Mike Foster gave a good reply when asked how he, as a teacher of Tolkien
studies, responds when student papers include facts that are only true of
the Jackson films and not of the book. He tells them, "This came from the
movie you saw, not from the book you were supposed to read."
It's about time to start keeping track of so-called Tolkien scholars who do
the same thing. It's especially egregious when they're writing just about
Tolkien, but those who are comparing Tolkien and Jackson have a particular
obligation to keep track of which one said what.
I found an article as early as 2003 that quoted from Jackson's Saruman and
attributed it to Tolkien (see _Tolkien on Film_ p. 41), but by this point
we might as well begin classifying the prominent confusions.
The most common seems to be the identification of Aragorn as a reluctant
hero. Jackson's is; Tolkien's isn't. I was particularly amused by the
National Geographic "Behind the Movie" documentary narrated by John
Rhys-Davies, who intoned "Aragorn's reluctance is surprising," as indeed it
is to anyone who's read the book. Of course the documentary mixes the book
and films indiscriminately and isn't scholarship at all, but that was too
golden a moment of irony to miss.
But I have another candidate for an equally widespread confusion, this one
even more insidious because fewer people realize that applied to Tolkien
it's an error. I've seen it several times now, and its latest appearance
is the most appalling yet.
In the new issue of _Mythlore_, the journal of the Mythopoeic Society -
_Mythlore_, which really ought to know better - is an article by Allison
Harl contrasting the use of the visual gaze of evil watchers in Tolkien and
Jackson. FIrst she discusses "The Gaze in the Book" (p. 62-65), then "The
Gaze in the Movies" (p. 65-69). OK, that's clear enough. But on p. 63,
when she's still discussing the book, she writes, "In his disembodied
state, Sauron is reduced to a single large, unblinking eye".
No, no, no! This came from the movie you saw, Ms. Harl, not from the book
you were supposed to read.
Did anyone, before Jackson, ever mistake the phrase "The Eye of Sauron" for
meaning that Sauron was physically a disembodied lump of vitreous matter?
I can't recall that they did, but they do it all the time now. Applied to
the book, it's a mistake. (And apparently it was Jackson's mistake: this
isn't a change he made deliberately but his sloppy misreading of the book;
see _Tolkien on Film_ p. 31). "The Eye of Sauron" is a synecdoche; "of"
here means "belonging to." In the book, Gollum twice refers to Sauron as
"The Black Hand", and that doesn't even have "of" in it - does anyone
reading that imagine Sauron as Thing from the Addams Family movies, a
disembodied hand running around on its fingers?
When would Sauron have been reduced to eyehood anyway? His body was
destroyed in the wreck of Numenor, but as an Ainu he constructed a new one
and wore the Ring on his finger. We see Jackson's version of that body in
its armor in the prologue scene, wielding its +10 Mace of Power. Isildur
cuts the ring finger off and takes the Ring, but he doesn't have the
capacity to destroy the body. "He has only four [fingers] on the Black
Hand, but they are enough," says Tolkien's Gollum, and one wonders if he'd
seen that hand personally.
To my mind, the vague, undepicted image of Sauron crouched over his
palantir, peering into it, sending his gaze out in the form of his Eye even
to such safe havens as Galadriel's Mirror, is evocative and terrifying.
But Sauron the physically helpless - no hands, no legs, no mouth [did
anyone imagine that the guy who calls himself "The Mouth of Sauron" meant
anything other than the Mouthpiece of Sauron? That he was literally his
mouth and that his boss couldn't speak?] - a big lump of vitreous humor
stuck up there at the top of Barad-dur, is comic, ridiculous, absurd. That
big comic double-take it takes when it realizes it's been fooled - it's one
of the silliest things in the movie.
And there are people out there who actually think this is Tolkien's idea?
Shame, shame. Let Jackson be Jackson, but let Tolkien be Tolkien. Shame
for writing it, shame for publishing it.
- David Bratman