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banner Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 16:56 GMT
The phenomenon of the Rings
Gandalf (Ian McKellen) lights the way forward
"It is a story about peril and adventure with a terrible burden on it."
BBC World Service's Meridian Writing meets Brian Sibley, the man who first dramatised JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings for BBC radio 20 years ago.

Brian Sibley is the writer of the official guide to the director Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films and, he believes, that JRR Tolkien would have been proud of the first of Jackson's three screen adventures.

When Mr Sibley travelled half way round the world he was astonished to find that the mysterious world inhabited by hobbits really did exist.

He had in fact been granted unlimited access to The Fellowship of the Ring film set in New Zealand. As he explains, the attention to detail that he found astonished him:

Brian Sibley
Sibley's dramatisation of Gormenghast won him the Sony Radio Award

"Tolkien would have at least approved of this. The film-makers wanted to create something that is fantastic, but is also rooted in realism... it has that ring of authenticity about it."


The original sword and sorcery blockbuster was written nearly half a century ago by the Oxford professor of languages and devout Roman Catholic, JRR Tolkien.

Selling somewhere in excess of 100 million copies the tale has since grown to be an international bestseller.

Mr Sibley believes that the tale's appeal may lie in its ability to transport the reader into another world.

"The story is rather like an onion" he explains, "where you peel back one layer and there is a another layer underneath."

Not to be dismissed as pure fantasy however, Mr Sibley asserts that, "this is not a cosy story. It is a story about peril and adventure with a terrible burden on it."

Adding, "it seems to be part of our past. Tolkien was adamant that Middle Earth was not some parallel universe, that you reach by going through the wardrobe or down the rabbit hole, it's a world that did once exist."

Once you have made the journey with Frodo I don't think that you are ever the same again

Brian Sibley

The Hobbit - a sort of prequel to The Lord of the Rings - enjoyed great and instant success when it was published, in 1937.

It marked the start of a quest that led to the diminutive hobbit Frodo, being guided through Middle Earth by Gandalf and a fellowship of travellers.

Frodo's task is to destroy the all-powerful ring that the dark lord Sauron covets.


Central to the story is a battle between good and evil; concepts, which Mr Sibley believes, are not abstract, but derived from the author's real life experiences.

He explains: "From the year in which the Hobbit and these little characters appeared, through to when he finished the book, you see the Spanish Civil War, the rise of the totalitarian state, the rise of Fascism which inevitably led to World War II and were played out everyday."

"Those are the things that in his idyllic little peaceful world of Oxford, Tolkien couldn't help but be aware and they are the undercurrent to this story."

 JRR Tolkien
Tolkien died in 1973 at the age of 81

Mr Sibley also notes the importance of Tolkien's own experiences of war in shaping the story.

Recalling the author's claim that he lost almost all of his friends during World War I, Mr Sibley comments: "He himself had fought in the battle of the Somme... The loss of his parents also made him more introspective and that definitely had a hand in the creation of these imaginary languages and realms that he wrote about."

Tolkien today

With a $90million (63.5m) budget and 120 technicians employed to make it, it is little wonder that The Fellowship of the Ring, was eagerly anticipated.

But when the popcorn has been eaten and the hobbit merchandise is no longer fashionable, can Tolkien's tales survive the test of time?

"I see no diminution of this book. Once you have made the journey with Frodo I don't think that you are ever the same again" claims Mr Sibley.

"Its like a ring, a ring goes on forever. It is this little thing that runs around your finger and it has no beginning and has no end.

"In a sense this story has no beginning and has no end and because it began in Tolkien's imagination and it goes on in ours."

Brian Sibley
"Tolkien would have at least approved of this"
See also:

24 Dec 01 | Film
Rings reigns at box office
10 Dec 01 | Film
Actors' joy at Rings trilogy
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