THE RETURN OF THE KING???

THE RETURN OF THE KING???

A Review

“’If therefore they say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go forth, or, ‘Behold, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.”  (Mat. 24:26)

Last week in my review of Peter Jackson’s movie version of The Hobbit, I alluded to the “betrayals” of Tolkien’s vision I thought he had committed in his Lord of the Rings.  My original review of Jackson’s LOTR antedated the advent of Lantern Hollow Press, so this week I thought I would reach back into the past and resurrect it so you could see what I was talking about last week:

TolkienPortrait

J. R. R. Tolkien

The pre-release internet buzz was that Peter Jackson’s third installment of his version of the Tolkien trilogy stayed closer to the book than his “Two Towers.”  That is true only in a very gross and superficial sense.  There were no new big departures from the original plot, just the inevitable workings out of the disastrous big departures made in “The Two Towers.”  But there were a thousand little changes, which, like Chinese water torture, made it almost impossible to enjoy the good things (i.e., one of the best artistic renderings of Minas Tirith ever).  These little changes also reveal, as clearly as the major departures in the second movie, the shallowness of Jackson’s understanding of Tolkien’s  world view and therefore of his epic.

I say nothing here against the omissions and conflations of plot elements, as much as we would all have liked to see the scouring of the Shire.  Some simplification has to be expected in an adaptation, and anyone who won’t accept that just shouldn’t watch movies based on books.  What bothered me were the thousand and one little gratuitous changes to the original that served no purpose.  No doubt they were intended to make things more dramatic on screen and/or to bring out elements of conflict as Jackson sees them.  But almost every one of these unnecessary changes is either a clumsy and heavy-handed treatment of themes Tolkien showed us with much greater skill and subtlety, is just plain pointless and stupid, or betrays an appalling lack of understanding of what Tolkien was doing (and why) when he wrote the story the way he did.

HobbitHoleA few typical examples of these gratuitous changes to the plot will have to suffice; no doubt you can think of many more.  One thinks of Gandalf punching out Denethor with his staff, which was simply demeaning to both characters.   The movie Denethor has none of the nobility that made his fall tragic in the book; he is just a dottering and despicable old fool.  Second, Sam beating the snot out of a supine and passive Gollum is absurd on two counts.   Not only would he have been physically incapable of this—it took both Frodo and Sam to subdue Gollum, and then only with the threat of Sting and the influence of the Ring—but, knowing that Gollum was under Frodo’s protection, it is just not something Sam would have done, no matter how strong his feelings.  It was completely out of character.

Tolkien

Tolkien

Finally and most significantly, we have  Frodo pushing Gollum off the cliff at Sammath Naur rather than having him fall by “accident” during his celebratory dance seriously diminishes Tolkien’s emphasis on the role of Providence (or, to use his own words, “Luck, if luck you call it”).  Tolkien’s scene is the culmination of a theme present at least since the words of Gandalf to Frodo: “I can put it no plainer than by saying that you were meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.  And that may be an encouraging thought.”  Why is this an encouraging thought?  Because if Frodo was meant to find the Ring, there has to be Someone to do the meaning.  Some one greater than Frodo (we learn from The Silmarillion it was Iluvatar, God) was at work, and that is really the only reason why there was hope in the Quest.  Frodo’s impotence in the final moment is integral to Tolkien’s meaning then–but it is absent from Jackson’s.

In an attempt to summarize what went wrong and what was at stake, I can do no better than to offer the following sonnet:

THE QUEST MOTIF

(What Lewis and Tolkien Knew,

And Peter Jackson Does Not)

Sonnet CI

Snaking out across the vast expanse

Of History and Legend lies a trail,

The footing treacherous, the markings pale,

And peril lies in wait for those who chance

To travel it.  But if they can advance,

And if their luck and courage does not fail,

They may emerge into a mystic vale

And reach the magic realm of fair Romance.

The landscape’s always changing.  There is no

Map that can be trusted once you swerve

Aside; your only compass is your quest.

If, true to friend, implacable to foe,

You’re faithful to the Vision that you serve,

You’ll find that Country which the Muse has blessed.

IamHobbit-JRRTOne might have hoped, in other words, that Peter Jackson would have had the humility to see himself as the servant of Tolkien’s vision.  He shows us that, had he done so, he could have created a worthy adaptation that would have been a true masterpiece.  Instead, he had the arrogance—yea, hubris–to make up his own vision and think it better, while outwardly claiming to give us Tolkien’s.

There can be only one word to sum it all:  Tragic.   

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Toccoa Falls College

Check out Dr. Williams’ Lantern Hollow Press books at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.       Including:

Stars through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams.  Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011.  ISBN 9781460906514.  360 pp., $15.00, pbk.

“Williams has returned poetry to the writing of poetry.  Here you will find new life breathed into the great forms that graced English verse for centuries.”  —  Dr. James Prothero

“ . . . the believer’s Robert Frost . . .”  —  Wil Shorb

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About gandalf30598

Theologian, philosopher, poet, and critic; minister of the Gospel who makes his living by teaching medieval and renaissance literature; dual citizen of Narnia and Middle Earth.

Posted on February 11, 2013, in Donald Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, Middle Earth, Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. As long as we’re bringing this back up, I am reminded that of the instances of Jackson’s diverging from the book, none bother me so much as his fundamental rewriting of the function of wizards in Middle Earth. It’s not even a full misconception, because Jackson never really defines where his wizards get their power from, or whether or not they are mortal. Somehow, we know, the staff is some kind of focus (only because Gandalf is so protective of it, it is shattered by the witch king, etc.), but he never makes it clear that the power is from within them, or comes from some pseudo-Force, or supernatural beings. What we get is some vague references to the Valar (mostly through the elves) and Gandalf and Saruman throwing each other around with telekinesis. I’m not even going to get into his making Gandalf subservient to Gwendolin (or not, that’s also not very clear) in The Hobbit. At least, I guess, he didn’t make her his girlfriend like I was afraid he was from the trailer.

    It wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if I felt like there was some answer for what Jackson was thinking the Wizards actually *are,* if they are not angelic beings as in Tolkien’s world.

  1. Pingback: Value in the Difference of Mediums: The Hobbit | Lantern Hollow Press

  2. Pingback: Review: Jackson’s “Battle of the Five Armies” | While We're Paused!

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