Tolkien on Film: critique
- 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 statementa 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 thisyou 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
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.
- At 04:14 PM 5/26/2005 +0000, Sara Ciborski wrote:
>Does anyone else find the article in Tolkien on Film, "Three Ages ofNo, I found it so meandering and waffly as to be generally incomprehensible.
>Imperial Cinema" by J.E. Smyth so dreadful as to be offensive?
However, my ears pricked up when I read this:
>In one long, bizarre paragraph he conflates Britain's dethronement inas "Britain's own ignominious dethronement in Egypt," by which Smyth surely
>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 thisyou can read it on page 19.
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.