View Single Post
Old 09-14-2022, 12:45 PM   #36
William Cloud Hicklin
Loremaster of Annķminas
William Cloud Hicklin's Avatar
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 2,240
William Cloud Hicklin is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.William Cloud Hicklin is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Originally Posted by BÍthberry View Post
If folks have learnt nothing over the last forty years or so of literary study and reading, it is that how we approach a book or movie is what contributes as much to our interpretation or enjoyment of the text as the text itself. Readers don't come to a book as a blank slate,ready to be written on by the book itself. Tolkien revolutionised study of Beowulf by bringing to it expectations of poetic or narrative assumptions, rather than assumption then current that it was simply a text with which to learn a language. Toni Morrison changed that expectation when she disagreed with Tolkien over the monster, when she brought her thoughts about marginalisation to the reading.

Nowhere is this importance of how we approach a text (or movie) more true than in Tolkien fandom where the "purists" who brought deep and profound knowledge of Tolkien's texts soundly routed Peter Jackson's movies, but whose victory nevertheless failed to convince those who loved the movies. These viewers did not seem at all bothered by the fact that Jackson did not produce, as he claimed his did, a faithful rendition of Tolkien.Not knowing the beautiful and subtle intricacies of Tolkien's writing they were free to appreciate what was there on the screen and in the audio projection before them; they were a kind of tabula rasa. Some even ended up--surprise-- reading the original texts themselves and loving them. This split is being reproduced with the appearance of Amazon's TV serial The Rings of Power, where the learned loremasters of The Silmarillion and Tolkien's many epitexts are crying foul about the new video adaptation. And others unimpressed by current cultural norms (or values) are equally complaining about violations of the sanctity of Tolkien's texts and characters.

So how are readers/viewers expected to approach the series if they have any hope of enjoying it? The problem is acerbated by the fact that the showrunners and writers can use only limited material from Tolkien, not the Silm or even LotR itself, only the appendices. One approach is to think of RoP as not directly telling a story written by Tolkien but instead as adapting the history of Middle Earth and creating a new narrative around it. This won't of course satisfy the loremasters of the Silm but it might provide a way into appreciating RoP as something in its own right and not as something beholding to a previous text. Another approach is to think of RoP simply as fanfic, but fanfic usually depends upon readers' knowledge of the original in order to make its claims to success.

One of the more interesting ways to resolve this hermeneutical dilemma is instead to read The Rings of Power as alternative fiction. Here I will withdraw my own words and quote something I found on the Tolkien Society's page on Facebook by Robert Berry.

PS. And just to remind some who may have forgotten, I was no fan of the Jackson movies. But I am intrigued by what readers bring with them to a text, which might in fact hinder their enjoyment.
It's taken me a while to respond to this, because it's very well thought out and deserves a considered response. But I can't let it pass unexamined. Setting aside its invocation of Said,* it is a post in the main about subjective response; but what, really, is it saying? It's far too facile simply to say that every reader takes away something different from every text; that's trivially true, but tells us nothing - and it's not I think accurate to universalize the proposition to the point that every text is simply a Rorschach blot of no inherent meaning. A text- at least, any worthwhile one - has inherent meaning, that created by and intended, and, yes, sometimes unintended, by the author (and, no, the author is not dead, even when buried in 1973).

Inherent meaning, especially in evaluating whether it has survived translation into a different medium, of course operates at a more substantive level than geekish trivia, something beyond beards or melanin levels or even whether Faramir took Frodo to Osgiliath (although I think a critical mass of erroneous trivialities can be indicative of not perceiving the substantive either). I don't think that really there is any way rigorously, even loosely, of defining it; "Tolkienian" is a sort of ding an sich, never directly perceivable or describable, which may have to fall back on Justice Stewart's definition of pornography.** I think the best we can do is to view it as a gestalt. Nonetheless, it is indirectly perceptible, if only by a sort of aestheto-intellectual osmosis - rather like the surprisingly effective language learning technique of simply playing a podcast or radio programme in the background, or as one falls asleep, and subconsciously absorbing the tongue's distinctive rhythm and music. And for this reason we do need to pay attention to the - not "gatekeepers," that's an unnecessarily pejorative term - but those for whom there is valid evidence of having undergone that sort of osmosis. This would certainly include Professor Drout, as well as any of a number of well-regarded, published Tolkien scholars or "experts," but also includes those with no publishing history or paper creds but nonetheless have demonstrated even in the context of forums like this one the sort of deep familiarity which serves as an inchoate sine qua non. Simply put, there are fans, and then there are cognoscenti, 'those who know:' a term which includes most of those here.

And cognoscenti can sense quickly enough when something is simply wrong, even before we get to bringing up specific matters of lore or trivia or page refences in Letters. It's like having a friend who one day starts acting very strangely and out of character- say, like our good friend Faramir started doing in the movies. We immediately clue into the fact that he's either become mentally ill, or replaced by an imposter, Filmamir, but something is definitely wrong: "he isn't himself." And this applies to Amazon's Galadriel, its Elrond, its entire world; it's simply wrong. We can all feel it.

It is to get caught up in only a few brambles in a vast thicket of infelicities to focus on ethnic impossibilities*** or Galadriel's "gender role." To address Bethberry more directly for a moment, no I don't think it's because male geek culture is somehow "threatened" by a woman daring to tread on male territory- these after all are the same geeks who loved Princess Leia, Captain Janeway, Sarah Connor and Lara Croft. I think that lighting upon sexism**** as an explanation is little more than a rationalization, the sort which of course Amazon's cynical marketing department has been exploiting. No, the problem is that Amazonriel is not the character we know. She acts and speaks and thinks nothing like the genuine Lady of Lorien: she's an impostress. And it is made even worse because what Amazonriel does act and speak and think like is every cliched crap-fantasy Heroine we've ever seen (now with added physics-defying CGI moves!(tm))

The same goes more broadly for the entire production. It just doesn't feel like Tolkien. At all. This doesn't require a deep dive, or really any specifics at all, any more than it takes to realize that a Cardi B song is not Mozart. This has nothing at all to do with "baggage" or predisposition, but rather that odd paradox, the objective differentiation of the qualitative.
* Never a way of garnering my sympathies

** "I know it when I see it."

*** Does Tolkien's Arda include POC? Of course, absolutely. The Haradrim very clearly are. What cannot be the case is Amazon's multi-ethnic communities: something which at the technological and commercial level depicted simply would not have been possible (and that's even before getting to a queen of the House of Elros....)

****The word people actually mean these days when they inaccurately use "misogyny"
The entire plot of The Lord of the Rings could be said to turn on what Sauron didnít know, and when he didnít know it.

Last edited by William Cloud Hicklin; 09-15-2022 at 08:42 AM.
William Cloud Hicklin is offline   Reply With Quote