This post is part of the Battle of the Five Blogs, or six blogs to be precise. It is a throw-down of various Tolkien bloggers who are thinking about the release of the final installment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Other bloggers in this series are Kat Sas, James Moffett, Sørina Higgins, Crystal Hurd, and Matthew Rettino. Follow the links to check out their reviews, recaps, and rants. We encourage comments and links to your own reviews, recaps, and rants.
The Hobbit as Living Text
There is a curious thing that happens to C.S. Lewis’ writing: He made friends.
I think that most true J.R.R. Tolkien fans are going to hate The Hobbit: The Battle of 5 Armies, the newest and last installment of Peter Jackson’s series. Some of those fans detested the Lord of the Rings trilogy on film, while I loved them. I lack the technical, absolutely precise knowledge of the massive myth project that are the books that make up The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and the dozen or so other books that tell us about the History of Middle Earth. The second language in my home is not Quenya or Entish, and I haven’t tracked the number of new moons that pass in Frodo’s long journey to Mordor.
I loved the LOTR films. And though there are moments that make you wince in The Hobbit trilogy—poor computer imaging, characters bent out of narrative shape, unclear lusts and motivations, uneven storytelling, genre confusion, and a general lack of Hobbitishness—I have quite enjoyed the films, as films. I went last night to The Battle of 5 Armies and had a great night out with friends.
But even I, who am willing to throw myself into the adaptation projected on screen, felt uncomfortable at times with how Jackson seems to bend what is to me a pretty straight story.
And yet…. And yet… I want to suggest that Jackson’s bending of Tolkien, and my discomfort with it, and the 100s of angry reviews online are all part of the tale.
Let me explain why.
In the 1930s, Tolkien and Lewis were good friends and literary allies on campus. Dissatisfied with the adventure stories of contemporary fiction, they dared each other to write a story they’d privately love. Tolkien drew the “Time Travel” straw and never finished the tale. Lewis drew “Space Travel” and very quickly had a Science Fiction novel in print (with Tolkien’s help). Lewis followed this original H.G. Wells-like space journey with his own failed Time Travel novel and the rest of the Ransom Cycle.
Though Tolkien had never completed a Time Travel story, he did publish The Hobbit (with Lewis’ help), and became an international superstar. He quickly began working on “the New Hobbit,” hoping he’d have more hobbits for the public in a year or two. Seventeen years later The Fellowship of the Ring was published. During that time the world of The Hobbit grew into the complex Middle Earth legendarium we all know and love.
Anyone who reads the last Ransom book, That Hideous Strength (1945), is surprised by the discovery of Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the Preface of Lewis’ contemporary apocalyptic SciFi novel:
“Those who would like to learn further about Numinor and the True West must (alas!) await the publication of much that still exists only in the MSS. of my friend, Professor J.R.R. Tolkien.”
Lewis and Tolkien both thought that LOTR was on its way to completion at this time. Although it was a still a decade more until publication, Tolkien was reading chapters at meetings of the Inklings, which explains why Lewis spelled Númenor wrong—he had only ever heard it aloud. Over the years, Tolkien’s Middle Earth universe become more and more complex and intricate, and Lewis recognized that it formed a new mythology for England, one set in pre-civilizational ages.
Some Tolkien fans may dislike Lewis’ handling of Núminor in That Hideous Strength. But Lewis’ instinctive use of the “New Hobbit” mythic framework shows us what is true about The Hobbit and all of Tolkien’s subcreated world: it is a living text.
Even though it was published almost 80 years ago, The Hobbit is not a sealed text, closed and unified and segmented off from all other literature. It is still alive and moving in key ways.
For example, when Tolkien discovered the depth of the world behind The Hobbit, he edited the actual text of his little fairy tale. What you and I typically read is not what was first published. As far as I can tell, Tolkien never really saw The Hobbit as finished. It is especially so with The Silmarillion. There is not just one Silmarillion, but several editions that were never finished in Tolkien’s mind. The edition edited by Christopher Tolkien (with help from Guy Gavriel Kay) is the one he selected to be most helpful and complete. In fact, Christopher Tolkien’s work on dozens of incomplete manuscripts shows the living and adaptive nature of the text. J.R.R. Tolkien is not the only author of his books.
As Diana Pavlac Glyer tells us, Tolkien relied on feedback and even editing from his friends in the Inklings, including C.S. Lewis. The idea of “authorship” grows wider and wider, doesn’t it? Publishers shaped the text, and Tolkien added drawings and maps to aid the reader. Eventually Tolkien would publish prefaces and appendices to go with LOTR—a book for which there was never a fully definitive text.
The text grows even more as Tolkien gave interviews and answered letters, augmenting our understanding of his mythology. There were audiobook recordings—dramatizations that offered a new interpretation—music written for the poetry, and artistic impressions. Clubs formed, societies of Tolkien fans and experts developed, and newsletters transformed into conferences and blogs.
And then there is the Middle Earth Effect: a generation of writers who, for better or worse, make their way along the fantasy wood-path that Tolkien struck in the wilderness. C.S. Lewis was among the first to do so, but there is little high fantasy that does not owe its imaginative possibilities to Tolkien. Add role playing games, and screenplays in the dustbin or top drawers of aspiring writers, and off-broadway performances, and ComicCon rap battles, and late night games of Golfimbul at MythCon….
These are all part of the living “text” of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.
So, now to Jackson.
It is clear that Jackson has diverged greatly from the little fairy tale called The Hobbit. For one, he has brought in other elements from the History and The Silmarillion, adding new storytelling possibilities that I quite liked. For another, Jackson loops together the LOTR Film Trilogy with The Hobbit Trilogy by bookending the three Hobbit films with references back (ahead) to LOTR film #1. Jackson supressed some aspects—friends of mine have noted how Beorn is minimized in the battle, and the chapters after the Battle of 5 or 6 Armies are left behind—and he draws out new themes.
No matter how greatly Jackson has diverged, the reality is that the 6 Middle Earth films by New Line Cinema are part of the story, part of the “text.” The music, the characters, the landscapes, the rabbit trails and frayed threads of Jackson’s films have changed forever the way that I read.
They are part of the living text.
And so is this blog, and the other bloggers that make up this magnanimous and self-effacing Battle of 5 (or 6) Blogs. We are shaping the text as we speak.
So, no, I don’t think Peter Jackson created a particularly faithful Hobbit. I wish he called me and floated some of his ideas. But he made good films—films that I will watch over and over again, films that I will show my son as I pass The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings on to him.
Because that’s part of the living text too: reading books aloud in a warm chair, sitting on the couch with the screen flickering before us, and lining up at Christmas time this one last time to see how the unending tale that is The Hobbit finally ends.
Wow. You’re so smart!
Under the Mercy, Sørina Higgins http://www.SorinaHiggins.com
Well… I am something!
Of course, my movie review didn’t make it into Christianity Today! (note, for those who may not pick it up, I’m implying that Sorina’s did)
was hoping to read comments at CT…but finding no comments there…. true?
Just pop over to Sorina’s site to comment. Because of trolls CT may not host comments.
Well, frankly, she wrote a better review. You, true-to-form, delved in-depth into an absolutely crucial aspect of the story – its “living-text-ness” – but Sorina addressed the movie in a very rounded, multi-faceted way. If CT did a piece about the cultural relevance of Christianity & Bible, and society’s interaction with material that shapes us, this would set the tone nicely.
True, true. Though I see now I didn’t really write a review, did I? I am rewatching tomorrow and may review it. I don’t know.
What’s your thoughts on The Battle of 5 or 6 Armies?
Reblogged this on The Oddest Inkling.
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Brenton, I enjoyed this so much that I put an excerpt on “FellowshipoftheMinds.com.” As the name implies, some of us are big fans of Tolkien. Please let me know if you object, and I will take it down. http://fellowshipoftheminds.com/2014/12/21/concerning-hobbits-authors-critics-and-fans/
I’m very pleased to be included. Tolkien Fans are a one-of-a-kind breed, with knowledge I may never acquire. I would love to be counted among that fellowship in link form!
😀 I’ll speak to the administrator. I’m the CS Lewis fan in the bunch, but as you know, the distance between Tolkien and Lewis is very small.
I’m pretty sure you ARE a Tolkien fan. Just because you aren’t hard-core crazy like some of us, doesn’t mean you don’t wear the mark. 😉
After all, I’m a Lewis fan, I’m just not as deep in that water as you are.
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I am marked!
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This was well received way out here in God’s Own Ozarks where I stay!.
Well, that’s very good to know!
I do know know the Ozarks. I did a conference once at Ozark Christian College, and it snowed an inch and they cancelled school and all the students went sledding.
You make some good points, for sure. (No, I haven’t seen it yet. Trying to get up the courage 😉
To some extent, I agree. It’s one thing to create a new story in the vein of Tolkien, with its own points and purposes, or to create critiques or essays or explore new angles on his stories. The world, the myth, is far bigger than its creator, and there is enough room in it for us all to explore… that’s one of the things that makes it so compelling. It something else to claim legitimacy as an “adaption” while ignoring or even defying the central theme of the work in question. That’s why I’m in such a perpetual huff, not over the making of the films, but of their naming.
I’ll probably watch the movies with my nephew once he’s old enough to handle/enjoy them, but I’ll probably also try to talk to him about the differences between the stories, and why those differences are so darned important. There’re too few “Hobbit tales” in the word, and these films, sadly, don’t seem to add to the number. (the LotR films, however, did, and for that I’d still like to hug Jackson and his team).
I think I’d actually be more than happy to watch Jackson create films in Middle Earth that are his whole-cloth, exploring aspects of the world that Tolkien left in shadow. Of course, that is provided he and his team could do a better job of creating a coherent, well-paced story than they did in this last trilogy. I love tramping about in Middle Earth (obviously).
Also… I wish I could speak Entish. Sadly, I think it’s one that Tolkien didn’t fully invent. I wonder if someone else has, though? I’ve no gift for languages, but for Entish or, of course, Khuzdul, I’d try my darndest.
Merry Christmas, Brenton, to you and yours!
The thought that struck me in reading Brenton’s piece was that Tolkien created something that allows others to dialogue with and also to alter. Tolkien would recognise this, I hope, in a way with which his family seem to have more difficulty, sadly. In the Middle Ages the great myths, Arthur, The Grail, The Nibelungs etc. were reshaped by every writer or story teller. They seemed to have little respect for the notion of canon! In our own time those reshapings will include films like Jackson’s or video games. I simply reserve the right to like or not to like them and to want the reshapings to be as true as possible to Tolkien’s original inspiration. Others will, of course, disagree with me and so the great world shaping conversation will continue.
On learning Entish, I came across this in Bruce Stanley’s “Forest Church” the other day that seems relevant and even to offer some hope. He speaks of finding a hidden forest canyon and being “aware of the attraction and pull we can feel at a deep soul level towards elements of the natural world. The exploration of that attraction can become a dialogue, and odd as it might seem, these conversations, with an element of nature…can be illuminating, surprising and enriching. I had a conversation with the hidden canyon, after I’d recovered from the Awe of the place- in my conversation it seemed polite to mostly listen, what it had to say was very slow and deep as it was- I think I’m still waiting for it to finish its first sentence.” (!)
A Merry Christmas to you as well!
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True, indeed. Tolkien set out to make a mythology, and he’s one of, or maybe even the only to date, modern writer that did so effectively. Quite a thing to chew on!
Ach, I feel that way about the Smokies, and some places in Tennessee. The land does talk, I am sure. It makes the idea of stones crying out quite believable. It’s a quiet kind of speech, and slow like Entish. ^_^
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Wow, that’s pretty amazing!
Wonderful post – even though I’m less of a fan of this Hobbit adaptation (oh Peter Jackson, why?), I think you’re so right about living texts. It’s what makes myths and folktales so rich and evocative. Strict canonization stunts the life of a story, and it’s worth the risk that someone might use a story badly to get that richness.
People do use stories badly, whether we want them to or not!
There are three kinds of disappointment with Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy:
1. It isn’t as good as his LOTR.
2. It twists Tolkien.
3. It is an okay film in many ways, but is lacking because of X.
My complaint is all three.
And yet I will enjoy it anyway.
I appreciate the reblog!
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A wonderful post on the risks and rewards on treating stories as living things.
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Reblogged this on Confessions of a Geek Queen and commented:
Part of the Battle of the Five Blogs Hobbit special series, which I am following.
I think I want Jackson, if he can get a good, tightly-written script, funding, and permission from the jealous Tolkien estate, to do Middle Earth movies centered around stories Tolkien either didn’t explore, or which were left un-detailed. Haleth, perhaps? http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Haleth or the Akallabêth, http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Akallab%C3%AAth ? Or perhaps a tale of the rangers before the Return of the King, or… I may be the only one who wants this, some tale of the Dwarves at the height of their civilization, maybe the fall of Moria? There are many possibilities.
You should write him a note!
I bet that he is absolutely exhausted of Hobbits and Elves right now. But there may come a time when telling a new story is a good idea.
But the story has to be winsome. Who wins at the fall of Moria?
Thaaaat would be the balrog. 😉
Downer ending, in a way, but if done right it would have that thread of hope and beauty mixed with sorrow that is one of Tolkien’s hallmarks. Yes, the Longbeards have lost their greatest kingdom, but not all is lost. After all… “…still the sunken stars appear in dark and windless Mirrormere. There lies his crown, in water deep, ’till Durin wakes, again, from sleep.” 😛
The theme of lost home that Jackson works to bring out of The Hobbit, has it’s roots in Khazad-dum. That is the true home of Durin’s folk, and all their other kingdoms are echoes, memories to keep them going until the day they can truly return. I always wondered, after Gandalf defeated the balrog of Moria, if it marked the beginning of the end of the Long Dark of Durin’s kinddom.
congratulations. I wasn’t planning on waxing lyrical about Dwarves today, but you knew I just couldn’t help myself, didn’t you? 😉
It’s a good Dwarf-lyric waxing sort of day, I guess.
What about the lonesome, home-some stories of loss wrapped into another story of victory (or redemption)?
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Every day is. ^_^
The question would be, what story? Perhaps the taking of the Lonely Mountain and the discovery of its glowing heart, and the forging of a relationship, and in a way, finding a home among, the men of Dale?
Excellent article—I’ve really appreciated reading both your and Crystal Hurd’s viewpoint on the latest Hobbit movie; I’ve been following the discussion surrounding Peter Jackson’s treatment of Middle-Earth and the blogging seems to fall into two distinct categories: either blind devotees of the films or blind Tolkien purists who despise the movies. It’s been so refreshing to come upon viewpoints that land smack-dab in the middle; reviews and or essays that acknowledge the many problems with the films but also note that the movies work as sheer entertainment that offer brief glimpses into the mind of a great writer; I understand the dismay that a lot of Tolkien purists feel: it’s always stuck in my craw that nine of the thirteen dwarves in the Hobbit movies absolutely do not resemble Middle-Earth dwarves in any way, shape, or form. This is especially disappointing considering that Jackson in the LOTR got it right in the character of Gimli—big nose, long beard, bushy eyebrows, an awkward physicality—Middle-Earth dwarves are not sex symbols, they do not move like elves, men, or even hobbits, they do not have five o’clock shadows or wear ridiculous hats or corn rows in their hair. No mistake about it—the Hobbit trilogy was all about milking the LOTR success. But that’s okay. Big, glossy movies spark interest—older fans will re-read Tolkien, younger fans will read the books and possibly move on to more fantasy literature: C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, George Williams, etc, etc. And Jackson found better actors for the Hobbit movies; Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott (Balin), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Sylvester McCoy (Radagast). And think of some of those actors in LOTR: Martin Freeman as Frodo, Richard Armitage as Aragorn. Richard Armitage was all wrong as Thorin, but his intensity and depth would have been so right for Aragorn. But I digress—thank you for your sane and interesting blog.
I’m glad you caught on to our conversation and added your own voice. “Sanity” is not a bad trait from time to time!
There is lots to be disappointed about. But perhaps I get tired of only disappointment and threw myself into the films.
“Sanity” can ban OK place to visit –but I wouldn’t want to live there!
My kid loves Owl City!
I will say this. While I don’t approve of the “hot Dwarf” phenomenon in the “Hobbit” films, and the whole concept of the “love triangle” gives me a migraine, I do like the fact that they put some thought and variety into their characterization and design. They realized that they couldn’t just stick ye-olde-fantasy-dwarf stand-ins for all 13 of them.
Gimli, in LotR… they absolutely murdered his character. His appearance may be more in line with Tolkien’s Dwarves, but he’s reduced to your stereotypical “fantasy Dwarf” comedic relief, losing all of the subtlety and power Tolkien gave him. As he is one of my favorite characters, it hurt me to see that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the LotR films, on the whole, and am pretty fed up with the “Hobbit” movies, but as far as the Dwarves go, I’d say the latter does better by them. 😉
“Dwarves are natural sprinters…” I thought Gimli came together in the battle scenes, but I see what you mean.
I liked Balin.
Oh, he’s very entertaining, (Nobody tosses a Dwarf!), he’s just not himself. The telling scene, for me, was when he came to Balin’s tomb in Moria. In the film, he gives the cliche howl of warrior-race rage and over-the-top-grief. In the book, he casts his hood over his face and is silent, presumably so that the others don’t see his tears. And when the time comes to retreat, Legolas has to drag him from the tomb where he is lingering, head bowed. His poetic bent is missing from the films, too, which is a shame. The films did get that edge of dark humor right, though, which shows up well in the battle scenes. “He was twitching ’cause he’s got my axe embedded in his nervous system!”
I love Balin and Bofur a great deal, and actually Armitage’s Thorin, for though he’s too pretty, he’s one heck of an actor. 🙂
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It’s odd that Aragorn is mentioned at the end of the Hobbit trilogy, as he would not even have been born at that stage. Sometimes making the six films tie together leads to errors like that.
I think Jubilare worked Aragorn out to about 10 years old at the close of the Hobbit, so it is pretty absurd!
Did I? How very clever of me! I don’t recall doing it, but then my brain is not all that reliable. I went and prodded the Tolkien Gateway, though, and it confirmed that Thorin and co left the Shire in TA 2941, and Aragorn was born in TA 2931, so yes! He would have been ten at the start of The Hobbit, so maybe 11 or 12 by the end? Awwwwww ^_^
Well, I’m either some empath, or you said it! I don’t know the chronology well, so I suspect it was you.
Either way, Legolas hunting down a preteen is kind of funny.
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It certainly is! Poor wee Aragorn.
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What is your take on Tauriel?
Great question. I think many will be disappointed when I say that I quite liked this element. Evangeline Lilly is quite engaging, and as elfish as the others cast by Jackson. In the podcast on Monday–or maybe it will be part 2, next Monday–I’m less cynical than many.
I love the elf-ninja element! I’m not a big fan of the elf-dwarf love tension. Why can’t friendship be engaging on film–and no less difficult?
What are your thoughts?
I like her character, but I don’t like how they used her character. There are lines that you don’t cross. The elf/dwarf line is one of them. I don’t care if he’s hot, it is creepy. The reason I am so ticked is that I know why they did it. They inserted a completely unnecessary romantic subplot in order to draw in non-geeky women. That situation irks me greatly.
And, apparently, Evangeline Lilly had specifically requested, before she came on board for the film, that her character wouldn’t be embroiled in a love-triangle… and one wasn’t planned, but the studio-execs, who apparently believe that viewers won’t watch a movie that doesn’t have one, insisted on adding it. No wonder it doesn’t fit in with the story!
I never knew that. My respect for her just went up.
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See below, but I like the “non-geeky women” category!
I could have gotten behind a friendship angle. I think that could have been really interesting and touching. But the romance angle was just… awkward, at best.
I talk about the friendship vs. love thing in the 2nd podcast (I think, and if it made the cut). That will be out Monday.
Why does everything have to be a love story?
And yet, that sort of thing keeps creeping into my fiction.
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I hope I get the chance to listen soon!
I like a good romantic love story. What I don’t like is seeing a love story shoe-horned in to give “interest.” I don’t like being treated as if romantic love is the only kind I will understand. I don’t like culture under-representing other kinds of relationships and loves. Does that make sense?
So, I don’t think having romance in a story is a bad thing. Quite the opposite, provided the love story works on its own merits. And I am always thrilled when I see a good non-romantic love-story represented.
What are some great non-romantic love stories?
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Rat, Mole and Toad in Wind and the Willows…
Tolkien has a lot: Sam and Frodo, and Legolas and Gimli, Maedhros and Fingon, Theoden/Eowyn/Eomer. Even the tragic love story of Faramir and Denethor… oh, that one hurts!
Curdie and Lina in The Princess and Curdie. Doyle’s Watson and Holmes. Most of the relationships in the Anne of Green Gables books. Elizabeth and Jane from Pride and Prejudice. Marcus and Esca in Eagle of the Ninth, pretty much all of the good rabbits in Watership Down, David and Johnathan, if you want to go Biblical. 😉
Inigo Montoya and Fezzik! Anna and Elsa, in Frozen. Tigh and Papa-Adama from the new Battlestar Galactica (happy sigh), Fraser and Ray from Due South, Walter and Peter from Fringe, O’Brien and Bashir in Deep Space 9, Zoe and Mal from Firefly, Han and Chewbacca from Star Wars, and, for that matter, Luke and Vader, Oh! Merida and Elinor is an excellent one, and rare because, for some reason, mother-daughter relationships are extremely under-represented in fiction. (if anyone doubts my nerd-cred, feel free to show them this list…)
For some reason, either female relationships are majorly unrepresented, or I don’t watch-read the right stuff, but this is just a short list. Few stories I know specifically set out to tell these kinds of love-stories, but many of the best stories seem to contain them. 🙂
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Come to think of it, pretty much all Pixar movies are primarily platonic love-stories. Maybe that’s why I love them so much!
What an awesome list! I concur, though many fit into fantasy or children’s literature. And I think writers on page do this better than filmsmiths.
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That’s probably because that’s what I mostly consume. 😉
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Somehow, our film industries are a bit more formula-minded than our book industry… perhaps because it costs more to produce a film?
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There is a great C.S. Lewis quote that I think is relevant here. “Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important.”
That’s where I was headed, Lauren, but you managed a great quote to seal it up. I think film in general goes the easy route in showing only eros love as primary. Even the show “Friends” is driven by a web of eros.
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Don’t even get me started. I have an entire rant prepared for this, but I will spare you.
You are welcome to rant! I.e., you could do the blog that’s been teasing my imagination. I try to host a guest every couple of weeks. Jubilare has been featured and has her own rather remarkable blog.
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I would love to be a guest if you want me.
Just send me an email to junkola [at] gmail [dot] com.
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On the subject of Tauriel, I think if Jackson had portrayed her relationship with Kili (or was it Fili? I haven’t seen the movies so I don’t know) as a friendship, it would have made Legolas’s friendship with Gimli less unusual. How many Elves befriending Dwarves can we have in these movies after all? And yet by portraying it as a romance, something is taken away from Gimli’s chaste love for Galadriel.
Then again, I don’t recall much time being spent on those themes in Jackson’s movies. But it’s been ages since I’ve watched any of them, and I never did see the extended versions.
On the broader subject of living texts, I’m not sure I agree that the Jacksonian corpus is part of the “living text” of Middle-earth stories. Admittedly, I’ve only seen Fellowship and The Two Towers (as well as some parts of The Return of the King), but I could not escape the feeling that Jackson doesn’t really “get” Tolkien. That’s not to say his movies aren’t enjoyable — they are, in a way — but they are not really enjoyable as adaptations. I don’t think his movies are part of the “living text” of Middle-earth any more than The Last Temptation of Christ is part of the living text of Holy Scripture.
The point about Tauriel re: Elf friendship is quite a good one. I think the Elf-Dwarf love pattern is doomed for both of the reasons you give. I just think friendship can be powerful, and filmmakers miss it.
On Jackson “getting” Tolkien, it depends what you mean. Jackson is clearly a lover of Tolkien’s work, someone who would love to live in that world and desires to paint it. I’m just not sure that purer Tolkien fans would be content with anyone translating the work to screen.
It is a great parallel–a challenging one. I’ve left this window open for quite a while trying to figure out how to answer.
But, yes, the Last Temptation is part of the living text. When I stand before students to teach New Testament, they each bring a text to the text. So the living text includes a religious grandmother, ch. 7 of Dawkins’ “God Delusion,” The Simpons, some BBC special, Amy Grant album covers, Johnny Cash, gold necklaces, Westboro Baptist Church, the Jesus film, a kids Bible they had growing up, and the Last Temptation of Christ. Either the text is living or it is not: Bad readings are part of the life movement, as well as good ones.
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Because our society has become far more visually oriented, most readers now turn to texts seeking fidelity to the story they have first witnessed on the screen, but with the greater depth and complexity that only literature can provide; if the original book is significantly different from the film, they reject the book and usually influence others to do so as well. For this reason, every time a film severely changes a storyline and/or theme or mood, it vandalizes, effaces, in some cases obliterates the original literary text.
Despite your alleged respect for the Inklings and for the spiritual aspects of their writings, you defend Jackson’s aggressive contempt for the spiritual message of the Hobbit and his puerile antics with the dwarves while simultaneously insulting anyone who dares to dislike the movie trilogy and its by-the-numbers glorification of machismo, rudeness, bullying, and swagger.
This is not a purist writing nor a cinemaphile but simply someone tired of watching Hollywood ferret out original works only to excise all the originality and then revise them to fit the most simplistic and self-congratulatory of stereotypes — and even more tired of reading bloggers who then defend them as though they had lost the power to expect better in their lives and intend to ensure vindictively all their readers lose the power as well. To like even the most wretched of films is at worst a sign of poor taste; but to defend it from all criticism so vapidly is inexcusable.
I’m surprised you didn’t follow this up with defending the infamous pornographic version of the Gospels, for doing so would fit right in with your defense.
After reading this review, I am unsubscribing to your blog. I can no longer trust or respect your judgement — or you as a human being.
I appreciate your response–a response with some heat in it, I think. You may be right, but I would like to make a few distinctions.
You start with a certain kind of reader: Movie –> Book Reader. I am of the generation where I have been both a Movie –> Book Reader and a Book –> Movie Reader, so have experienced both. With my own son, when a book is a classic or strong or living book, we require the Book first.
Of the Movie –> Book Reader, there is a class of them who judge the book against the film. I did this, for example, with “Watership Down,” having loved the film. Likewise, I thought the “Bridge to Terebithia” film and book each had different kinds of value. But most books are, in my mind, stronger for stronger reasons. “Pride and Prejudice” was that for me. But even with a first or strong film viewing, I don’t negatively view the book.
So, of the subset of Movie –> Book Reader who are judgers, there are influencers, who disparage the book and cause others to do so as well.
But aren’t we talking about Bad Readers (or Bad Film Watchers)? If LOTR in Print is greater than the Films, then haven’t they missed something? So why should we even consider them when talking about the relationship of the film to book?
No, I think the original book remains in tact, and if it is capital-G “Good,” then Good Readers will find it. I does not matter to me if there are many of them.
“Alleged” is a spicy word, and you use it properly (unlike the media). I won’t defend my respect, because I think you have a standard that goes this way: Peter Jackson butchered LOTR & Hobbit in film; this is a display of disrespect. The disrespect could be his, or the person who likes Jackson’s work.
Let’s look at the element you mention, spirituality. I argued in the podcast at All About Jack that I don’t think that Jackson had aggressive contempt, but a simple inability to plumb the depths of Tolkien’s worldview. In fact, Jackson does not understand even how deep those valleys go in Tolkien. I think he would be surprised to know that some of these elements come out as pale or wan. He probably views Tolkien’s Christianity as “an important part of his life,” or his “religion,” or even “part of the energy of the book but not essential to it.” If so, Jackson would be wrong. That’s why the films are anemic compared with the books in their grand vision for the universe.
I don’t know if he disparages people who don’t like the film. It’s his work of art; perhaps he’s just lame and defensive.
When it comes down to it, I loved the LOTR films and liked aspects of the Hobbit films. Some parts of LOTR films are good. I think the landscape captures much of what Tolkien tried so hard to describe. I think the military interpretations are clever. I was reading the flash of lightening at Helm’s deep in Two Towers to my son last night, and the see of Orcs was well done. The relationship of Gimli and Legolas works. I think that Gandalf and Aragorn are captured well. Some things are better. I think the pacing between the 3 storylines of Two Towers, for example, is better on film than in the book. The technical level of warfare is really high in the book, and less accessible. And the film uses simple costume choices and accents to set out the minor characters, given them pathos when they are sometimes lost in the story.
Mostly, though, the LOTR films cannot compare to the books. The depth, the vision, the grandeur, and the instilled hope are missing–or at least lacking.
I appreciate your weariness with this world, but it is not a conspiracy (on my part). I like things, and talk about the things I like. I offer criticism, but rarely read/watch things that I find patently bad (or wretched). Perhaps you are right about my taste in films, that it is wretched. But I do fall into C.S. Lewis’ category of a Good Reader in “Experiment of Criticism”: I rewatch the film often, it stays with me over years or decades, I talk about it, I share it, and I experience joy, wonder, curiosity, and artistic inspiration. In this vein, I think the LOTR films are great, and the Hobbit films as films are pretty good. I think that changing the Hobbit fairy tale to Hobbit epic is a category mistake that will always limit its success.
I think you describe the Hollywood trend pretty well, and I’ve talked about being “Tired of Tropes” on this blog. Hollywood is in a cherry-picking mode. I hope for more “Lars and the Real Girl” or “Inception” or Coen Brothers originality in the future. We’ll see.
Finally, on Living Text, you may have misunderstood me, or I may have misspoken. I don’t mean to say that every part of the Living Text is a good part. Nor is everyone’s text the same. The LOTR films began in me a love for Tolkien that didn’t happen as a child. They are better than, for example, the Narnia films, which I find pretty bad. But both of these add to our experience, they are part of the reception history and shape our experience of the original texts. Peter Jackson is a major contributor to the Living Text of the Hobbit.
Is he a good addition? You and I disagree here.
By Porn Gospels, do you mean real Porn or the Last Temptation of Christ? I haven’t seen the Porn version of gospel stories, but yes, they are part of the Living Text. When I am preaching about Jesus, and a man who has Porn Jesus in his head sits in the pew, the two are linked. Same with the Last Temptation of Christ, which is a Catholic film. The Bloody Christ of Mel Gibson may be added to the Brian Christ of Monty Python, the Southpark Jesus, Buddy Christ, Cervaggio, Michelangelo, Salvador Dali, 180 Sunday School lessons, and three talks with Grandma.
That’s the reality of a Living Text. It is a fallacy to presume we can simply access Christ or Bilbo or Frodo or Lizzie Bennet. In all of these I have images and stories that fill the originals with meaning. I don’t happen to think that The Last Temptation of Christ is very good, and not a good addition to the Living Text. And I doubt the Porn Jesus does much to help. I’m not very invested in Porn, so not a very good critic. I think I only ever saw one Porn film, a 70s or 80s remake of Alice in Wonderland, I think. That was when I was a kid, and it still affects my reading of Alice. So the Porn Jesus/Alice is a good example of bad additions to the Living Text.
Now, as for the last comment. On “trust,” I think you’ll find I’m pretty consistent in my years as a blogger, teacher, and writer. As far as “respect,” we’ve already talked about that. You intimated that respect can be the deficiency of the one respecting/not respecting, not just the object of respect. However, on the human being point, you are probably right. I’m bad enough that I might even need redemption.
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Exactly! I’ve tried putting words to how I’ve been able to enjoy the Hobbit films but you hit it right with the phrase, “living text.” I’ve viewed these films as their own entities, only loosely connected to the novel. In doing so I’ve been able to enjoy them thoroughly for what they are, not for the amount they measure up to the original narrative.
Of course, one can take liberties too far, but I don’t believe Jackson is guilty of that. He is innocent, in my opinion, because he maintained the mythic nature and quality that Tolkien bestowed upon his stories. He didn’t create a flick (there are moments in each film where he inclines towards “sugary filmmaking”, but these moments not enough to condemn his whole saga); he created his own rendition of a deep myth.
Thanks for this elaboration.
Thanks Alex. I got a lot of heat for this blog. One reader called me immoral because I didn’t hate the Peter Jackson films. I like adventure films, and I though them okay adventure films. I wish they were as strong as the LOTR films.
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Right, and I cannot hold them as high as his LOTR rendition with a clear conscience. I wrote a review of each Hobbit film and I said the main positive point of this new trilogy is that it takes us back to the world we love.
Viggo Mortensen said Jackson “sacrificed subtlety for CGI” with his Hobbit trilogy. Haters gonna hate but I like to be as positive as possible with films.
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