The LOTR Movie Site
March 9, 2000

Further Thoughts Regarding Adaptation
Michael Bell

Since this is largely a repsonse to Mr. Skinner's last post, I'll address
this directly to help avoid any more of the pretension and false authority I
've been accused of, perhaps not unjustifiably. The hazards of college and
lack of editing time. Ah well.

Just very briefly, Mr. Skinner, I wanted to first of all apologize if you
felt personally attacked by my initial posting. This was not my intention. I
just thought that an additional (not necessarily more accurate) perspective
on issues of "right" interpretation might be something worth considering. My
suggestions were admittedly a bit general, but I was trying to move the
tiring Arwen debate to wider issues of interpretation that are probably
going to come up again and again over the coming four years. This was the
relevance I saw beyond Arwen. We have very little power, if any, to affect
the outcome of the films; we do have the power to prepare our reception of
them. I used your assertions as examples to help illustrate my general
points, which I probably should have reconsidered, and again, I'm sorry if
you interpreted my words as a personal assault.

And you're of course correct in assuming that I'm speaking from a
deconstructionist perspective (though Derrida is the name we want if we're
going to start dropping names), but I would agree with you that not every
reading is necessarily "valid" given the evidence of the texts. The theory
I'm working from suggests that it's probably most useful to assume a certain
realm of probable readings surrounding texts rather than rightness or
wrongness. What I was trying (and I guess failing) to suggest is that
textual evidence can have a fair amount of "give," and that a film
adaptation of a large and complicated fantasy novel is a very tricky kind of
reading with significant constraints, formal constraints as well as
considerations of an audience primarily made up of folks who will NOT be
Tolkien "freaks" (like me too) and who will have no knowledge of and no real
interest in Tolkien "mythology," as much as that may pain you (us) to
consider. These constraints might require Jackson to push the envelope of
this "give" now and then.

I think that a purist's approach is bound to result in disappointment in the
films because there will undoubtedly be a great many fairly significant
adjustments to the narrative that Jackson is going to have to make. He's had
to re-write the text into a screenplay remember, or more accurately, three
separate screenplays for three films that must stand alone to a somewhat
greater extent that the volumes in The Trilogy (which I do believe was a
unintended division imposed on the text anyway). I think disappointment in
these three films based on all kinds of assumptions and expectations about
the "rightness" of their interpretations would be a shame given the time and
talent and care that is being poured into them.

My initial post was simply intended as a suggestion that we all back up a
bit, and relax, and perhaps avoid a purist's stance which just may not be
very useful with regard to these films. I feel that it might help us
fans-waiting for years, working ourselves up into a froth, endlessly
considering this or that rumor-to actually enjoy the result of the gigantic
artwork Jackson and his collaborators are building if we approach the films
with as positive and as receptive an attitude as possible. Why not? Jackson
isn't going to hurt your Tolkien. You have your Tolkien. Its integrity is
safe, incorruptible. The novel is a firmly established work of great written
literature; Jackson is working on a movie, an artifact of pop-culture. They
are basically different mediums, and I see no reason why Jackson's Tolkien
can't exist alongside your Tolkien, even if Arwen does do a bit of fighting.

Anyway, sorry again to arouse your indignation, and I hope both of us can
continue to submit articles in the future without feeling the need to take
any further swipes at each other.