As far as the Hobbits’ journey has gone so far, Rivendell is the hub of the tale and of the world.  They have passed from the Shire to Bree with its Men and Rivendell with its Elves; and at Rivendell they become acquainted not only with Elves and Men but Dwarves—in short, with most of the other persons from most of the geographies with which they will now have to do.  To tie Frodo’s tale together with what preceded it and what will follow, Bilbo is there from the Shire, Legolas from Mirkwood, Gloin and Gimli from the Lonely Mountain, and Boromir from Gondor.  The persons and places that the Hobbits do not meet in person, they hear of in story:  Saruman, Rohan, Shadowfax, Gwaihir.  The Council of Elrond sums up the plight of Middle Earth and charts the future course like a living map and compass for the tale.

Several years ago when the first volume of The Lord of the Rings was made into a movie, one of my acquaintances tried to convince me that the Council of Elrond was handled much more adroitly in the movie than the book.  The speeches on the screen were kept to a minimum, or else their content was rendered visually.  I agreed with him about the director’s prudence in cutting out the verbiage:  long speech, story-telling, and especially long deliberation are not well suited to the widescreen or most of its viewers.  However, I viewed the long speeches in the book as one of the glories of Tolkien’s rhetoric, and their omission in the film as a reflection on the problematic limitations of film-making in general.  But my friend insisted that he could not endure reading through the Council of Elrond in the book:  it was boring and wanted action.

The memory of this conversation has prompted my next several posts.  The overarching question is what the Council of Elrond does for the plot of The Lord of the Rings, and whether there is any way it could have been done better.  I’ve broken this question down into theory and practice:  the theory of wedding an epic convention to a romance narrative, and the practicality of making it work.  In the latter especially, I’ll take up the topic of Tolkien’s rhetoric again, and ask whether the Council of Elrond is indeed one of the glories of his work.

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