Russian novel retells “The Lord of the Rings” from the bad guys’ POV

The Last Ring-bearerFifteen years ago, Russian paleontologist Kirill Yeskov decided to rewrite Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” for fun. His new version, “The Last Ring-bearer,” assumes that the original story of the Ring of Power is actually a retelling of a major war as written by the victors — and as with human history, the vanquished were painted with a more villainous brush than they deserved. You can’t find it in any U.S. bookstores, but you can download the ebook for free.

I haven’t read it yet, but Laura Miller at Salon says “The Last Ring-bearer” is presented as “the more complicated and less sentimental true story” of the fall of Mordor. It has “the wizard Gandalf [as] a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies.” The elves ally with Gandalf because they want to take over Middle-earth and remake it in the image of their homeland. And Mordor is a land of science and technology, led by a ruler who wants to replace ancient magic with modern enlightenment.

Although that comes across a little like Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked” in concept, the hero of “The Last Ring-bearer” isn’t Sauron — who remains off-stage for the most part — but a pair of men sent to find and destroy a powerful elvish weapon.

Yeskov writes that “The Last Ring-bearer” was intended for “a very specific audience” of Tolkien fans who both love the epic fantasy and love to tinker with it, pick it apart, and argue about its flaws:

Briefly, I was attracted by a logical challenge to come up with a consistent explanation for several obvious contradictions in the image of Middle Earth that the Professor painted, demonstrating thereby that those contradictions are not real.

Looking for a place for ‘The Last Ring-bearer’ in the long row of literary apocrypha, I dare place it next to my personal favorite Rozenkrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead (the movie, not the play). An exquisitely paradoxical post-modern game Tom Stoppard played against the Shakespearean backdrop is precisely the relationship with the source Text that I sought to accomplish. Whether I have succeeded is for readers to judge.

This may sound like the world’s biggest work of fanfic, and Yeskov admits that he’s not a professional author and that he wrote the book for his own amusement. But that doesn’t mean it’s amateur; it was published commercially in Russia in 1999 and has achieved enough acclaim and popularity to have since been translated into other languages. Just not English, for fear of lawsuits from the flaming eyeball of Tolkien’s estate.

But readers always find a way, and now a fan named Yisroel Markov has translated the work into English and, with Yeskov’s editing and blessing, made available a noncommercial version.

Update: Some of the links below no longer work. Check out this page for more current epub and mobi downloads.

The translation is in PDF format, but fortunately someone has converted it into a .mobi file, which will work on the Kindle. And of course, someone else took that version and created an .epub file, which will work on the Nook and Kobo.

According to commenters on the .mobi conversion site, the file is missing some diacritical marks, but otherwise it’s quite readable. (“Much better than the raw PDF,” notes one commenter.)

“The Last Ring-bearer” page [ymarkov.livejournal.com]

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