Has jackson stolen middle-earth from Tolkien?

It has been quite some time since I wrote anything on here about film, and probably even longer since I wrote anything about Tolkien. (It grieves me to realise how intertwined those two subjects now seem, but it now appears that Middle Earth could be seen as much a creation of Peter Jackson as professor Tolkien.) A few days ago, for some reason or another, I began to think about the Lord of the Rings again: it’s definitely time Lyn saw the trilogy, and I have a hankering to watch it with her. These stories have been with me from my childhood, since my father started reading the books to me and my brothers at bedtime. As such they have a deeply personal value for me, which is why I want to share them with Lyn. Since I can’t read the books to her myself, watching the film adaptations with her seems a good alternative.

But it recently occurs o me that therein lies a problem. The Lord of The Rings no longer has the status it had when I first encountered it. It is not a book written by an obscure Oxford don, or a would conjured through my father’s deep, comforting voice; it is now a massive, multi Oscar winning film, with figures sold with every happy meal and a thousand asinine Playstation games associated with it. Don’t get me wrong: I think Jackson did an excellent job with these films, and I think, under the circumstances, he was as faithful as he could be. But these films are not the lord of the rings: the lord of the rings is a work of literature, in a fairly archaic, obscure style, with footnotes and endnotes and appendices. It is something I adore, and I don’t think any film could match it. Yet a film – or three films rather – have taken it’s place in culture. Culturally, the two are synonymous, so we now have kids calling themselves Lord of the Rings fans who do not know who Tom Bombadil is, or how many strings were on the tipsy cat’s fiddle, but can get to level twelve of ”The war in The North”.

All this occurred to me this morning, when I was looking for news of The Hobbit Adaptation. Until now, I had been really looking forward to this film, but then I began to consider how drastically Jackson seems to be diverging from the text. How, for example, is he going to get Frodo into these films? Indeed, as is stated in this article, Jackson seems to be making what is essentially a fairly gentle kids book into an epic saga akin to it’s sequel. When I first read that, I thought, for the first time, ”Oh god, it’s gonna suck”. It is clear that this is no longer the work of JRR Tolkien, but a work of the market, made for the fans of the Lord of the Rings films who know nothing of the books and expect the hobbit to be filled with massive battles and Legolas and Gimli making witty one line gags about dwarf-tossing. I must admit this makes me somewhat angry: I once revered these books above all others – they were a huge part of my childhood – but the way in which Tolkien’s massive work of creation has now become something else, yet another piece of harry potter/star wars mass-market drivel, strikes me as sad, and I feel The Hobbit films will send it even further down that road.

I have nothing against film. I love it, I study it, I see myself as a cinephile. Yet cinephilia in the correct sense, the discourse first exemplified in Cahiers du Cinema in the fifties and sixties, was always a questioning type of love. They too had very similar debates over the relationship between film and literature, especially in relation to authorship – the love of film is a love which can open film up to such questions. Jackson proved me wrong before; the lord of the rings films were an astonishing work which still seem influential. Yet in making those films, Jackson brought these texts into another realm, no longer a cherished childhood memory, no longer something personal, but something open to the pressures of the mass market. In doing so he has changed them irrevocably, destroyed them and replaced them with something different. I fear this will be especially applicable to the hobbit: with Lord of the rings, Jackson had less pressure from the market because it didn’t know what to expect, but with the Hobbit, the audience is expecting certain things which Jackson must produce. It expects big battles, cate blanchet and things it can make a video game from. Thus the hobbit must be changed to appease the game-players and the hoards raised on post Star Wars filmic dross, which means it can never be a truly faithful adaptation. This is, of course, symptomatic of what film has become – no longer an art form but a medium for showing people some spectacular images while depriving them of their money. George Lucas was responsible for this when he made star wars in 1977. Now the books I loved as a child have been introduced into this puerile world, so that now the lord of the rings is no longer the sprawling creation of an oxford professor, or the book which brought about my love for the English countryside, but just another film filled with big battles and special effects. Although the films could have been much worse, and are special in their own right, the very fact of their creation changes the status of the texts. They are now as much a creation of Jackson as of Tolkien, and I think they have lost something fundamental in the process. After all, Tolkien’s writing was all about the language he used, an aspect of the text which does not translate to film. Thus to me the lord of the rings, as a cultural artefact, can never be what it was; in making these films, Jackson changed the very status of the text forever, and it almost feels like something of my childhood has gone with it.

I did not have a problem with this until now, as I fear the changes Jackson will have to make to the text of the Hobbit will be so vast that it will deviate too much from the spirit of the original book and become something else, not just an adaptation but a completely different text, taking the place of the original in cultural terms. I do not mean this in an absolute sense, as Tolkien’s novels will always endure; but the films were so big that the books are now synonymous with the film, and I think that alters the status of the text, for me losing something personal and dear in the process.

What Professor Tolkien himself would say about this I dread to think, but I cannot help but wonder if Jackson has ever had a pint at the Eagle and Child.

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