he is a hero who, after decades of preparation, is ready to claim his rightful throne. In the film, he is a moral coward, a wimp who has abandoned his family’s heritage, who has to be shamed and argued into accepting his destiny as Isildur’s heir.
Saruman, no longer the too-clever conniver who hopes to outwit Sauron, seize the ring, and become master of Middle Earth, is simply Sauron’s willing tool.
Théoden, a kindly, venerable old man who regains his courage, is too young, and portrayed as a touchy grouch who usually looks as though his ulcer was bothering him.
Elrond makes Théoden seem cheery. His expression--a permanent scowl--suggests his diet must consist mainly of lemons. And did he have to look like an aging hippie?
(I was happy to find, after I wrote these lines on Elrond, the following comments by Mike Hopkins, the Supervising Sound Editor, on the commentary track (Scene 30, where Elrond gives the re-forged sword to Aragorn--a scene not in Tolkien, of course). Mr. Hopkins says wryly that Elrond has not yet gone over the sea because the other elves told him, “‘You’re not coming to the (expletive) Undying Lands with us, you (expletive) moaning bastard. You’d just bring us all down.’ Look at him. He’s so (expletive) depressing, isn’t he? I mean all he talks about is doom; we’re all gonna die. Give that man a valium, some Prozac.” Mr. Hopkins’s pungent insights suggest that I am not the only one to sense that the Elrond depicted in the films is not exactly what a great Elf-lord ought to be.)
Gimli. Oh lord. Someone should have told Mr. Jackson—since he evidently could not grasp it by himself--that dwarves are not noted humorists, but are dignified and serious almost to a fault. Turning Gimli into a buffoon, a zany, a figure of fun, ruins the character and gives us a series of embarrassingly stupid jokes and events that make us wince again and again. (Dwarf-tossing? A drinking contest with Legolas?) Every time the camera focuses on Gimli, we dread what will come out of his mouth.
Almost everywhere you touch these films, after the first half hour of Fellowship, they ring false, they fail. Hardly anything has not been marred. Pippin has to trick Treebeard into fighting; Denethor, with no reference to the palantir that has maddened him, is a lunatic set up for a preposterous end that deprives him of all dignity (the “flying fireball”); Boromir’s noble death is ruined by having him get up and fight again and again; Aragorn falls over a cliff to extract a few cheap emotions from his friends... There is no end. These things did not save time or simplify the plot. They were deliberate decisions by Mr. Jackson, a man whose childish mind fits him only for the making of penny-dreadful horror movies.
A last example: the siege of Minas Tirith. In the books, an epic of bravery and resolution, courage and victory; in the film, the siege is resolved by the arrival of an army of bluish ghosts (what someone called the “scrubbing-bubbles of death”) that surges over all opposition after Gandalf’s staff has been broken (!), Gondor’s ineffective soldiers are cowering, and Theoden’s cavalry largely trampled by elephants. Tolkien dismissed the dead army after it seized the corsair fleet; Jackson brings it to Minas Tirith and ruins the whole scene.
One could go on for many more pages, but that would be too sad a task. These movies are a cream pie thrown in Tolkien’s face by a yahoo incapable of appreciating the work of a great author. The usefulness of the films is to show how superior literature is to cinema (a sentiment that the screenplay writers share: see below). What the humble scholar did alone, with a pen, in his spare time, towers far above what was done by the Great Director with thousands of assistants and a budget of many millions.

Tolkien’s work is immortal. Jackson’s films are meretricious.
Long live the Master! Down with the Falsifier!
The commentary tracks, especially that of the three writers, are often amusing and instructive. Mr. Jackson, Ms. Walsh, and Ms. Boyens sometimes engage in recriminations as to who was responsible for this or that atrocity, or make desperate attempts to furnish reasons why they corrupted this or that part of Tolkien’s book. Sometimes they admit that a scene “attracted a certain amount of criticism” from “purists.” (I suppose they mean people who expected that the greatest scenes in the book might appear in the movies.) Listen, e.g., to their writhings at Scene 48 of Two Towers (when elves arrive at Helm’s Deep). Also of great interest are Ms. Walsh’s comments at the very end of Two Towers (at 1:53:50, buried in the end-credits, with the names of the prosthetics supervisors on the screen)--interesting because she maintains that films are inferior to books and that it is impossible for a movie to do justice to Tolkien. (“You can’t really have anything that comes close to the depth of the books.... You can’t really hope to satisfy people who adore this book with the movie.... Films are entertainments, they’re just not going to give you the pleasure that a book can give you.”) These are telling admissions. (Mr. Jackson says nothing; silence implies consent.) I would raise the question: then why did you folks make the films at all? Perhaps the task should have fallen to someone who believes that a good film can do justice to a novel? Or at least someone who would make the effort?
It is also quite funny--although not so intended--to hear a writer, or an actor, happily point out some scene where the film does correspond to the book, often accompanied by an inane comment about how “this should please the fans”--as though these “fans” were some group of exigent eccentrics who had from time to time to be propitiated before the writers could get on with their real job of mangling Tolkien. Take, for example, Sam grasping Frodo’s hand when he first sees him at Rivendell: What fidelity to the text! How ecstatic are the fans! As though such trivia matters, coming as it does right after Xena, I mean Arwen, has carried the moribund Frodo over the river and ruined his whole character develop-ment. They seem to think that “the fans” will overlook such betrayals because, for example, the director gave the hobbits huge hairy feet. I firmly believe “the fans” would have happily seen the hobbits wearing rubber boots had they been spared such things as Legolas skateboarding down stairs or Gimli saying, “Nobody tosses the dwarf”!
Matthew 23:24. (Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.)
Mr. Jackson’s co-writers may not deserve to be tarred with the same brush that must be so heavily applied to him. Some of the comments suggest that the two women feel embarrassed by at least some of Mr. Jackson’s depredations. Here is an excerpt from the commentary as Eomer arrives at Helm’s Deep: (PB = Ms. Boyens; FW = Ms. Walsh; PJ = the Great Director):

PB: Another slight departure from the book, but one, which I note with great interest, nobody ever worries about.
PJ: ‘Cause this is really Erkenbrand...
PB: ...and Éomer is always in Helm’s Deep and fighting side by side....
FW: It’s because we committed much bigger sins.
PB: I know... well...
PJ: That’s the whole plan. You commit a few big crimes and it takes everyone’s eye away from the small ones, like a clever little detour...
PB: We could do courses in criminal screenwriting.
FW: Crimes Against the Books
PB: Crimes Against the Books 101.
And here is a transcription of the commentary near the start of Disc 2 of ROTK, when the Corsairs of Umbar appear.

PJ: Don’t really need the scene at all. [!]
PB: (enthusiastically) No, not at all.
FW: I think ‘painful’ is a good and apt description.

PJ comments on his pirate cameo; a woman laughs as the ghost army attacks the fleet.

PJ: What? (Laughter continues)

FW: Now that’s the moment at which the film passed from being, you know, a fantasy movie into a Monty Python moment. (PB Laughs harder.) What the hell? Was that the most motley crew...

PJ: Nothing wrong with Monty Python, though.

FW: And the cheapest... (dissolves in laughter)

PB: I just want to say that while this was going on... what were we doing, Fran?

FW: We were trying to / FW & PB: save the film... / FW: from the …. clutches of the pirate.

Ladies, I am very sorry you failed.