Friday, October 25, 2013

Touchstone on Tolkien and Peter Jackson

I came to The Lord of the Rings trilogy late: my husband was surprised that I had never read it, probably about ten years ago. Then we enjoyed the trilogy of movies, even though we noticed that Peter Jackson did not always "follow the book" and left out much of the poetry and some of the spirituality, over-emphasizing the battles and even the tempting power of the Ring.

Donald T. Williams, Professor of English and Director of the School of Arts and Sciences at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, explains why Peter Jackson did not "get" much of the spirit of The Lord of the Rings in a Touchstone Magazine article, noting that Tolkien, following a long tradition in literature, created role models for us to follow that Jackson could not accept as realistic:

Literature, then, has the serious moral purpose of providing role models that help us form the ideals and aspirations we live by; it achieves that purpose through concrete images of virtue and vice. Great literature is also fun; as Horace said, it teaches and delights.

But it does teach. Where in history or experience will you find a better picture of wise counsel than Gandalf, of sacrificial service than Frodo, of loyal friendship than Sam Gamgee, of leadership than Aragorn, of single-minded devotion in love than Aragorn and Arwen, of personal integrity than Faramir? I would hate to have had to live my life without the example and the inspiration that those characters have provided along the way.

But he notes that Peter Jackson does not accept these models of virtue--they are too good to be true--and therefore, Jackson and his creative team introduce doubt and weakness where Tolkien depicts self-sacrifice, loyalty, love, and devotion:

Peter Jackson, by contrast, comes from a more modern tradition that is suspicious of such moral didacticism and is more focused on "realism" (though this realism is somewhat inconsistently pursued, one might think, when it leads to a rabbit-drawn sledge that can travel over dry ground and doesn't need snow, as in Jackson's The Hobbit). Jackson apparently thinks the characters Tolkien gave us are too simply good to be fully believable to modern audiences, and so he feels obligated to "complicate" them, to give them internal conflicts other than the ones they actually have, in the hopes that we will better be able to relate to them.

Or so his consistent changes to Tolkien's characters would suggest. By this process, Faramir's "I wouldn't pick this thing [the One Ring] up if I found it lying in the road" becomes "Tell my father I send him a powerful weapon!" By this process, Aragorn becomes ambivalent about taking up his kingship rather than devoted to his calling with fixed purpose. By this process, Arwen actually contemplates deserting Aragorn and going to the Grey Havens to escape from Middle Earth despite their earlier pact, and he thinks she would.

Read the rest here.

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