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Tolkien letter touching on screen adaptation

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    There s a 1964 letter by Tolkien to a Miss Carde Ward currently being auctioned on eBay, which touches briefly on the matter of adaptation of _The Lord of the
    Message 1 of 15 , May 23, 2008
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      There's a 1964 letter by Tolkien to a Miss Carde Ward currently being
      auctioned on eBay, which touches briefly on the matter of adaptation
      of _The Lord of the Rings_ for the screen:

      http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=140235215675

      Money quote:

      "I am personally averse to dramatizations of my work, especially of
      _The Lord of the Rings_, which is too long for reproduction without
      severe cutting and editings: in my view destructive, or at best
      severely damaging to a complicated by closely-woven story."

      Carl
    • John D Rateliff
      Thanks for posting the link, Carl. Interesting letter, and the same seller s also auctioning off ten books from Dorothy L. Sayers library. --John R.
      Message 2 of 15 , May 24, 2008
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        Thanks for posting the link, Carl. Interesting letter, and the same
        seller's also auctioning off ten books from Dorothy L. Sayers' library.
        --John R.


        On May 23, 2008, at 2:08 PM, Carl F. Hostetter wrote:

        > There's a 1964 letter by Tolkien to a Miss Carde Ward currently being
        > auctioned on eBay, which touches briefly on the matter of adaptation
        > of _The Lord of the Rings_ for the screen:
        >
        > http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=140235215675
        >
        > Money quote:
        >
        > "I am personally averse to dramatizations of my work, especially of
        > _The Lord of the Rings_, which is too long for reproduction without
        > severe cutting and editings: in my view destructive, or at best
        > severely damaging to a complicated by closely-woven story."
        >
        > Carl
      • Carl F. Hostetter
        ... That is of course Carole Ward . Sorry for the typo. I see that Wayne and Christina note this very letter in the Chronology volume (vol. 1) of their
        Message 3 of 15 , May 25, 2008
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          > On May 23, 2008, at 2:08 PM, Carl F. Hostetter wrote:
          >
          > > There's a 1964 letter by Tolkien to a Miss Carde Ward
          >

          That is of course "Carole Ward". Sorry for the typo.

          I see that Wayne and Christina note this very letter in the
          "Chronology" volume (vol. 1) of their _J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and
          Guide_ (p. 621). Further correspondence with Miss Ward is mentioned on
          pp. 622-3.

          Carl
        • John Davis
          Hi, On the other hand, I wonder if Tolkien could have invisaged, at that time, both the effects available to a film-maker today, or the fact that the
          Message 4 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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            Hi,

            On the other hand, I wonder if Tolkien could have invisaged, at that time,
            both the effects available to a film-maker today, or the fact that the
            dramatisation would be over ten hours long? And if so, whether that would
            have served to alleviate his concerns?

            John
            ----- Original Message -----
            From: "Carl F. Hostetter" <Aelfwine@...>
            To: <mythsoc@yahoogroups.com>
            Sent: Friday, May 23, 2008 10:08 PM
            Subject: [mythsoc] Tolkien letter touching on screen adaptation


            > There's a 1964 letter by Tolkien to a Miss Carde Ward currently being
            > auctioned on eBay, which touches briefly on the matter of adaptation
            > of _The Lord of the Rings_ for the screen:
            >
            > http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=140235215675
            >
            > Money quote:
            >
            > "I am personally averse to dramatizations of my work, especially of
            > _The Lord of the Rings_, which is too long for reproduction without
            > severe cutting and editings: in my view destructive, or at best
            > severely damaging to a complicated by closely-woven story."
            >
            > Carl
            >
            >
            >
          • David Emerson
            ... I feel that he would. His objection to dramatizations of fantasy (as expressed in On Fairy Stories ) seemed to have been based at least in part on how
            Message 5 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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              >On the other hand, I wonder if Tolkien could have invisaged, at that time,
              >both the effects available to a film-maker today, or the fact that the
              >dramatisation would be over ten hours long? And if so, whether that would
              >have served to alleviate his concerns?

              I feel that he would. His objection to dramatizations of fantasy (as expressed in "On Fairy Stories") seemed to have been based at least in part on how unconvincing the fantasy element would be when performed on a stage. The very believable nature of current CGI effects may well have eliminated this particular concern.

              On the other hand, I also feel that he would have detested the Peter Jackson version.



              emerdavid

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            • David Bratman
              ... Almost certainly not, as far as I can judge from his comments. True enough that Tolkien mocked unsuccessful special effects in staged fantasies ( though
              Message 6 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                David Emerson <emerdavid@...> wrote:

                >>On the other hand, I wonder if Tolkien could have invisaged, at that time,
                >>both the effects available to a film-maker today, or the fact that the
                >>dramatisation would be over ten hours long? And if so, whether that would
                >>have served to alleviate his concerns?
                >
                >I feel that he would. His objection to dramatizations of fantasy (as expressed in
                >"On Fairy Stories") seemed to have been based at least in part on how unconvincing
                >the fantasy element would be when performed on a stage. The very believable
                >nature of current CGI effects may well have eliminated this particular concern.

                Almost certainly not, as far as I can judge from his comments.

                True enough that Tolkien mocked unsuccessful special effects in staged fantasies ("though done with some ingenuity of lighting, disbelief had not so much to be suspended as hung, drawn, and quartered"), he also said, in the previous sentence, that "Had this [the metamorphosis of the ogre into a mouse] been mechanically successful [i.e. had it been done with believable sfx], it would either have terrified the spectators or else have been just a turn of high-class conjuring."

                No, Tolkien was not one who would have been bowled over by believable CGI. The fantasy in the head of the reader was, to him, a profoundly different thing from the fantasy you can watch taking place. This is part of why he considered drama a different art form from literature. But it's a concern that just doesn't click with most people, especially those (not that you're necessarily one of them) whose first thought on reading a good fantasy novel is to dream of the movie that could be made of it.

                I also dispute the premise: "the very believable nature of current CGI effects." I still await truly realistic CGI. I found Jackson's Gollum to be creepily plastic when in the same scene as the physical Frodo and Sam, and the tinkertoy orcs falling off the causeway at Helm's Deep were just awful. And I'm far less picky than Tolkien would be. The original Star Wars, impressive enough at the time, looks pretty moth-eaten 30 years later, and I am convinced that Jackson's LOTR will look the same when it's 30 years old. But - and here's the point - Tolkien's novel has been around for over 50 years, and it's still as vivid as when it was new.

                It must also be remembered that Tolkien's objections to dramatizations of his book extended far beyond bad sfx. I won't even go into the criticisms he made of the first radio version of LOTR, in which sfx weren't even an issue, or the theoretical problems he had with framing secondary worlds within the secondary world of drama. I'll just mention that the idea that a ten-hour dramatization solves the condensation problems is, on looking at the result, just risible. It was not, in the event, long enough to capture even the spirit, let alone the text, of the book, while being, if anything, too long for good drama.

                >On the other hand, I also feel that he would have
                >detested the Peter Jackson version.

                On that we can agree, but why would he have detested it? Not because Jackson didn't use the best CGI available today, because he did use it. Not because Jackson's film is too short - again, it's if anything too long. But because of the inherent nature of dramatization. I think that if Jackson had done a better job, he might have been able to satisfy me - in brief moments here and there, he did so. But I am far less picky towards or protective of Tolkien's work than he was himself.
              • David Emerson
                ... I ll admit that Tolkien s argument against dramatization had more to do with the inherent nature of the form than with the quality of the special effects.
                Message 7 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                  >>On the other hand, I also feel that he would have
                  >>detested the Peter Jackson version.
                  >
                  >On that we can agree, but why would he have detested it? Not because Jackson didn't use the best CGI available today, because he did use it. Not because Jackson's film is too short - again, it's if anything too long. But because of the inherent nature of dramatization. I think that if Jackson had done a better job, he might have been able to satisfy me - in brief moments here and there, he did so. But I am far less picky towards or protective of Tolkien's work than he was himself.

                  I'll admit that Tolkien's argument against dramatization had more to do with the inherent nature of the form than with the quality of the special effects. As far as why JRRT would have detested Jackson's films, even if he *had* been impressed with the effects, I would imagine he would have felt too many important things were left out (language, song, Bombadil), too many non-Tolkien things were made up out of whole cloth and inserted without reason, and too many changes to plot and character that violated the spirit of the original text.

                  emerdavid

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                  A better way to Internet
                  http://www.peoplepc.com
                • Lynn Maudlin
                  My own sense is that Tolkien s greatest umbrage would be at the misrepresentation of his characters; every one was comprised in their nature by Jackson et.al.
                  Message 8 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                    My own sense is that Tolkien's greatest umbrage would be at the
                    misrepresentation of his characters; every one was comprised in their
                    nature by Jackson et.al. and this would have grieved him mightily, I
                    think.

                    I do wonder about the possibility of a 'maxi-series' - something
                    keeping much closer to the books and running an hour weekly over the
                    course of a season could have been quite wonderful with the right
                    screenwriter adapting it and the emphasis on story and character
                    rather than battles, special effects, and the bad dental work of orcs.

                    All that is rich but very secondary and Jackson made it primary.

                    *sigh*

                    And thus far Narnia has suffered similar Jacsonification ("gee, there
                    aren't enough battle sequences in 'Prince Caspian' and if we strip out
                    all the Bacchus stuff and all the 'following Aslan even if nobody else
                    can see Him' stuff, there's not much story there... I know, let's have
                    another battle! yeah!!"). I have some hopes for 'Voyage of the Dawn
                    Treader' because they're going with Michael Apted (directed 'Amazing
                    Grace' on Wilberforce) and a different screenwriter - still, it could
                    be so badly mangled... *shudder*

                    -- Lynn --

                    --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, David Emerson <emerdavid@...> wrote:
                    >
                    > >>On the other hand, I also feel that he would have
                    > >>detested the Peter Jackson version.
                    > >
                    > >On that we can agree, but why would he have detested it? Not
                    because Jackson didn't use the best CGI available today, because he
                    did use it. Not because Jackson's film is too short - again, it's if
                    anything too long. But because of the inherent nature of
                    dramatization. I think that if Jackson had done a better job, he
                    might have been able to satisfy me - in brief moments here and there,
                    he did so. But I am far less picky towards or protective of Tolkien's
                    work than he was himself.
                    >
                    > I'll admit that Tolkien's argument against dramatization had more to
                    do with the inherent nature of the form than with the quality of the
                    special effects. As far as why JRRT would have detested Jackson's
                    films, even if he *had* been impressed with the effects, I would
                    imagine he would have felt too many important things were left out
                    (language, song, Bombadil), too many non-Tolkien things were made up
                    out of whole cloth and inserted without reason, and too many changes
                    to plot and character that violated the spirit of the original text.
                    >
                    > emerdavid
                    >
                    > ________________________________________
                    > PeoplePC Online
                    > A better way to Internet
                    > http://www.peoplepc.com
                    >
                  • Lynn Maudlin
                    I meant compromised of course... y all probably figured that out, eh? -- Lynn --
                    Message 9 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                      I meant "compromised" of course... y'all probably figured that out, eh?

                      -- Lynn --

                      --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, "Lynn Maudlin" <lynnmaudlin@...> wrote:
                      >
                      > My own sense is that Tolkien's greatest umbrage would be at the
                      > misrepresentation of his characters; every one was comprised in their
                      > nature by Jackson et.al. and this would have grieved him mightily, I
                      > think.
                      >
                    • Mike Foster
                      So have y all scheduled a Mythcon panel on The Jackson-Del Toro HOBBIT Films: Why We Hate Them Already ? ;-) Cheers, Mike ... From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                      Message 10 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                        So have y'all scheduled a Mythcon panel on "The Jackson-Del Toro HOBBIT
                        Films: Why We Hate Them Already"?

                        ;-)

                        Cheers,
                        Mike

                        -----Original Message-----
                        From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com [mailto:mythsoc@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf
                        Of Lynn Maudlin
                        Sent: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 3:30 PM
                        To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                        Subject: [mythsoc] Re: Tolkien letter touching on screen adaptation

                        I meant "compromised" of course... y'all probably figured that out, eh?

                        -- Lynn --

                        --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups <mailto:mythsoc%40yahoogroups.com> .com,
                        "Lynn Maudlin" <lynnmaudlin@...> wrote:
                        >
                        > My own sense is that Tolkien's greatest umbrage would be at the
                        > misrepresentation of his characters; every one was comprised in their
                        > nature by Jackson et.al. and this would have grieved him mightily, I
                        > think.
                        >



                        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                      • Mike Foster
                        So have y all scheduled a Mythcon panel on The Jackson-Del Toro HOBBIT Films: Why We Hate Them Already ? ;-) Cheers, Mike ... From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                        Message 11 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                          So have y'all scheduled a Mythcon panel on "The Jackson-Del Toro HOBBIT
                          Films: Why We Hate Them Already"?

                          ;-)

                          Cheers,
                          Mike

                          -----Original Message-----
                          From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com [mailto:mythsoc@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf
                          Of Lynn Maudlin
                          Sent: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 3:30 PM
                          To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                          Subject: [mythsoc] Re: Tolkien letter touching on screen adaptation

                          I meant "compromised" of course... y'all probably figured that out, eh?

                          -- Lynn --

                          --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups <mailto:mythsoc%40yahoogroups.com> .com,
                          "Lynn Maudlin" <lynnmaudlin@...> wrote:
                          >
                          > My own sense is that Tolkien's greatest umbrage would be at the
                          > misrepresentation of his characters; every one was comprised in their
                          > nature by Jackson et.al. and this would have grieved him mightily, I
                          > think.
                          >



                          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                        • David Bratman
                          ... That would be superfluous, wouldn t it?
                          Message 12 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                            Mike Foster <mafoster@...> wrote:

                            >So have y'all scheduled a Mythcon panel on "The Jackson-Del Toro HOBBIT
                            >Films: Why We Hate Them Already"?

                            That would be superfluous, wouldn't it?
                          • David Bratman
                            ... And it s salutary to examine the why of these things. Bombadil was left out essentially because he was the only skien of the story that could be abridged
                            Message 13 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                              David Emerson <emerdavid@...> wrote:

                              >As far as why JRRT would have detested Jackson's films,
                              >even if he *had* been impressed with the effects, I would
                              >imagine he would have felt too many important things were
                              >left out (language, song, Bombadil), too many non-Tolkien
                              >things were made up out of whole cloth and inserted without
                              >reason, and too many changes to plot and character that
                              >violated the spirit of the original text.

                              And it's salutary to examine the why of these things. Bombadil was left out essentially because he was the only skien of the story that could be abridged out at all without doing massive violence to the story (ignoring what his omission does to the theme and the feel). As to the other things you mention? Well, we've been told over and over again that they HAD to be done, because it's a MOOOOVIE. And thus we are assured by the self-appointed explainers of filmdom that whole cloth insertions and rampant spirit violations are an inherent element of the cinematic art.
                            • John D Rateliff
                              I don t think it would have made any difference. Tolkien would have hated any adaptation, no matter how well done, no matter how well any special effects were
                              Message 14 of 15 , Jun 4, 2008
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                                I don't think it would have made any difference. Tolkien would have
                                hated any adaptation, no matter how well done, no matter how well any
                                special effects were handled, no matter how long or short the
                                results. And he would have hated any changes, no matter how
                                insignificant. He did not like green eggs and ham, he did not like
                                them Sam-I-Am.
                                --JDR


                                On May 28, 2008, at 9:06 AM, David Emerson wrote:
                                > [John Davis wrote:]
                                >> On the other hand, I wonder if Tolkien could have invisaged, at
                                >> that time,
                                >> both the effects available to a film-maker today, or the fact that
                                >> the
                                >> dramatisation would be over ten hours long? And if so, whether
                                >> that would
                                >> have served to alleviate his concerns?
                                >
                                > I feel that he would. His objection to dramatizations of fantasy
                                > (as expressed in "On Fairy Stories") seemed to have been based at
                                > least in part on how unconvincing the fantasy element would be when
                                > performed on a stage. The very believable nature of current CGI
                                > effects may well have eliminated this particular concern.
                                >
                                > On the other hand, I also feel that he would have detested the
                                > Peter Jackson version.
                              • David Bratman
                                ... True enough, but mostly because it either _couldn t_ be done well or _wouldn t_ be done well; the insistence of film people, despite their collectively
                                Message 15 of 15 , Jun 5, 2008
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                                  John D Rateliff <sacnoth@...> wrote:

                                  >I don't think it would have made any difference. Tolkien would have
                                  >hated any adaptation, no matter how well done, no matter how well any
                                  >special effects were handled, no matter how long or short the
                                  >results. And he would have hated any changes, no matter how
                                  >insignificant. He did not like green eggs and ham, he did not like
                                  >them Sam-I-Am.

                                  True enough, but mostly because it either _couldn't_ be done well or _wouldn't_ be done well; the insistence of film people, despite their collectively spotty track record, that they know what they're doing and renowned long-selling fiction writers don't, means there's no effective difference between the two. From Tolkien's point of view, the principle arises from the practice.

                                  Nor is the green-eggs-and-ham guy a good reference. He said he didn't like green eggs and ham because he hadn't tried them. Tolkien did like, or at least didn't mind so much, the idea of dramatization of his work _until_ he'd tried it. Applying Rateliff's Law, I find that his generous comments about allowing "other minds and hands" to have their way with his creation predate his experiences with Terence Tiller and Morton Grady Zimmerman, will his declarations that LOTR is not suitable for dramatization come immediately on his encounter with what dramatists did with his book. (Though he should have known, as his OFS criticism of fantasy drama and his expression of loathing for Disney predate either.)
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