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Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Flat Satire, 17 May 2013
This review is from: Hordes of the Things (BBC Audio) (Audio CD)
In 1981 the BBC presented a wonderful adaptation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, voted in many polls as the greatest novel of the twentieth century (to the disgust of many critics) with an amazing all-star cast.

The year before, the BBC presented a satire of THE LORD OF THE RINGS called HORDES OF THE THINGS. Its authors were Andrew Marshall, half the writing team of the satiric classic radio series "The Burkiss Way"; and John Lloyd, who had co-written a couple of the funniest [IMHO] episodes of radio's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (Which went on to become a publishing phenomenon, with Lloyd's inclusions excluded from the books, whether because of rights reasons or Douglas Adam's humongous ego).

So the writing talent of HOARDS OF THE THINGS had an excellent pedigree. And while LORD OF THE RINGS has always been popular, in the late '70s it was really hitting its stride as a classic and as an inspiration for a growing genre. It was ripe for satire.

Unfortunately, satirizing THE LORD OF THE RINGS is kind of like satirizing James Bond movies. It's hard to do well because the subject of the satire itself knowingly skirts the ridiculous. Furthermore, the best satire has some respect for the original subject matter, otherwise it becomes nothing more than hate-mongering. A successful satire doesn't just sling mud, its strives to become its own creation as well. That's why the novels like COLD COMFORT FARM and NORTHANGER ABBEY make good reads in the twenty-first century when some of their targets (including and especially Mary Webb for FARM and the gothic novels preceding ABEEY) survive only as footnotes.

I don't know whether Andrew Marshall had any respect for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but HORDES OF THE THINGS comes off more as mockery than satire. And it has several other flaws that are possibly unavoidable.

First, J.R.R. Tolkien was a philologist. Words are not just arbitrary sounds whose meaning we agree to in a tacit language conspiracy. Words not only have meanings, they have derivations and connotations. Even when they may change gradually over time, words come from someplace. Tolkien constructed Middle-Earth and its tales as a home for a language he developed, as only a philologist could. This is a failing of HOARDS -- as well as many modern fantasy novels that attempt to doggedly follow in Tolkien's footsteps: not being written by philologists, they fall back on making up arbitrary sounds for names and places. It may be very pretty, but it sounds phoney. )

Most of what humor exists in HORDES comes from its catalog of silly-sounding names and places. Otherwise, for long stretches, HORDES commits the only crime of comedy: viz., it isn't funny. It sounds like there's a wicked satire hidden somewhere in its heart that wants to burst free, but it doesn't know how.

On the plus side, HORDES has a pretty good cast, if not as stellar as the cast of 1981's LORD: Simon Callow (apparently trying to sound like Brian Blessed), Frank Middlemass, Miriam Margolyes, Paul Eddington (doing a version of his "Yes, Minister" schtick). Patrick Magee admirably performs the dark narration.

If you're a Tolkien fan (or an aspiring comedy writer) you might enjoy hearing an attempt at satire gone very wrong. If you hate Tolkien you might enjoy hearing Marshall and Lloyd's attempt at pounding him into the ground. However, I doubt either group would care to hear the show more than once (and I can't imagine anyone else having any interest in it at all) so it's hardly worth buying. Wait until it pops up on its regular repeat schedule on BBC radio.
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