December 24, 2004

"Tolkien's moral universe"

Drop Cap Alan makes a good point on how the film of The Lord of the Rings is flawed because "Jackson's greatest fault as director of LOTR is his inability to enter Tolkien's moral universe."

...Another example of an immoral choice is Aragorn's slaying of the Mouth before the Black Gate. This is a barbaric act, utterly unmeet for the King of the West, who would never so treat an emissary under flag of truce. All the nuances of the Tolkien confrontation are gone. In the book, the Mouth feels menaced when Aragorn merely glares at him. In Tolkien's worldview, evil is always proven cowardly when confronted one-on-one. Cringing, the emissary appeals to the morality of his enemies, saying he 'may not be harmed' under the rules of war--rules which no servant of Sauron would honor, if the roles were reversed.

By scripting Aragorn to behead the Mouth, Jackson showed that he cares not a whit whether the heir of Numenor might seem no different in spirit from the Dark Lord himself. I fear that the director is just a spoiled, obese, nasty child playing with skulls and spiders. He is not morally fit to engage Tolkien's work. It's a pity, because he did so much right--especially in allowing the artists to fulfill their visions of Middle Earth. If someone had been handy to argue for Tolkien's values, as well as his dialogue, to be sustained in the script, the film would have fared better. But I probably couldn't have worked with him...

I myself think the whole idea of filming LOTR was a catastrophic mistake. Every single element of the story has been reduced and diminished by the literalism of film. Even the stupefying beauty of the New Zealand landscape is less profound than the far realms which the book evokes in my mind. (I have my own film running in my head, so you can put all this down to petty jealousy that the other fellow's stuff gets so much attention) All the mystery and strangeness is leached away, and the Misty Mountains have become just mountains, and elves are no longer spooky, dangerous and beautiful creatures lingering from the Morning of the World...but just people in costumes...

It is a curious fact that polls taken of people in the English-speaking world often claim LOTR as the most important book of the 20th Century. I'm sure literary-critic types greet this as more evidence that "the voters are morons," but I'm not so sure. I won't opine about literature, since I'm less and less sure what the word means. But I often think the LOTR is an extremely important political book.

You could say that the entire leftish project, from the days of Marx and Engels onward, has been to get rid of Hobbits! Hobbits are sturdy and self-sufficient, and not inclined to be clients of the state. They are democratic, but never vote for grandiose projects of reform or big government, and don't give over-much respect to elected leaders. They are not intellectual or theoretical, but have deep reserves of common sense. They are not warlike, but are dangerous, even deadly, if attacked. They are not regimented or organized, but can self-organize beautifully in time of crisis.

Tolkien himself had no sympathy for any political party, perhaps because no party of his world had much sympathy for Hobbits—that is, for the virtues of ordinary Englishmen, which is what the Hobbits really are. I suspect, if he had heard about it, that he would have understood just what John and Sam Adams were saying when they declared that they were "fighting for the rights of Englishmen." The current effort to punish anyone in England who defends his home against intruders would have been understood by JRR Tolkien and John Adams in precisely the same way. It is calculated to destroy exactly that doughty quality of Englishmen (and Hobbits) that is resistant to grandiose projects of the state. It is probably too late to save the people of England, but fortunately the hobbit-spirit has spread far and wide, and has a way of bubbling up from below in unexpected ways wherever English is spoken. Hence, the "Anglosphere."

Word Notes: The Lord of the Rings is not a "trilogy." It was divided into three parts to suit the needs of the printers, but was not written as three books. And it is not a novel. An epic fantasy or epic romance is what I guess it should be called.

Posted by John Weidner at December 24, 2004 1:16 PM
Weblog by John Weidner