Saturday, April 22, 2006

Gandalf in the Minas Tirith Archives

Whenever a character is depicted in film using an archives, archivists usually have a few choice comments. My favorite example of an archives on film is the scene in The Lord of the Rings when Gandalf the Gray conducts research in the Minas Tirith Archives. The information that Gandalf obtains from the valuable documents he finds there is instrumental to the eventual destruction of evil and of the upmost importance to the story arch.

I saw the film with (non-archivist) friends who laughed at me the moment Gandalf appeared onscreen with his goblet of wine and his lit torch in the private room filled with dusty (of course), unorganized manuscripts. Many might argue that this gives viewers an unrealistic view of archives and how they are run. Archivists struggle daily to try to dispell the myth that archives exist only in dusty attics or that they are made accessible only by elderly men and women wearing cardigans (most archivists do wear cardigans, because it can be cold in archives, but many archivists are quite youthful).

But you know what? Gandalf is a wizard. If he spills wine on the parchment, I'm guessing he can mumble an incantation, point his staff in the right direction, and fix the problem. He can probably just summon documents that he needs - who knows what kind of arrangement and description standards work best if you're magically inclined? Perhaps we archivists need to stop and think carefully about this question.

My (non-archivist) friends wrote this parody after seeing the movie, and I share it here:

The Gondorian Archivist
By Kathy and Maureen
With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien, Peter Jackson, and Ian McKellan

Setting: Minas Tirith, early evening. The camera pans across the city and zooms in on a tall figure bearing a staff, who is making his way up to an imposing-looking building. The figure stops, looking up at the building for a moment, then raps his staff against the tall white doors. There is no response. He raps again. The door opens and a curly head appears.

IA (Grumpily): Honestly, can’t you read? (points to sign on door) The Archives close at 4 o’clock.

Gandalf (steps back and squints at the sign): I come on a matter of utmost urgency. I must insist upon seeing the records of Gondor. Where is Belator? He has helped me before.

IA (purses lips in annoyance): Oh, him. He has been relieved of his duties as Gondorian Archivist. I know what sorts of things he allowed to go on here. I am the new archivist. My name is the Irreverent Archivist.

Gandalf (leaning forward earnestly): Nevertheless, I must insist. I must see the records of Isildur. The fate of many hinges upon my request.

IA (under breath): These researchers, they’re all the same, always a matter of life and death. (at normal volume) I’m afraid the archives are closed, and you will have to come back tomorrow.

Gandalf (steps forward): I fear that, if I do not get to see those records, there may not be a tomorrow.

IA (clearly going through an internal struggle): Well…never let it be said that librarians aren’t flexible people…All right, fine; I suppose I can let you in. Since it’s so important.

She steps back and opens the door. Gandalf enters, taking off his hat. IA goes to a desk and pulls out a roll of parchment and a quill.

IA: You just need to fill out this form (in triplicate) with the documents you are requesting, and they will be brought to you shortly.

Gandalf: Er…I am afraid that will be impossible. You see, I am not entirely sure what I am looking for…

IA (frowning): Well, you see, Mr…

Gandalf: Gandalf the Grey.

IA: …Mr. Gandalf, that is the procedure of this archive. The documents contained here are extremely rare and valuable, and you can understand that we can’t have just anyone rooting through them. It has taken me several months to get things in order, after the way that the previous archivist left them. Forsooth, I am loath to let anyone else touch them.

Gandalf: I was there when many of those documents were written. I was consulting this archive long before you walked this earth, daughter of Man.

IA: Be that as it may, I am the archivist here.

IA turns and begins to walk away.

Gandalf (under breath): Egads, I have met werewolves who were more approachable.

IA (turning quickly): Excuse me? Did you say werewolves? You know werewolves?

Gandalf (taken aback): Why…yes, I have met a few.

IA (leaning forward eagerly): What were they like? Strong and noble? Handsome, yet forlorn, with long flowing locks?

Gandalf (confused): Well…some of them, I suppose.

IA: Have you ever met a werewolf named—

Gandalf: If I could just see the archives…

IA: Oh, yes...of course, follow me.

She leads him through a set of large wooden doors and down a spiral staircase.

Gandalf: I thank you, Irreverent Archivist. I must ask another thing of you. I have a great thirst from my journey hither. Could you perhaps bring me some wine?

IA: What do you think this is, a restaurant? One of those fancy bookstore cafes? I don’t think so, buddy. No liquids near the documents.

Gandalf: Fine then. Just lead me to the documents room.

They continue down the staircase. IA stops at another set of wooden doors and takes a set of keys out of her pocket. She unlocks and opens the doors. They enter the dimly lit room.

Gandalf (looking around): Could I perhaps have a torch? It is rather dark in here.

IA: A torch? Are you mad? ARE YOU A WIZARD OR AREN’T YOU?

Gandalf: Ah, yes, true. (He takes out a crystal and places it in the top of his staff, breathes on it, and a brilliant light fills the room, illuminating the neatly stacked and labeled rolls of parchment along the walls.) Oh…it is...quite different in here.

IA (pleased): Yes, it is much more organized now. Have a seat.

Gandalf (sitting down at a table): I am sure I can find the records I need, if I just look through here. (He pulls out a long pipe and begins to fill it with pipeweed.)

IA: WHAT do you think you’re doing?

Gandalf: Preparing my pipe. I always smoke when I am doing research.

IA: Not in my archive, you don’t.

Gandalf: Irreverent Archivist, I do not think you understand whom you are dealing with—


Gandalf (drops pipe in astonishment): The Force is strong in this one.

IA returns to normal.

Gandalf: My apologies, Irreverent Archivist. You are clearly a figure of great power.

IA (nods in satisfaction, picking up Gandalf’s pipe): And don’t you forget it. You look through these documents and see if you can find what you need. I must warn you, however, that if you want anything from Stack 87, I must extricate it personally. That is a high-security area. If you need me, I will be just upstairs.

Gandalf nods reverently, as to a greater power.

IA (smiling craftily): And when you’re finished, you can come and tell me more about your werewolf friends, and then maybe I will give you this pipe back.

Gandalf nods again, then pulls a roll of parchment to him and begins to unroll it. IA watches him carefully for a few moments, then, satisfied that he will treat her documents properly, goes back upstairs to her office to finish the story she was working on before the wizard so rudely interrupted her.

The End