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Gilbert &Amp; Sullivan Do Tolkien
by Whistler

Excerpts from ‘The Elven Maiden’ by Whistler

It is not commonly known that the first dramatic adaptation of The Lord of
the Rings was attempted (and abandoned) in the year 1897. The dramatist
behind this remarkable undertaking was none other than Sir William Gilbert,
whose long partnership with Sir Arthur Sullivan had produced Victorian
England’s most popular works of musical theatre. Sadly, the last
collaboration of the two, The Grand Duke, had won neither public nor
critical acclaim. What to do next? Sullivan turned to grand opera; Gilbert
resolved to try his hand at adapting a literary classic for the musical
stage. Many great books were considered, then rejected. Among these were
Catch-22, The Shining, and Valley of the Dolls. None seemed right for
Gilbert_s distinctive "topsy-turvy" humor.

Tolkien’s masterpiece, at last, provided Gilbert with the spark of
inspiration he needed. True, there would be difficulties in adapting The
Lord of the Rings for a two-act comic operetta, but Gilbert was determined
to tackle the Herculean task. He contacted Sullivan at once, hoping to
persuade the composer to provide original music for the new piece, which he
would entitle "The Elven Maiden."

Sullivan described the idea as "rather silly" and refused to cooperate.
Gilbert pressed on anyway, managing at last to persuade his musical
colleague to allow him the use of previously-published scores. These he used
freely, certain that the brilliance of the libretto would ultimately draw
Sir Arthur back for one more try at renewing the glory days of H. M. S.
Pinafore and The Mikado.

Those days, however, were never to return. Gilbert wrote furiously,
producing in one month enough material to fill eighteen hours of stage time,
even without Tom Bombadil. But how could he trim the piece to a mere two
hours? He couldn’t.

There were other problems. As can be guessed from the title, "The Elven
Maiden," Gilbert had chosen to expand the character of Lady Arwen. He
discovered (too late) that in so doing he had upset the story’s delicate
balance. These and other ‘minor’ changes had reduced the epic tale to a
shadow of itself. Disgusted and beaten, Gilbert tossed his unfinished
libretto into a fireplace, his great career finally over.

Half-burned scraps of that libretto recently surfaced at auction and were
purchased by The Whistler Institute. We have so far recovered the lyrics for
three complete songs among the delicate, crumbling pages. The first among
these is an introductory chorus, sung by the Fellowship, which we believe to
have been written to the music of the Japanese chorus which opens The

If you wonder about this crew,
We’re the Fellowship of the Ring:
We’re impossibly brave and true,
And we’ve plenty of time to sing!

With arrows and ancient swords,
We’re ready for hellish hordes:
We meet ‘em on message boards, oh!

If you’re thinking of Rankin/Bass
Or imagining Willow II,
Then you’re ignorant of the class
Of this marvelous mythic stew:

It isn’t a children’s frolic;
It’s grimmer (at times) than colic;
It is (and it ain’t) symbolic, oh!

The next song, sung by Gollum, also appears to have its origins in The
Mikado. We believe it to be based on the song "Titwillow," from Act Two:

In the deeps of a river, we saw a bright thing:
My precious! My precious, my precious!
And we choked little brother, and seized the One Ring:
(Oh, precious! My precious, my precious!)
And we grew rather nassssty in body and soul
And adopted a dialect eerily droll
While we feasted (at teatime) on rats, gobbled whole:
(Oh, precious! My precious, my precious!)

We hid in the shadows, and from the Red Eye:
(My precious! My precious, my precious!)
And we managed, we did, till the Baggins came by:
(Oh, precious! My precious, my precious!)
And the Baggins told riddles, and started to cheat,
And we tried to spread jam on its broad, furry feet
When it poofed (like a candle) and burgled our sweet:
My precious! My precious, my precious!

Now, we hates all the Bagginses, elder and young:
(My precious! My precious, my precious!)
And we longs for their blood on our little black tongue:
(Oh, precious! My precious, my precious!)
But we can’t never crunch ‘em, however we try:
They’ve reduced us to polygons (precious knows why)
And we’re now an illusion that’s pure CGI:
We hates it! We hates it, my precioussssssss!

Of course, the crowning glory of any Gilbert and Sullivan operetta is the
famous (or infamous) patter song. Sung very quickly, the patter song (if
completed without mistakes) seems almost like a magic trick. It is therefore
appropriate that this one is given to the wizard Gandalf, even if its
original version appears in Act One of The Pirates of Penzance:

I am a wand’ring Istar, which in Middle-earth vernacular
Defines me as a wizard, with a flair for speech oracular:
I’m Olorin and Mithrandir (the titles are euphonious)
Though Hobbits call me Gandalf, which is plain but ain’t erroneous;
I’m splendid in my whiskers, which I’ve tended for millennia;
My grey chapeau is conical, and sports a little zinnia;
I’m chummy with Iluvatar, but here’s an incongruity:
I entertain at parties for a beer and a gratuity!

He entertains at parties for a beer and a gratuity!

My brain’s encyclopedic, and perennially glad o’ facts:
I share ‘em (plus an apple) with my jolly colleague, Shadowfax;
My luxuries are limited to lembas and the lottery;
I’m similar to Merlin, but I’m never Harry Potter-y!

I’m something of a transient, eschewing fluff and frilleries;
I seldom utter "Derry dol!" or other Bombadil-eries,
But may (at a bar mitzvah, or an elven testimonial)
Delight the crowd with phrases like, A Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
I’ve striven with the Evil One who sank the Numenorians
Without the aid of Lucas and his little midichlorians;
I’ve sent his minions packing, though their visages are terrible:
The Balrog is a bully, but the Bakshi is unbear-ible!

The Balrog is a bully, but the Bakshi is unbear-ible!

I’m gentle as a hobbit, though my temper is Vesuvial;
I shared a box of toffee, once, with Luthien Tinuviel;
I tutored Lady Arwen in the skills of heroes mythical:
Her fighting’s fair-to-middling, but her mind is Aerosmith-ical!

I do a little juggling, and a little troll ventriloquy;
I’m handy with a ballad, incantation or soliloquy;
I suffer Tooks and Brandybucks, ignoring their buffoonery,
And thank the One they aren’t mass-produced in a cocoonery;
I trot to spots a yuppie couldn’t drive his new Suburban to
And visit elven princes, whom I introduced the turban to:
And that’s the fashion statement which (though all are fond of finery)
Distinguishes the Gucci ones from those in Calvin Klein-ery!

Distinguishes the Gucci ones from those in Calvin Klein-ery!

To dramatize my present quest would leave a feller panicky
Unless he’s lost his marbles, and his budget is Titanic-y:
But if he undertakes the tale, and proves himself a friend of it,
My blessing (and the Megabucks) will greet him at the end of it!

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