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15067Re: Tolkien on Film: critique (long) [repeat]

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  • saraciborski
    May 29, 2005
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      I am resending this--it's an exact repeat--because I see that my
      earlier post doesn't have the little quote marks on the margins that
      enable a reader to distinguish between what's being quoted from
      someone else's message and what is being said anew. {Maybe because I
      sent it from within my e-mail program???) Anyway I resend it properly
      now only so it's in the archive in a readable form--responses have
      already been made.

      --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, "Croft, Janet B." <jbcroft@o...>
      > What I find especially interesting is that a history professor
      >recently told me he felt this was the best essay in the book! Maybe
      >it depends on your perspective on the idea of Empire -- as someone
      >who's very knowledgable about both Alexander the Great and Winston
      >Churchill, perhaps his concept of "empire" is different. (Perhaps
      >it's also because he DID like the movies.) ....

      Well, regardless of one's concept of "empire," Smyth's conclusions
      are untenable (and therefore the essay is not the best in the book)
      because he bases them on demonstrable misinterpretations, distortions
      and shifty parallels. For example, he says in his concluding
      paragraph, "In 1915, as Tolkien lost faith in history, he imagined a
      great age of imperialism, glorious fallen empires, and rising
      imperial threats." The content of T's early writings has little to do
      with imperialism and empires. The presence of the Elves on Middle-
      earth in the First Age was not an empire but a diaspora; their
      kingdoms and settlements were autonomous enclaves; there was no
      central government. The Second Age Numenoreans might possible qualify
      as imperialistic, but Tolkien didn't conceive and elaborate their
      history until much, much later than 1915, if I recall correctly from
      my reading of The History of Middle-Earth. In any case, he portrays
      it as falling into extreme decadence (i.e. his attitude toward it was
      not positive).

      > Anyway, I don't think Smyth was totally off in seeing something of
      >an ambivalent nostalgia for "empire" in Tolkien's work....

      I think that Tolkien's views on empire, whatever they may have been,
      cannot be deduced from a careful reading of The Lord of the Rings or
      The Silmarillion. The nostalgia expressed by Elves in LotR is not for
      empire, but for the diminishing creative power of the three elven
      rings, for access to Valinor and the former closeness to the Valar
      (as spiritual sources of all that is good, true and beautiful), for
      the beauty and freshness of Middle-earth now besmirched by Sauron-
      wrought evils of various kinds, and so forth.

      > But the older history of Middle-earth, especially as seen in the
      Silmarillion (which Tolkien
      > began writing while he was defending the British empire in the
      > trenches), is full of great empires and their rise and fall, their
      > inherent strengths and weaknesses.

      As said above, Tolkien's writings on the Second Age came later, not
      during WWI or its aftermath. The First Age tales...well Gondolin was
      a kind of small empire, but certainly not an imperialistic one.
      Likewise Doriath. Both Turgon and Thingol went to great lengths to
      avoid contact with other peoples. I just don't see how this history
      can be characterized as a projection of views about imperialism.

      > I think Smyth's discussion of the theme of imperial ambivalence in
      > British film is fascinating.

      I agree; I did find those parts interesting, though I am not sure I
      trust his scholarship, given his distortions and misreadings of
      Tolkien (and of Jackson).

      >You talk about the "essence" of the story, but remember,
      > Tolkien felt he was writing "feigned history," whatever the
      >underlying spiritual themes might be, so we can't entirely discount
      >the surface themes dealing with right government. I feel Aragorn can
      >be an archetype, a historical figure, and a commentary on (real)
      > kingship all at the same time -- a work as rich as The Lord of the
      > can be read on all these levels. On the other hand, I hate to see
      > Lord of the Rings reduced to a justification for a particular
      > view, though I think it can inform one's own political thinking.
      Yes, the reductionism is what I get incensed about. I am about two
      thirds through with Matthew Dickerson's wonderful book, "Following
      Gandalf," and his insights have some relevance to my main point and
      source of distress with Smyth's essay. LotR is about the power of
      moral rather than military victory. It speaks to questions of human
      freedom and creativity, death and loss, free will and responsibility,
      individual moral choice and moral courage, and the spiritual origins
      and capacities of the human being.
      In extracting from both book and film some bare facts (that battles
      are fought, evil overcome, empire ((not really)) established) Smyth
      obscures, not to say obliterates all this "speaking" of the book.
      Millions of people from different walks of life, conditions, classes,
      races, nationalities find this book speaks to them. It isn't and it
      cannot be because it offers views about western empire as a bulwark
      against evil.

      I don't mean to rant. It's wonderful to be able to expound one's
      views this way.

      Sara Ciborski
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