Tolkien on Film
This collection of essays addresses various aspects of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings including scriptwriting and the creative process, the place of the films in cinematic history, gender roles in the films and the books, wisdom and councils, hobbits and heroism, fan culture and fanfic, the use of Tolkien’s languages in the films, and other issues.
Praise for Tolkien on Film
Unlike those critics who respond to the Peter Jackson movies in gushing superlatives, these essayists are truly critical; i.e., they seek to break apart (as the word implies) the cinematic version of The Lord of the Rings so as to discern how the films both succeed and fail, and why their massive popularity is both to be praised and lamented.
—Ralph C. Wood, Author of The Gospel According to Tolkien
Happily there’s something for everyone. Whether you love the films or loathe them or find yourself somewhere along the sliding scale in between, you will find well-argued essays ranging from the Valar to the Very Secret Diaries. No matter what your viewpoint on Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s masterpiece, this collection has much to offer and sets the bar for Tolkien/Film studies to come.
—Anne C. Petty, Author of One Ring to Bind Them All: Tolkien’s Mythology
Whether you love or hate the films (there seems to be no middle ground) their existence is now part of the territory and their impact deserves the balanced assessment Tolkien on Film provides. With a selection of essays nicely matched both con and pro, this volume gives a much-needed critical overview of the current state of the discourse from David Bratman’s splendid critique of all Jackson did wrong (and might have done right) to Maureen Thum’s defense of Jackson’s female empowerment to a trip through fan fiction spinoffs. I read it with real interest.
—Verlyn Flieger, Author of Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World
Cathy Akers-Jordan: Fairy Princess or Tragic Heroine? The Metamorphosis of Arwen Undomiel in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Films
At first glance, it appears that Jackson’s films stray from Tolkien’s books in their depiction of Arwen, but closer examination reveals that Jackson portrays her as a heroic descendant of Earendil, Idril, and Galadriel. Arwen also represents the past, present, and future of the Elves in Middle-earth, with strong overtones of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott.
Cathy Akers-Jordan is a Lecturer of English at the University of Michigan-Flint where she teaches writing. Her Master’s degree is in Liberal Studies/American Culture; her thesis was Ellery Queen: Forgotten Master Detective. She has presented and published a variety of papers on topics ranging from the role of women in modern mystery fiction to the RMS Titanic disaster.
Susan Booker: Tales Around the Internet Campfire: Fan Fiction in Tolkien’s Universe
The telling of hero-based stories forms part of human history in every country around the globe. Fan fiction is a continuation of this story-telling impulse, and when the Internet became established as an easily available communications tool, it did not take long for popular culture fans and authors to gather around this new global campfire, to tell and retell their tales in the time honored traditions of bards and story-tellers. The recent release of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of movies has awakened armies of dormant Tolkien fans, and fan fiction set in Tolkien’s universe has exploded across the Internet. Sometimes the fan authors have never read the original literary works, and operate solely off of information they have gathered from Jackson’s storyline for his films. This paper will explore the modern need and desire by fan authors to “fill in the blanks” in the original story-line, and in the character’s lives. It is not enough for fans today to enjoy the exploits of a popular character, but they also want to know what they did yesterday, and the day before, with whom, and who their grandparents were. While Tolkien himself provides ample back-story, and the twelve volumes of “histories” edited by his son Christopher answer many questions, there are many days unaccounted for. These untold days are eagerly enhanced by fan authors, and their fiction is the subject of this study. A look at who writes and reads fan fiction will also be explored, as far as the anonymous universe of fan fiction allows.
Susan Booker is the Fine and Applied Arts Librarian at the University of Oklahoma. Her research interests focus on the written word, its dissemination, and the impact of popular culture figures upon amateur authors, and in particular, how the Internet fosters the ancient story-telling tradition in the modern world. A parallel research endeavor involves the photographic documentation and description of historically important buildings and styles of architecture in Oklahoma.
David Bratman: Summa Jacksonica: A Reply to Defenses of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, after St. Thomas Aquinas
Most attempts at criticizing Jackson’s films as adaptations of Tolkien get bogged down in the underbrush of certain lines of general defense of loose film adaptation, which need to be cleared away before a critique can stand clear. This paper, in the format of a set of articles from Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, will attempt to clear away that underbrush, and will also present substantive criticism of the films themselves. The points to be replied to will include “It made accessible a boring old book that nobody liked anyway” (yes, this defense has been offered), “Films must bow to the needs of Hollywood,” “But they worked so hard on it!”, “It’s Jackson’s vision, not Tolkien’s,” “It could have been worse,” “Parts of it were excellent” (the “curate’s egg” defense), “It brings new readers to the book,” “You’re just mad because they cut Bombadil,” “The perfect film would have been 40 hours long,” and the all-time favorite, “The book is still on the shelf.”
David Bratman has written on Tolkien for Mythlore, Mythprint, Mallorn, the Greenwood Press essay collection Tolkien’s Legendarium, and other publications. He has been occupied, more than he’d like, critiquing the Jackson films since the first trailers appeared, and his first article on the subject, “The Case Against Peter Jackson,” appeared in Beyond Bree, October 2001.
Jane Chance: Tolkien’s Women (and Men): The Films and the Books
Because of the very importance of Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings, its readers will be most interested in how clearly and well Peter Jackson has adapted to film medium this modern classic and what in particular he has left out or changed (and to what purpose). Jackson’s filmic version rewrites Tolkien’s anti-epic as a flashy, high-tech adventure film—that is, he tries to return it to the Hollywood genre of the epic. But to do Tolkien and the films justice, given their different mediums, we must look at what has been omitted from Tolkien’s text, what has been added, and what has been changed. I will first look more closely at the changes in all three films—which generally give women, in particular, Arwen, a greater role than that found in Tolkien—and then explore the reasons why, which are in fact intrinsic to an understanding of Tolkien’s mythology, even if not entirely consonant with the epic as it stands. Thus, while Jackson does not finally follow the literal line of Tolkien’s narrative in his two films, he appears to be establishing the central concern of Tolkien’s mythology through the focus on the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen that appears in the Appendices.
Jane Chance, Professor of English, teaches medieval literature, Medieval Studies, and Women and the Study of Gender at Rice University. She has published nineteen books, editions, and translations; among them are Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England (1979) and The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power (1992), revised for new editions (2001) and translated into Japanese (2003, 2004). She has also edited two issues of Studies in Medievalism, on the Twentieth Century and on the Inklings, and two collections, Tolkien the Medievalist (2002) and Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader (2004).
Janet Brennan Croft: Mithril Coats and Tin Ears: ‘Anticipation’ and ‘Flattening’ in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
While Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings was an immensely popular film trilogy, many long-time Tolkien readers were disappointed with his adaptation of the original work. In this paper I will examine the films in general and the Mines of Moria sequence in detail, contrasting the subtle way Tolkien built up tension with Peter Jackson’s habit of “anticipating” events by showing too much too soon. Interestingly, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a critique of an early attempt at film adaptation by Morton Grady Zimmerman which exhibited some of the same characteristics as Jackson’s film. The terms “anticipation” and “flattening” are part of that critique, and I apply them to plot, character, dialogue, emotional tone, and other aspects of the films.
Janet Brennan Croft is Head of Access Services at the University of Oklahoma libraries. She is the author of War in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien (Greenwood Press, Spring 2004), and has published articles on Tolkien in Mythlore, Mallorn, and Seven. She has also written on library issues for several professional journals, and is the author of Legal Solutions in Electronic Reserves and the Electronic Delivery of Interlibrary Loan (Haworth Press, 2004).
Victoria Gaydosik: The Transformation of Tolkien’s Arwen and the Abandonment of the Psyche Archetype: The Lord of the Rings on the Page and on the Screen
Everyone is familiar with the journey of the hero (he of the thousand faces); the journey of the heroine, however, is another matter. The classic archetype of feminine identity is Psyche, a passive love-object. There are, of course, other female archetypes, but in The Lord of the Rings, the Psyche archetype is commonly found as the pattern for virtuous women, the most notable example being Arwen Evenstar. Between Tolkien’s writing of his trilogy and Peter Jackson’s filming of it, however, portrayals of women on film have been revolutionized by the arrival of the pumped-up action-adventure heroine. These women are not Psyche figures, but combine elements of several archetypes to represent a woman who is both courageous (and deadly) in battle and yet also desirable both sexually and romantically. Not surprisingly, Peter Jackson’s Arwen fits this new pattern of the heroine. My essay will examine both Tolkien’s and Jackson’s Arwen in relation to these patterns, and will explore Tolkien’s own experiments (unpublished during his life) in creating a more modern heroine in his conflicting notes for Galadriel. Although Tolkien produced an example of a Psyche-type heroine, he himself seems to have recognized that passivity could not be the entire basis for women’s (and elven) contributions to life.
Victoria Gaydosik completed her Ph.D. at the University of Rochester, writing a dissertation on Ben Jonson’s use of imitation and innovation. She teaches in the Language Arts Department at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
Judith Kollmann: Councils and Counsel in Tolkien’s and Jackson’s versions of The Lord of the Rings
Scattered throughout Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings are at least two formal councils and much counsel. The characters who are pre-eminent in both capacities are generally those everyone considers among the wisest and the best–particularly Elrond and Gandalf. But gathering in conclaves or handing out advice is not limited to them; at some point just about every sane protagonist makes perceptive observations or gives sound advice. This paper will analyze the two most significant councils in the books and films–that of The Council of Elrond, in The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Council of Minas Tirith (my term; in Tolkien it is called “The Last Debate”) in The Return of the King — as well as a few of the most notable cases of counseling that occur between those two advisory conclaves. In part this analysis will deal with the very different treatment given to these important scenes, but it will also deal with the development of Aragorn, not so much as a hero, but as a man who not only accepts his destiny as King of Gondor but also grows into this role before his induction into kingship at his coronation.
Judith J. Kollmann is Professor of English at the University of Michigan-Flint, where she has taught English literature since 1968. Her field is medieval literature, which has given her a strong interest in medievalism and fantasy. As a consequence she has published a number of articles on the Inklings member, Charles Williams, as well as an article on Brother Cadfael, on Centaurs, on Sheridan Le Fanu, and other assorted interesting writers.
Diana L. Paxson: Re-vision: The Creative Process in The Lord of the Rings, In Print and On Screen
When we read a book or see a film we perceive it as finished and immutable, a creative artifact that could exist in no other form. But the creative process is one of constant revision and “re-visioning”, as the author struggles to organize and select from among the many possibilities. The volumes of notes and drafts edited by Christopher Tolkien have revealed the extent to which J.R.R. Tolkien revised his material. A comparison between the theatrical release and extended versions of the Peter Jackson films of The Lord of the Rings show us that in scripting, cutting and editing a film a director goes through this process as well. In this paper I will examine a number of elements in the story, such as the roles of Aragorn and Arwen, in which we can see the how the process of “re-vision” both by Jackson and Tolkien himself, has changed and expanded our understanding of the Story, and thus, our understanding of the creative process.
Diana L. Paxson is the author of twenty-four published novels and over seventy-five short stories in the fantasy genre, most of them with mythic themes, and thus understands the process of revision only too well. She received her M.A. from the University of California in Comparative Literature with an emphasis on medieval literature, and has given many papers at meetings of the Mythopoeic Society, of which she has been a member since 1972.
Mark Shea: The Lord of the Rings: A Source-Critical Analysis
This short, thought-provoking essay imagines a future where Jackson’s films and Tolkien’s books are just two of many texts scholars accept as comprising the Matter of Middle-earth. The world of fan-fiction already mines this material the way storytellers have used the Matter of Britain for centuries; should this matter to us, and what does it imply about the acceptability of the movies as alternate readings?
Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker, and the author of Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did (Basilica), By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition (Our Sunday Visitor) and This is My Body: An Evangelical Discovers the Real Presence (Christendom Press).
J.E. Smyth: The Three Ages of Imperial Cinema: From the Death of Gordon to The Return of the King
This paper traces the recent global success of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings from its origin in the tradition of British imperial cinema and the shifting attitudes toward the West’s military and cultural hegemony. Before The Lord of the Rings‘ release, The Four Feathers (Zoltan Korda, 1939) and Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962) represented the heroic strengths and critical weaknesses of the empire and the imperial hero. The careers and cinematic legacies of Alexander and Zoltan Korda, T.E. Lawrence, and J.R.R. Tolkien were all deeply marked by their experience in the Great War and the subsequent collapse of the British Empire. Their ensuing impact on Western film culture has determined much of the structure of twentieth-century cinema’s imperial imagination, from critical imperialism to flawed heroes to the current redemption of the West and the imperial city of Gondor. The release of Jackson’s epic marked the beginning of the Third Age of Imperial Cinema, to borrow a phrase from its unconscious architect, J.R.R. Tolkien, and in a time of renewed Eastern terror and conflict, heroic imperialism has been reborn.
J.E. Smyth, an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Humanities, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Departments of Films Studies and American Studies at Yale University. Smyth’s work has appeared in Rethinking History, Film and History, and Film Quarterly. She has lectured on film historiography and British cinema.
Amy H. Sturgis: Make Mine ‘Movieverse’: How the Tolkien Fan Fiction Community Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Peter Jackson
Enthusiasts have shown their appreciation for J.R.R. Tolkien’s texts through a variety of associations and activities for roughly half a century. It took the 2001 debut of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring film, however, to launch an unprecedented explosion in a distinctively twenty-first century incarnation of Tolkien fandom: the online production and critique of fan fiction. The fandom now incorporates a wide spectrum of participants, from “purists” who resist any inspirations beyond the novels to “newbies” who pen Middle-earth tales despite never having read Tolkien’s work. These fan authors decide whether to center their plots and characterizations on Tolkien’s descriptions or Jackson’s imagery – or, perhaps most interesting of all, to negotiate a space in between, blending the most compelling aspects of each while attempting to reconcile the points where they diverge. But even as Jackson’s films allow for this diversification of fan fiction, they also offer an opportunity for unification, as well, by providing fans with a common vocabulary of visual images, and thus allowing the fan design of photo manipulations, art, and song videos to complement and illustrate fan fiction. By identifying the main movements and patterns in widely circulated, demonstrably popular Tolkien fan fiction, and analyzing them through the lenses of media studies and intellectual history, we can learn how the post-Jackson Tolkien community has found imaginative ways to integrate disparate interpretations and voices into the creative dialogue of Tolkien fandom.
Amy H. Sturgis teaches science fiction/fantasy studies, media studies, and Native American studies at Belmont University, including the courses “J.R.R. Tolkien in History, Political Thought, and Literature” and “Fan Participation in Media and Culture.” Her works have appeared in journals and magazines such as Seventeenth Century, Reason, Winedark Sea, The LockeSmith Review, Mythlore, CSL, and Parma Nölé, among others, and she has contributed multiple articles to the popular Revolution Science Fiction. In 2003 she was named a scholarly Guest of Honor for the international Gathering of the Fellowship Celebration of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Maureen Thum: The “Sub-Subcreation” of Galadriel, Arwen, and Éowyn: Tolkien’s Women and The Lord of the Rings
In “Tree and Leaf,” J.R.R. Tolkien refers to the writer and teller of fairy tales as “sub-creator” whose stories “open the door on Other Time” and allow us to “stand…outside time itself”. Peter Jackson and his production crew have surely succeeded in making a “sub-creation” of Tolkien’s work, a sub-creation that achieves the goal of successfully imaging the alternate reality that constitutes Tolkien’s world. In his Ring trilogy, Jackson’s role as sub-creator is tellingly evident in the portraits of three women: Galadriel, Queen of Lórien; Arwen Evenstar, daughter of the half-Elven Elrond; and Éowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan. The changes appear in some instances to be so radical, that viewers familiar with Tolkien’s text might argue that Jackson went beyond transmutation, taking considerable license in his translation from text to film. I wish to make the case that Jackson’s sub-creation of Galadriel, Arwen, and Éowyn as positive and powerful figures by no means represents a falsification or distortion of Tolkien’s attitudes toward women. Indeed, Tolkien’s vision of women is far more complex than some critics have allowed. Throughout his works, Tolkien consistently portrays women in powerful and positive roles. In presenting Galadriel, Arwen, and Éowyn as more powerful figures than we might at first expect from Tolkien’s text, Jackson accurately represents the positive view of unconventional and powerful women portrayed throughout Tolkien’s writing.
M. Thum has published articles on the Grimm Brothers, Chaucer, Milton, and the German literary fairy-tale writer, Wilhelm Hauff in The Germanic Review, The Philological Quarterly, Milton Studies, and the MLA’s annual Children’s Literature. She has presented numerous papers on topics ranging from Shakespeare to children’s literature and the Victorian novel. She is the also the Director of the Honors Program at the University of Michigan Flint.
Dan Timmons: Frodo on Film: Peter Jackson’s Problematic Portrayal
Fidelity, while desirable in romantic relationships, may be unneeded, even unwelcome, in film adaptations. Since the two artistic mediums of book and film are inherently distinctive, the literature lovers’ feelings of “betrayal” when the film fails to evoke a similar aesthetic response as the written text may be a projection of the readers’ desires and hopes, rather than the director’s insensitivity or disrespect. Welcoming the differences between the two media appears to be an objective response most difficult for the passionate readers of J.R.R. Tolkien. Many Tolkien enthusiasts seem disappointed with Elijah Wood’s Frodo. Whether by design or necessity, the screenwriters have transformed the great hobbit hero evident in Tolkien’s text and distilled and weakened the author’s original vision. Jackson’s script is questionable, not merely because it diverges from the letter and spirit of Tolkien’s book. In this essay, “fidelity” becomes the launching point to analyze the shortcomings of Jackson’s film. The hobbit hero’s journey, both physical and psychological, is the heart of Tolkien’s masterpiece. Beyond the idea of “faithfulness” to Tolkien’s text, Jackson undermines the inner logic and thematic import of his film in the portrayal of Frodo.
Daniel Timmons received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and has published several articles and reviews on the work J.R.R. Tolkien. With George Clark, he co-edited the essay collection J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth (Greenwood, 2000). Timmons is also the writer, director, and producer for a literary documentary, “The Legacy of The Lord of the Rings.” The program has been broadcast on Bravo!, SPACE: The Imagination Station, Canadian Learning Television and Book Television
Kayla McKinney Wiggins: The Epic Hero and the Little Man
While the film version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings trilogy is impressive in its own right, there is a fundamental disjunction between the films and the source narratives that mars the films for those viewers who are long-time fans of the novels, of high fantasy, and of fine writing. Tolkien’s works are predicated on the power of narrative (of words) and the gradual building of character relationships. The films are predicated on images and action sequences, as demanded by the genre of film. In taking the focus off the evolution of character and placing it on action/adventure, however, Jackson fundamentally misreads (and misinterprets) the nature of the hero as it is understood in Tolkien’s writings and in his source material. This study will look at the role of hero in mythic tradition and in fantasy literature in an attempt to demonstrate what went wrong with the Jackson films.
Kayla McKinney Wiggins is the chair of the English department at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee. In addition to numerous articles on film, drama, and folklore, she is the author of Modern Verse Drama in English (Greenwood Press, 1993).