By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES, Feb 10 (Reuters) – If there is one happy hobbit in the real world shire, it is Royd Tolkien, great grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, whose books are the basis for the smash hit “Lord of the Rings” movies.
Tolkien, who lives in north Wales, freely admits that when he first heard a Hollywood movie studio wanted to adapt great granddad’s fantasy books onto film he was worried.
But with the final installment “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” racking up more than $940 million in global ticket sales and leading the pack in the race for Oscars — the U.S. film industry’s top honor — Royd is breathing a huge sigh of relief.
“When they were first being made, I thought, ‘Oh god, a Hollywood film. There will be too much crammed into one movie, so many things will be left out,” Tolkien said in a recent telephone interview.
“But since seeing the films, I’ve had a complete reversal. It’s been like a breath of fresh air, and I’ve watched them seven times,” he added.
The series of movies about an epic battle for control of the fantasy land of middle Earth populated by hobbits, elves, wizards and their adversaries; orcs led by the evil Sauron have, of course, become the stuff of Hollywood legend.
They began with “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” in 2001 and segued into “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” in 2002 and now “Return of the King” in theaters.
Produced all at once for roughly $300 million, the movies could have pushed studio New Line Cinema, a unit of giant Time Warner Inc TWX.N, out of business. Instead, they became major hit, generating a total $2.7 billion in global ticket sales.
SEVEN YEARS, ONE OSCAR
New Zealand director Peter Jackson spent seven exhausting years of his life working on the films, and for him it is paying off. Over the weekend, he earned the coveted Directors Guild of America honor for best director and he and “King” appear poised to sweep through the Oscars on Feb. 29.
Yet, Royd said, the Tolkien family, at first, did not want to have anything to do with the movie, and the filmmakers in turn, never consulted the family.
That changed this past summer, when the 34 year-old great grandson of the original hobbit sent an e-mail to Jackson’s filmmaking team asking to come to New Zealand for a visit.
The answer was a fast “yes” and a “you better come quick” because the movie was just about to wrap up the last of the final “pick up” shots needed to complete “Return of the King.”
“Literally every single day, I was welcomed with open arms,” Tolkien said.
Indeed, he was so welcome that Jackson even asked him to don the armor of a Gondorian Ranger and fight the blood thirsty orcs. “Rings” fans may see the Tolkien legacy handing out spears amid the ruins of Osgiliath.
As for his real life, Tolkien said he is only rarely asked about his great grandfather, and usually only in book shops.
“I’m not a very public person. No one knows who I am,” he said. He said he was a fan of the “Rings” books when he was a kid, not because he felt obliged to read them due to his family ties but rather because they were a good read.
Royd said his great grandfather was just starting to see the books receive “cult” hit status when he died in 1973.
“(Writing the books) wasn’t something he did to achieve that type of success. He really just had a tale he wanted to tell,” Tolkien said. And what a tale it has become.
I like the idea of Tolkien’s offspring being interested in his work. Certainly Tolkien’s writing is a legacy…. something to cherish.