A Soviet ‘Lord of the Rings’ appears, epic in his own way
Arseny Bulakov, president of the St. Petersburg Tolkien Association, described the production as “a very significant artifact” of his time: “filmed in poor times, with no set design, costumes dressed by celebrities – and at the same time with great respect. For Tolkien and his love for the world.”
Mr Bulakov said it reminded him of “the first years of the Tolkienists” in Russia. “Without receiving a salary for half a year, wearing old sweaters, however, they got together to talk about hobbits and goblins, to rewrite elves by hand, to try to guess what was impossible to really know about the world.”
Tolkien’s books were unlikely to be found in the Soviet Union for decades, with no official translation of “The Hobbit” until 1976 – “with few ideological adaptations,” according to Mark Hooker, author of Tolkien’s “Through Russian Eyes.” The “rings” trilogy has been “basically banned” for decades, he said, perhaps because of its religious issues or the depiction of various Western allies who unite against an evil Eastern power.
In 1982, an authorized and short translation of “Fellowship” became a best seller, Mr. Hooker said. Translators began making unofficial samizdat versions in the following years – translating and writing the full text on their own.
Mr Hooker said “Khraniteli” was broadcast at a time of “high systemic turmoil” when the Soviet Union was disbanded, and “part of the flood of ideas came in to fill the void”. “For the average Russian, the world was turned upside down.”
Irina Nazarova told the artist who watched the original show in 1991 BBC-k in retrospect, “absurd costumes, a film without direction and editing, films without makeup and acting – they are all the screams of a collapsing country.”
Mr. Hooker compared the production itself to the samizdat translation, “with all the rough edges.” These include mobile cameras, as if the hobbit were filming a trip with a video camera, and sudden cuts to a narrator, with a smoked pipe or a silent smile, sometimes seem to settle for leaving the audience in the dark.