Saturday, January 5, 2013

Serious Business: The Tolkien Fanchise

I came across this link " My Father's 'Eviscerated' Work" on  an author's Facebook page. This interview with Christopher Tolkien, son of the Middle-earth creator, shows a gulf of opinion regarding the popular film franchise. For those who don't wish to read the whole interview, this quote summarizes Christopher's perspective:
The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.
My gut response?  Now I feel like a bad fan for liking the films, for being jealous of my friend's 'Sting' letter opener and drooling over my conceptional art calender.  I just came back from a second viewing of The Unexpected Journey, clad in a full-length cloak. I'd recommend the films to anyone who loves fantasy, and try to convince anyone who doesn't to come along anyway.
I appreciate all the work Christopher Tolkien has put into publishing his father's manuscripts--without his work, we'd only have The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and a volume of poetry called The Adventures of Tom Bombadil set in Middle-earth.  Instead, we have The Silmarillion, the twelve-volume History of Middle-earth,  The Children of Hurin and Unfinished Tales.  Even in a rough state, seeing those stories has only given me more respect for J.R.R. Tolkien's astounding creativity.
As for the franchise...okay, there are a lot of people who are in it only for the hot dwarves or tabletop games, but I don't think those people are ruining it for others or diminishing its power.  Maybe it's just me, but I see a hint of  disdain for popular acclaim in Christopher's words. There are so many moments, even in the films, that contain the beauty and even strength it by introducing it to new audiences. My mom, who struggled to read the Hobbit to my brother, loved Gandalf's quote to Bilbo when giving him Sting:
True courage consists of not knowing when to take a life, but when to spare it.
I prefer the conversation about pity from Fellowship instead, or the silent scene where Bilbo forgoes stabbing Gollum while invisible, but that's not the only beautiful, serious moment. I love any scene set in Rivendell or Lothlorien, Sam's commitment to Frodo, Eowyn's bravery in defense of Theoden--they all give me a taste of what Lewis would call "Northernness," a moment of longing for reunion with God. I don't care about silly commercial products or franchise zombies--I am a fan of Tolkien, and proud of it.

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