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Old 09-22-2014, 06:49 PM   #1
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Question The Essence of the Tale

I was digging around amongst the old Books threads again, and Is there any hope of redemption ...? caught my eye (I might yet circle around and see if I have something to add)--in particular the last two posts:

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Originally Posted by Tuor of Gondolin View Post
I actually think a really interesting version of the LOTR would have been to have Shelob kill off Frodo (sorry, Frodo fans ). This would have led to a fascinating dynamic of Sam and Gollum from there to Mount Doom.
And, paranthetically, it would have quieted initial critics of LOTR that "all" made it back safe (ignoring, of course, Boromir and the various kinds of "losses" by the free peoples at the end of the tale).
Might Sam, as a longer term Ringbearer, have gained a greater appreciation of Gollum's torment and been more inclined to forgiving and help redeeming him? And as not so long a Ringbearer as Frodo, could he have resisted the Ring's strength at the end? (Probably not, I think JRRT surmises somewhere that the power of the Ring at Dol Guldur was too strong for anyone to resist, which, if so, also helps to ease any criticism of Isildur).
And, to this was replied:

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Originally Posted by HerenIstarion View Post
I suppose it would not be LoTR any longer (I agree it would be interesting, but that would be quite different story)
I suppose, since the thread ended there, I could have just added on to that, but the thoughts this stimulated were of a whole new topic entirely. Basically, my question is this: to what extent can you change the LotR and still call it the LotR? This is especially a question for the movie fans out there--or the would-be movie makers out there, if we have any.

Fans of the books have not gone easy on Jackson's adaptation, but I think even on this exacting forum you could find people who would say "but it's still The Lord of the Rings"--but, interestingly, I think you'd have a harder time finding the same number of people willing to say that about The Hobbit. And it's somewhere in that space between that I want to focus: what is essential to The Lord of the Rings?

Tom Bombadil, to use the PJ-movies as an example, does not seem to be essential. But to use that measuring stick, neither is "The Scouring of the Shire"--which I would have said, a priori, was.

To go off the quotes I gave above, what characters can you change? The movies tried this and struck a sour note with Faramir.

Can you add things?

What about Tolkien's own stated opinion about the LotR's chief theme being death? Would it cease to be The Lord of the Rings if you adapted it so that Gandalf never died? Others might call that streamlining.

In short, what's the line in the sand between an adapted form of the LotR and The Sword of Shannara?
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Old 09-22-2014, 08:51 PM   #2
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It's almost bedtime for me, but in brief I would say that the essence of LOTR to me is about duty and sacrifice.
Frodo is presented by Gandalf with the knowledge that the Ring must be destroyed, and that it came into Frodo's possession in order for him to be its guardian for an undetermined amount of time, and perhaps to take it himself to Mordor and destroy it.
Frodo takes the burden willingly, trusting Gandalf, not truly understanding at the first exactly what toll being the Ring-bearer would have on his body and spirit, Still, though, he could just as easily have denied the responsibility and remained a simple Shire Hobbit.
And then there's Sam, sticking with Frodo through it all out of love, yes, but also out of a sense of duty. He had a idea from the start of the quest that he had a job to do, a part to play, and nothing drew him away from it.

Gandalf's duty and overriding focus was the defeat of Sauron, and all his words and deeds were colored by that ideal.

So that's what I see in the book. It doesn't come through as much in the movies. Frodo seems to be rather harried and fearful instead of purposeful. Sam comes nearer the mark though,
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Old 09-23-2014, 06:25 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Inziladun View Post
It's almost bedtime for me, but in brief I would say that the essence of LOTR to me is about duty and sacrifice.
"To me" is undoubtedly the pivot on which this discussion turns, but if we leave things at "it's all relative," the discussion will go nowhere, so let me pursue this line of thought.

I agree wholeheartedly, that duty and sacrifice is a major theme of The Lord of the Rings, but I wonder how a retelling of the story that emphasized this--and dramatically changed the plot--would play out. So here's a thought experiment:

Gandalf does his duty and sacrifices himself. Instead of sending him back to finish the task, we get a different wizard sent to Middle-earth (Alatar the White, perhaps--assuming he also died in the East). Faramir succumbs to the Black Breath, but Denethor has more backbone and pulls himself together to lead the defence of Minas Tirith, and does his duty when Aragorn comes, sacrificing his pride to his rightful King.

Or, for an even bigger one, Frodo still can't make the sacrifice on Mt. Doom, but Gollum is no longer there. To give us the victory, Sam wrestles Frodo, bites off the Ring-finger, and throws it into Mt. Doom.

One thread I see already in this is that, although duty and sacrifice are necessary, tweaking things to emphasize that more would often remove the reward that should come of it, which changes the message rather emphatically. That said, I think that a Faramir who died succumbing to the Black Death would have felt considerably more LotR-esque than the Evil!Faramir we got in the movie-TTT, and might have made more sense for a movie adaptation than what we got.

After all, a movie DOES have to simplify things a little...
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Old 09-23-2014, 09:10 AM   #4
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I don't believe there is much that can be altered in LotR that could be removed without altering the fundamental character of the story. Some minor things like Tom Bombadil and Ghan-buri-Ghan can go without too much damage, however, LotR is a finely crafted and balanced thing designed to be what it is (tautological as that sounds). It will not sustain major meddling and retain its essence, and in fairness nothing really will. This is why adaptations are difficult.

Quote:
One thread I see already in this is that, although duty and sacrifice are necessary, tweaking things to emphasize that more would often remove the reward that should come of it, which changes the message rather emphatically.
As you say, you can further emphasize the element of sacrifice, but you quickly get to the point where you diminish the eucatastrophe. In my view, all of the elements in LotR are similarly balanced.
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Old 09-23-2014, 11:28 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Formendacil View Post
In short, what's the line in the sand between an adapted form of the LotR and The Sword of Shannara?
I'm not sure there is one. The most interesting idea about the first Shannara novel is the sole thing that differentiates it in any substantial form from The Lord of the Rings: the post-apocalyptic setting. It's interesting that despite being an extremely derivative early example of 'Tolkienesque' high fantasy, it comes across now as being far more stock and cliché than the very text upon which it models itself, even though The Lord of the Rings is supposedly the Prime Mover of the genre. 'High Fantasy' is not really 'like Tolkien,' no matter what people say. It's actually 'like Shannara and Riftwar' in my opinion. The Jackson films of The Lord of the Rings are the same deal: taking a source story and reshaping it with Hollywood sensibilities into something predictable and safe, and therefore profitable.

One of my biggest issues with the films is one that I think irrevocably differentiates it from its source material: the difference in tone. The Lord of the Rings is very clear about what is happening: Sauron must be defeated, but even if he is, much that is good in the world will cease to be. It is a spiritual crisis, a test of our strength and conviction: do we have the integrity to refuse to wield totalitarianism and evil against itself? Will we refuse to submit to those who try to usurp God's place? Will we accept the necessity of sacrifice and the inevitability of our own demise, and still stand up and do good anyway, even though we may not live to enjoy the fruits of our labour for long, if at all?

The films, by contrast, are riddled with 'personal angst' and 'human drama' like something out of a soap opera: 'Aragorn won't become king because he's scared of being weak like Isildur,' 'if the Ring is not destroyed, Arwen will die,' (wouldn't she anyway when Sauron inevitably overran Rivendell?) 'Frodo becomes corrupted by Gollum's influence and turns on Sam,' 'Treebeard is too scared or stupid to fight Saruman until he is emotionally manipulated by Merry and Pippin,' 'Denethor sacrifices his son in a fit of pique' etc.

Maybe that's my line in the sand. But in my opinion even sacrificing things like Bombadil diminish the story, because I don't support the idea that there are parts of the text which are essential and parts which are inessential. Every line, each word surely exists for a reason.
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Old 09-23-2014, 04:04 PM   #6
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Bombadil is always left out of any of the on screen LotR films. At least the ones I see.
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Old 09-23-2014, 06:07 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Formendacil View Post
One thread I see already in this is that, although duty and sacrifice are necessary, tweaking things to emphasize that more would often remove the reward that should come of it, which changes the message rather emphatically.
Rather depressing thought experiment there. But a reward (or at lease sense of reward/accomplishment) really is an important measure.

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One of my biggest issues with the films is one that I think irrevocably differentiates it from its source material: the difference in tone.
Oh yes. And, as a crossover to another long-lost debate somewhere on the forum, this is partially the reason I cannot take The Hobbit (book) as seriously as LOTR, both in terms of Middle-Earth trivia facts (could Gandalf read Kuzdul? ) and in terms of characters. The real character of the characters shines through every so often, but even then it's clouded by the comicness of the book. And then you read the Appendices, and you realize how grave that quest actually was...


Well, you covered tone, duty was already taken (I don't agree as much about sacrifice - I think that is part of the choice of fulfilling a duty and not a discrete aspect), so I'll examine the flip side of the duty coin: staying true to one's fundamental beliefs and moral code (which means pursuing one's calling, ie his/her truest duty, but let me get there first). From the most basic struggle of resisting the Ring ("I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel") to conflicting loyalties (Eomer and Beregond going against the law to help Aragorn and Faramir) to doing what one firmly believes is right despite a good lot of (also not wrong) arguments against it (Frodo letting Saruman go) to people rediscovering themselves (Gollum... almost!, Theoden preferring to die in battle as a true King rather than hide as the cripple that Wormtongue made him be). The Scouring of the Shire also falls in that category - the triumph of true character over other character layers such as timidness, patience, and fear. And, of course, the most difficult moral dilemmas involving duty are also there because the character would not be the same without both aspects - like Aragorn just wouldn't be Aragorn if he did not combine personal affection and loyalty with duty and responsibility for something much larger, be it Arnor or Gondor or the Quest. And in all of the cases, he still remains selfless.

Now the interesting thing about these characters is that all of the examples I came up with are people who are innately good and noble. Sometimes it is not obvious, but the goodness can be traced underneath whatever is covering it. Theoden was a decent King until Wormtongue took hold of him, and afterwards he was awakened. Smeagol still shows his face from underneath Gollum. Denethor could be a debatable case - as in it's debatable if he really comes back, and the extent to which he comes back. Isildur too - I do not remember the UT account that well, but I think it could be argued both ways. Then there are some people who are just people. Wormtongue. I can't say he's necessarily evil, but he just has no iron rod in his character that makes his stick to a moral code, or a duty. Destroying Rohan - well, he's a person without that much of a conscience, and he thought it was worth it. Killing Saruman - he was driven beyond the point of bearing it in silence. He doesn't really have a "true character", per se. I guess the big question here is if he was just big enough to cause trouble but not big enough to have the right backbone - and I don't have time to go into it as I have to return to my chemistry homework. It would certainly be an interesting point to come back to, although I'm not sure how far it will lead into such trivial questions as inherent good and evil, duality of human nature, and redemption. I think I'll leave off here before I get entirely sidetracked.
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Old 09-23-2014, 06:55 PM   #8
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Zigûr's point about the tonal differences between the books and movies is well taken, especially the shift from spiritual crisis to personal angst (alas, but the old chestnut about spreading around the Rep wealth pertains...). For me, this definitely seems crucial, but, oddly enough, I'm not sure how far to take it. I certainly think Jackson's take on Middle-earth is tonally off, but I'm in that weird little camp where I think it's close enough in the LotR that I still recognise his movies (esp. Fellowship) as The Lord of the Rings--though I think you're right about a key part of where and why they break down from that--but do NOT recognise them as The Hobbit.

Part of the reason this thread came about is because I've always been interested in adaptations (raging against the current ones notwithstanding). The process of what changes get made fascinates me, and I think the best way to ensure the future of the original work is to diversify its adaptations. Although I think dropping Tom Bombadil was one of the most sensible cuts Jackson made to the story, I also think he's essential to the story and the movie adaptation than can do him justice will be the one that really "gets" the LotR (perhaps this thread should have been entitled "Cognitive Adaptational Dissidence").

Much like the question of canonicity--to which this is closely allied--I think the answer is complicated about where I would draw the line in the sand. What I find really interesting is Tolkien's own interest in variant texts--look at the long and short tellings of the Narn, for instance, or the prose and poetry versions of Beren and Lúthien. But The Lord of the Rings is much more of a monolith. The only retellings Tolkien gives us himself as so drastically curtailed as to be scarcely incomparable ("Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" and "The Tale of the Years") and even though they also tell the story of the Ringbearer's quest, they aren't The Lord of the Ringsper se, because the LotR is more than just the destruction of the Ring.

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Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
Now the interesting thing about these characters is that all of the examples I came up with are people who are innately good and noble. Sometimes it is not obvious, but the goodness can be traced underneath whatever is covering it. Theoden was a decent King until Wormtongue took hold of him, and afterwards he was awakened. Smeagol still shows his face from underneath Gollum. Denethor could be a debatable case - as in it's debatable if he really comes back, and the extent to which he comes back. Isildur too - I do not remember the UT account that well, but I think it could be argued both ways. Then there are some people who are just people. Wormtongue. I can't say he's necessarily evil, but he just has no iron rod in his character that makes his stick to a moral code, or a duty. Destroying Rohan - well, he's a person without that much of a conscience, and he thought it was worth it. Killing Saruman - he was driven beyond the point of bearing it in silence. He doesn't really have a "true character", per se. I guess the big question here is if he was just big enough to cause trouble but not big enough to have the right backbone - and I don't have time to go into it as I have to return to my chemistry homework. It would certainly be an interesting point to come back to, although I'm not sure how far it will lead into such trivial questions as inherent good and evil, duality of human nature, and redemption. I think I'll leave off here before I get entirely sidetracked.
The goodness at the heart of all people is, I think, a major theme in the way Gollum is presented in the LotR, so I find myself disagreeing with your assertion that "some people [] are just people. Wormtongue. [...] I can't say he's necessarily evil, but he just has no iron rod in his character that makes him stick to a moral code or duty." Or, rather, I think Tolkien is trying to say that ALL people are just people in this respect.

Frodo and Sam--and the Hobbits in general--are just people. So much has been written about how the diminutive stature of the Hobbits is indicative of their position in the story (and note too their relative closeness to the modern day in the Shire) as the most relatable characters to the reader, yet their iron wills are no less than Aragorn's. That's what makes Wormtongue damnable, the same was what makes Saruman damnable: he didn't choose the right things.

In other words, I come down strongly against "inherent good and evil"--as a dual system.
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Old 09-27-2014, 07:26 PM   #9
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...what is essential to The Lord of the Rings?
I think it is mistaken to force your fundamental question, Formendacil, into a discussion about the movies versus the books.

The movies are an altogether different art form, so to posit the question in terms of a comparison to the books is like comparing, not apples to oranges, but, say, castles to ocean liners.

Your original comparison to Shannara would be more like comparing an actual castle to an amusement park version of a castle.

It seems to me to be a bedevilment to try to compare LotR to alternative versions of itself. What if Pippin had died at Moria instead of Gandalf? (To borrow from a Tolkien letter...) what if Gollum had experienced remorse and tried to battle his addiction to the Ring? What if Boromir had taken the Ring from Frodo, been killed by the orcs who found it, who then brought it to Saruman? What if Sam had lost the rope and he and Frodo would have been stuck up in the Emyn Muil many more days, rendering them too late to avoid the muster of Mordor?

Would any of these alternatives have rendered the story not LotR? Yes, most likely, but could Tolkien have written a believable rendition anyway? Who can say?

I guess, what I'm coming to, is that I don't see plot as the essential thing about LotR. It's somewhere else. Tone? What does that mean?
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Old 09-28-2014, 09:54 AM   #10
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I guess, what I'm coming to, is that I don't see plot as the essential thing about LotR. It's somewhere else. Tone? What does that mean?
The "feel" of it. And, while I also love LOTR for not the plot, if the plot was different, the not the plot would be different too. The tone, or feel would have to be different. It has to have a certain amount of eucatastrophe, or else it would become a tragedy. That's plot. You can't have major plot changes, even if character-wise all the characters remain consistent, because then you can't have that pure, bittersweet, sad and hopeful and wise LOTR. The plot is needed for the not the plot, namely the "tone" or the "feel", to work out too. COH is written like a classical Greek tragedy, or maybe Norse tragedy, or somewhere in between - and the characters belong in a tragedy, literary-wise. It would not be COH if it ended with a eucatastrophe, or even some half-half situation - or even just plain sad. It's made to be a tragedy, and it ends with a bang that leaves you sitting there, shell-shocked. TH is a children's story. While it has both happy and sad moments in the climax - the battle - overall, the ending is about growth, including outgrowing the past conflicts and losses. (Saruman would fit right in there: "you have grown, Bilbo, yes, you have grown very much..." PJ knows what he's doing, putting Saruman into that movie... ). While it does not leave you shell-shocked (not a very good bedtime story), it still leaves you thinking, maybe even getting a bit wiser. If the story and the ending were too happy, there would not be as much growth - it requires a measure of sadness like plant growth requires some water. But add too much, and it becomes bogged down and fades out. LOTR falls somewhere in between on the happilyeverafter<-->tragedy scale. It has a different dimension of sadness than COH, and it retains some of TH's growth. But, on top of that, it adds the question of hope and despair, and the answer is probably closer to hope. The ending is not COH's bang, and not TH's conclusion - rather, the story diminuendos into a niente, leaving only the feeling of mixed feelings that presides over LOTR. It still keeps you thinking for just as long, if not longer. It's just less of a period, and more of an ellipsis. Now, what would happen if the plot changed dramatically? Either not enough saddness, or not enough satisfaction of a work well done and victory hard won, or not enough hope, or not enough despair. The proportions are upset, the ending loses balance and topples off. LOTR would not be the same without it's end - because of it's characters, yes, and its emotion, but neither would end up in Grey Havens if the plot didn't work out.


Pshh. I can't believe I'm defending plot. Plot! That's definitely a first.
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Old 10-06-2014, 04:55 AM   #11
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Tolkien

I think that to be Lord of the Rings, it must follow the general storyline.

Hobbit gets a ring.
Hobbit must take ring to Mordor.
Hobbit faces many challenges, and must make sacrifices to finish the quest.
Hobbit goes through mentally scarring events.
Ring is destroyed.
Insert any important plot details relating to these points, like the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Helm's Deep, the trip through Moria, Gandalf falling (very important).
Insert wacky and family friendly villains, like Bill Ferny, a few hundred thousand orcs, scary old men with magic voices, demons, and a huge, nightmare inducing, eye.

I will judge how accurate it is to the source material, but as long as it is relatively close, and comparable to the original source, it can be Lord of the Rings.
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