Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy. Janice M. Bogstad and Philip E. Kaveny, eds. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland, 2011. 302 + viii pp. ISBN 978-0-7864-4636- 0. $35.00.
Reviewed by Emily E. Auger
[This review originally appeared in Mythlore 30.3/4 (#117/118) (2012): 151–52.]
Janice M. Bogstad and Philp E. Kaveny’s Picturing Tolkien has a preface, introduction and sixteen papers divided into two sections: “Techniques of Story and Structure” and “Techniques of Character and Culture.” The paper most crucial to both the “Story and Structure” and “Character and Culture” sections is John D. Rateliff’s “Two Kinds of Absence: Elision and Exclusion in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings” because it includes a listing of previous translations of Tolkien’s narrative into other mediums. Although the paper titles may point in other directions, some contributions stand out for offering, among other things, new answers or perspectives on questions and issues familiar to Tolkien fans and scholars: What does a Balrog look like (Dimitra Fimi)? Why is Bombadil not included in the film (Verlyn Flieger, John D. Rateliff, Kristin Thompson)? Why is there so much emphasis on Aragorn and Arwen in the film (Richard C. West)? And what about Tolkien’s narrative structure (Yvette Kisor and E.L. Risden)?
Others stand out because they address subjects also treated in the alternate section; thus this collection provides a more studied treatment of those subjects than might be expected. For example, Gollum is discussed by Kristin Thompson in the Techniques in Story and Structure section and by Philip E. Kaveny in the Techniques of Character and Culture section. Thompson gets down to the effectiveness of the shot/reverse shot treatment of Gollum’s arguments with himself, while Kaveny shows how Gollum serves as “an abridger,” who “integrat[es] the big picture of what is at stake on a moral ethical and spiritual level” (189). Sharin Schroeder’s discussion of the influence and treatment of monsters ranges from Tolkien’s fascination with Beowulf to the filmic cave troll and makes frequent reference to the Frankenstein myth; while Janice M. Bogstad shows how the role of horses is expanded in the film so they “seem to exist as both non-sentient and sentient beings [that] function at mythic/mystical levels” (239). The translation of the real world into the reel world is foregrounded in Robert C. Woosnam-Savage’s paper on the Weta Workshop’s manufacture and provision of arms and armor for the film, while the Anglo-Saxon contribution to Tolkien’s imagining of the Rohirrim is considered by Michael D.C. Drout.
Still other contributions stand out for their use of a particular concept or theory as a pivot for discussion or argument, and for that distinction they might even have made a tidy collection independent of the rest. Judy Ann Ford and Robin Anne Reid’s paper might be placed first in this collection within the collection for its reminder to readers that Tolkien borrowed from pre-existing mythic and narrative patterns and adapted them, just as Jackson adapted Tolkien’s work, and for its observation that the story is “eschatological; that is, [a story] about the end of the world, or the narrow averting of that ending, in a final battle between good and evil” (169). Second, in this sub-collection might be Janet Croft’s discussion of the filmic adaptation of Aragorn in relation to the hero monomyth as defined by Joseph Campbell and to the American superhero monomyth common in American film. Tolkien’s narrative fits primarily in the first pattern, but, as Croft shows, Jackson was very much influenced by the American variation that he knew from his own film-viewing experience. A natural follow-up to Croft’s study is Dimitra Fimi’s well-articulated paper on folklore in relation to the book and film. Fimi makes and develops the distinction between folklore in film, “that is, the use of myth, tale types, legend and any other expression of folklore in films and television” and “folklore about film and television, including popular legends and stories about these media, as well as fan ethnography or ‘the folklore of audiences’” (84). She notes that Tolkien’s own writing is marked by his keen awareness and study of myth and legend; just so, Jackson’s reformulation of Tolkien’s tale was influenced by fandom and fans. Fourth, Brian D. Walter’s analysis of Gandalf is focused on the problem of representing a figure of power in a story with many characters and events; he shows how Jackson, like Tolkien, had to find ways of removing Gandalf from the stage to allow other characters and aspects of the story to develop. Fifth and last but by no means least, is Joseph Ricke and Catherine Barnett’s consideration of the numinous in relation to the role and presentation of Lothlórien. The authors of each of these five essays chose a concept or theory to mediate a discussion of the translation of text into film, provide a careful description of that concept or theory, layout the relevant points of comparison from text and film, and show how certain aspects of the story were translated from one medium to the other by way of Jackson’s treatment of the particular concept or theory. Like almost any publication on The Lord of the Rings, however, all of Picturing Tolkien will be of interest to scholars and fans, and although the objective throughout this collection is the analysis of the Jackson trilogy, the comparisons and references to the text are sufficiently numerous and careful to make it a worthwhile study even for those most dedicated to Tolkien in the original.