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Old 09-23-2004, 06:02 PM   #1
Imladris
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Tolkien The Capturing of Myth

This may sound like a bookish sort of topic but please bear with me.

C.S Lewis (close friend to Tolkien and fellow Inkling) defined myth as follows:

1. It is extra-literary. In other words, someone can tell you the story line or synopsis of the plot and it affects you even though you have not read it. IE, the way it was written is not what moves you, it is the story in and of itself.

2. We don't get tired of a myth. We always come back to it. Each time we read it it is deeper than before. It doesn't become stale. It draws us. We are never bored with it.

3. We don't get to know characters that well. They are like "shapes moving in another world." We don't really know them. (This one isn't a necessity, but a myth can be like that, the story of Orpheus for example, or it doesn't have to be like that, Chaucer's Troilus).

4. It is fantasy, dealing with events that cannot be explained by nature.

5. It is grave. There may be joy, but ultimately it is grave. There is no such thing (according to Lewis's definition) as a comic myth.

6. It is awe-inspiring,

I'm sure that we can all see how LotR is like this, so I won't go and outline how LotR fits all those categories.

A lot of the threads in the movie forum, in my most humble opinion, complain about how Jackson changed the movie, how he didn't get the Grey Havens right, how he brought elves to Helm's Deep, etc. etc. etc.

So my question is this: How well do you think that Jackson captured the essence of Tolkien's myth outlined above?

Think of the Grey Havens. A lot of people thought it was too long. Others thought it was too bright. The thing is, Tolkien didn't really describe it to us (classic myth right there along the lines of moving shape) so it was left to our imagination. But what did Jackson capture? He captured the face that myth is grave, he captured the themes of doom and fate.

1. We don't have to watch the movie to feel affected by Lord of the Rings.

2. Some like to watch it over and over (of course in a different way than reading the books).

3. In the movie we feel sorry for Frodo and for Sam and for Pippin and for the others. But we also feel sorry that it had to be like that. We feel sorry that the good has left. Naturally, in a movie it was difficult to portray this fact so it's not as clear cut as in the book, but at the end we are still feeling sad. We feel sorry for Frodo but the general atmosphere of the movie is bitter-sweet.

4. Of course the movie is "fantastic" in more ways than one.

5. It is a grave movie. It's a sad movie.

6. I'm not sure if the movie could be awe-inspiring...but the cgi was good. The story was still the same story with adjustmants of course but as I said, it's a movie. It's different.

So do you guys think that Jackson did a good job capturing the general mythic feel, or did he fail abysmally?

Please give well thought out reasons for your opinions. Thank you.
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Old 09-24-2004, 08:03 AM   #2
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I think he failed. I don't think it was nearly grave enough, and it was at times comic and slapstick-riddled.

(by the way, excellent threads Imladris, both of them)
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Old 09-24-2004, 08:09 AM   #3
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I think in a lot of things, Jackson captured the esscence of a myth perfectly, the most clear example, in my personal opinion, is when the Witch-King fully reveals himself to Eowyn, he's holding the mace and the sword, the surroundings seem to shrink around him and the mythology of the Witch-King of Angmar is completely realised in that one glourious moment.
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Old 09-24-2004, 08:49 AM   #4
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Excellent thread Imladris and very nicely presented. Top notch thesis! (I've already nominated Kransha for Best Post of the Week , but I'm wondering if I'm allowed two nominations? It is *my* thread after all.)

I think there are aspects of the mythological impulse Jackson caught very well and others he did not. I think he captured the geographic panorama of place well: the sweetness of the bucolic Shire, the sweep of Rohan, the marble stolidity of The White City.

For me, what ruins the gravitas of the movies is a comic vein that intrudes at the wrong time. I think there are lots of comic touches in Tolkien, but they are sudden little surprises which give whimsy and emotional relief to the story without destroying the essential seriousness of the Quest. Here, I think, Jackson was influenced by his love of two things: his bookish love of Tolkien and his cinematic love of Lucas' Star Wars. The Star Wars influence shows mainly in the special effects and the similarities of some of the physical characterisations. The comedy i Star Wars, to me, did not ruin the story line, but helped develop it.

I don't think Jackson was as successful as Tolkien or Lucas in handling comedy within the mythological feel. I hated the 'shield boarding' scene at Helm's Deep because I don't think it was properly integrated. Ditto the dwarf tossing lines. Out of place. The drama of the battle was not heightened by these bits of farce, but diminished. I'm not sure I'm making myself clear here, but I do feel there is a difference and I can't quite find the way to explain it.

I have also seen an actor, live on stage, do a superb Gollem--the actor is an accomplished gymnast (if not contortionist!) and not only an actor--and so, despite how interestingly Gollem was done, I was disappointed that he was portrayed by a'cartoonish' form.

Perhaps what I am saying is that Jackson was unable to integrate the two most important influences on his imagination in a way which gave a seemless unity to the movies. And this disjunction ruins the mythological sweep. For me.
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Old 09-24-2004, 09:15 AM   #5
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ramblings

There were moments of humor (plenty of them) that I think detracted from the gravity of the movies. However, at the moment I'm not sure that disqualifies them from being myth.

Tolkien sought to write a myth that was "High, purged of the gross." Are all myths "High, purged of the gross?" Some are, some aren't. Personally, those which aren't I find harder to be enthused about.

The audience does have more of an impact on that than one might hope. There were "humorous" elements included in the movies (Pippin's "Ooof! That was close!" after the fall from Farmer Maggot's Field, comes to mind) that are definitely disqualified from "High, purged of the gross."

But then, there are things in myths that I find-- well, gross. Zeus' numerous seductions/ abductions of various women always struck me as revolting and un-heroic, and quite destroyed greek myth for me. Zeus is an utter cad. Why would I want to hear stories about him, and about his badly-behaved progeny?

In the Kalevala, the poor girl that ends up as a fish after a lousy life always struck me as very sad, and the behavior on the part of the man/men involved (hazy recall)-- rather gross. Bleah.

I want Tolkien to be higher than all that and I love him because he is.

Jackson slipped to the level of the common denominator-- what would be popular for today's audience. Shield-surfing, trunk-surfing (okay, I cheered too, but still) and dwarf-tossing, do seem out of place.

Were all the battles in the book utterly devoid of humor? There *was* the game between Gimli and Legolas at Helm's Deep. I shall have to pay attention to this as I read Chapter By Chapter...
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Old 09-24-2004, 10:18 AM   #6
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The key to me seems to be that Jackson was not setting out to make a mythical film. His purpose was to adapt a book written with mythical and heroic intentions to the screen for a modern-day audience with Hollywood-backing. Hardly a recipe for myth-making.

Bęthberry's example of the shield-surfing is, for me, one of the most telling examples. It grates terribly with me, as I am sure that it does with most fans of the books. But I can understand why it was included. There are, no doubt, those who regard it as one of their favourite moments of the film.

I think that there are moments in the films that might be described as mythical. Certainly the "feel" of them is (the imagery, particularly). And I think that moments such as Gandalf's confrontation with the Balrog, the Ride of the Rohirrim, the scenes at Sammath Naur and the appearance of the Eagles have that sense about them. They certainly raised the hairs on my neck, and got the tear ducts flowing, in a way that no other film has ever done. But, much as I love the films, I think that these moments are a "bi-product" of Tolkien's skill. Had the films been written from scratch (unless by someone with the same skill and purpose) they would have lacked this sense, I am sure.

But what is the bench-mark here? How many films nowadays (or indeed ever) convey such a mythical quality. I do think that these films get about as close as any film that I have ever seen.
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Old 09-24-2004, 12:55 PM   #7
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Fantasy, even of the simplest kind, hardly ever succeeds in Drama, when that is presented as it should be, visibly & audibly acted. Fantastic forms are not to be counterfeited. Men dressed up as talking animals may achieve buffoonery or mimicry, but they do not achieve fantasy....

Drama has, of its nature, already attempted a kind of bogus, or shall I say at least substitute, magic: the visible & audible presentation of imaginary men in a story. That is in itself an attempt to counterfeit the magician's wand. To introduce, even with mechanical success, , into this quasi-magical secondary world a further fantasy or magic is to demand, as it were, an inner or tertiary world. It is a world too much.
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I think this sums up why the movies fail. Also, i think we simply know too much about the actors, how the effects were done, how the locations were designed. I remember reading an interview with Anthony Perkins about one of the sequels he made in teh 80's to Psycho. He was asked about the effects in the movie & he refused point blank to discuss them, as he said that would ruin the magic.

My other problem is that on some level I was always aware that these were actors facing other actors or special effects. This, I feel, is Tolkien's point. Fantasy, myth, cannot survive dramatisation. It can be communicated by a storyteller, but not in the form of drama.

One review I read said that Jackson seemed to think LotR was an action movie in book form - as if Tolkien had really written a first draft screenplay. Effectively Jackson & the writers were doomed to fail because they failed to understand that fantasy cannot truly be dramatised:

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(Speaking about a production of Wind in the Willows)..a [i]perceptive admirer (as distinct from a great admirer) of the book would never have attempted to dramatise it. Naturally, only the simpler ingredients, the pantomime, & the satyric beast fable elements, are capable of presentation in this form.
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I think Jackson made an heroic attempt, but it was ultimately, & inevitably an heroic failure, because it could never have succeeded. The more Jackson attempted to communicate the mythic aspect the more he inevitably failed:

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In painting, for instance, the visible presentation of the fantastic image is technically too easy; the hand tends to outrun the mind, even to overthrow it. Silliness or morbifity are frequent results.(OFS)
It simply isn't possible to dramatise mythology effectively in 'realistic' drama - opera, perhaps, Greek drama in its original form, yes, but Jakson fell between two stools - he wanted to present a mythic world in a realistic way. Simply not possible.
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Old 09-24-2004, 02:20 PM   #8
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Tolkien

So you are saying that Jackson failed because

1. He did not understand it Tolkien's myth well enough (action movie indeed!).
2. Fantasy simply cannot become dramatized.

Myth/fantasy cannot really be shown because it is fantasy, ie, it does not exist. It is a feeling that cannot be expressed because it is not based on reality. What we get is a wavering reflection of the director's views and the feeling of reality struggling to portray the other worldly.
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Old 09-24-2004, 05:16 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
I think Jackson made an heroic attempt, but it was ultimately, & inevitably an heroic failure, because it could never have succeeded.
To my mind, the films didn't fail at all because that was not what they were trying to achieve. They might not have been directed at being what you wanted them to be, but that does not make them failures. On any level, in the context of what they were trying to achieve, they were overwhelmingly successful.

I agree that they did not achieve that mythic element. But then again, it is, largely for the reasons which you (and Tolkien) have stated, extremely difficult (if not impossible) for any film to achieve that. As I said, I can't think of any film that has.
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Old 09-25-2004, 02:16 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by SPM
To my mind, the films didn't fail at all because that was not what they were trying to achieve. They might not have been directed at being what you wanted them to be, but that does not make them failures. On any level, in the context of what they were trying to achieve, they were overwhelmingly successful.
Well, they failed to be movies of the book, & if they didn't achieve that, then I don't know in what way they can be said to have succeeded. My problem all along is that I've never been clear about what , exactly, Jackson did want to achieve. If we start from the position that the books, as CT stated, are unfilmable, that it is impossible to dramatise fantasy, then its clear that the only thing they could 'succeed' in being is action movies - but LotR is not an action movie in book form. The spirit of the book cannot be communicated in dramatised form - & its not a matter of directorial skill, but of the nature of fantasy itself. If the movies are 'successful' they are successful as something else.They are not a successful translation of book into film, because that's impossible.
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Old 09-25-2004, 10:37 AM   #11
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Imladris, this is a great idea for a thread - there's not enough serious 'movie' (I prefer the word 'film', being an old so and so) discussion.

I've quite a few thoughts on this one so bear with me if they seem random.

Firstly, I was interested that you chose this definition penned by CS Lewis, as some of the things said by him I would not necessarily agree with.
Quote:
5. It is grave. There may be joy, but ultimately it is grave. There is no such thing (according to Lewis's definition) as a comic myth.
Yet there are comic elements in myth. This afternoon I have been reading about Loki in Norse myth, who was a shamanic/shape shifting trickster sort of character, often engaging in darkly comic acts. The jester is a figure who does appear in myth - I am sure there are other examples.

I wholly agree that in the films there were moments where the grosser elements of comedy did intrude too much - why did Gimli have to belch at King Theoden? But the books are full of comic moments, and characters. Not all of the comedy in the films was gross by a long way - I found that the few misplaced jokes were outweighed by a fair number of sensitively done gently comic moments. And as a final comment on comedy and myth - there are what we might call 'gross' comic elements in established myth and folklore, it's not all serious stuff.

Quote:
1. It is extra-literary. In other words, someone can tell you the story line or synopsis of the plot and it affects you even though you have not read it. IE, the way it was written is not what moves you, it is the story in and of itself.
Surely most readers would agree that one of the most startling aspects about Tolkien's work is the description of Middle Earth, how it comes alive in your imagination? If what CS Lewis says above is held to be true, then Tolkien's work goes beyond myth. The basic story itself is excellent - and I can see why a director would want to use it for a film, but the books go much further than the definition used by CS Lewis.

About detail, I'm sure there are many other book fans out there who also enjoy the films, and while we all criticise aspects of those films, there are also things which only a bookworm would spot - such as the white tree carvings on Boromir's gauntlets. Although I have to admit these are most likely the work of Alan Lee and the designers.

Finally, davem says:
Quote:
They are not a successful translation of book into film, because that's impossible.
I have to say, I have never yet seen a perfect film/TV version of any of my favourite books. I have wondered in the past if this is something to do with the nature of reading and of how we as individuals respond to a work - our vision is quite obviously going to be different to that of the director. Now, who is going to give me and everyone else on the 'Downs millions of ŁŁŁs so we can each translate our own visions of Middle Earth into celluloid?
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Old 09-25-2004, 10:55 AM   #12
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Tolkien

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lalwendë
Yet there are comic elements in myth. This afternoon I have been reading about Loki in Norse myth, who was a shamanic/shape shifting trickster sort of character, often engaging in darkly comic acts. The jester is a figure who does appear in myth - I am sure there are other examples.
Yes, Lewis said there were comid (I prefer the word funny) elements in myth:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lewis
There may be joy, but ultimately it is grave.
Ultimately, in the end, in other words, no myth can be a comedy such as "Big Fat Liar" is a comedy, or "Ten Things I Hate About You" is a comedy. A myth can't be like that because, at the very end, it is not really grave -- it is not sobering. Well I assume that there are some exceptions.

Erk. I think I'm digging myself into a hole.
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Old 09-25-2004, 12:00 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lalwendë
I prefer the word 'film', being an old so and so
Amen to that!


Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
They are not a successful translation of book into film, because that's impossible.
Well, quite clearly Jackson wasn't attempting to translate the book into film. I am sure that he recognised the impossibility of doing so. What he (and the production team in general) set out to achieve, I think, was to adapt the book to the big screen in a way that would appeal to as wide a section of the film-going public as possible. And in that, I think that they succeeded massively.

And I remain of the view that there are many parts where the films do capture the "spirit" of Tolkien. Admittedly this occurs mostly where they stick to his original words and directions, but Boromir's death scene is an example, I think, where they achieve it on their own (or, perhaps more correctly, through inference from the events of the book). And it certainly helped that Lee and Howe were responsible for artistic design and that there were so many fans of the book on the production team.

All in all, as I have indicated, I think that they get about as close as a film can get to capturing the mythic elements of the book and still retain mass appeal.
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Old 09-25-2004, 01:05 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by SpM
I am sure that he recognised the impossibility of doing so. What he (and the production team in general) set out to achieve, I think, was toadapt the book to the big screen in a way that would appeal to as wide a section of the film-going public as possible. And in that, I think that they succeeded massively....
All in all, as I have indicated, I think that they get about as close as a film can get to capturing the mythic elements of the book and still retain mass appeal.
Maybe its just me, but it didn't manage that at all. It failed for me, because there was something essential missing - the 'numinous', perhaps. I was too detatched - probably because of my lack of input into the experience - it was all given to me, all happening on a screen, rather than in my head, & in the end it was actors pretending to be imagined characters. Which is an odd thing - I was always thinking, 'He's playing Gandalf well (or badly)', etc - I was never for a moment convinced that I was watching Gandalf.

When you read the book, its the 'real' Gandalf, in combat with the 'real' balrog: you've entered their world, but with the movie its like you're watching their world from the outside. I think this is why I agree with Tolkien's view that fantasy cannot be dramatised - its not about the script, the direction, the effects (Tolkien makes the point that it has nothing to do with how well those things are done), or the money, its simply the lack of creative input on the part of the audience. With literature we are involved. we participate in the sub creation, giving form to the places & people, so we became a part of it, with dramatisation we watch it happening 'out there'. Its the difference between being a player on the team & a spectator.

Myth, fairy tale, are participatory 'sports' - they must be if we are to experience the numinosity. In the end, the world of Middle earth is bigger than the story we're reading, but in the movie I simply felt that what we saw on screen was the whole thing - which in part was down to the moviemakers decision to remove anything that didn't 'move the story on', so the Old Forest was left out, & the Ring had to be shown to corrupt everyone who came into contact with it.

In true myth & fairy story we always have a sense that faerie is a lot bigger than what we're experiencing, that the concerns of our little tale are not the conerns of faerie as a whole. In short, the movie was too 'focussed', & as such, for all the sweeping landscapes, the Middle earth we saw felt too small, too closed off. In the Legendarium, as in myth generally, there is always the feeling that characters are drifting in to the story to play their part, be it large or small & then they will go off & get on with what they were doing before.

The movie made the Ring the focus around which everything in Middle earth constellated, rather than as in the book simply the focus of the particular story being told, while other stories, with other foci, were being told elsewhere.

Of course, it succeeds as an action movie, as an introduction - for some - to the book (though we have to ask how many people who would have read the book will have now decided they don't need to bother because they've ssen the movie), but it doesn't succeed as an attempt to translate the book into another medium, because the essence of the book cannot be translated. As Tolkien said:

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Naturally, only the simpler ingredients ... are capable of presentation in this form.
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Old 09-25-2004, 09:25 PM   #15
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Well, contrary to what many here are saying, I think the movies did a rather good job of capturing the mythic elements, mainly points 5 and 6.

The movies certainly do capture the graveness of the book. Although the "good guys" win and the world is saved, and no matter how much I love RotK, I always feel sad at the end. It's a very dark story.

Quote:
I think that there are moments in the films that might be described as mythical. Certainly the "feel" of them is (the imagery, particularly). And I think that moments such as Gandalf's confrontation with the Balrog, the Ride of the Rohirrim, the scenes at Sammath Naur and the appearance of the Eagles have that sense about them. They certainly raised the hairs on my neck, and got the tear ducts flowing, in a way that no other film has ever done. --SpM
I also find the movies very awe-inspiring, especially the part with Eagles coming and rescuing Frodo and Sam. The books are wonderful and in the end are preferable to the movies, but they don't get me teary like the movies do.

And I agree, much of the humor was really unnecessary... for example, Gimli's talk of "the nervous system" in EE TTT.

Gimli: ...because my axe is embedded in his nervous system!
Legolas: Umm... what's a nervous system?
Gimli: Beats me.

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Old 09-26-2004, 04:48 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
I think this is why I agree with Tolkien's view that fantasy cannot be dramatised - its not about the script, the direction, the effects (Tolkien makes the point that it has nothing to do with how well those things are done), or the money, its simply the lack of creative input on the part of the audience. With literature we are involved. we participate in the sub creation, giving form to the places & people, so we became a part of it, with dramatisation we watch it happening 'out there'. Its the difference between being a player on the team & a spectator.
I do agree that, because the audience is less actively involved in them, the films will never be able to capture the "magic" of the books . This point was raised in the following thread, and is one which, I think, has much merit: Is all the "magic" gone? Because the films visualise everything for us, we lose that element of active imaginative participation in the story.

I do not agree however that the audience will, in consequence, necessarily find the characters and events portrayed in the films any less believable than those in the books. I will admit to a slight feeling of detachment, especially during my first viewing of the TTT film, as a result of the changes. This was because, as someone who had read read and loved the book many times before, the changes grated with me at first. But, once I got used to them, I was able to immerse myself completely in the films while watching them. This was especially the case with the film of RotK. They may have been telling a slightly different story to that told in the book, but it was nevertheless for me a totally engrossing one.

Ultimately I do agree with you davem. The full mythic quality conveyed in the book, particularly as a part of the whole (the Legendarium) can never be captured on film. The films don't form a part of the Legendarium, nor do they have the potential to add to our "mythic" experience. But I don't see this as a reason not to make them, or to regard them as failures. After all, this was not what they were aimed at achieving.
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Old 09-26-2004, 06:35 AM   #17
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A few people have said that they felt somewhat 'detached' from the films and this got me thinking that by and large, watching a film is a passive experience whereas reading is an active experience. Films present us with information in many forms, visually, verbally, from the landscape and setting, and the body language and facial expressions of the actors. Books on the other hand are simply text and it is up to us to make the effort to visualise what the text says. This is perhaps why there are those peculiar people who "can't be bothered" with reading, or find it "boring"; reading takes effort. Obviously, there are exceptions to this; Donnie Darko is a good example of a film where we are made to participate more actively, as the meaning is deliberately made obscure.

I have also been thinking about how I was able to engage fully with the films, and I think one of the reasons was that the visual scope was beyond my own experience as a reader. Not being very well-travelled, my 'pictures' of Middle Earth were a lot more provincial; more on the scale of Scotland (which is the ultimate in 'awesome' to me), as opposed to Mount Cook. So the films did offer a different sense of scale to me, not always a welcome one, as some of the magic in the books for me is in my personal images of an intimate, almost fairy-like quality to some of the landscapes. For me, the film was more 'epic' whereas my own images are more 'folklore'. Hmmm, if you see what I mean.
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Old 09-26-2004, 07:14 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lalwende
Not being very well-travelled, my 'pictures' of Middle Earth were a lot more provincial; more on the scale of Scotland (which is the ultimate in 'awesome' to me), as opposed to Mount Cook. So the films did offer a different sense of scale to me, not always a welcome one, as some of the magic in the books for me is in my personal images of an intimate, almost fairy-like quality to some of the landscapes.
I think this is kind of the point - its not how much you bring to the esperience, how good you are at visualising. Its the fact that you bring something, play some part - that makes the experience personal, give you a connection. This has nothing to do with the morality or values you 'contribute', which I feel get in the way more often than not, but rather with the images & memories you bring:

Quote:
However good in themselves, illustrations do little good to fairy-stories. The radical distinction between all art (including drama) that offers a visible presentation & true literature is that it imposes one visible form. Literature works from mind to mind & is thus more progenitive. It is at once more universal & more poignantly particular. If it speaks of bread or wine or stone or tree, it appeals to the whole of these things, to their ideas; yet each hearer will give to them a peculiar personal embodiment in his imagination. Should the story say 'he ate bread', the dramatic producder or painter can only show 'a piece of bread' according to his taste or fancy, but the hearer of the story will think of bread in general & picture it in some form of his own. If a story says 'he climbed a hill & saw a river in the valley below', the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene; but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, & it will be made out of all the hills & rivers & dales he has ever seen, but specially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word.
On Fairy Stories
So I think Tolkien would have felt that your experience:

Quote:
So the films did offer a different sense of scale to me, not always a welcome one, as some of the magic in the books for me is in my personal images of an intimate, almost fairy-like quality to some of the landscapes. For me, the film was more 'epic' whereas my own images are more 'folklore'.
was the right one for you, & that the reason you felt the movie's 'scale' to be 'not always a welcome one' was that at those moments the story was actually being taken away from you & replaced by something else, imposed by the director & designers. Your 'folkoric' LotR is your unique co-creation with Tolkien, so its special, & in a sense its your 'tribute' to him. Its certainly a kind of artistic 'conversation' between the two of you. This is the source of power of myth & fairy story, & its what cannot be reproduced in drama.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SpM
But I don't see this as a reason not to make them, or to regard them as failures. After all, this was not what they were aimed at achieving.
But i still don't know what they were aimed at achieving - entertainment, homage, an introduction to Tolkien's works, so I suppose it is a bit unfair of me to judge them as 'failures'. I can only say that, they failed for me to communicate the spirit, the numinosity, which comes through the books (but which did come through the Radio series - but that is really a dramatic reading, & its the images which are important, specifically the source of the images).

If the movies don't 'have the potential to add to our "mythic" experience.' as you put it, then the answer to Imladris' question:

Quote:
So do you guys think that Jackson did a good job capturing the general mythic feel, or did he fail abysmally?
must be the latter (well, it must if we have to choose one extreme or the other).
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Old 09-26-2004, 10:29 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem (quoting Tolkien)
However good in themselves, illustrations do little good to fairy-stories. The radical distinction between all art (including drama) that offers a visible presentation & true literature is that it imposes one visible form.
True, although Tolkien's works have been so enthusiastically adopted as a subject by illustrators throughout the years that we have numerous interpretations, rather than one visible form. Of course, they are still presented according to the artist's particular "taste or fancy". But I am sure that I am not alone in finding that certain illustrations capture perfectly (or almost perfectly) my own pre-conceived images. Other illustrations don't work for me at all.

And so it is with the films. There is much in them which captures my own pre-conceived ideas, particularly in the imagery but also in some of the dramatic moments. And, I am sure that others will feel the same, although the precise moments may differ. They are, therefore, clearly tapping into something. The question is whether, in these moments, they are simply tapping accurately into Tolkien's works, or whether they are tapping into something deeper. I suspect that it is the former.
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Old 09-26-2004, 01:05 PM   #20
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I'm dumbing down this thread by giving my quick views on imladris's 6 points

1/ the film shows 'common man' winning an impossible fight: to 'commen men'
this is always moving - 1 point

2/ how many times have we watched the films?: countless times. We are drawn
back to them time and time again. we can see new nuances almost every time
we look at the films - 1 point

3/ ok, so film wise I believe we get to know most of the characters well.
my wife, who has not read the books, was moved greatly by some of the
characters pain, so probably got to know the characters well. 0 points

4/ hey let's make someone invisible. now what would I give for that!!! - 1 point

5/ there is joy (and yes some misplaced 'comedy') - but the story IS ultimately
grave. I still feel melancholy every time I hear Frodo's narration as he
arrives back home in Bag End. - 1 point

6/ how many times did you look at the screen and go WOW! hundreds of examples,
but an easy example - the ride of the rohirrim.

So, out of a maximum score of 6, PJ's films score 5.

Jackson has captured the myth to me.

Dumbing down finished. Intellectual discussion can now resume.
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Old 09-26-2004, 01:19 PM   #21
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I am in agreement with others that the Arda myth - or, specifically, the parts of said myth contained in L.o.t.R - can never be captured in a non-textual medium in a way that Tolkien would have wanted it - or, indeed, in a way that he would have thought acceptable. Myth is the passing on of tales - and, with the tales, wisdom and ancient 'visions' and 'truths'. Film is different; it forces itself on its viewer and demands that the latter accept a specific interpretation and rendition of the story.
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Old 09-26-2004, 01:48 PM   #22
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I am going to stick my neck out and question a major premise here that davem has taken from Tolkien.

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Fantasy, even of the simplest kind, hardly ever succeeds in Drama, when that is presented as it should be, visibly & audibly acted. Fantastic forms are not to be counterfeited. Men dressed up as talking animals may achieve buffoonery or mimicry, but they do not achieve fantasy....

Drama has, of its nature, already attempted a kind of bogus, or shall I say at least substitute, magic: the visible & audible presentation of imaginary men in a story . That is in itself an attempt to counterfeit the magician's wand. To introduce, even with mechanical success, , into this quasi-magical secondary world a further fantasy or magic is to demand, as it were, an inner or tertiary world. It is a world too much.
On Fairy Stories
Quote:
However good in themselves, illustrations do little good to fairy-stories. The radical distinction between all art (including drama) that offers a visible presentation & true literature is that it imposes one visible form. Literature works from mind to mind & is thus more progenitive. It is at once more universal & more poignantly particular. If it speaks of bread or wine or stone or tree, it appeals to the whole of these things, to their ideas; yet each hearer will give to them a peculiar personal embodiment in his imagination. Should the story say 'he ate bread', the dramatic producder or painter can only show 'a piece of bread' according to his taste or fancy, but the hearer of the story will think of bread in general & picture it in some form of his own. If a story says 'he climbed a hill & saw a river in the valley below', the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene; but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, & it will be made out of all the hills & rivers & dales he has ever seen, but specially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word.
On Fairy Stories
I don't think this necessarily has to be the case at all. To tell you the truth, it even raises my hackles just a little. I profoundly respect a great deal which Tolkien argues in On Fairy Stories, but that does not mean I think every statement he makes there is carved in stone. Any time I see a theoretic statement about art that claims something cannot be done, I want immediately to go out and find examples where it has been done. I stick my feet in the ground and refuse to be dragged along.

I wonder if in part this attitude derives from a long-standing prejudice against drama--a fear of representation as well as a misunderstanding of drama and visual arts. (Just why did the Puritans close the theatres and why are there religious injunctions against depicting the deity and even people?) It suggests that literature is purely imaginary and therefore somehow better or more pure than other arts which rely on other forms of human senses. It is part and parcel of a major western tradition which denigrates the body (the physical aspect) while giving priority to the mind (the intellectual) aspect. Reading is a profoundly creative, interactive activity, but to hold it supreme among the arts is, to me at least, a rejection of art which requires physical or bodily participation.

There are other ways of experiencing art than just through our minds. We can use our ears. We can use our eyes. We can use our bodies as we sway and stomp and dance to music. The physical experience of the concert hall or theatre reaches out to other aspects of our human nature. Just as teachers in classrooms now must plan lessons to accommodate all the different learning styles, so I think we need to be more careful that we not laud one form of knowing over any others.

Where, after all, did Greek drama originate? It originated in the stories of Greek mythology. And what is the role of ritual in religion or mythology? There are strong links between ritual and theatre. I can think of several other examples where mythologies are represented in art and in the physical form of dance and drama: I have seen Canadian First Nations myths enacted in dance and song and story. And I have seen West Coast mythologies carved on totem poles, represented in masks, and shaped into canoes and boats. And I know the brutal story of how aboriginal culture and mythology was nearly wiped out by a mainstream culture which feared a cosmology that did not denigrate the body.

I am not of course attributing all of these points directly to Tolkien. What I mean to question is the idea that drama, in being a physical presence, cannot be a symbolic art. I am amazed actually that Tolkien uses the examples of bread and wine in his essay, for he certainly knew the ritual of transubstantiation.

This is leading far away from Imladris's first points. But I did want to suggest that it is possible to question this first premise that fantasy cannot be represented in the theatre or on the screen because somehow it escapes physical form.

Oh, and, just as an aside. I have said this elsewhere, but I will repeat it here. I have seen an actor portray Gollem on stage and he was in every way more wonderful than our CGI Gollem. I can understand the desire to want to explore the new technology to its finest extent. But I also know that when I felt the floor boards shake when Gollem jumped, when my body jumped at the appearance of the dragon, when my eyes went large with wonder at the non-realistic images projected onto the screens/backdrops of the stage, I was experiencing The Hobbit in a different way, a very sensuous way. And that isn't to be confused with sensual. And it does not rob my reading of The Hobbiti in any way. It is simply a different experience of it.

EDIT: A very long telphone call interrupted my posting, so I have cross posted with Essex and Lord of Angmar.
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Old 09-26-2004, 04:36 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bęthberry
Where, after all, did Greek drama originate? It originated in the stories of Greek mythology. And what is the role of ritual in religion or mythology? There are strong links between ritual and theatre. I can think of several other examples where mythologies are represented in art and in the physical form of dance and drama: I have seen Canadian First Nations myths enacted in dance and song and story. And I have seen West Coast mythologies carved on totem poles, represented in masks, and shaped into canoes and boats. And I know the brutal story of how aboriginal culture and mythology was nearly wiped out by a mainstream culture which feared a cosmology that did not denigrate the body.
I think that you are right to question Tolkien's premise, Bęthberry. But it seems to me that an important distinction between drama and cinema is that drama will often, due to the constraints of the medium, use symbolism to convey ideas, wheras cinema (mainstream cinema at least) leaves little to the imagination. There are, of course, films that work on a symbolic level. Perhaps LotR could be done successfully in that way, but it would be unlikely to have mass appeal.

As I said, the LotR films get about as close as a film can while still having that (important, to investors at least) mass appeal element.
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Old 09-27-2004, 01:32 AM   #24
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I don't think Tolkien was condemning drama per se, or even illustration - he illustrated his own myths many times. I think he was merely pointing out that the more we are given the less we participate, the less we contribute.

What drama does is to effectively take away our participation in the experience - particularly so with fantasy. An actor performing a dramatic reading of a fairy story is different to a full cast movie, with sfx & close ups, where the actors effectively take over. Faerie is, simply, different. I don't think we can accuse a 'bells & smells', high church catholic of puritanism. Dramatisation of myth - which is by its nature impersonal - as far from the everyday as possible - requires as much participation from the individual as possible if it is to work.

We have to keep in mind that Tolkien is speaking specifically of fantasy in the essay. Some things can be dramatised, some can't. It is fantasy, for Tolkien which cannot be dramatised. Tolkien is also putting forward a defence of literature as an artform in its own right. There is now almost an assumption that books are effectively, as I said, 'first draft screenplays' Tolkien saw it differently. Some literary works are not dramatisable - by their nature. Its not a matter of how much money, or how good the effects or the director/writers are. And in a work like LotR, where so much of the power of the work is due to the language (It began with language, after all) that is especially the case.

How can one dramatically reproduce the effect of the 'drums in the deep', with their onomatopoeic 'boom- doom, doom-boom', or adequately reproduce a creature of 'shadow & flame'?

Presenting realistic drama is one thing - especially if the piece was written as a drama to be performed - but to attempt to present something written to be read as a drama, especially if the piece is a fantasy, is, as Tolkien states, asking too much.

LotR was never intended to be dramatised - one of the most powerful & affecting things about it is the use of language (of which Tolkien was a master), & that is all lost when the story, stripped to its bare bones, is presented as drama in any form other than a dramatised reading (which, lets face it, is effectively what Greek drama, as originally performed, was). How many times have we heard the filmmakers say that 'x' would not have worked on screen? This is an admission that the material they were working with is not suited to such adaptation.

Of course, drama & illustration can give us images, but that's the whole point - we are given the images, we don't participate in their construction, so that world is not our world. I didn't see my Middle earth on screen at any point, though at times I was vaguely reminded of it - mostly by my feelings about how they'd got it 'wrong'. I could watch it as a 'drama' & be affected by moments in it - Eowyn singing Theodred's funeral dirge made the hairs stand on the back of my neck - but it was not 'Lord of the Rings' to me, for the very reasons Tolkien gives in the essay.
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Old 09-27-2004, 03:26 PM   #25
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Quote:
SaucepanMan posted
But it seems to me that an important distinction between drama and cinema is that drama will often, due to the constraints of the medium, use symbolism to convey ideas, wheras cinema (mainstream cinema at least) leaves little to the imagination. There are, of course, films that work on a symbolic level. Perhaps LotR could be done successfully in that way, but it would be unlikely to have mass appeal.

As I said, the LotR films get about as close as a film can while still having that (important, to investors at least) mass appeal element.
I take your point generally about the plodding condition of mainstream North American cinema, SpM, but once again I want to stand back from the idea that the opposite is absolutely impossible. You could be right, of course, but I cannot help but think of, say, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or even Hero or Kurusawa's films as films of substantial appeal which incorporate something of symbolism rather than a rank realism. Hitchcock's films, while thoroughly grounded in the particular, invoke an erie sense of something out there beyond our normal range of vision, whether it is The Birds Psycho or Vertigo--or at least this is my memory of them. Look too at what was possible with American Beauty. Possibly the mix of Star Wars with LotR is what doomed Jackson's movie to miss out on the numinous. In the end, it did not strive to achieve its own kind of imaginative vision but rather clumsily hooked its star onto Lucas' coattails. (now, how is that for a mixed metaphor?)

Quote:
davem posted:
There is now almost an assumption that books are effectively, as I said, 'first draft screenplays' Tolkien saw it differently. Some literary works are not dramatisable - by their nature. Its not a matter of how much money, or how good the effects or the director/writers are. And in a work like LotR, where so much of the power of the work is due to the language (It began with language, after all) that is especially the case.

How can one dramatically reproduce the effect of the 'drums in the deep', with their onomatopoeic 'boom- doom, doom-boom', or adequately reproduce a creature of 'shadow & flame'?
I take your point that there is a difference between novel and script or screenplay. In fact, this is one reason why I have given up on reading John Le Carré; after Little Drummer Girl ]\, all his books are essentially driven by the needs of a script. However, to my mind, this does not mean that in the hands of an artist of any medium, a true interprčte would not be possible. As for sound effects, well, perhaps I should refer you to Mr. Underhill for his understanding of how sound effects people can hear things newly and persuade us of that new vision. Think of what [i]Star Wars[/b] did for our sense of light sabres. It is the ear for sound and the eye for light which art/film-making can bring to us which is not possible in a novel unless the novelist himself or herself had that sense imagination. I also hesitate to assign to fantasy qualities or affects which make it radically unlike any other form of literature or set it aside as opperating under different conditions. This no doubt derives from your belief that fantasy comes from something other, but it is not a belief I share.
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Old 09-27-2004, 05:08 PM   #26
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of course there is symbolism in jackson's lotr.

2 examples from rotk within seconds of each other

denethor gorging on his food as faramir charges towards almost certain death

almost directly after this we gandalf sitting on the bench outside showing us the real bleakness and low point we have reached in the tale

Tie this in with Jackson's incredible skill of directing scenes and actors with a flair I can't compare (except for maybe godfather I and II) and we have a trilogy of movies that, for me, rank alongside great directors from the past (kurosawa has been mentioned on this thread, and it is not sacriligeous to mention him and jackson in the same breath)

No doubt given 20 or 30 years, most people will look back on these films and see them for the great works of art they are, for their superb production values, for their acting, but mainly for the story that they tell. We can talk about whether these films show us the true meaning of myth, or whether they stand up to tolkien's genius, but what we can tell is that the films themselves have given countless people huge enjoyment.

Isn't that one of the main reasons to make a film? To tell us a story so well that we can be tied up in it and taken away from the world's troubles for a few hours?

sorry, rant over and totally off topic.....

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Old 09-28-2004, 02:46 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bethberry
I also hesitate to assign to fantasy qualities or affects which make it radically unlike any other form of literature or set it aside as opperating under different conditions. This no doubt derives from your belief that fantasy comes from something other, but it is not a belief I share.
Quote:
Drama has, of its nature, already attempted a kind of bogus, or shall I say at least substitute, magic: the visible & audible presentation of imaginary men in a story. That is in itself an attempt to counterfeit the magician's wand. To introduce, even with mechanical success, into this quasi-magical secondary world a further fantasy or magic is to demand, as it were, an inner or tertiary world. It is a world too much.
Actually, I think Tolkien's point does apply to fantasy alone. Its a matter of how much an audience can 'believe'. Everyone has limits! Essex has given an example of where Jackson has 'succeeded' - for me it didn't work, because I simply couldn't believe in Denethor - he was too much of a pantomime villain, so the whole effect was destroyed (bit like the 'inquisitor' at the end of Braveheart).

But take another example - the Balrog - to show the Balrog fully, & particularly in long shot, destroys the impact, & the sense of terror & overwhelming power is completely lost - we see a Balrog of Morgoth a few inches high. The mythic dimension is too easily lost when translated into other media.

Quote:
As for sound effects, well, perhaps I should refer you to Mr. Underhill for his understanding of how sound effects people can hear things newly and persuade us of that new vision.
You simply cannot communicate all the connotations of 'doom-boom' in any other from than the literary. Language is essential to the communication of myth & fairy story. Literature, for its power, relies on either detailed back story, which cannot be translated into drama, or with myth & fairy story, on what the reader/hearer brings to the experience in terms of the imagery. So, realistic fiction can be translated into drama, because we are seeing something close to our own lives, our everyday experience. Or if we take modern dress productions of Shakespeare we see that the producers feel the need to enable the audience to bring their everday experience to the play.

What's interesting in traditional folk tales is the way they are adapted to the audience's experiences - even fairy palaces are described as being like large versions of the houses the people knew - this is especially clear when you read Campbell's Popular Tales of the West Highlands, but what we see in this is a movement away from myth towards realistic fiction. Drama has to present the story in a way, a form, the audience can relate to, & the more 'popular' it seeks to be, the more it will have to play down the magic - hence Jackson's approach to LotR - but the more that is done, the further away from myth we move.

Myth is probably the artistic form furthest from drama. I'm not here speaking of a native people's presentation of its myths in dramatic form, which grew out of ritual & worship practices, & has a religious dimension/purpose.
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Old 09-29-2004, 04:04 PM   #28
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I’m really going to stick me neck out here and say that I disagree with the two premises that underlie so much of this thread…

1) I don’t agree that Tolkien has created a myth (but then, I don’t think that any one person can)

2) I don’t agree that this attitude or ‘feeling’ which we attribute to a tale and call ‘mythic’ must forever and anon reside only in the original work (that is, a ‘mythic’ book cannot become film or vice versa).

To tackle my first point: with all due respect to Lewis, I think he missed a major component of myth – that it is not something that can belong to any one person, but is instead a communal/societal experience. Works of art can be ‘mythic’ (like classical Greek drama) only insofar as they rewrite or represent a body of myth that the society is already organised around or in response to in some way. But no-one can just sit down and write a myth; when we come to read such a work, we are not finding an expression of something that we share, but something alien. (Unlike the citizens of Thebes hearing about Theseus, the ‘founder’ of their city, we read of Aragorn and the refounding of some place called ‘Gondor’ that is meaningless outside the book.) Myth is not just a story that one person tells and that we like, it is a living body of tradition that finds expression in and through a wide range of social and communal experience. Yes, LotR has become widespread and lots of people find meaning in it, but it is not the expression of our own societal belief system – it is the expression of a belief system, but we do not look to Aragorn and Frodo, Boromir and Éowyn as part of the ‘us’ the way that the ancient Greeks looked at Odysseus, or Native Americans regard Old Woman or Coyote.

What LotR is, is ‘mythic’ which is an entirely subjective attribution that some people are willing to give it and others are not. By ‘mythic’ I mean, does it ‘feel’ like a myth? As I said, this is entirely subjective and personal, so I will not attempt to argue anyone into or out of their position toward the mythic in LotR, since if you think it is, it is. But where I will take issue is with anyone who would want to move from their own subjective response to the text (“This feels mythic to me”) to a normative stance that they wish to impose on others (“therefore, it really is a myth, and therefore expressing a value and belief system that describes and embodies the world we live in”).

This is why I make my second point. Because a reader decides that the book is mythic and the film is not, or the film is mythic and the book is not – well, that’s their subjective response, and they are not only welcome to it, I cherish that response and embrace it. But to take the step beyond that and start claiming that the film is categorically not myth but the book is, is to make the mistake of assuming that something one has attributed to the book (the mythic ‘feel’) is part of the book. Again, this is not how myth is. Myth does not adhere to the work of art that represents it: Odysseus is not a character in a poem by Homer. Rather, the Odyssey is a work of art that is meant to capture and reflect a myth that already has cultural, social, religious reality in its world. That is why LotR, great as it is, cannot be myth, and that is why to say that it is myth and the film is not is to do what I can only describe as a form of interpretive violent to other viewers, for that statement assumes that one’s own subjective assessment of the book is somehow part of the book, not part of one’s individual experience of the book.

And another thing…

The Lord of the Rings is not a trilogy, it’s a single book in three volumes. I know that nobody in this thread has made this mistake, here or elsewhere, but as long as I was being cranky I figured I’d get that one off my chest too.
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Old 09-30-2004, 02:29 AM   #29
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Yet, the creation of a mythology for England was Tolkien's (original) motivation, so He clearly believed it was possible for an individua to create a mythology.

That aside, Tolkien did make use of mythic themes & elements, & his approach was, in large part to re-create what had been lost. My own feeling is that the sense we have that LotR is 'mythic' derives from this - the Legendarium itself may not be genuine myth, but there is enough genuine myth in there for it to affect us in the way genuine myth does.

Aragorn may not have existed prior to LotR, but Arthur, did, Gandalf may only have come into being with Hobbit & grown with LotR, but Merlin had existed long before.

The point for me, is that LotR communicates the remanants of our mythology in an incredibly effective way - & I think that has a lot to do with the form Tolkien uses - literature. The movies don't communicate the mythic dimension to me, & I think that's because they make the characters too 'real', too 'everyday'. The magic, the mythic elements are played down, in order to make the characters acceptable & believeable for a modern audience.
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Old 10-01-2004, 01:13 PM   #30
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Fordim says:
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But no-one can just sit down and write a myth; when we come to read such a work, we are not finding an expression of something that we share, but something alien.
What immediately sprung to mind when I read this was Bram Stoker's Dracula. The figure of the vampire is not a part of myth or legend in the UK and Ireland, yet has now entered our collective minds as though it was a part of our myths. Obviously vampires are a strong part of myth in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world, but they are essentially alien elsewhere and yet Bram Stoker began the process of making them a part of our own culture. What this shows to me is that it is possible to create or adapt myths anew.

Whether or not Tolkien was successful in creating a mythology for England is a difficult question; to put it simply, I think he was successful in creating a mythology, but I do not think it is one purely for England. The mythology of England was pushed back, by successive waves of invasion, to the Celtic fringe (Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall) but many strong mythological elements remain, so I do not think England ever was lacking it's own mythology - it is just not written down.

Davem says:
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The point for me, is that LotR communicates the remanants of our mythology in an incredibly effective way
I think that by and large this is true, there are many echoes in Tolkien from English mythology and folklore, but there are some elements which do not appear, the darker, less 'wholesome' aspects.
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Old 10-01-2004, 02:20 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by Lalwende
I think that by and large this is true, there are many echoes in Tolkien from English mythology and folklore, but there are some elements which do not appear, the darker, less 'wholesome' aspects.
For instance ravens, which have very dark connotations in Northern myth, associated with battlefields & the Dark Goddess & with Odin himself, yet this primal image & symbol of 'northerness' only makes a brief appearance in the Hobbit & not at all in the Sil or LotR - it seems that there were some symbols Tolkien felt it was as well to leave 'sleeping'!

(I think Lalwende may understand what i'm getting at here, even if no-one else does!)
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Old 10-01-2004, 03:58 PM   #32
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Boots Extirpating the "Dark Side"

Quote:
Lalwende wrote:

I think that by and large this is true, there are many echoes in Tolkien from English mythology and folklore, but there are some elements which do not appear, the darker, less 'wholesome' aspects.
Quote:
davem wrote:

For instance ravens, which have very dark connotations in Northern myth, associated with battlefields & the Dark Goddess & with Odin himself, yet this primal image & symbol of 'northerness' only makes a brief appearance in the Hobbit & not at all in the Sil or LotR - it seems that there were some symbols Tolkien felt it was as well to leave 'sleeping'!

(I think Lalwende may understand what i'm getting at here, even if no-one else does!)
Well, I think I understand as well. Does that make us witches or something?

I wonder here if Tolkien was not consciously doing something similar to what happened with the modern editions of fairy tales. Certainly Red Riding Hood and Cinderella are nothing these days to what they are in the original versions. Did this represent a sense that the fairy tales were the province of children and so should be censored of any dark frightening fears? Such an attitude is wrong on both counts, I think. (reasons forthcoming if you wish, but I hesitate to steer off -topic)

Why do you think Tolkien omitted the darker aspects of mythologies?
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Old 10-02-2004, 02:38 AM   #33
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*********** to anyone who reads the following *************
This was written in response a post which Bethberry has just removed, but is intending to to reinstate. I have included all of her important points in my quotes, though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bb
Does that make us witches or something? ....Why do you think Tolkien omitted the darker aspects of mythologies?
(Is Bethberry trying to get davem to break his vow of secrecy - 'To Know, To Dare, To Will & To Keep Silent', reveal the sacred secrets & bring the wrath of the Sisters at the Back of the North Wind down on himself? )

There are certain 'mythic' images & symbvols which can't be used freely.RJ Stewart gives some images relating to the Goddess in her 'dark' aspect-

Quote:
Black Crows flying over White Ice.
A flowering Broom plant within a cloud of fire.
The cry of an owl within which is the voice of a young girl.
We could add to that the image of ravens feeding on the corpse of a slain warrior.

None of those images could fit comfortably within Tolkien's mythology. If Tolkien had tried to fit them in there he would have been forced to take the mythology in a different direction, change its mood completely, or they would have stuck out like sore thumbs. This is because some images & symbols communicate particular ideas & psychic 'experiences', & cannot simply be taken by a writer & used as he or she wishes. The 'darker' aspects of northern myth communicated through these images weren't something Tolkien wanted to go into - for various reasons.

Of course, he did make use of numerous 'pagan' themes & images, some (the ones he felt comfortable with) he did take up 'straight' into his mythology - the wise old man, the once & future King, etc. Others he would use in his own, 'non-traditional' way, but some were difficult to make use of - the figure of Odin appears, but with his 'good' qualities given to Gandalf, & his 'bad' qualities shared among Saruman & Sauron.

So, its not just a matter of excising certain things so as not to upset the children & frighten the horses, its more a matter of wanting to retain some degree of control over what is communicated to the reader, & over what the reader is put in touch with, & how he or she is affected.

Of course, if you don't believe there is any objective, underlying 'reality' beyond the one we experience in our waking lives, then none of that will make sense.

(Now, who felt they'd been given a 'glimpse' of something by my first comment about 'sacred vows' & 'the Sisters at the Back of the North Wind'? - see how certain images affect you & can spark off that sense of something half glimpsed?)

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Old 10-02-2004, 04:22 AM   #34
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On the subject of extirpation

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None of those images could fit comfortably within Tolkien's mythology. If Tolkien had tried to fit them in there he would have been forced to take the mythology in a different direction, change its mood completely, or they would have stuck out like sore thumbs. This is because some images & symbols communicate particular ideas & psychic 'experiences', & cannot simply be taken by a writer & used as he or she wishes. The 'darker' aspects of northern myth communicated through these images weren't something Tolkien wanted to go into - for various reasons. ...

Of course, if you don't believe there is any objective, underlying 'reality' beyond the one we experience in our waking lives, then none of that will make sense.
And I suppose that if you believe symbols and images cannot change meaning, you end up with this argument that a writer cannot use certain symbols and images, as they are beyond his power as a writer. Yet the Church regularly and frequently incorporated--some might say appropriated--pagan symbols into Christian iconography. And writers regularly and frequently take images and ideas and reclothe them as part of their argument, particularly when they want to say something about those previous meanings.

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*********** to anyone who reads the following *************
This was written in response a post which Bethberry has just removed, but is intending to to reinstate. I have included all of her important points in my quotes, though.
Just to clarify, I deleted my post half an hour before davem posted his reply,--over an hour before I saw his reply. My reason? It seemed to me that my comments about fairy tales, which davem alludes to but does not quote, were taking the thread off-topic. (That's the reason I gave when I deleted it.) In fact, his post does not consider the kind of things I had in mind about extirpated modern editions of fairy tales--the degree, for instance, of physical violence meted out to the characters. I was here thinking of how vague Tolkien is about the experience of Celebrían, Elrond's wife, at the hands of orcs.

Quote:
(Now, who felt they'd been given a 'glimpse' of something by my first comment about 'sacred vows' & 'the Sisters at the Back of the North Wind'? - see how certain images affect you & can spark off that sense of something half glimpsed?)
Not I. But then I recall some of your very early posts here on BD where similar points were suggested.
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Old 10-02-2004, 04:41 AM   #35
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Getting back to the point

How does this idea of LotR as adopting/adapting folkloric motifs (rather than 'being' myth) impact on the discussion of its translation into film? I would suggest that insofar as the book seeks to include a number of different elements from folklore (and it is thus 'mythic') I think it would be hard to draw a definite line between book and film in this regard, insofar as the film not only uses many of the same elements introduced by Tolkien, but even introduces a few of its own (e.g. the films greatly expand upon Arwen's role, and with the death and 'resurrection' scene of Aragorn in TT it lends him an Arthurian aura of the King who will 'come again' -- not sure from which folklore we get shield-surfing Elves, which I still think was entirely cool).

I imagine that for many people the book is preferable to the film in its presentation of these elements for many entirely valid reasons: they prefer textuality to visuality, there is a more coherent moral 'purpose' to the book, the book is what they are more familiar with, the text allows a more nuanced thematic apprehension than in film, the movie -- as a film -- is having to work through the 'veil' of Hollywood action-film tropes and expectations, etc. . .but these reasons, good as they may be, are all subjective and personal. Which would seem to buttress my point that the apprehension of the 'mythic' in book or film is simply a subjective attribution made by the reader on the basis of which experience was more meaningful for him or her -- and if it is subjective, then there really can't be any objective reality to this idea of the 'mythic' in these works.

Oh, how I love a syllogism!

A good comparison is to the Star Wars movies. Those films were quite consciously made to reflect mythic 'archetypes' -- Lucas went so far as to have Joseph Campbell comment on the script of each film and offer pointers for the heroes' journey! For millions of people, there is a magic and, yes, a mythic feel to the films that is lost when they are translated into other media (I am one of those: I adore the films, but the books, the few that I have read, leave me utterly cold). This is the same process we are speaking of in regard to Tolkien, but in reverse. For LotR, the 'feel' of the book is more mythic than the 'feel' of the movie (for most readers/viewers); for Star Wars, the 'feel' of the movie is more mythic than the 'feel' of the books. So apparently that sense of myth can survive in either media, it's just that the first time we encounter it in each is different - textually or visually. It's not the medium that makes it mythic, but the memory of our first time reading or watching it.
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Old 10-02-2004, 05:09 AM   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bb
And I suppose that if you believe symbols and images cannot change meaning, you end up with this argument that a writer cannot use certain symbols and images, as they are beyond his power as a writer. Yet the Church regularly and frequently incorporated--some might say appropriated--pagan symbols into Christian iconography. And writers regularly and frequently take images and ideas and reclothe them as part of their argument, particularly when they want to say something about those previous meanings.
Certain symbols cannot be manipulated easily, & some not at all. If Tolkien had used any of the images I quoted earlier he would have had to change the mood of the story & probably its outcome. Some images & symbols are 'primal' & resist manipulation, & if they are used by a writer they tend to take over the story & move it in a new (or 'old') direction. If you take any of those images & mediate on them you will experience specific reactions, which are not manipulable.

This is the reason why the Church only took [i]some/i] Pagan images over - some images they simply couldn't manipulate in the way they wanted - not even to demonise 'them', so they set out to intentionally remove any reference to them. This is also partly why certain things were removed from children's versions of fairy tales. Some images 'transform' - religious iconography is designed to produce a specific 'effect'.

If we take the Tarot images what we find is that they recur throughout myths & legends from all over the world, & it is very difficult to impose a different meaning on them than the traditional one, & if as a writer you make use of one of those images in a story, you will find it almost impossible to impose a new meaning on it & make the story seem 'real'. Basically, the story will go its own way. If you want to use a tarot image in a story you'll have to find one that fits the story you want to write.

But this is too complex a matter, & too far off topic, to pursue here.

As for Fordim's points re Star Wars, while I enjoyed the movies when I first saw them, aged 17, when I came to watch the 're-done' versions in the 90's (not to mention the latest two disasters) I found them to be empty & formulaic, not 'mythical' in any sense. Perhaps the reason for that was Campbell's influence. Campbell alsways seemed to me to have this tendency to want to reduce myth to its constituent parts, it building blocks - to break it in order to see what it is made of.

The difference for me between Tolkien's myth & Lucas' is that Tolkien's comes across to me as having its roots in the living earth, while Lucas' hovers in dead space. For me Lucas myth is not a conflict between good & evil so much as between machine & machine. It is a 'myth' for the machine age, where both sides use machines & 'machine' thinking, & so, not a 'true' myth at all. I know some will throw in the 'Force' as an example of the story's 'mythic' aspect, but for me it was simply a cop-out, a deus ex machina of the most blatant & unconvincing kind, or at best a clever trick which the hero performs to outsmart the baddies.

Or maybe I'm just a backward looking inhabitant of the Old World with an aversion to technology & its promise of 'salvation'.

I just hated all the dirty, oily, smelly machines all over the place - & as for that planet in film 1 which is completley urbanised, I have to admit the idea of it made me feel sick. (Though if I'm being honest, Lucas actually lost me back in '83 with those damn Ewoks!).

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Old 10-02-2004, 07:59 PM   #37
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And I suppose that if you believe symbols and images cannot change meaning, you end up with this argument that a writer cannot use certain symbols and images, as they are beyond his power as a writer. Yet the Church regularly and frequently incorporated--some might say appropriated--pagan symbols into Christian iconography.
Yes, the pentacle, a popular pagan symbol, was used for a time by the Church. And (although the two symbols are hardly connected), the swastika was a symbol of peace, once used by the Hopi (I believe) until the Nazis inverted it and took it for their own, drastically changing its meaning.

For the sake of staying on topic, I'll shut up now.
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Old 10-04-2004, 06:46 AM   #38
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Thanks, Encaitare, for your example of a symbol with radically different, if not opposite meanings. The swastika has indeed a long tradition of postive worth among many cultures, not only the Hopi, but the Hindu and Buddhist as well. Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry on the swastika . I discovered this myself with surprise one day as I walked by a Buddhist meeting hall (not a temple), where the sign was worked into the features on the door and window.

Quote:
davem wrote:
The difference for me between Tolkien's myth & Lucas' is that Tolkien's comes across to me as having its roots in the living earth, while Lucas' hovers in dead space. For me Lucas myth is not a conflict between good & evil so much as between machine & machine. It is a 'myth' for the machine age, where both sides use machines & 'machine' thinking, & so, not a 'true' myth at all. I know some will throw in the 'Force' as an example of the story's 'mythic' aspect, but for me it was simply a cop-out, a deus ex machina of the most blatant & unconvincing kind, or at best a clever trick which the hero performs to outsmart the baddies.

Or maybe I'm just a backward looking inhabitant of the Old World with an aversion to technology & its promise of 'salvation'.
There are two ways in which I think this argument is misguided. First, I don't think Lucas did produce a conflict between machine and machine. And, second, I don't think that cultures stop producing myths.

There is indeed a great deal of emphasis on technology and dashing light sabres and cool X-wing fighters in Star Wars. However, there is also a very strong element which rejects totalising, militaristic power and its machine-dependence. The end of the 'first' Star Wars movie, now called "A New Hope' (I think), is a case in point. All the imagery there of the scene where Luke and Han are awarded their honours by Leia suggests grandiose displays of power and propaganda. (To be honest, I am reminded of 'Triumph of the Will'.) Yet as I also recall the scene, there are shadows which call into question the Alliance's manner here. It is similar, to me, to the scene in the first Indiana Jones movie where Indy is ready to walk into the bar where he meets his ex-girlfriend in a drinking match: he looks at his shadow on the wall before he walks in. I don't think the suggestion in A New Hope is as strong as that, but I think it is there to suggest that the Alliance has not understood how much it is in thrall itself to false forms of power, and that includes a worship of machine. This movie ends with, to me, a pyrrhic victory. (To be honest here, I am indebted to Professor Anne Lancashire for this reading of ST:ANH. I cannot find any online articles by her, only this link to her course outline on SF and Fantasy films.

But secondly and more significantly, I don't think one can limit 'myth' to elements of the good green earth. (AndI don't think one need to class oneself as an inhabitant of the Old World to make this point. ) Cultures produce myths, as Fordim has argued, and there is no logical reason why cultures which are more divorced from their ancient roots will stop creating myths. It is true that one definition of 'mythology' is "a religion or religious explanation of the world which is no longer actively believed in", but that definition strikes me as severely limiting the role of myth in the cultural imagination. One need only think of 'urban legends' to be aware that the story-making faculty is a defining element of human beings.
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Old 10-04-2004, 03:57 PM   #39
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Sorry to butt in and veer off topic (with my luck everyone willl just ignore this as they continue using big words), but am I developing selective blindness? Or am I turning into one of those "children who can't read good"?

Why does it appear as though nobody on this thread has mentioned the movies' soundtracks yet?

This is going to sound pretty pathetic coming from me (and I don't know as much about music as I ought to, and my snobby composer friends are going to flog me if they read this), but, as someone who has spent several nights crying over "A Journey in the Dark" off the FotR CD, I believe that at least the soundtracks capture the "mood" of myth almost perfectly, especially when related to the C.S. Lewis formula.

Often, I believe, the score in general tends to succeed where the screenplay sometimes falters. Things happen to break the spell, but the music always seems to hold the pieces together somehow. This is especially true for me at the end of the first movie. I am not particularly bothered by Gimli shouting "YEAH!" or Aragorn saying "let's hunt some Orc" in a typical gung-ho action hero fashion, but I could see how a few of our other members might get annoyed by that. And this is where I think the music kind of "steps in" and transforms the entire last scene; mournful and hopeful at the same time, it provies that last bit of oomph that kicks at my heart but still makes me giddy with wonder, like a kid. I think of lost kingdoms, and treasures, and brave studly rangers, and I believe in it all at that moment. And I have to put on my most nonchalant of faces to hide the embarrassment.

So yeah, the soundtracks definitely have that magic feeling. And at the very least, you don't get to hear Gimli belching.
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Old 10-04-2004, 05:01 PM   #40
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Lush-- Yes. The sountrack definitely smooths over many bumps in the road which would otherwise bequite unsettling.

Aren't many (perhaps most) epics rythmic, poetic? When we popularize the the "lyrics" as a screenplay in the common tongue, without meter, then the tune and the orchestration must step in and make it stately and compelling and majestic again. And I think Shore does that *quite* well.
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