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Tolkien on Film: critique

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  • saraciborski
    Does anyone else find the article in Tolkien on Film, Three Ages of Imperial Cinema by J.E. Smyth so dreadful as to be offensive? He argues his thesis, that
    Message 1 of 2 , May 26, 2005
      Does anyone else find the article in Tolkien on Film, "Three Ages of
      Imperial Cinema" by J.E. Smyth so dreadful as to be offensive?

      He argues his thesis, that the LR films represent a return of "the
      old-fashioned imperial film," through what seems to me a series of
      slippery moves, unjustified parallels, murky linkages and incorrect
      statements. For example, he says that Tolkien "transformed Britain's
      years of imperial decay into the saga of Middle-earth" in his
      creation of the history of Elves and Men who were "possessors of an
      enormous empire approximating the size of Europe and Russia." It is
      this kind of statement—a mix of misinterpretation (of Tolkien's
      inspiration and sources) and fact (the size of the empire)—on which
      he builds his case.

      In one long, bizarre paragraph he conflates Britain's dethronement in
      Egypt (1955), war as depicted in TT as reviewed by C.S. Lewis,
      the "decline of the Elvish and Numenorian Empires," Aragorn's
      coronation, and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. I won't
      take the space to show how he manages this—you can read it on page 19.

      The Jackson films, he says, "have remade memories of Western
      imperialism as the only honorable alternative to an evil Eastern
      Empire." Further, "The Lord of the Rings looks upon imperial decay
      with nostalgia and regret….Tolkien and Jackson's solution was Return
      of the King and the coronation of Aragorn in the white imperial city
      of Gondor." And he ends by asking, Are they (Tolkien and Jackson)
      posing the solution as the "the only certain defense against Eastern
      terrorism?"

      I am quite sure that Jackson, whose primary motivation in making the
      films was to make money, doesn't deserve this imputation of political
      motives. (And I suspect he does not subscribe to the simplistic evil-
      East-good West ideology in any case) Be that as it may, Smyth mixes
      up Jackson and Tolkien (just as David Bratman predicted would happen)
      and makes Tolkien responsible for the film's imperialist message,
      saying in an earlier passage that the "the real creator [of what?] is
      of course J.R.R. Tolkien."

      What most bothers me always about any attempt to link LR (book or
      film) with real politics, however, is that it misses the essence: if
      Aragorn's achievement of kingship refers to anything beyond the story
      itself, it is the archetypal and universal human journey, the
      individual's struggle for meaningful, authentic self-realization.

      I find the thesis and the logic of this article preposterous. Or am I
      missing some redeeming aspect? Tolkien on Film contains several
      articles that I disagree with sharply, but on the whole it's a great
      book. I just wish it didn't open with Smyth.

      Should this be labelled "long post"? Sorry.
      Sara Ciborski
    • David Bratman
      ... No, I found it so meandering and waffly as to be generally incomprehensible. ... as Britain s own ignominious dethronement in Egypt, by which Smyth
      Message 2 of 2 , May 27, 2005
        At 04:14 PM 5/26/2005 +0000, Sara Ciborski wrote:
        >Does anyone else find the article in Tolkien on Film, "Three Ages of
        >Imperial Cinema" by J.E. Smyth so dreadful as to be offensive?

        No, I found it so meandering and waffly as to be generally incomprehensible.

        However, my ears pricked up when I read this:

        >In one long, bizarre paragraph he conflates Britain's dethronement in
        >Egypt (1955), war as depicted in TT as reviewed by C.S. Lewis,
        >the "decline of the Elvish and Numenorian Empires," Aragorn's
        >coronation, and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. I won't
        >take the space to show how he manages this—you can read it on page 19.

        as "Britain's own ignominious dethronement in Egypt," by which Smyth surely
        means the Suez Crisis, did not occur until almost exactly one year later.
        The Suez Crisis was kicked off when Nasser announced plans to nationalize
        the Canal in July of 1956, and British forces occupied the area on November
        5. But the magazine issue (the one with Lewis's review and the "Storm in
        the Desert" editorial) is dated 22 October 1955. I don't have it handy to
        look at, but since Smyth doesn't say what the editorial is actually about,
        my guess is it relates to an Egyptian-Israeli military skirmish on 16 October.

        Smyth quotes the editorial as warning of an impending security threat in
        the Middle East, which as a piece of prognostication is on a level with
        standing around predicting that there would be snow that winter. But
        surely the lesson of the actual Suez Crisis that followed, AND the lesson
        that Boromir had to learn about the Ring, AND the lesson that the U.S. has
        so far failed to learn from September 11th, is that it's not enough to
        respond to evil, you have to respond in the right way.

        One of Gandalf and Elrond's points was that pure military force would not
        solve the problem of the Ring. "Had I a host of Elves in armour of the
        Elder Days, it would avail little, save to arouse the power of Mordor,"
        says Elrond in "The Ring Goes South." Kind of ironic that Suez culminated
        in a massive British military occupation that accomplished nothing except
        an ignominious retreat.

        David Bratman
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