Reward of the Rings

Millions of hobbit-lovers and elf enthusiasts are being cajoled to advance the frontiers of knowledge by joining an academic study of why The Lord of the Rings is so popular.

Deploying 13 languages on the Internet, researchers from universities in 20 countries are posing a series of questions to fans in an attempt to pin down the attractions of fantasy fiction.

“We’ve taken on a tough task,” said Professor Martin Barker of the department of film at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

“The little bits of research that have been done in this area so far are very unconvincing. To have 20 countries participating is unprecedented and I am just wondering how our computer will cope.”

The questions are targeted exclusively at admirers of JRR Tolkien’s trilogy, including posers such as “where and when is Middle Earth to you?”, which would baffle the un-initiated.
The study is being publicised in almost every country in the world, from China to Colombia, to search out national variations in response to the books and films.

The study was launched in December to coincide with the final part of the film of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which was released in time for Christmas and promptly broke all records.

The United States box-office tally of £19,2-million smashed the previous best set by Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 1999.

Baker said that the story, often presented as an “English myth’’ yet hugely successful when filmed with American money in New Zealand, posed interesting cultural issues. Eastern European fans tended to place Middle Earth in Poland, while South Americans went for remote parts of Paraguay and Brazil.

The year-long research programme will also monitor the lavish media coverage given to the three films.

The academics will not, however, look at the con- trary phenomenon, a condition of extreme aversion to long-haired warriors galloping across impressive landscapes, thought to affect mostly women.

The £40 000 project, funded by the United Kingdom’s Economic and Social Research Council, was triggered by a popular Internet message called eFrodo, which opened to show United States President George W Bush as Sauron, the leader of the forces of darkness, wearing Tolkien’s ring of power.

Baker, who has previously examined responses to the films Judge Dredd, Crash and Being John Malkovich, said: “It was a bit of sardonic fun, a play on words and images, yet it showed how a film fantasy can provide a repertoire for commenting on the world.”

The questionnaire can be found on the website www.lordoftheringsresearch.net. — Â

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