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Old 03-01-2016, 09:26 AM   #52
Faramir Jones
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Sting Patrick Curry interview with Tom Shippey

There's a peer-reviewed electronic journal, the Journal of Tolkien Research, that can be found online at

The current issue, Volume 2, Issue 1, has an interview of Tom Shippey by Patrick Curry. I quote below the last part, with the former's questions and comments in italics, and the latter's answers in bold. The reason is because Tom Shippey gave his views on Peter Jackson's film adaptations, which I think are very interesting and worth reading in full.

While, from what we can read below, he was more tolerant about the Jackson adaptations of LotR than others, he was critical about the 'coarsening' of the characters of Denethor and Theoden, which he blamed on people not having any personal experience of warfare, as Tolkien and his contemporaries had. He also said that this coarsening 'and indeed dumbing-down' was 'much more obvious' in the adaptations of The Hobbit.


It’s difficult not to be struck by the contrast between Christopher Tolkien’s severe verdict on Peter Jackson’s films of The Lord of the Rings (to which I lean myself) and your own more tolerant response. How would you explain that, and have you had any cause to rethink your position in the intervening period?

I guess I allow more for the effect of different media, different eras, different audiences, than other people do. Certainly I was impressed by Jackson’s own commentary on the LotR films. He and his associates knew Tolkien’s work well and treated it respectfully. Where he had made changes, he often had a reason which seemed to me unanswerable. Drop a character like Arwen from the second movie entirely (as she is in the second book)? No, you just can’t do that in a set of movies issued at yearly intervals! Skip over action-scenes like the sack of Isengard and the passage of the Paths of the Dead, and have them told in flashback? No. Stress the power of the Ring all the way though and then just have Faramir ignore it? No.

Comprehensible, but not so inevitable, are things like the coarsening of the characters of Denethor and especially Theoden. My own feeling is that this is a result of the difference between a world of military veterans, such as Tolkien and Lewis and all their friends, and a world which has only experienced warfare in video-games. It’s very easy to be brave and bold in the latter, and see withdrawal as chickening out. Tolkien’s Theoden has his head screwed on, and knows when to withdraw to prepared lines of defence. Also, of course, when to blow his horn and charge. But you can’t do the latter every single time.

I have to admit that this coarsening, and indeed dumbing-down, is much more obvious in the Hobbit movies. Jackson still put his finger on one thing about The Hobbit. Its structure is episodic, one thing after another. It needed connections and a narrative thread–as also a good explanation for why Gandalf just disappears on the edge of Mirkwood! Would a modern movie audience just accept that? But I thought that Bilbo’s stage-by-stage development, from little fellow crying out with fear to troll-robber, Gollum-defeater, spider-killer, dragon- thief and finally to the moral courage demonstrated by handing over the Arkenstone–and then returning to the power of Thorin–well, it’s a pity that was largely replaced by a lot of charging and sword-waving. That’s video-game bravado, not three o’clock in the morning courage. In the book, all Bilbo’s big scenes take place in the dark, on his own. Hollywood isn’t good at that sort of thing, which is a diminishment. One of Tolkien’s great achievements, perhaps his greatest, was to revive an image of the hero–a word he hardly ever uses by the way, and in LotR never once, I think, without some kind of distancing–for a world which had been educated in irony.

I agree. Perhaps this also explains why Jackson couldn’t bring himself to allow Faramir to be a straightforwardly noble or heroic character.

Though he did not diminish Aragorn, apart from–for instance–adding the comic scene with Eowyn trying to figure out how old he was, and I thought that was genuinely funny. I guess that the different images of heroism are a result of the seventy-year gap between us and people like Tolkien, Robert Graves, Tolkien’s classmate (another Catholic, by the way) Field-Marshal Slim, three men I’m proud to say I’ve shaken hands with. They knew what heroes were, and were under no illusions about it.

Last edited by Faramir Jones; 04-11-2016 at 06:15 AM.
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