Tolkien and Online Culture

I think I’ve mentioned on here before, a while ago, that my Dad read Tolkien to me when I was eight or nine. I grew up loving the books of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and they were possibly the biggest reasons why I wanted to become a writer. When it was announced, in 1997 or so, that the books were going to be adapted into films, I remember being over the moon with excitement: I just couldn’t wait to see my favourite characters brought to life on the cinema screen. At that point, it remained to be seen whether Peter Jackson’s adaptations would be any good, but I really looked forward to seeing stories which had been such a big part of my childhood finally becoming mainstream. At last my classmates would get to see what I had been going on about for all those years.

In the end, of course, the films proved a great success; I don’t think anyone could have done a better job of adapting them than Peter Jackson. I think he was as faithful to the books as he could possibly be. The Fellowship Of The Ring premiered in 2001, the year I left school, so the irony is I never got to ask my old friends what they thought of the story. The bigger problem I have now, however, is that it has perhaps become too mainstream: a narrative and characters which was once something private and personal – something I shared with my father – is now a massive part of popular culture. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are now everywhere, not only in film form but as computer games, Youtube videos and facebook memes, and I can’t help thinking it has gone too far. I fear this narrative has now become too divorced from Tolkien’s original books, which were, after all, about language and text. They have become the plaything of thousands of internet fans with no regard for what Tolkien was trying to originally achieve.

To a certain extent this is a natural result of the success of the film, and some of the things I have seen online, such as videos which explore Tolkien’s mythos in detail, clearly have a great deal of love and respect for his writing. Yet alongside that comes a lot of childish, lighthearted rubbish which thinks it’s being clever by trying to poke fun of a narrative most people are now familiar with. Perhaps it’s my perception, but I’m seeing more and more of it these days, and it’s becoming cruder and cruder. To see something which was such a huge part of my childhood being played around with and turned into something so lightweight and adolescent, by people who obviously have no knowledge of or respect for Tolkien’s work, really is disheartening. More to the point though, I can’t help wondering what Tolkien himself would have said if he saw his life’s work being turned into this tripe. Would he have approved of his stories being used like this? I doubt it, which in a way makes me think that perhaps these stories should have been allowed to remain as books, in their original form.

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