Yesterday, I read two articles about J.R.R. Tolkien that contextualized his work in ways I hadn’t considered before. Both articles gave me a sudden sense of clarity on the topic, so I thought I would note my response to each article here. I intend to make this a regular feature – since I no longer have to do any academic writing for university, I’m directing my thinking power here! Please check out the original articles if they sound interesting (both are short, under 800 words).
Article: Michaels, Sean. “On J.R.R. Tolkien.” National Post. Postmedia Network Inc., 23 Apr. 2014. Web.
Response: It is very difficult for me to chose a favourite book. If someone asks, there are a number of other books I will say before The Lord of the Rings (although I will usually say The Hobbit). I think this is because Tolkien’s creation of Middle-Earth is too dear to me – I don’t want to start a conversation with someone who doesn’t have the same level of passion or involvement with his works because I could never convey in words what Tolkien’s creation means to me. Other high fantasy, medieval fantasy, whatever genre label one places on Tolkienesque works nowadays, does not appeal to me. Michaels notes the human depths of Tolkien’s books that “set his Middle-Earth apart from Robert Jordan’s Westlands or George R.R. Martin’s Westeros”. Both series I have tried to read, and, while the plot lines of A Song of Fire and Ice appeal to me, they are not books I could ever become invested in in the same manner I am invested in Tolkien’s books. Michaels describes a process of distancing from Tolkien and high fantasy, towards “magical realists” and “contemporary fiction”. These are answers I would give if someone were to ask my favourite genre; I would never answer ‘high fantasy’. Michaels describes everything I love about such genres: “surreal fables”, “dreamlike or uncanny” stories, “grounded in […] reality”. What I found most comforting about Michaels’ article is that here is someone like me, who adores Tolkien, who finds great inspiration in Tolkien, but does not find the need to try to mimic his work. You can love Tolkien but not high fantasy, and you can love surreal contemporary fiction, and you can let both work together to fuel your creativity. I sometimes struggle in reconciling my seemingly dissimilar taste in books – this article reminds me of what those books have in common that drew me to them.
However, to begin to answer Cook’s question about “where we establish red lines in the creative adaptation of Tolkien’s work”, I would suggest that he uses the concept of adaptation too loosely. One should not overlook the fact that Jackson’s films are not just loosely inspired by The Hobbit. They are meant to be a direct adaptation of the story. To clarify my use of adaptation, I would say The Hobbit novel is not an adaptation of the Poetic Edda; it is merely a work inspired by it. I think one can argue for a bit more fundamentalism when a work is meant to be ‘adapted from’ rather than ‘inspired by’. In my ideal world, I would be an extreme Tolkien fundamentalist. I would want to see a movie exactly true to the book. But I know that’s not realistic, and I know modifications and adaptations and reinterpretations and additions can still make a great movie. Keeping this in consideration, I like the addition of Tauriel (if I don’t like the romantic angles that go with it…).
Back on topic – I think Cook’s article is a great starting point for a discussion of Tolkien fundamentalism. While I argue there is a difference between Peter Jackson’s films as an adaption of The Hobbit and The Hobbit as an ‘adaptation’ of the Poetic, I don’t think that difference is as a great as we fans sometimes make it out to be.