Ian McKellen E-Posts

27 March 2001

"Mercy!" cried Gandalf: "if the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What do you want to know?"

From: John Kozempel
Q: Despite the good professor's comments to the contrary, many people characterize LOTR as a World War II allegory, what with both stories (if one is willing to call WWII a story for argument's sake) involving the unthinkable rise of an ancient enemy, a protracted world-encompassing conflict, and a strange and largely-misunderstood technology largely affecting the war's outcome. Were you aware if Mr. Jackson shared any part of this interpretation of the story, and whether it might be included in the films?

A: Tolkien composed Lord of the Rings during the years 1936 to 1949 and tellingly refers to it as "a history of the Great War of the Ring" (Foreword to the Second Edition). His denials that he was writing an allegory must be accepted, whilst noting that his labours overlapped the political events that led up to the 1939-45 War and its aftermath.

World War II was fought by conscripted civilians and volunteers including Tolkien's own son, Michael. Adolf Hitler's dominance over Europe must have impinged on the father's life and writing. The basic plot of ordinary peace-loving Hobbits drafted by Gandalf into the fight against Sauron mirror contemporary events. The Wizard warns Frodo about spies being everywhere, just as there were posters in wartime Oxford saying the same thing.

Having been born in 1939 and remembering sleeping in an Anderson Shelter against the Nazi bombers, I found it easy to identify Hitler with Sauron. Beyond that, there will be nothing I have seen of the films to go further allegorically.

From: Wayne Hitchcock

 Q: I'm driving my wife nuts with all my talk about this film (she hasn't read the book). Any chance of putting the poor woman out of her misery by releasing the first film earlier than the end of 2001?

A. I promise you that it was never the intention of the Lord of the Rings team to contribute to anyone's marital strife! Take comfort that more than six million people downloaded the first trailer from the official site so you are not alone in your impatience. Only seven months to go now...

Q: Are you going to utter the words about 'meddling in the affairs of wizards as they are quick to anger' to Pippin?

A. Would you believe, three months after filming finished, that I can't be sure whether those telling words were included or not? Nothing unusual in that: these days strangers call out Magneto's lines from X-Men that I don't remember ever having said myself!

From: Roger Sweets
Q: Although I confess that some of Tolkien's dialogue is a bit stilted, large stretches have always seemed simply wonderful to me, and in particularly some of Gandalf's lines, such as: 'Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?' He was an expert at writing heroic dialogue.

A. Ah now, I do remember speaking those lines.

From: Walker
Q: How would I go about attending the movie premiere? I am very interested and have no idea how such things work.

A. Premieres are usually fund-raisers for charity, so an invitation might involve a hefty donation, I expect. Details of the openings worldwide have not yet been announced but maybe the official site can help. If you have no luck, don't worry: whenever or wherever you see the movie it will be exactly the same, unlike first nights of stage plays, which are unique.

From: Dane Crocker
Q: Do you know anything about what Peter Jackson is doing about the music in the movie and whether or not he will use lyrics that Tolkien wrote in the novels?

A. There will be songs in the movies although fewer than in the novel.

From: Christopher Swann
Q: When you fight Saruman, will it be when Gandalf is captured at Orthanc at the beginning of the first film, or will it be when Saruman is confronted after the Battle of Helm's Deep? Also, will we be able to see Gandalf's ten-day battle with the Balrog?

A: Christopher Lee and I (and our younger and fitter doubles) have filmed some spectacular fighting at Orthanc before Gandalf is rescued by Gwaihir.

As I tackled the Balrog over what seemed like ten exhausting days in the studio, I began to wonder whether the battle would last as long but as I haven't yet seen the cut film, I can't tell you how Peter Jackson will feature my labours.

Q: I've begun to view certain aspects of Tolkien's view with a critical eye specifically, suggestions about racial difference and good and evil being innate qualities of specific races; and evil being associated with physical ugliness (dark skin, "slanty eyes") and "harsh" languages.

A: There is nothing in the films to support xenophobia or the suggestions you make, I'm glad to report.

From: Angie Dancer

Q: I am curious to know if the characters you play teach you something or inform your own life in some way...if so what has Gandalf said to you as you climb inside his character?

A: It would be impertinent to identify myself with a being as wise and all-achieving as Gandalf but I treasure his exemplary determination, both mental and physical.

Q: Could you describe what it's like viewing the rushes every day? Is it like going to the movies?

A: I attended rushes early on during shooting to check that Gandalf's appearance, his make-up and walk, were as intended. Once I felt he looked right, there was less need to attend and anyway three hours of repetitious takes cut into precious spare time at the end of a long day's work. If I wasn't working next day, it was exciting to look at the previous day's footage and yes, on the big screen, it is like going to the pictures! It soon becomes tedious not to say embarrassing watching yourself in the company of colleagues. What is reassuring is that the take which felt best at the time is often confirmed to be the best onscreen: always remembering that the editor's cutting work is yet to come.

Under Peter Jackson's regime, rushes can be quite social pizzas and fizzy drinks are provided free. As well as his own work, he views footage from special effects. During it all he chats quietly to his editors. I suspect that he knows which take he would prefer to use the moment it is shot and that the rushes only confirm his initial choice.

From: Josephina
Q: Are the financial problems really so bad at this time as far as the LOTR movies are concerned? If so, would it not be a plan to bring out the first movies sooner to finance the third movie? Or maybe it is just a bad rumor and the budget is fine.

A: Thanks for your rescue plan which fortunately won't be needed as filming was concluded on time and within the budget set by New Line.

Additional E-Posts about LOTR may be found in

The Lord of the Rings

Sorry, we're no longer taking questions for Ian McKellen's E-Post Blog.


Acting Shakespeare Ian McKellen DVD