Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"My Father's 'Eviscerated' Work"

I found this article and thought you all might be interested in reading it.

Basically it's Christopher Tolkien speaking out against Peter Jackson's film versions of LOTR/The Hobbit and all the commercialization that that's brought to Tolkien's original stories.

While I can in no way understand how personal Tolkien's works are to Christopher, I feel like his harsh judgment of Jackson's movies and their success isn't giving enough credit to the people who consume those movies. Honestly, I don't know if I would have ever ended up reading Tolkien's works if I hadn't first been pulled in by the movies (I think maybe some of you would say the same). And while I do agree that to some degree "the commercialization [of the stories] has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation," I wouldn't say that it has reduced it "to nothing." I feel that, even if to a lesser degree, the movies do their best to present and uphold that aesthetic and philosophical impact, and increase people's curiosity to read the books and experience the real fullness of that impact. I don't think there's anything wrong with enjoying the movies for what they are - and with trying to convince everyone you know to go back to the source and enjoy the stories there (because it bothers me so much when people ONLY see the movies).

It's also interesting to me that to some degree Tolkien wanted people to take his stories - his mythology for England - and make it their own, but that there's also this huge protectiveness from the Tolkien family about preserving the parts of this mythology that have already been written down. And, then, I just read one of Tolkien's letters (no. 210) that is so critical towards a proposed movie script/idea for LOTR, that I am seriously confused as to why Tolkien ever sold the movie rights for LOTR/The Hobbit in the first place (I understand it was to cover costs, pay for taxes, allow funding for his children, I think, but...).

What do you all think?


Megan said...

Believe it or not, I have mixed feelings on this subject: not all of it is blind rage!

On the one hand, I believe authors (or their children) who are too protective of their works simply need to get over themselves. I approach this argument from the point of view of fanfiction, where fans write (usually short) stories about established canons of characters and events. Some authors (and much of the public) are absolutely hostile to fanfiction being written about their works and look on it derogatorily as not "real" writing, and "why can't people come up with their own ideas?" However, it is a basic fact that many authors which we celebrate in the canon of Western literature are, essentially, "fanfictions" (don't believe me? Try this link), and where to draw the line is so arbitrary it is almost impossible. So a good portion of this argument is that authors and those who protect their works need to join the 21st century, get off their high horses, take fanfiction as a compliment, and recognize that they have done the very same things.

The movies are, essentially, a fanfiction: a retelling of Tolkien's story, with the main differences being that it is a professionally published work (which is no bar to a text being "fanfiction", see Fifty Shades of Grey). And the good new is, as Lorin said, the films are absolutely getting people interested in Tolkien and interested in reading, and that can never be a bad thing.

Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? "They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25," Christopher says regretfully. "And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film." ,
--This is the kind of attitude that needs to stop. It is public. Tolkien made it so. Now it belongs to everyone, and that the movie differences are great and have spawned further reinterpretations is just a fact they have to deal with.

That having been said, however: I do have serious problems with the way PJ went about making the films. There is the "core of the original" that Tolkien talked about, and I think that most of that has been lost in the films. I have personal problems with many of his choices as to how he re-told the story, but I have admitted that these are my own problems and I simply need to get over them (I probably never will, but admittance is the first step). I DO have a problem with the way the Tolkien estate has been treated: they have profited basically nothing from the films, video games, and etc:

This commercial galaxy is now worth several billion dollars -- most of which does not go to Tolkien's heirs, and thus complicates the management of his heritage for his family, which is polarized not over the images or objects, but over the respect for Tolkien's words.

The right to derivative creativity is NOT the same as the right to steal.

Megan said...

Oh so the html I tried in my post didn't work, here's the link to "I'm Done Explaining Why Fanfic is Okay":


S. M. said...

Though I do agree that Christopher Tolkien’s comments about the movies are a bit harsh (a number of beautiful themes like redemption come through in the films), I can see why he is concerned about the impact that the movies have had on how people view his father’s works. For instance, even when it is widely known that a movie is based on a book, many people will still base their conception of the story on the film adaptation rather than the novel. In a way, he might be worried that the movies (“fanfiction” as Megan put it) might outlast his father’s books.

Anna Adams said...

In Megan's class last semester we talked a lot about fanfiction and why it is an acceptable form of expression. I agree that Peter Jackson's films are like fanfiction. They are his take on Tolkien's work, and I would never expect them to be a carbon copy of the original. I think the Tolkien family was pretty rude (but who isn't rude nowadays) when they refused to meet Peter Jackson. Although he did turn the story into action films, the Tolkien family should realize that is what sells in the movie industry. It is what is expected of the movie format. It wasn't really possible for the films to follow the books exactly, and while I agree some of the changes weren't the best, Peter Jackson is obviously a huge fan of Tolkien's work. His version of Tolkien's stories is like the ultimate compliment, and his films have introduced many people to the original work. I believe he deserves praise for this reason. He opened Tolkien's world to more people than it would have been open to otherwise, and even if he did "eviscerate the book," at least people will be more likely to read Tolkien's story now. But, I suppose there will always be overly-critical people who can't appreciate what is good about Jackson's work. Many have praised him for tackling such a difficult project. People used to think it wasn't possible to convert Lord of the Rings to film at all. In a way, they were right. The story cannot be translated to film without changes.

Richard Wentworth said...

That was a very interesting read. I appreciate the tremendous work Christopher Tolkien's done, and his complaints about the films are fair, but I don't understand why he takes the thing so personally. Even if the films were just absolutely terrible (and I think they were better than anyone had a right to expect), the books are still there for anyone who wants to read them. The pleasure people get from seeing the films, even if they will never read the books, is innocent enough. It seems like a weird, vicarious vanity to be so deeply offended at his father's legacy being tarnished by some "action movies."

Tolkien's work does have remarkable value, sure, but it seems to me that a lot of people never saw that anyway. I don't imagine the movies diminished Tolkien much more in the eyes of the literati.