When you read, how do you view the characters in your head?

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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby IrisBrandybuck » Wed Aug 13, 2014 8:06 am

For me, it's how she treats the character. In the books you get the impression of her being kindly but aloof. In the movies (including The Hobbit) she acts not just aloof but as though she is so far above everyone else that interacting with them is a chore. The dialogue for her is stilted and awkward...never natural. This sounds terrible, but I remember thinking when watching the first couple times whether Cate was on cold medicine at the time because she seemed so unconnected to the scenes she was playing.

You know how when a friend of yours has a crush on someone that just isn't good for them, and you really just want to smack your friend in the head? That's how I felt about Gimli by the time we get to the river and he's daydreaming of her...really, Gimli? You could do better. ;)
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby Canamarth » Wed Aug 13, 2014 8:18 am

You're right, IrisBrandybuck, and I don't think it's limited to Galadriel. In general, there's not much passion among PJ's elves. I can understand the decision to portray them that way, though. Make them aloof of from the mortal world; they've all seen this before, why risk a coronary. :D
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby IrisBrandybuck » Wed Aug 13, 2014 8:41 am

:D

I think Hugo Weaving did pretty good...I especially liked the scenes between him and Liv Tyler...especially when she chews him out for not telling her about "the child."
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby Alys » Wed Aug 13, 2014 10:05 am

BerenVonRictoffen wrote:Meh. Women swoon over anyone famous; I'm naturally speaking more objectively, and prettyboy Vignewton was chosen for just that.


I missed this the first time round, but I have to say that casual misogyny of this sort is absolutely not acceptable here at TORC. Please don't try and pass it off as some kind of humour, or a throw away comment, it simply won't wash.

You can objectively consider this a formal warning.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby heliona » Wed Aug 13, 2014 11:02 am

I agree with Iris and Canamarth. It's the way the character is portrayed. Saying that, I don't like Galadriel as a character anyway, not particularly, but yes, the elves do seem to be a bit aloof and distant. I agree that Hugo Weaving did a good job as Elrond (the only Elf that I liked from the start of reading the books).

(As I said before, I never really thought very much about what the characters looked like, so it wasn't her looks I had a problem with. They don't have faces when I read the books. I concentrate more on their emotions and actions than their looks, unless they are directly connected to their actions/emotions.)
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby siddharth » Wed Aug 13, 2014 11:06 am

In this we do agree.
Both Cate and Liv I think looked perfect for their characters but their portrayal wasn't. Though I do think she is a better Galadriel in The Hobbit, less aloof - she atleast gives a genuine smilie when Gandalf compliments her!
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby RoseMorninStar » Wed Aug 13, 2014 11:52 am

Canamarth, LOVED your post, and I whole-hardheartedly agree.

Unless the author goes into a lot of detail, I don't often vividly picture a character's looks as much as I get a strong feel for the characters' character. That is why I took the assassination of Faramir's character so hard. Also with Sam in RotK. Galadriel I liked except for the weird chrome freaky thing they did with her at the mirror.. and the odd thing they did with Bilbo/Frodo & the ring. I think those scenes could have been conveyed more believably without the weird visual effects.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby BerenVonRictoffen » Wed Aug 13, 2014 2:25 pm

Canamarth wrote:You're right, IrisBrandybuck, and I don't think it's limited to Galadriel. In general, there's not much passion among PJ's elves. I can understand the decision to portray them that way, though. Make them aloof of from the mortal world; they've all seen this before, why risk a coronary. :D

For being aloof, they sure are jerks. The Elves were supposed to be very emotional, usually "tra-la-la-lalley!" mirthful and carefree, but in the films they're snooty and aloof haters; even the best Legolas gives is a little smirk now and then.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby RoseMorninStar » Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:38 pm

I need to re-read the books, all of them, it's been awhile.

There is some disconnect among the books which creates enigmas, Tom Bombadil being one of them, the difference in the Elves, another. When Tolkien wrote 'The Hobbit' he did not necessarily intend for it to be a 'canon' part of the tale he truly wanted to tell and publish, which was the 'Silmarillion'. 'The Hobbit' was originally written as a stand alone story (for children) and in the writing he drew upon some of his existing (Silmarillion) mythology. It is a story written ala William Morris and George MacDonald from whom Tolkien was inspired. I doubt Tolkien ever expected 'The Hobbit' would become the iconic tale it has, but when it did, he had to come up with a way of tying the two stories together. He decided the Ring would be the perfect object to bring the two stories together into one mythology and 'Lord of the Rings' was born. However, the mythology in the Sil had been unfolding in his head far longer than the simple tale in 'The Hobbit' but since 'The Hobbit' was already published, and he didn't want to compromise his Grander story, there are discrepancies, one of them is the behavior of the Elves in 'The Hobbit' versus the behavior of the Elves in the other tales.

His original concept of the Elves from the Sil are truer to what Tolkien envisioned, IMHO, even though they are both canon.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby IrisBrandybuck » Thu Aug 14, 2014 5:55 am

RoseMorninStar wrote:I need to re-read the books, all of them, it's been awhile.


Me too.

Another thing to consider...from The Hobbit to Bilbo's 111th birthday is just about 60 years, and add another 17 to that before Frodo gets on the march. A lot can happen in 70 years. It's easy to be more light-hearted in the Last Homely House when the Necromancer is still fairly quiet, Mordor isn't massing armies and Saruman is still considered a friend. By the time the LOTR events roll around, things are getting serious and the elves, who know when to be merry and when to be serious, are now dead serious. There's a certain amount of merriment IIRC in spots...the elves laughing at Gimli's reaction to Lembas comes to mind...but when you're facing the end of the life you've known and the possible destruction of Middle Earth, it's hard to be cheerful.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby Canamarth » Thu Aug 14, 2014 7:52 am

RoseMorninStar wrote:Canamarth, LOVED your post, and I whole-hardheartedly agree.

Thanks!

Just a minor point on your last post, Rose: The Hobbit is not modelled on William Morris. The Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings is. Morris is nothing for children. There's even sex in his fantasy novels. :Q :D
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby Morwenna » Thu Aug 14, 2014 6:51 pm

The question itself had me thinking in terms of the books only, as one poster above clearly showed; I'm more like Iris, who didn't have the characters' appearances fully formed in my head, only what descriptions were in the books, which had some definite details but still had plenty of room for personal interpretation. But bringing the movies into it, there were so many discrepancies for me between what I had envisioned and what was shown on screen. The closest on screen for me were Gandalf, Saruman, and Galadriel. I couldn't get behind Viggo as Aragorn, sorry; Aragorn should have had darker hair--and eyebrows! And for that matter, so should have Faramir.

As for the portrayals, though: can I have Martin Freeman and Sean Astin in my Christmas stocking, please? :)
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby IrisBrandybuck » Fri Aug 15, 2014 7:32 am

You certainly can! ;)

When I first saw Gandalf, I cried a bit because he was perfect...the only person I felt the whole way through who was, though I thought many were very, very good (Bilbo and Elrond, for example). That being said, for the most part I've not had complaints because I have been able to keep what I see in the movie separate from what I "see" in my head though it goes back and forth for me too. I've found an amalgamation of the characters for the most part, what I used to imagine and some bits of what's been on screen.

I like Elijah Wood and I liked his portrayal of Frodo, but Frodo in the books for me looks very different.

In The Hobbit though...I'm actually happy to have a variety of "looks" to pull from...I really had trouble as a 12 year old knowing what Dwarves ought to look like at all...it wasn't a concept I was familiar with except from Narnia. I wasn't well versed in other fantasy yet and while I knew there were established ideas, I was lost...and I had the same problem with elves. The animated movie didn't help. ;) As time has passed I've understood better, but my mind goes back to the same cookie cutter images when I read the hobbit. But in the movies...my absolute favorite dwarf, bar none, is Balin. So... can I have him for Christmas? :P
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby siddharth » Fri Aug 15, 2014 8:13 am

IrisBrandybuck wrote:
I like Elijah Wood and I liked his portrayal of Frodo, but Frodo in the books for me looks very different.


Now there's a clash. :)
I found Elijah Wood's portrayal the weakest in the films, save only for Liv Tyler's.
That said, I do think he looks the right age, according to the book - Frodo got the Ring at 33. So even at age 50, he would look like 33. And a 33 year old hobbit is equal to an 18 year old human.

But in the movies...my absolute favorite dwarf, bar none, is Balin. So... can I have him for Christmas? :P


Absolutely! Him and Bofur.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby IrisBrandybuck » Fri Aug 15, 2014 8:35 am

Well, he didn't use the ring a whole lot before he was 50, so I don't know that it would have had the same "preserving" effect on him. Wiser heads and better memories than mine might be able to clarify that, though.

I think it was a case of making the movie accessible to more people. We understand it's been 17 years between party and adventure, but someone who hasn't read the books might not catch on to why (it is so much easier to explain things like that in books!). So for convenience's sake, it was so much easier to make him a young hobbit and keep him that way. I know many people don't agree with the decision and their arguments are valid. I guess I went into the whole thing knowing that there would be changes. The question for me was whether I could live with those changes or not. And for the most part I could.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby siddharth » Fri Aug 15, 2014 10:03 am

Oh, I am certain that Frodo was made (supposedly) younger to make it accessible to wider audience, and not to stay closer to the text. No doubt.

As for your question though, I do not know how much of the Ring's effect on preserving age is caused by actually wearing it. (stretching of the soul? Yes. Preservation? Unsure.)

From FotR

As time went on, people began to notice that Frodo also showed signs of good 'preservation':outwardly he retained the appearance of a robust and energetic hobbit just out of his tweens. 'Some folk have all the luck,' they said; but it was not until Frodo approached the usually more sober age of fifty that they began to think it queer.


I think this atleast suggests that he looked far more younger than an age 50 hobbit. Without ever wearing the Ring. :)
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby IrisBrandybuck » Fri Aug 15, 2014 11:38 am

I'd forgotten about that passage. :) Thank you.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby wilko185 » Fri Aug 15, 2014 1:50 pm

I just saw an essay on this general topic, What We See When We Read, which I think is worth a look.

Canamarth wrote:Just a minor point on your last post, Rose: The Hobbit is not modelled on William Morris. The Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings is. Morris is nothing for children. There's even sex in his fantasy novels. :Q :D

However, Marjorie Burns points out that the early part of the plot of The Hobbit pretty much maps on to William Morris's Icelandic Journals. It's pretty clear that Tolkien had Morris's journal fresh in his mind when writing TH.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby IrisBrandybuck » Mon Aug 18, 2014 7:31 am

Hi, Wilko. :)

Good article. I would say, and still say, that I can see the characters to an extent, but the author has a point. If I tried to describe what Fanny looks like (from Mansfield Park) I'm not sure I could. My mind has an image, and not a bad one, and it's the one I return to time and again when I read, but if I tried to tell someone what she looks like, it probably wouldn't be terribly distinct.

However, when I read Pride and Prejudice now, after having seen the version with Jennifer Ehle and Collin Firth, yeah, those are all the people I imagine.

And so, fortunately for me, the Tom Bombadil of my mind shall remain since no one has seen fit to include him in any films. :D
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby Canamarth » Tue Aug 19, 2014 12:15 pm

wilko185 wrote:
Canamarth wrote:Just a minor point on your last post, Rose: The Hobbit is not modelled on William Morris. The Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings is. Morris is nothing for children. There's even sex in his fantasy novels. :Q :D

However, Marjorie Burns points out that the early part of the plot of The Hobbit pretty much maps on to William Morris's Icelandic Journals. It's pretty clear that Tolkien had Morris's journal fresh in his mind when writing TH.


Oooh, thanks for that link, wilko185! Wasn't aware of this particular link.
But in defense of my argument - I was thinking of Morris's novels - also read by Tolkien and _heavily_ influencing plot, topics, names, geography and much more in his legendarium (just not so much The Hobbit) - rather than his journal.

And cool general article on the topic as well. As said earlier, mostly, I also don't fit detailed faces to characters. Just a few of the really iconic or my favourites got one - and yes, they were not individually crafted in my head but 'stolen' from an actor/actual person or an artist's rendition I saw fitting. Makes me wonder how artists actually work this out. :)
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby BerenVonRictoffen » Tue Aug 19, 2014 1:45 pm

Hobbit_Guy wrote:Unfortunately, I had only read LotR 5 or 6 times before seeing the movies, so I wasn't able to form strong mental images for every character.

That's 4 or 5-- or even six-- times more than those claiming that casting "got it perfect" despite the actual descriptions being often dead-opposite.

I'm somewhat disappointed that even though I "know" certain characters are supposed to look differently (and can list the differences in how they're supposed to look), the movie images will pop into my head while reading and I have to try to force myself to focus on the description the book gives.


Thank you for concurring on the inaccuracy.
I can accept some poetic license, as long as it doesn't materially alter the story; for example in The Shawshank Redemption, "Red" was obviously supposed to be a white guy with red hair; but Morgan Freeman fit the part better, and his appearance was insignificant to the story; so it wasn't a material change.
Those given in the story, meanwhile, were quite material; Strider was expressly stated to "look foul," and was stated to be "quite grim to look upon; this was material to the story, along with his being at least 6'6" and the hardiest soldier in Middle Earth.
But this change fit with the movie's change in tone from hero to anti-hero-- which is the grossest material change of all-- as is PJ's wont; even in the remake of King Kong, the original hero becomes a fraud, while the short fat guy (BIG surprise) becomes the actual hero.
And so we see young lords become bums, fat hobbits become thin, thin hobbits become fat, beautiful men get ugly, vice-versa, short men tall, tall men short,.impossibly beautiful people become Lucius Malfoy, etc. These are all material alternations, since they defeat the author's intended purpose of the character's appearance. For example, Wormtongue was said to be "a wizened figure," i.e. an old and very wise-seeming man; the main villians didn't have lampshades on them like in the movie; rather, they "seemed fair but felt foul." Even Sauron was able to assume a very fair appearance, until his original body was destroyed.

But then, after I get back into the text again, they pop up again. It's difficult.

As the saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words:" and there are over 250,00 pictures in a single film.
The main thing is context; i.e. knowing that the point of the story was about simply the values of heroism and self-sacrifice, while the movie cynically reversed these into anti-heroism and self-indulgence; even at the Council of Elrond Frodo only agrees to take Ring to Mordor because it's better than continuing to listen to all the screaming going on over it: meanwhile in the book, nobody makes a sound, because they know Frodo was meant to have the Ring, but must make the decision on his own, or refuse it. (Likewise in the film, Bilbo isn't even at the Council, since even seeing the Ring turns him into Gollum; but in the book, Bilbo simply "put out his hand" to hold the Ring, while Frodo hallucinates the Gollum-image out of the paranoid distrust which comes with power; and so Bilbo is able to attend the Council to great contribution as the chief Ring-bearer.

I've tried to abate it by looking at pre-movie fanart to burn alternate depictions of the characters into my head, but it isn't working so far.


That's not surprising, since fanart either follows the films, or makes the same mistakes that the movie does-- mainly with the Balrog being a demon from standard Christian renderings, when balrogs had nothing to do with such-- and were exactly described otherwise, projecting shadow more than flame; but of course, like the film, their little brains cut-and-paste directly from anything familiar, rather than actually bothering to read and research the author's original intent, which is the entire point of art, i.e. bringing the original vision to life, not imposing your own over it.

Frodo is the worst offender; I had a firm enough mental picture of him before the movies, but I can't seem to imagine it any longer.

I wouldn't say that at all about Frodo, at least later in the story; while he was fat and jolly at first, he soon became thin and grim during his adventures, until at Rivendell where he almost died, he was much thinner; and by the end of the story, he was so wasted away that he essentially died. So it would have been acceptable to put him in a fat-suit Elijah at first, and direct him to smile and laugh a lot (and smirking and giggling is NOT smiling and laughing).

Elrond, too. Faramir, Théoden, Celeborn, and Gríma are others who look especially different than their book appearance, in my opinion. Legolas was quite different than my own image.


To begin with, Elrond was the polar (or, I should say, BI-polar) opposite of Elrond in the book, while Legolas was "fair of face beyond the measure of men--" as was Elrond. But the anti-hero tone of the story made them into ordinary humans--probably because CGI it would mean shelling out to Pixar, rather than WETA pocketing the money and having them look like Roger Rabbit.

As far as casting/images go, McKellen's Gandalf is likeable, though I wish he had been shorter compared to Legolas, Aragorn, Boromir etc.

Again it's the Hollywood cliche that the hero has to be upstage the background characters in some way, via being taller, better-looking, stronger and more imposing etc; that's why "Terminator" is only remembered for Arnold, i.e. he was more physically imposing and mechanically novel, while the others were average and bland.

I'm still somewhat annoyed with how they had him give in to the hobbit children and show them some pre-Party fireworks (instant gratification!) whereas Tolkien's Gandalf sternly noted that they'd have to wait until the Party. Sure, it 'humanizes' Gandalf and makes the film audience like him, but it struck me as out of character. McKellen's Gandalf isn't "the Gandalf" for me; I still try to picture him differently when reading the books.

Start by sticking some eyebrows on him, and make him badass...for example I can easily accept that the Witch-king could knock Ian McKellan on his ass-- but book-Gandalf never.
Likewise, Gandalf wouldn't howl like an idiot when drawing his sword, or even facing down the balrog-- it just makes him look like a maroon. Even Yoda looked better than that.

Film Saruman and Galadriel were essentially the same as my pre-film mental image of their appearances and voices

Again, this is due to missing context. Book-Galadriel was about 6'4" and impossibly beautiful, i.e. beyond any supermodel; meanwhile Kate Blanchett.... isn't, and we'll leave it at that.
As for Saruman, he was supposed to be very persuasive to most, and so was fairly fair in appearance, not a ghoul; he also couldn't talk like the boogey-man, but would have to have a very pleasant voice.

Théoden ... well, he has the same name as the book character, at least, and is lord of the same people. Having him be completely blond in the film (instead of white-haired) is jarring.

Well don't you know, they had to make a stark contrast against the cheesy death-like image of Saruman's spell... so just be glad he didn't turn into Brad Pitt (just kidding-- PJ would never shell out enough to afford it!)

I wasn't too pleased with Gollum's appearance and portrayal; my strongest criticism is the loincloth. I realize a good amount of pre-film artwork also had him in one, but Gollum wore clothes (taken from Orcs?), with pockets. He wasn't near-naked.

Even Frodo wore clothes taken from Orcs, so obviously Gollum did-- after all, he lived on them in Goblin-town,
As for his appearance, it was ridiculous; the Ring couldn't turn him blue and give him gigantic eyes and cartoon-fingers etc. But again, they had to have their Jar-jar, when just a live actor would have been more accurate and less corny .

I had pictured Sam as younger and more in shape than Frodo; I wasn't too happy with their casting Sean Astin and requiring him to add on even more weight for the role, compared to already-thin Frodo.

Sam was also supposed to be dark-skinned; however Frodo was younger than his years, due to getting the Ring just upon coming of age. Likewise, Sam was supposed to be cheerful and optimistic as well as suspicious at times, not while movie-Sam is constantly a whiny little snit.
And Pippin was supposed to be the youngest of the 4 hobbits, not the oldest. It showed.

Not mentally-- particularly since Pippin was indeed technically "Prince of the Halflings," i.e. heir to the thainship; and while he started out foolish, he was matured by his experiences to the point where he became the chief hero in the Scouring of the Shire, along with Merry.

I like Ian Holm as Bilbo, but he wasn't supposed to look that old yet. Martin Freeman captured book-Bilbo's appearance (if not attitude) well enough for me, so now I imagine him during the Party at the beginning, which makes the lines about him being unnaturally preserved more appropriate.

Actually it was "unchanged would be more accurate;" i.e. he should have looked the same at all times until he parted with the Ring. And even at Rivendell he didn't look that old-- after all, he was able to ride a pony all the way from Rivendell to the Havens, for Eru's sake, not just ride in a pony-drawn hearse to the morgue.

I wasn't too fond of Viggo's appearance - too fair-looking; I usually picture Ciaran Hinds for Aragorn.

Aragorn was supposed to be in disguise at Bree as a miscreant, wearing dirty clothes, muddy boots, shaggy hair and an unkempt "rascally look. " But Frodo saw through it, saying "I think you are not really as you choose to look. Why the disguise?"
He was also tall, commanding, stern, pale, and keen-eyed; what Aragorn was not, was short, scrawny, demure, and someone who would be considered a safe target by a bare-knuckled hobbit, even when holding a sword... quite the opposite in fact, since none of them dared move or say a word when he showed his sword-hilt.
Aragorn also never got swords stuck in his face by women.. the only thing missing was the words "kiss it!"
As for "fair," that should have been Boromir and Aragorn, who were of both Numenorean and Elvish descent (along with Imrahil), so they'd be hard to cast without CGI; meanwhile all the Elves should be CGI'd over the real actors, since "fair of face beyond the measure of men" means just that... this would have been far preferable to Gollum being CGI'd, while the Elves just became ordinary humans.
There are plenty of descriptions in the book, but obviously PJ was born on "Opposite Day."
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby heliona » Wed Aug 20, 2014 11:56 am

I recently read an article discussing this very subject.

It was published in the journal, Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, Volume 10, 2013. The article is "Vague or Vivid?: Descriptions in The Lord of the Rings" written by Nils Ivar Agøy, a Norwegian historian, theologian, tolkienologist and translator (his first translation was The Silmarillion).

He starts the article by saying that it stems from something he said at a conference in Birmingham in 2005:

Nils Ivar Agøy wrote:The Lord of the Rings is a book to make one’s own. It is automatically personalized, so to speak. It invites participation, in many subtle ways. Then, too, we simply have to contribute something of our own if we are to visualize what happens in it. Tolkien’s descriptions are rarely very detailed. People, buildings and objects are usually described more or less as the scenery or weather is described, quite vaguely, that is; as seen from a distance. We are told that a main character like Aragorn is long-legged and weather-beaten, but not if he has a beard or buttons in his clothes. The chair he sits on is low and comfortable, but what is it actually made of? The book encourages, almost forces the reader to make her own, more detailed pictures of people and settings — which many do so thoroughly as to become quite annoyed when they discover, in illustrations or films, for instance, that others see things differently. There are not many books about which you can have decade-long discussions about fictional characters’ hair colour or possible moustaches — or hypothetical wings.


He then quotes a review essay of the conference by Professor Deirdre A. Dawson:

Professor Deirdre Dawson wrote:Some readers might take issue with Agøy’s claim that descriptions in The Lord of the Rings are not very detailed: “People, buildings, and objects are usually described more or less as the scenery or weather is described, quite vaguely, that is; as seen from a distance.” Surely, The Lord of the Rings contains some of the most lush and vivid examples of nature writing of any twentieth-century work; who cannot imagine the stunning beauty of the golden-leaved Mallorns in the forest of Lothlórien or the towering giants of Fangorn? But perhaps my use of the word “imagine” proves Agøy’s point: Tolkien’s prose is rich in creating atmosphere and environment, but he allows the reader to finish the scene in her mind.

-Dawson, Deidre A. “The Ring Goes Ever On” Tolkien Studies 8 (2011): 143–241


He the proceeds to go through The Lord of the Rings, making a note of all descriptions, using the definition "any words helping the reader to visualize the persons, objects, places and events in the text."

As an aside, he does admit to problems with this method (although I believe it leads to some interesting results):

Nils Ivar Agøy wrote:And yes, I do see the massive methodical objections, starting with the fact that very many nouns are in themselves descriptions. And no, I have not dealt with “style” as such, although of course the descriptions are an integral part of it. I have not tried to judge the descriptions aesthetically.


First of all, he asks us to consider that Tolkien wrote:

JRR Tolkien wrote:However good in themselves, illustrations do little good to fairy-stories. The radical distinction between all art (including drama) that offers a visible presentation and true literature is that it imposes one visible form. Literature works from mind to mind and is thus more progenitive. It is at once more universal and more poignantly particular. If it speaks of bread or wine or stone or tree, it appeals to the whole of these things, to their ideas; yet each hearer will give to them a peculiar personal embodiment in his imagination. Should the story say “he ate bread,” the dramatic producer or painter can only show “a piece of bread” according to his taste or fancy, but the hearer of the story will think of bread in general and picture it in some form of his own. If a story says “he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below,” the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene; but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but specially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word.

- Note E of On Fairy-stories


Nils Ivar Agøy finds:

Nils Ivar Agøy wrote:Some very central characters are not described at all. Examples are Pippin and Gimli—we do not even know their hair colour. We can surmise that Frodo had brown hair, but this is only because Nob, the servant at the Prancing Pony, tells him that he has made “a nice imitation of your head with a brown woollen mat” (FR, I, x, 186). Incidentally, this also confirms the general impression that when someone is said to be “fair,” as Frodo is, this does not necessarily apply to hair colour, though it actually does apply to Frodo’s hue of face (TT, IV, x, 342)[*].

It is extremely seldom that we hear about facial features except eye and sometimes skin colour. People with grey or blue eyes are invariably enemies of Sauron, while those with dark eyes are found on both sides.


The conclusion is that Tolkien does not describe people particularly well, because he knows people will put their own descriptions onto the characters. The only character who is very well described is Tom Bombadil, most likely due to the fact that he is based on a doll that belonged to Michael Tolkien. Tolkien describes landscapes in much more detail than any character.

If you can manage to read the article, it's an interesting read - he goes into a lot more detail about the descriptions (or lack thereof) that he finds and discusses writing methods. (You do need to have access to read it, as far as I can tell.)

I think the crux of it is the reason why people have such heated debates about what people look like - because Tolkien left it up to our imaginations to fill the blanks, and thus everyone's Frodo and Aragorn and Eowyn all look slightly different. Really, it means no-one is either wrong or right, when reading the books.

Whether or not you see the actors in their place is something again individual. Personally, I don't and never have done upon rereads after the films were released. (I presume my own imagined characters were firmly entrenched in my mind from reading the books before the films were released, and were not going to be supplanted.)

[*] As an aside, I think a lot of people miss that "fair" often means "beautiful to the eye; of attractive appearance; good-looking; agreeable" instead of meaning "pale" (or indeed, of having blond hair).
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby Canamarth » Wed Aug 20, 2014 2:24 pm

Thanks for sharing these insights, heliona! Definitely also my feelings on the subject (see earlier post). :)
And good point on "fair" as well.

BerenVonRictoffen wrote:That's not surprising, since fanart either follows the films, or makes the same mistakes that the movie does-- mainly with the Balrog being a demon from standard Christian renderings, when balrogs had nothing to do with such-- and were exactly described otherwise, projecting shadow more than flame; but of course, like the film, their little brains cut-and-paste directly from anything familiar, rather than actually bothering to read and research the author's original intent, which is the entire point of art, i.e. bringing the original vision to life, not imposing your own over it.


We obviously have a very different conception of art. While a lot of fanart may actually set out to bring the original to the fore as true to the source text as possible, any artist worth his/her mettle will bring their own interpretation, style, imagination even to illustrative work. Mere derivative work, sticking to the original as closely as possible, is indeed often frowned upon in the art world. Before the advent of Romanticism, derivative art was ok, artists were supposed to copy from life or their classic forebears. But since then, higher art (including literature) is supposed to show some unique creative spark. Illustration is actually often seen as a sort of second class art because the artist does not create sth. entirely on his own.

Now, a film director does not set out to copy a text, as I said before. He adapts the original to create his own version of the story. And PJ, for all his faults, has stayed closer to the text than almost all literary adaptions I know of (apart from some of the older BBC period drama series). And while that may please some of the text fans, this does not necessarily make for good movie entertainment.

Let's take the three latest Hamlet movie adaptations as an example:

2000 - Michael Almereyda: current setting, transferred to the business world
1996 - Kenneth Branagh: only unabridged version (which makes watching it daunting); entirely set in the 19th century, however
1990 - Franco Zeffirelli: period is as intended by Shakespeare; Fortinbras is entirely cut, thus missing the political dimensions of the play

While all versions retain the original language, they are putting production focus on entirely different things (Almereyda for example showing that the text remains relevant in our times; Zeffirelli stressing the emotional side), working with heavy changes. There's unique input here from every director - and that's how film adaptations are supposed to work.

Needless to say - casting choices of the main character ... utterly divergent, with Hawke probably closest to what is actually described in terms of age and appearance. But appearance alone does not bring a character closer to the original, as seen in this example.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby siddharth » Wed Aug 20, 2014 8:51 pm

Thanks for your post heliona. That was very interesting indeed!

And BarenVR perhaps is forgetting that beauty is purely upon the individual and whoever claims a certain someone to be "not fair enough" or "too ugly" etc. is an opinion only not to be proclaimed as a fact.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby IrisBrandybuck » Thu Aug 21, 2014 8:10 am

Heliona: excellent post...thank you!
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby Thor 'n' Oakenshield » Wed Nov 14, 2018 4:42 pm

Nobody has posted in this thread in a long time, so I decided to revive it. Looking through some of the posts on this thread, though… :Q There were a lot of angry words thrown around about this subject. Just to be clear, I would never say that Liv Tyler is "plunger-lips" or that Cate Blanchett is not beautiful, or Miranda Otto.

Now, getting to the main subject: how do I envision the characters? I read the books before seeing the movies, so what I see in my head has been an interesting blend of different pictures over the years. During my first readings, I can't say how I imagined them at all - they didn't really have defined "looks" in my head. Oddly, I can have multiple images of the characters at the same time: the actors, always, are there in the background, especially Cate Blanchett and Elijah Wood, and Martin Freeman - when they're not, a different story emerges:
Gandalf: When I picture him these days, he is a tall black man, with broad shoulders and a noble visage, long white hair and a sweeping beard.
Frodo: Is and always will be Elijah Wood. No one else can compare.
Sam: short, brown-skinned (I always picture him Hispanic), rather plump. Bright-eyed and smiling; the type of fellow that could give you a bear-hug.
Merry: blond, distinguished-looking, and perky, very much the son of aristocrats.
Pippin: dark-haired, roguish.
Aragorn: tall, noble, long dark hair, bearded, rather like Viggo.
Legolas: tall, blond, fair, sturdy but slim. Very much like Orlando, though less snide looking.
Gimli: I'm alone in this, but I picture Gimli young, muscular, blond and very good-looking. Not sure why.
Arwen: I see her slightly darker than in the book, maybe Native-American looking, with long dark hair and gentle eyes, but tall and fit.
Galadriel: Cate Blanchett.
Elrond: a bit younger and more handsome than Hugo, and with a softer face, gentler.
Saruman: black, and noble-looking, with long hair, very bright-eyed.
Faramir: black, handsome, with unruly hair and a beard.
Boromir: also black, tall and handsome, with long hair.

It's an interesting list, and that's not even all of them, but that's how I've begun seeing them in my mind recently, and I don't want to get rid of those images.
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Re: When you read, how do you view the characters in your he

Postby savanhall » Sun Nov 18, 2018 12:25 am

I read the books after watching the films so I have the characters on film stuck in my head now so when I read the book, I imagined the characters in the book the same as with the film. Kinda simple, I know but it works for me.
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