Author Topic: The basic modern epic tale storyline  (Read 1328 times)  Share 

Nacho

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The basic modern epic tale storyline
« on: 15 Jan 2004, 00:01 »
I was navigating... And I just find this



It is just one more of the funny stuff you can see in the net, but it shows the lack of imagination of the writersLord of the Rings; synopsis

Frodo Baggins is an orphan living with his uncle
in the remote wilderness of the shire.

He is rescued from boredom by wise, bearded Gandalf, who turns
out to be a wizard.

Gandalf reveals to Frodo that Frodo's uncle was also a ringbearer, and
was the best puzzle solver he had ever seen.

Frodo is also instructed in how not to use the Ring as he too
trains to become a ringbearer.

Frodo has many adventures in Middle-Earth and makes new friends
such as Aragorn and Arwen.

In the course of these adventures he distiguishes himself as a top...
well... he isn't really good at anything, I'll skip this part.

Frodo also sees off the threat of Sauron, who we now know
murdered millions.

In the finale, Frodo and his new friends save the world.


With some of the characters of Star wars.
Are you guys ready? Let' s roll!

TheYak

  • Not saying so much anymore. I'm half hoarse.
Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #1 on: 15 Jan 2004, 00:15 »
Due to LOTR being written in the 50's I doubt that Tolkien ripped anything off.  Star Wars was never meant to be a definitive movie or one that was terribly deep, just mean to be good, clean, space-opera-type fun.  Anyway, nice article, the resemblance between the SW and HP plotlines is uncanny (if not entirely accurate).  

If one were to try and create a new epic tale at this point, I don't think you could escape it bearing a close resemblance to one or more other stories.  If you manage to make it avoid any current epic-style stereotypes, you'd probably have written the most boring tale known to man.  

Las Naranjas

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #2 on: 15 Jan 2004, 00:53 »
"I'm a moron" - LGM
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Ryukage

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #3 on: 15 Jan 2004, 01:53 »
If it was, it would have structure, and as it stands, it's one of least, or poorly structured books I've read. The fact it still evidently works for so many people makes it a curiosity.

That's funny, I think LOTR is one of the most structured stories I've ever read.  Every minute detail is intertwined with all the others in the most amazing web of interconnectivity I've ever seen.  Every single event in the story is the effect of several dozen events that came before and the cause of a dozen events that come after.  Furthermore, Ilu is about the only fantasy world I'm aware of that has a complete, detailed, and totally self-consistent set of natural laws.  The world of Ilu has a rigorously defined structure, and everything in the stories is ultimately rooted in that structure.
Ninja Master Ryukage
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Las Naranjas

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #4 on: 15 Jan 2004, 03:14 »
I'm not talking development of the world, or detail or any of those things at which i agree it is strong, but simple narrative structure. Were you to pick up a How To Write style book, or go to a class, they'd most likely give you a list of rules, almost all of which LOTR would break.
Which makes it curious, because it certainly still works, it wouldn't be successful if it didn't.

But a list of perculiarities. The pacing is amazingly irregular. The episode of the Old Forest is dealt with in immense detail although it is derivative to the main plot. The first part, especially up to the council of Elrond is far more detailed and developed than the rest of the book, despite being in essence just the introduction. This is likely because it was written three times, from the beginning each time, which is another indicator that Tolkien hadn't learnt How To Write [I trust you recognise the irony in the capitalisation]. This section is written in a modern narrative style, but later in the work he trails of into mythological narrative style, so key events such as The Paths of the Dead or the emancipation of Theoden rush by in a fraction of time and that creates a inconsistency that would make orthodoxy tear it's hair out.

The dual narrative that occurs in the last two thirds was also a bizaare choice, especially when the "Books" 3 and 4 don't even cover the same time period. It becomes clear when you understand that he would continue with one narrative strand mainly because he was at a loss as to where to take the other. But what would then be done under the doctrien of How To Write would be to integrate the two, and interchange.
It becomes a tad strange when the story builds towards a climax in The Black Gate Opens, after several chapters in which dialogue and characters are shunted away by mythic tone, only to drop back to the more character centred story of Frodo and Sam before once again building up to the same climax. Orthodoxy would expect that the two strands be told concurrently to a single and presumably more powerful climax.

And then bizaarely, there is still over 100 pages and a final chapter which appears to end abruptly [although it becomes more sensical with the epilogue which was ommited for some strange reason].

And additionally there is a tendency to recount important events through dialouge after the event, instead of describing them as they happen, the most notable of these being the Sacking of Isengard.

But when you look at how the books were written, there seems very little room for structure, especially when large portions of the book are written where a character the stature and importance of Aragorn is absent, his place being taken by another Hobbit, "Trotter", who perhaps is Bilbo. How can you structure a plot when you don't know what will happen yet?

The fact that someone can write a book of that length and complexity [of detail if not of character and themes] with not genuine idea of where the narrative will go and have it be as successful as it is is extraordinary. I've barely touched on the ways it breaches the doctrine of How To Write, but it's enought to show that the plot isn't structured.



But then again Ryukage, what you meant by structure and what I meant are different things. You're were talking about the structure of the world, of Arda, and I was talking about the structure of a narrative.

So no worries.
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TheYak

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #5 on: 15 Jan 2004, 04:02 »
A bit of a lengthy reply to have it end in "no worries."

In either case, I'm in total agreement. Not that agreement is necessary when it's an undisputed fact.  The disorganization is one of the things I like about the series.  It's written almost whimsically, spur-of-the-moment and it's one of a handful of novels that make me think that I'm reading what the author wanted to put into words, not what his editor or publisher may've preferred.  I'm sure that if the novel were submitted in this day and age, it would be hacked and stapled together like mad.  The movies are a strong argument for this.  They left out a few events that were fairly major in the books, expanded upon some of the minor ones and, in the end, kept the narrative (more or less) to the straight and narrow.  I've watched them as movies, however, and not as translations of a series that I like, so have been able to enjoy the movies as well.

Ryukage

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #6 on: 15 Jan 2004, 04:16 »
I've personally never been a big believer in the Doctrine of How to Write.  Like the Doctrine of How To Draw and the Doctrine of How to Compose Music, it's mainly intended for amateurs, the Great Ones are Great because they don't follow the rules.

Quote
The episode of the Old Forest is dealt with in immense detail although it is derivative to the main plot.

Actually, it ties in with the Ents later on.  And the encounter with Tom Bombadil is important because it demonstrates a facet of the Ring's power -- or lack thereof -- that wouldn't otherwise be discovered.

In general, the portions that don't seem particular relevant to the War of the Ring itself usually tie in to the bigger story of the Silmarillion, to which LOTR is just a footnote.

Quote
The dual narrative that occurs in the last two thirds was also a bizaare choice, especially when the "Books" 3 and 4 don't even cover the same time period. It becomes clear when you understand that he would continue with one narrative strand mainly because he was at a loss as to where to take the other. But what would then be done under the doctrien of How To Write would be to integrate the two, and interchange.

Ah, but once again, Tolkien shows his genius by breaking the rules.  Intertwining those two stories would have produced a confusing jumpiness in the narrative, forcing the reader to repeatedly and rapidly switch gears between two totally separate storylines.  Like a movie consisting mainly of flashbacks, it'd be nearly impossible to keep track of what was going on in either story.

Quote
And additionally there is a tendency to recount important events through dialouge after the event, instead of describing them as they happen, the most notable of these being the Sacking of Isengard.

And you'll note that on most occasions, it's the hobbits doing the recounting.  This is because Tolkien wanted to tell the story through the eyes of the hobbits, and having them recount the events in their own voice was a good way of doing that.  Kind of like Shakespearian monologues, only less tedious.

Quote
How can you structure a plot when you don't know what will happen yet?

When you do know what has already happened.  Tolkien wrote the Silmarillion before LOTR, and LOTR basically just wraps up a few loose ends from the real story of the Silmarillion.  Aragorn is actually a fairly minor character compared to Elrond, Galadriel, Sauron, Saruman, Gandalf, Frodo, and Ungoliant.  Those are the main title cast, Aragorn is just the guest star.

Like I said, everything that happens in LOTR is a causal effect of what went before.
Ninja Master Ryukage
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Las Naranjas

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #7 on: 15 Jan 2004, 06:25 »
Even then, he didn't even know that what he was writing was part of his mythology. After all it's by his admission that Elrond was only in the Hobbit because he ran out of names and other references to the Silmarillion [for example the swords] were to "give the illusion of depth". And I'm evaluating the novel as a narrative on it's own, not a vignette from a universe. I'm not debating structure as a the creative element of "creating a world" but the structure of writing a plot.
 But to go on more specifics

Quote
ntertwining those two stories would have produced a confusing jumpiness in the narrative forcing the reader to repeatedly and rapidly switch gears between two totally separate storylines
There are a plethora of novels and literature that have succeeded in intertwining plots and avoiding confusion, many of them sharing an "amazing web of interconnectivity". Considering this is the epitome of this in your estimation, there would have been little difficulty linking the "totally seperate storylines". The pressures of a different medium and commercial realities forced the film interpretation to present the stories intertwined [I'm sure even the most zealous of fans would have been disconcerted if they hadn't] and with no difficulty. There shouldn't be because the practice of telling parallel plots has been used for hundreds of years, and anyone who has been exposed to fiction in that time should have little difficulty following it.
As far as an accurate estimation of intent can go, to look at his own writings and the drafts relating to that part of the novel [as published by his son in volume 7 or so of the Histories of Middle Earth] it seems quite clear that he would pursue one narrative sheerly because he had no idea where to take the other.

But there is no need to claim genius of purpose here, because the point I'm making is the success, evident as it is, is made in spite of the lack of orthodox narrative structure. No defence of the works is necessary, because the evaluation is not necessarily judgemental.

Quote
When you do know what has already happened.

I must stress that we are talking about two different things here. I am evaluating LOTR as a narrative, and not as a window into the greater mythology of Arda. When I say he had no idea of what would happen, I speak about the plot of LOTR, and important events as being important events in LOTR. I am judging a narrative and not a vignette. If we were to judge the purpose of the author, he set out to write a narrative, not to extend on his mythology. Which explains why and early plot involved Bilbo visiting Britain.

The following quote might illustrate the amount of knowledge that he actually had towards the plot that was being laid out as he wrote it. (it's scanned, so parts are a tad 1337)
Quote
1 met a lot of things on the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil 1 knew already; but 1 had never been to Bree. Strider sitting in the corner at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo. The Mines of Moria had been a mere name; and of Lothl6rien no word had reached my mortal cars till 1 came there. Far away 1 knew there were the Horse- lords on the confines of an ancient Kingdom of Men, but Fangorn Forest was an unforeseen adventure. 1 had never heard of the House of Eorl nor of the Stewards of Gondor. Most disquieting of all, Saruman had never been revealed to me, and 1 was as mystified as Frodo at Gandaif's failure to appear on September z2. J. R. R. Tolkien, in a letter to W. H. Auden, 7 June i955


Which brings us back to The Old Forest as well, because that was one thing that was intended from the start, and was derived from earlier work [i.e the Poem "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil"], but that had no relevance to the mythology. The events there still hold no bearing on the greater plot. I vaguely understand you claim about revealing a facet of the ring, but what facet is revealed has no integral place in the plot and even then the immense amount of space given to the sequence, especially when compared to later sections can hardly be justified under How To Write.

And even then I feel the sequence with Bombadil and the ring is about the nature of the former, not the latter.


You'll also have to excuse the fact I haven't read any of this since before High School, so I'm working from memory.

But more importantly, we're evaluating seperate things. I'm not judging the work harshly in the light of it's lack of structure, I merely see it as a curiosity, and as Yak says, it carries it's own charm as a result of the extraordinarily unorthodox way with which it is written.
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Nacho

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #8 on: 15 Jan 2004, 07:59 »
the Great Ones are Great because they don't follow the rules.

Like I said, everything that happens in LOTR is a causal effect of what went before.
Are you guys ready? Let' s roll!

lazy dragonrose

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #9 on: 15 Jan 2004, 14:18 »
Due to LOTR being written in the 50's I doubt that Tolkien ripped anything off.  

Sorry, just had to comment on this.  It is quite blatantly based on Beowulf, which also sort of follows the structure.

Beowulf is an orphan living with his uncle in the remote wilderness of Scandanavia.

He is rescued from boredom by wise, bearded Hrothgar, who turns
out to be a King.

Hrothgar reveals to Beowulf that Beowulf's father was also a warrior, and was the King he had ever seen.

Beowulf is also instructed in how to fight Grendel as he too
trains to become a Warrior.

Beowulf has many adventures in Heorot and makes new friends
such as Unferth and Wealhtheow.

In the course of these adventures he distiguishes himself as a top warrior in the battle against Grendel, ripping Grendel's arm off and ensuring victory for the Geats against the forces of evil.

Beowulf also sees off the threat of Grendel's Mother, who we now know murdered the people of Heorot.

In the finale, Beowulf and his new friends are given rings and armour.

SSH

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #10 on: 15 Jan 2004, 15:17 »
These are all obviously rip-offs of "The Dark Cave: Adventures of Princess Marian part IV":

Princess Marian is an only child living in the remote wilderness of Scotland

She is rescued from the rain by hiding in a cave which turns out to be occupied by a dragon

The dragon reveals to Marian that he has a mobile phone in his teeth.

Marian uses the mobile to tell her husband and daughter that she is OK

In the course of her adventures, Marian distinguishes herself as a top magic-hat pilot

Marian sees of the threat of rain by waiting until it stops (which can be a long time in Scotland, believe me)

In the end Marian recieves a dragon-back ride with her family as a reward.


Bloody Tolkein, Rowling, Lucas and Scandanavian plaigarists!





Ryukage

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #11 on: 15 Jan 2004, 21:27 »
Quote
The pressures of a different medium and commercial realities forced the film interpretation to present the stories intertwined [I'm sure even the most zealous of fans would have been disconcerted if they hadn't] and with no difficulty. There shouldn't be because the practice of telling parallel plots has been used for hundreds of years, and anyone who has been exposed to fiction in that time should have little difficulty following it.

Yes, intertwined storylines have been used extensively, but for every example of it working there are three or four examples of it becoming choppy and confusing.  I don't think it has much of anything to do with the skill of the writer, but depends mostly on the content of the story.  When it works successfully, it's usually because both storylines are doing similar things when they cut back and forth: two different fights, two different conversations, two different private meditations, etc.  In LOTR, we'd be jumping back anf forth between the action-packed combat adventure of Aragorn and the highly personal, introspective self-discovery of Frodo, which would be a much more jarring change of gears than in most examples.

The movies feature only short snippets from each storyline, and heavily rewritten to add more introspection to Aragorn's story and more action to Frodo's.  To tell the more contrasted narratives of the novels in an intertwined format might not work so well.

Tolkien could conceivably have switched back and forth more often than he did, but not by much.  He switched a total of three times between the Breaking of the Fellowship and the Final Battle, and I'd estimate that more than about five switches would have created an unacceptable level of choppiness.

So anyway, this may just be my opinion, but I think not intertwining the storylines provided a much greater sense of focus to the narrative. We can watch Frodo, Sam, and Gollum evolve without distractions from Aragorn and Gandalf, and we can watch Aragorn and Gandalf kick ass without interruptions by the more personal trials of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum.

Quote
I am evaluating LOTR as a narrative, and not as a window into the greater mythology of Arda.

I, on the other hand, cannot at this point separate LOTR from the rest of the story.  It just doesn't exist on it's own in my mind.

Quote
I vaguely understand you claim about revealing a facet of the ring, but what facet is revealed has no integral place in the plot and even then the immense amount of space given to the sequence, especially when compared to later sections can hardly be justified under How To Write.

And even then I feel the sequence with Bombadil and the ring is about the nature of the former, not the latter.

But the nature of the former reveals something about the nature of the latter.  As for being important to the plot... one of the central themes of Lord of the Rings is Hope.  The fact that there is one being in Middle Earth over whom the Ring has no power gives that first glimmer of hope that the world can in fact be saved.  If not for the encounter with Tom, Frodo might have given up: for what would it profit to destroy the Ring if the damage was already wholey irreversable?  In the whole story, Tom is the only character with full confidence that the blight of Sauron is only a passing problem.
Ninja Master Ryukage
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remixor

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #12 on: 16 Jan 2004, 02:56 »
I've personally never been a big believer in the Doctrine of How to Write.  Like the Doctrine of How To Draw and the Doctrine of How to Compose Music, it's mainly intended for amateurs, the Great Ones are Great because they don't follow the rules.

However, they very rarely IGNORE the rules.  If you look at the greatest of writers and the greatest of composers, they are often studied in academic circles because they DO know how to follow most of the rules, but do it well, and they know when to break them.   There's a difference between following convention and creating uninspired material.  People today seem to have the mentality that unbridled originality is automatically good, but quite often it just results in a mess.  Speaking of great composers, look at Beethoven.  He practically single-handedly revolutionized music by de-standardizing or re-standardizing many accepted forms, but he didn't do it by throwing structure or convention out the window.  He still learned all his basic rules and musical vocabulary, then went and did his thing.
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TheYak

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #13 on: 17 Jan 2004, 04:11 »
Might an example of your point be Pollock (The artist), Remixor?

Definately a point I agree with, unbridled originality without any structure or substance behind it isn't, by default, good.  It has more in common with mankind's depravity than it does with its creativity.

Ryukage

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #14 on: 17 Jan 2004, 07:45 »
People today seem to have the mentality that unbridled originality is automatically good, but quite often it just results in a mess.

I couldn't agree more.  But that's not what I was talking about.  I was talking about people who have the skill, experience, and instinct to create something really good without having to think about the rules.  They don't follow the mechanical approach of, "Okay, now right here I can create dramatic effect by breaking this rule, but here I need to follow that rule," they just do their thing and don't worry about what the rules say, and it works because they have the experience to operate that way.  Mechanically following the rules is for amatuers, and mechanically deciding when to break them is for intermediates.  Masters need not even think about the rules, they can operate on instinct alone.
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DGMacphee

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #15 on: 17 Jan 2004, 16:05 »
Masters need not even think about the rules, they can operate on instinct alone.

But you forget: Most masters had to learn the rules first before they could break them.

For example:

Picasso first mastered basic rules of painting in his earlier life before breaking them in his later years -- He broke most of the rules he learnt and began painting like a child again, and some say his later masterpieces are his best work.

The Beatles started playing bubblegum pop songs before they branched out with experimental styles.

Also, The Beach Boys did the same thing before refining their techniques for Pet Sounds.

Churchill had a stutter, but refined his public speaking ability by following basic English rules -- In later years, he was able to bend such rules because people regarded him as a fluent speaker.

Woody Allen started his film career making screwball comedies, like Bananas and What's Up, Tigerlily?, before he ventured into more artistic ventures like Annie Hall and Manhattan -- He even admits that most of his filmmaking experience came from learning basic rules from his cinematograpers, such as Gordon Willis.

Even Gordon Willis had to learn the rules first: " As a youth, he worked in summer stock theater, both onstage and backstage, then served in the air force and gained experience as a cameraman. Upon his return to civilian life, he decided to pursue that career and spent a number of years filming documentaries and commercials before breaking into mainstream movies." (From Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia).

Willis later went on to creating the dark look of The Godfather movies, plus other classics such as All The President's Men, Klute, and The Parallax View.

You think Godard just atuomatically decide to become experiemental in his films? -- No way!

He learnt the basic filmmaking rules just like anyone else.

Then he took the conventional and reversed it on it's arse, thus making classics like Week End and Alphaville.

You see, you seem to think that masters need not think about rules, when the opposite is true.

Masters need to learn the rules as much as anyone and keep them constantly in mind so they know how to break them the right way.

Any master who thinks they need not be aware of rules will end up like Ed Wood (who is a master in his own right, but a master of making unintentionally shithouse films -- and who wants to be known like that?)
« Last Edit: 17 Jan 2004, 16:06 by DGMacphee »
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evenwolf

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #16 on: 17 Jan 2004, 16:56 »
Lucas' Star Wars =  Kurisawa's Hidden Fortress  :)
"I drink a thousand shipwrecks.'"

remixor

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #17 on: 19 Jan 2004, 05:45 »
DGM's post is exactly what I was trying to convey.  His examples speak for themselves.
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Trapezoid

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #18 on: 19 Jan 2004, 05:55 »
What about Peter Jackson? His oeuvre seems kinda backwards.

DGMacphee

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Re:The basic modern epic tale storyline
« Reply #19 on: 19 Jan 2004, 06:07 »
How do you figure?

The way I see it, he started with shlock-horror movies (granted, some well-made ones) and later branched out into more creative ventures, such as Heavenly Creatures, and big budget special-effect films, like The Frighteners.

And all this prepared him for the LOTR trilogy.

How do you see it, Trap?
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