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bogus consensus

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  • Rateliff, John
    ... [T]here s a strong consensus among serious Tolkien scholars ... First, I don t submit my critical judgments to majority vote. Second, your
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 9, 2005
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      > > Finally, I think there's a consensus (everywhere except on this list)
      > >that Jackson's films aren't "excretions" and they're far more than merely
      > >tolerable: they're great works as well as successful adaptations.
      >
      <David wrote>
      [T]here's a strong consensus among serious Tolkien scholars
      > everywhere that the films are, in their capacity as adaptations, severe and
      > unnecessary distortions. You are the primary, and a very singular,
      > exception to this consensus.
      >
      First, I don't submit my critical judgments to majority vote.
      Second, your statement is so oddly phrased that I really don't know what it's supposed to mean. That the films are not perfect and could have been better? Peter Jackson himself no doubt would agree. That I think they represent the best possible film adaptation? Obviously you haven't read my reviews. That they represent the best-ever adaptation of Tolkien? Wrong again; the Mind's Eye Theater's performance of The Hobbit get my vote there.
      Most importantly, if you mean to imply that I'm the only Tolkien scholar who does not share your remarkable antipathy for the films ("excretions"), then the statement is flagrantly false, as you well know. You yourself, in your TOLKIEN ON FILM essay, take Shippey to task for not being sufficiently anti-Jackson. Brian Sibley, whose work as an adapter of Tolkien you praise in your essay, not only wrote two books in connection with the Jackson films but appears on the commentary disk of the extended edition. Other Tolkien scholars who have either praised the films or been willing to associate themselves with them include Richard West, Bill Weldon, John Garth, Kristin Thompson, David Salo, Colin Duriez, and Patrick Curry, a number of whom appear in the documentary accompanying the extended edition of RotK to help explain Tolkien's life, work, and thought to people who have been introduced to his writings by the film. That's an extremely diverse group to dismiss out of hand or to target with ad hominem attacks (e.g., your equating disagreement with you as "ignorance"); for one thing, you'd have to extend it to include roughly half of your fellow contributors to TOLKIEN ON FILM.

      > We already have had ample evidence presented that people confuse
      > the film with the book.
      >
      No, we don't have "ample evidence", we just have some anecdotal examples of your being on a bad panel at a con, of a journalist getting a fact wrong (gasp), of a freshman asking a stupid question, and the like. Same old same old we've seen for twenty years (and some for forty). Besides, in a post last week you ruled out the use of any anecdotal evidence that might disprove your thesis, so it's only fair that you accept a similar restriction against using selective anecdotes as evidence for that thesis.

      > Why is a different book by a different author confusable with the original, while a film retelling of the original story is not? <snip>
      > Adaptation into another medium is exactly . . . "trying to write in another author's voice."
      >
      You yourself said people couldn't understand the different between a book with "Brian Herbert" on the cover and one that said "Frank Herbert".* You yourself expressed admiration for some adaptations of Tolkien into other mediums (e.g., Craig Russell's music, which I bought on your recommendation and am listening to now). If you seriously think people can't distinguish between an adaptation and the original-say, Bo Hansson's electronic doodlings and LotR-then there's no point in my restating my comment in other words.

      *(personally, I think there's a difference between "can't" and "choose not to").

      > >If you read carefully what I wrote, you'll find I don't share your fear of
      > >adaptations into other media, whether it's films, music, spoken-word
      > >recordings, plays, graphic novels, art, or whatever. My distaste is for >
      > >authors so unoriginal that, instead of creating their own worlds or
      > >characters they have to munch and mumble the bare old bones of other
      > >authors. I think it's a mistake to try to write in another author's voice
      > >rather than your own.
      >
      > > In short: creating a new work, or adapting a work into a wholly new
      > >medium (such as Jackson making films based on LotR) does not harm the
      > >original work in any way, however well or badly the adaptation is done.
      > >Writing new stories by another hand, whether it's pseudo-Conan,
      > >pseudo-Herbert, pseudo-Barrie, pseudo-CLS, or whatever, doesn't harm the
      > >original author's work either but it's tacky and not to be encouraged.
      >
      > We've already been over the "harm of the original work" question, and amply
      > proven that it does harm readerly understanding of the original work
      >
      No, we've had no proof of that point. Repeated assertions of strongly held opinions is not "proof".

      > >they've built up their own community and started their own branch of Tolkien
      > >scholarship that in time will probably turn out to be just as valid as the
      > >one that grew out of fanzines.
      >
      > As Carl said earlier, this will be Jackson scholarship, not Tolkien
      > scholarship.
      >
      Carl said so, but I disagree (unless you consider all the essays in TOLKIEN ON FILM to be "Jackson scholarship", in which case you're now a leading Jackson scholar). For example, the essays that make up Henry Gee's THE SCIENCE OF MIDDLE-EARTH originated as an occasional on-line column at a film-fan website, but he does not discuss the film-rather, he draws his readers into consideration of various conceptions underlying Tolkien's Middle-earth (e.g., ents in the light of modern extinction theory). By contrast, Kristin Thompson's book looks to be primarily about the films, judging by her article.
      Put it this way: I don't think the original readers of ENTMOOT, I PALANTIR, and THE GREEN DRAGON could have foreseen the high level of scholarship that would arise out of Tolkien fanzines (quite early on, too-cf. ORCRIST). I don't think that generation, looking at the web-sites set up in the last few years by people who discovered Tolkien's works because they'd seen and liked the films and wanted to know more, can altogether appreciate that the same phenomenon is at work and is likely to lead, eventually, to similar results.

      --JDR


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • David Bratman
      ... That s a pretty funny statement, considering that you just quoted yourself ... There you are backing up your own opinion by claiming that it s widespread
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 9, 2005
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        At 03:48 PM 3/9/2005 -0800, John Rateliff wrote:

        > First, I don't submit my critical judgments to majority vote.

        That's a pretty funny statement, considering that you just quoted yourself
        defending your own opinion in the words:

        > Finally, I think there's a consensus (everywhere except on this list)
        >that Jackson's films aren't "excretions" and they're far more than merely
        >tolerable: they're great works as well as successful adaptations.

        There you are backing up your own opinion by claiming that it's widespread
        and mine isn't.

        > Second, your statement is so oddly phrased that I really don't know what
        >it's supposed to mean. That the films are not perfect and could have been
        >better? Peter Jackson himself no doubt would agree. That I think they
        >represent the best possible film adaptation? Obviously you haven't read my
        >reviews. That they represent the best-ever adaptation of Tolkien? Wrong
        >again; the Mind's Eye Theater's performance of The Hobbit get my vote there.

        None of those things. They are, as I've been saying constantly for three
        years, much worse than they could easily have been, and unnecessarily so.

        > Most importantly, if you mean to imply that I'm the only Tolkien scholar
        >who does not share your remarkable antipathy for the films ("excretions"),

        No, I said "primary" which does not mean "only," and I said "singular"
        which refers to the strength of your defense of the films. You have
        certainly not claimed they were unflawed, but I know of no other Tolkien
        scholar whom I respect who has been as forthrightly pro-Jackson as yourself.

        >then the statement is flagrantly false, as you well know.

        Since it's not what I said, it isn't false.


        >You yourself, in
        >your TOLKIEN ON FILM essay, take Shippey to task for not being sufficiently
        >anti-Jackson.

        That is not what I took him to task for. I took him to task for making
        weak arguments. My point was that if he couldn't come up with strong
        arguments in favor of Jackson, nobody could. And I concluded that
        paragraph by noting that even he finishes despairingly with the hope that
        the film will send readers to the book.


        >Brian Sibley, whose work as an adapter of Tolkien you praise
        >in your essay, not only wrote two books in connection with the Jackson films

        which are very neutral and descriptive, as I recall. I can discuss Jackson
        neutrally and descriptively too, if I have to, and I have: just not much here.


        >Other Tolkien
        >scholars who have either praised the films or been willing to associate
        >themselves with them include Richard West, Bill Weldon, John Garth, Kristin
        >Thompson, David Salo, Colin Duriez, and Patrick Curry,

        This list includes no fewer than three people whose credentials as Tolkien
        scholars I don't take very seriously.

        It also includes one person who was willing to associate himself with the
        films until he saw them, and since then has maintained a discreet silence
        which I happen to know covers a severe disappointment. (There are things
        about the films he does like, but then there are things about the films
        that I like too.)

        The people I have talked to in the category you describe are mostly
        "resignedly acceptive." They accept the film's not going away, they
        acknowledge its good points, they hope some greater acceptance and
        understanding of Tolkien can come of it. In short, they hope to turn the
        Ring of Power to useful ends. I think they're foolish, not ignorant or evil.

        Note the entire absence from your pro-film list of such obscure and
        unimportant persons as Douglas A. Anderson, Wayne G. Hammond, Christina
        Scull, Verlyn Flieger, Carl F. Hostetter, Patrick H. Wynne, Arden R. Smith,
        Janet Brennan Croft, Jane Chance, Paula DiSante, and one Christopher
        Tolkien, none of whom is on record as praising the film any more than I
        have, some of whom dislike it much much more than I do, and many of whom
        have likewise maintained a discreet silence which I have not, because 1) I
        am much more willing to affiliate socially and intellectually with Jackson
        fans than they are, 2) I am more willing to bear the slings and arrows of
        outrageous fortune on the subject. And 3), as I said before, I actually
        enjoyed the films. What's more, this camp also includes a huge mass of
        serious Tolkien readers who are not scholars.

        >That's an extremely diverse group to dismiss
        >out of hand

        Not as diverse as the group you dismissed out of hand with your "consensus
        (everywhere except on this list)" which is flatly untrue.

        >or to target with ad hominem attacks (e.g., your equating
        >disagreement with you as "ignorance");

        What I said was a sign of ignorance was a belief that Jackson's work has
        Tolkien's greatness. I doubt that all the people on your list would say
        that. I'm not even sure you would say that. But show me a person, however
        eminent, who considers Jackson's work as great as Tolkien's as a
        myth/fantasy tale (I'm not talking about "as a pure filmmaking achievement"
        here, nor am I talking about merely chalking up numbers of
        readers/viewers), and yes, I will tell that person to his face that he is
        ignorant of where Tolkien's greatness lies.


        >for one thing, you'd have to extend
        >it to include roughly half of your fellow contributors to TOLKIEN ON FILM.

        Actually, I was surprised at how muted the praise of Jackson in the
        supposedly pro-Jackson essays in the book has been.


        > No, we don't have "ample evidence", we just have some anecdotal examples
        >of your being on a bad panel at a con, of a journalist getting a fact wrong
        >(gasp), of a freshman asking a stupid question, and the like. Same old same
        >old we've seen for twenty years (and some for forty).

        It's just started, and it's already more widespread than its predecessors.


        >Besides, in a post
        >last week you ruled out the use of any anecdotal evidence that might
        >disprove your thesis, so it's only fair that you accept a similar
        >restriction against using selective anecdotes as evidence for that thesis.

        Sorry, I can't find where I said any such thing. But if I did, I'm sure it
        was to say that no number of anecdotes that something does not exist can
        disprove its existence. But it only takes a few anecdotes that something
        does exist to prove that it does. The situations are not commutative.

        > You yourself said people couldn't understand the different between a book
        >with "Brian Herbert" on the cover and one that said "Frank Herbert".

        I said no such thing, so there's no point in discussing your
        disingenuousness any further.


        >> We've already been over the "harm of the original work" question, and amply
        >> proven that it does harm readerly understanding of the original work
        >>
        > No, we've had no proof of that point. Repeated assertions of strongly
        >held opinions is not "proof".

        Yes, we have. That's what all those anecdotes prove. It's argument not by
        assertion, but by example.


        >(unless you consider all the essays in
        >TOLKIEN ON FILM to be "Jackson scholarship", in which case you're now a
        >leading Jackson scholar).

        Yes they are, and yes I am. I deeply regret that I was forced into the
        position where I had to become one.


        >I don't think that generation, looking at the web-sites
        >set up in the last few years by people who discovered Tolkien's works
        >because they'd seen and liked the films and wanted to know more, can
        >altogether appreciate that the same phenomenon is at work and is likely to
        >lead, eventually, to similar results.

        I agree that some people will be led to the book from the film - people
        have been led to Tolkien from Bakshi, yea even from Rankin-Bass - and I've
        been saying that all along. I've also been saying that the MythSoc should
        welcome such people. What I fear is that many of them will inadvertently
        bring the film along with them. I haven't seen Henry Gee's book, but if it
        claims to be about Tolkien I shall examine it closely for traces of being
        inadvertently about Jackson instead.

        David Bratman
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