Tolkien on dramatizations
- I found this in Tolkien's "On Fairy-Stories". He's writing about Grahame's
sense of tone in _The Wind in the Willows_:
"It is all the more remarkable that A.A. Milne, so great an admirer of this
excellent book, should have prefaced to his dramatised version a
'whimsical' opening in which a child is seen telephoning with a
daffodil. Or perhaps it is not very remarkable, for a perceptive admirer
(as distinct from a great admirer) of the book would never have attempted
to dramatise it. Naturally only the simpler ingredients, the pantomime,
and the satiric beast-fable elements, are capable of presentation in this
form. The play is, on the lower level of drama, tolerably good fun,
especially for those who have not read the book; but some children that I
took to see 'Toad of Toad Hall' [the Milne play] brought away as their
chief memory nausea at the opening. For the rest they preferred their
recollections of the book."
It wouldn't be difficult to adapt this to the Jackson film; the lines
*"a perceptive admirer (as distinct from a great admirer) of the book would
never have attempted to dramatise it"
*"Naturally only the simpler ingredients ... are capable of presentation in
*"on the lower level of drama, tolerably good fun, especially for those who
have not read the book"
*"brought away as their chief memory nausea"
*"for the rest they preferred their recollections of the book"
could all have come directly from myriads of critical reviews of the
Whether Tolkien would actually have said this about the Jackson film must
remain unanswerable - I think he'd be nowhere near as good-humored about
it; _Wind_ isn't his book - but this is certainly the direction in which
his mind turned in a discussion of dramatization. And I'm leaving out
completely his criticism of stage sfx, which is his principal reason for
disliking staged fantasy.
- David Bratman
- At 08:15 PM 1/28/2003 -0800, Ernest wrote:
> > - and also to add that you hardlyThe origin of the Ring lies in _The Hobbit_, thus one needs to read about
> > need to read the History of Middle-earth series (which has very little to
> > say about _The Hobbit_)...
>...I was thinking more of what it might have to say about the Ring.
_The Hobbit_ to learn about it.
> > The most important point is that the Ring is not a plot coupon because theI would, instead, call it quibbling to use this distinction to elide over
> > connection between its destruction and Sauron's is not arbitrary, enforced
> > only by a random whim of the Gods. Its destruction will doom Sauron
> > because he put most of his power into it, and it is this which makes the
> > Ring dangerous to bearers in other ways than simply the danger that it
> > not be destroyed.
>This is quibbling, I think. Other stories have been written in which
>supernatural beings create numinous tools in order to exercise or administer
>their power, and find themselves enslaved to the very tools that they have
>made; but in some of those stories, the destruction of the tool leads not to
>the destruction of its creator but to his liberation. (Unfortunately the
>only example I can call forth at the moment is from Neil Gaiman's
>_Sandman_.) What decides the matter one way or the other, but the decision
>of the author?
the vital point that in Tolkien the connection between the devices and the
characters is organic, not arbitrary as in most fantasies. I'm afraid that
Morpheus's devices in Sandman are closer to the arbitrary. Tolkien doesn't
work that way. In Gaiman it's intended as a surprise that Morpheus is
freed when Dee destroys his jewel (certainly it's a surprise to Dee), and
he rarely again uses the other coupons, er tools, he was so anxious to
retrieve. By contrast it would make no sense in LOTR for Sauron to be
freed by the destruction of the Ring. Only Frodo is freed, and it turns
out he's not really freed either. So it's not arbitrary, and it's only the
decision of the author insofar as he set up the fundamental nature of the
story: it follows from the premise, it's not tacked on arbitrarily.
> > I don't have any trouble with these things. Such complaints are a resultThis is why I wrote "perhaps," Ernest. I didn't know what was in your
> > of sloppy reading, or of desensitizing through too many cheap fantasies
> > worth reading closely, or perhaps of blaming Tolkien for Jackson's
> > faults.
>Oh, c'mon. Obtruding Peter Jackson at this point in the debate is just
>sloppy rhetoric; Jackson was just about the furthest thing from my mind at
>this point, and I had thought of my objections to the plot of _The Lord of
>the Rings_ long before the film adaptation was a twinkle in Jackson's eye.
mind, so I presented three possibilities; there may be more. You may think
it fanciful for me to claim that people have objected to Tolkien for
Jackson's flaws, but it has happened: I have written about it on this list.
It has even happened to people who were discussing objections that first
occurred to them when reading the book before the film was made. For
instance, someone who thought there were too many "fake" deaths in LOTR
cited Aragorn's falling off the cliff in Rohan as one of them. (He didn't
recall it from his dim memory of the book, but he couldn't believe that
Jackson would have made such a thing up from scratch: oops.)
The evidence for this is here: http://www.ufobreakfast.com/archive/00000211.htm
> > They don't have any idea at allDid you think the Nazgul buzzed them? I don't read either of these scenes
> > where it is at a great distance, which is why Frodo can sneak into Mordor
> > without anybody noticing except the one time a Nazgul is actually near to
> > him.
>The _one_ time? The Nazgul are near to Frodo many times. For example, when
>Frodo &c. Co. are in the Dead Marshes, a Nazgul flies close enough overhead
>to frighten Smeagol into inaction for many hours. Just after Sam rescues
>Frodo from the tower of Cirith Ungol, a Nazgul flies down overhead with a
that way. In any case a Nazgul flying by on a pterodactyl is hardly in the
same position to investigate things as closely as a Nazgul stopping his
horse. (Which is what the Nazgul in the Shire does, and what the
Witch-King leading his army out of Morgul does: the one time I was
> > This is unfair. First, Galadriel's words on giving the Phial to FrodoI wrote "a premonition," not a complete specification. Besides, it's long
> > that she has a premonition of its usefulness to him.
>She says that the Phial will be "a light where all other lights fail," as I
>recall. Nothing about spider-zapping or Watcher-foiling, as I recall.
since been established that light is good and darkness is evil in Tolkien's
world: it hardly comes out of the blue to have light fighting darkness.
> > Thirdly, lembas has in fact no nutritionalHah! Tolkien's letter _itself_ cites LOTR, and is far less explicit about
> > value whatsoever; it only feeds the will.
>Where are you getting that? From some letter of Tolkien's, I suspect, in
>which case I cry, "Unfair!" From the evidence of _The Lord of the Rings_
>itself, _lembas_ is a food, and nothing else.
this than LOTR is. See Letters p. 275 and the spot in LOTR that it's
referring to, near the beginning of Book 6 chapter 3. There (this is LOTR,
not Letters) it says that lembas "did not satisfy desire, and at times
Sam's mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple
bread and meats. ... It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and
to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind."
No "food and nothing else" could do that. I also refer you back to the
original description of lembas by the Elves in Book 2 chapter 8. No "food
and nothing else" could do that either: in fact that was your
complaint. Zimmerman makes it a "food concentrate": he doesn't believe it
- David Bratman