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Re: [mythsoc] CJRT interview/article in Le Monde

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  • Travis Buchanan
    Dear David B., I can see your reputation for outspokenness is not unjustified. As to my comments, I can understand why you would think they may have been
    Message 1 of 142 , Dec 11, 2012
      Dear David B.,

      I can see your 'reputation for outspokenness' is not unjustified.

      As to my comments, I can understand why you would think they may have been personally directed at you, but since I have clarified they were general in nature I hope that clears up for you that they weren't intended to be personal advice. Your tone does read in my ears as a bit harsh (or annoyed or something else?) in your parenthetical reply to me at the end; I apologize if I've unsettled you unfairly.

      Regarding point three to John, do you really understand your life's quest as a long defeat of striving to unmake those opinions that the Jackson movies faithfully reproduce Tolkien's books? If so then that maybe helps to contextualize why this is such a hot button for you.



      On Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 2:26 PM, David Bratman <dbratman@...> wrote:


      On the contrary, Christopher Tolkien was offering no advice. He said that
      turning his head away was the only possible "solution for me." For me, he
      said; his individual choice, nobody else's. It was you who called it
      "sensible advice to those who dislike the films." Please own your own
      words; it was your remarkable refusal to do so which generated my facetious
      remark that someone else must be writing your e-mails.

      The dynamics on display here also answers your other question, why do I go
      on about this? You wrote a one-line post offering your advice that we
      should shut up and go away; I wrote a fairly brief reply, not I hope too
      personally insulting, noting my incredulity at the unrealism of this advice
      as offered to someone active in Tolkien fandom (which Christopher Tolkien is
      not and never has been) or personally out in public in general (which
      Christopher Tolkien has not been for over 35 years).

      So what, then, prompted you to write a longer post expounding on the various
      methods and parallel examples of how I might shut up and go away? I noted
      to Travis the continuing pattern of belief from many quarters that film fans
      should speak freely in its favor while those who dislike it should shut up
      and go away. Similarly, when I bark at the brick wall of your
      incomprehension, you describe it as a waste of my time, but you don't apply
      that stricture to your own reiteration of your advice to someone who already
      explained why he found it inapplicable.

      Further, you've already announced that you were dismissing yourself from
      this conversation ("I will take my own advice," which advice was CT's, "to
      turn my head away" from the whole spectacle, or do you not mean to own those
      words of yours, either?), and yet here you are again, still involved in this
      debate, and at the end you again dismiss yourself from it. I've encountered
      this phenomenon before, of people who keep announcing they've said their
      last word on something and then keep coming back; I don't think highly of
      their sincerity or their self-perception. Your wording is more careful and
      less hypocritical than most of them, which I appreciate, but really, you owe
      no explanation to me if you decline to reply.

      To respond to the substance of your rather rhetorical-sounding questions,
      despite the risk that I will again be dismissed as pedantic, I have three

      1) I am not shouting alone in the wilderness. I am responding to
      discussions in places where I am. As long as people are defending the films
      in their capacity as Tolkien adaptations, then if I see them I will respond.
      But I don't troll online looking for them - I'm on this list because I've
      been a member of the Mythopoeic Society for 35 years, long before Peter
      Jackson was ever heard of - and if they stop, I'll stop. I've had maybe a
      dozen occasions to mention Ralph Bakshi's name in decades; nobody's
      defending that movie, everybody knows it stinks, or if they like it they
      know there's no point in defending it, so after the initial flurry of
      discussion, it went away from the conversation.

      2) Yes, I have done much that is constructive. I have had many
      conversations which, while they haven't changed whether the other person
      likes the film - they're not intended to - have communicated to the
      previously uncomprehending why Jackson's LR does not reflect the spirit or
      meaning or nature of Tolkien's book. If they absorb this, they will no
      longer regard the book and movies as interchangeable or as merely slightly
      different tellings of the same tale, and that is all that I wish to

      A year after Jackson's RK appeared, I published a long article replying to
      the claims I'd seen that the movies were faithful, or that their changes
      were necessary, and that article has been cited many times in many
      discussions, online or elsewhere, often though not always very favorably.
      It's been a major contribution to the ongoing discussion of Tolkien and the

      For nearly a decade I wrote "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies," a summary
      and evaluation of scholarly work for the journal "Tolkien Studies", and when
      appropriate I praised scholarly work that discussed the movies fairly and
      impartially, and criticized that which offered specious arguments or which
      confused Tolkien's work with Jackson's. These surveys have received many
      complimentary reviews and have been seen as very useful in Tolkien
      scholarship; it was in the hopes of that that I was asked to write them, and
      my reputation for outspokenness was one of the reasons I was given the job.

      3) On the general topic of destructive acts and fighting fruitless battles -
      not that I consider this campaign to be destructive or fruitless - I refer
      you to the hobbit who set out on a long and seemingly hopeless journey to
      accomplish an act of destruction, and of his allies who spent ages, as one
      of them put it, fighting the long defeat, sometimes without hope of victory.
      I think you know where they may be found.

      (Travis - you wrote your remarks in a post directed at me. I cannot tell
      which of the remarks therein are not directed at me unless you label them
      such. It's not up to me to determine whether you consider them applicable.)

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "John Davis" <john@...>
      To: <mythsoc@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 1:58 AM
      Subject: Re: [mythsoc] CJRT interview/article in Le Monde

      David (Bratman, not Emerson),

      To clarify my email, since clearly I was so unclear as for it to require
      such...My first intent was to complete a quote so as to restore its original
      meaning. My second, yes, was to dare to offer advice to those who dislike
      the films, though in fact it was not my advice, but rather that of
      Christopher Tolkien. You may not acknowledge my credentials or the value of
      my opinion, but there can be no doubting his.

      Beyond that, since you appear to wish to make this discussion personal, then
      personally-speaking I cannot help but wonder at much time you have lost, how
      much frustration, bitterness and anger you have suffered over the years, in
      criticising Peter Jackson's works, time that might have been better spent in
      so many ways. And to what end or purpose? Do you bring greater pleasure to
      anyone by so doing? Have you persuaded anyone else that the films are bad
      (and if so, then shame on you for reducing another's joy taken in a fantasy
      work)? Have you done anything constructive, as opposed to desctructive? Can
      you honestly say that it has been worth it, or that you look forward to
      another decade or more of doing the same thing with The Hobbit films? And do
      you really think that Tolkien's books - whose sales, I believe, have not
      been hurt by the films - even need your defence?

      If you do think time spent in such criticism has been worth it, or that you
      find it enjoyable, then sure, keep right on ahead. But if not, then perhaps
      Christopher Tolkien's advice is not so very bad after all. And at the very
      least, becoming so angered by it being offered seems an inappropriate and
      disproportionate response.

      No doubt you will find this email 'incredibly offensive' too; it is, after
      all, unwanted advice from a stranger. If so, I am sad about that, but it is
      in fact well meant, not meant to anger.

      In any event, I do not wish to become involved in further debate about this.
      Such was never my intent or desire. So respond, or do not, but please do not
      be further offended if you receive no further reply from me on this. Words
      are better spent building worlds than tearing them down.


      ----- Original Message -----
      From: David Bratman
      To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Monday, December 10, 2012 4:25 PM
      Subject: Re: [mythsoc] CJRT interview/article in Le Monde

      Sorry, Travis, that won't do. John may deny that he said shut up and go
      away, but he did. His exact words were "sensible advice to those who
      dislike the film." What does he consider sensible advice? To do as
      Christopher Tolkien has done: in CT's words, "to turn my head away," which
      he doesn't mean literally. To do as Christopher Tolkien has done is to
      in total seclusion for decades, saying nothing about the movies in public
      except for this one cry of pain. He has shut up and gone away. And this is
      the advice John finds "sensible." It may be acceptable for those inclined
      to it, but not all of us are. As CT said, it is the "solution _for me_,"
      emphasis added, not for everyone.

      I found John's endorsement of this advice to be incredibly offensive and
      insulting. If you don't, perhaps that's because you're not its intended
      recipient. I refrained from using those words in replying to John; my
      reply [remember that the David he was initially addressing was not me, but
      David Emerson] was filled with incredulity, but I tried to omit ire. Only
      when John replied with an extension of his remarks which included what I
      found to be fatuous examples of what he considers practical "turn my head
      away" advice did I get some temper. And to explain what was wrong with
      these examples needed some detail, which is what people call "pedantic"
      they wish to criticize it.

      And then John has the unmitigated gall to reply that he didn't say
      he just quoted CT. No, he added words of his own endorsing the remark. It
      was that which generated my reply. Had he said something neutral, like
      "Interesting that CT should say that. I wonder how many others can take
      that path?" it would not have been offensive.

      Similar remarks to John's were made earlier on this list, a couple weeks
      I think, I don't remember by whom. I was not in a position to reply
      promptly at the time, so I let it pass. I'm not letting it pass again.
      This whole position of "people who like the movies should say whatever
      like about it, even in forums specifically devoted to the book, but people
      who don't like it should shut up and go away" has a long history. I
      remember prior to the release of Jackson's FR, when trailers were all we
      to go on about his approach, there were comments on this list to the
      that it's not fair to judge a movie on its trailer. Maybe not, though you
      have to use _something_ other than the movie itself to decide whether to
      it at all, and trailers are the best available evidence and are indeed
      intended for exactly that purpose; but there was no shortage of people,
      including on this list, willing to _praise_ the movie based only on the
      trailer. Same lesson: like it, speak up; dislike it, shut up and go away.

      Turning to your further point, I actually disagree with CT's entirely
      view of the Tolkien universe. Productive Tolkien scholarship continues to
      pour forth, as CT very well knows, because I know he reads some of it.
      Perhaps its volume is indeed somewhat encouraged by the movies, and only
      some of the time is it marred by writers' inability to distinguish between
      the movies and the book. (By this I mean attributing to Tolkien plot
      and motivations which occur only in the movies; I do not mean explicit
      comparative articles, some of which are excellent, and so long as they do
      not seek to praise one at the expense of the other, I encourage this
      approach.) But that is not the point John was making. I was considering
      writing something to this effect in response to the quote David Emerson
      offered, but John's comment got in there first.

      I sense your attempt to write charitably, but in your penultimate sentence
      you cross the line that you yourself drew. You turn to the facetious that
      you said I should be charitable rather than being. It's also inaccurate to
      imply that I desire a cleansing of the temple. In my first reply, I
      specifically addressed that point, writing, "The only other solution would
      be to ban discussion of the movie from the Society, which would be equally
      unfair, and impossible to enforce." Even if we did, I seek also to
      and to hone my points for other forums where I may address, the wider
      audience outside the Society, which though it knows better than to do so,
      persists in judging the book by its movie. The greatest _personal_
      criticism I can give Jackson's LOTR is that, had I known only those
      I would never have guessed that the book was one I would even want to
      let alone love and cherish. So I must cry again and again that the book is
      not the movie. I will not look away.

      ----- Original Message -----

    • Travis Buchanan
      John Rateliff has given a more authoritative word, if coming from Roger Lancelyn Green, as well as a very sensible perspective. (He seems endowed with great
      Message 142 of 142 , Dec 23, 2012
        John Rateliff has given a more authoritative word, if coming from Roger Lancelyn Green, as well as a very sensible perspective. (He seems endowed with great sense, judging from his postings.) I had felt because of Tolkien's later letters (e.g., no. 252 to his son Michael) and Carpenter's biography (and Colin Duriez and others who follow him) that the 'cooling' (word first used by Carpenter?) in Tolkien and Lewis's relationship began or was accelerated by the arrival of Charles Williams in Oxford during the war, and the immediacy with which he and Lewis became intimate friends. It is popular knowledge of course that Tolkien wasn't fond of the Narnia stories, but I had never encountered the opinion offered by Bruce Charlton on the blog (http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2012/08/timing-and-causes-of-breakdown-of.html) that Lewis's writing of The Chronicles was the breaking point in their relationship, or that Tolkien saw that as a violation of their original pact to both write some fiction where the chief characters discover or enact myth, which Lewis finished in good time (his Ransom trilogy under the theme of space-travel) and Tolkien--'that great but dilatory and unmethodical man', as Lewis commented in a letter on whether Tolkien's contribution to their agreement would ever be completed--never did (his The Notional Club Papers, under the theme of time-travel). Neither did Tolkien approve of several other of Lewis's works and certainly was bothered by Lewis's (mostly unsought) position as a popular articulater and defender of 'mere Christianity' to a generation (I think because he thought it improper for one without professional theological training to assume such a role (Austin Farrer would have been better suited, from the Anglican position, I assume Tolkien would say (indeed if he did not say so himself somewhere))--even if such a role was foisted upon Lewis--and he disagreed with many of Lewis's theological views due to their differing from traditional Catholic dogma--for example, in Letter 83 (1944) Tolkien commented that 'there is a good deal of Ulster still left in C.S.L. if hidden from himself'; and Tolkien was working on a commentary of objections to views presented Lewis's Letters to Malcolm which he never finished or shared with him, but which he was privately referring to as 'The Ulsterior Motive'). I would still guess (though Charlton has disagreed) that Tolkien was somewhat jealous over Lewis's quick and intimate friendship with Williams, which somewhat displaced him as an influence on Lewis, as well as Lewis's productivity and growing popularity beginning with his war broadcasts and the publication of The Screwtape Letters (1942), which incidentally was the only of his works ever dedicated to Tolkien. That, based on my limited exposure to the literature, is the explanation of the beginning of the 'cooling' with the most evidence, including Tolkien's own recollections about the arrival of Williams in Oxford and his (spoiling) influence over Lewis's writing (again see Letter 252). But Rateliff's common sense observation certainly also seems right, that 'friendships are complicated, and the ending of a long-time one is tragic but hardly unprecedented or strange', and so accumulative and thus difficult to trace to a specific event or point in time, as well as the apparent testimony of Roger Lancelyn Green Rateliff relayed by Rateliff that 'the cooling of the Lewis/Tolkien friendship was mutual, which seems to be far more likely than that Tolkien didn't like something Lewis had written and unfriended him on the spot'.


        On Sun, Dec 23, 2012 at 7:27 AM, John Rateliff <sacnoth@...> wrote:

        On Dec 21, 2012, at 2:00 PM, dale nelson wrote:
        That may well be (sadly) true.  If it is true, a cause might be listfolk dwelling on the cooling of the Lewis-Tolkien friendship.  There was some discussion at this blog

        a few months ago on the topic.


        Thanks for the link, Dale. Having just read the post and skimmed the comments (what do those folks have against Spenser, anyway?), have to say I'm entirely unconvinced that the breakdown of a friendship of twenty-plus years' standing can be easily dated and traced to a single simple event. In some cases, yes; in this particular one, no.  Roger Lancelyn Green told me the cooling of the Lewis/Tolkien friendship was mutual, which seems to be far more likely than that Tolkien didn't like something Lewis had written and unfriended him on the spot. Besides which the blogger's theory that CSL's starting Narnia violated the Lewis/Tolkien space-travel/time-travel pact doesn't take into account other works Lewis or Tolkien had worked on during that time that didn't fit into either category, like JRRT's FARMER GILES or CSL's THE GREAT DIVORCE, to name but two.

        In short, too pat. Friendships are complicated, and the ending of a long-time one is tragic but hardly unprecedented or strange.

        --John R.

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