The LOTR Movie Site
November 19, 2000

Tolkien & Sandboxes: Another Response to Max B.
Brian M.

Greetings. Point form for these sorts of discussions is fine with me. Especially given how many of us you have to reply to. Though, if possible, I would request that you cut and paste a snippit of the point you're responding to, as it only takes a second and makes reading much easier.

1. "Ah, too subtle for me."--As I reread it, subtlety had nothing to do with it. It was just a stupid way to start that essay; one that did not reflect well on me and I now regret.

2. "No, through exaggeration the point becomes ridiculed rather than addressed."--I've had several discussions with postmodern relativists and I've seen how this response is often employed. Invariably, it's a way to divert attention away from the uncomfortable fact that their position, unfortunately, ends up being "ridiculous" when carried to its logical conclusion. Kind of a way to have their cake and eat it too: They deny there is any real, unmoving frame of reference (without which the term "extreme" is meaningless), but want to impose one extemporaneously to prevent their views being carried to said "extremes." I'm afraid that's what's happening here. Unless you can provide me with a reason why your position can't go there, don't blame me for pointing it out.

3. "And I think, with your words on God, that I've seen our disagreement can never really be reconciled, as we come from entirely different discourses on life/philosophy."--I noticed that earlier, which is why I've been trying to gear the majority of my responses to deal with the postmodern foundations on which your arguments rest rather than attacking your points directly. And you're right, our positions are likely diametrically opposed to one another, but it does not necessarily follow that discussion is therefore worthless. We just need to focus on the real issues, not just what rises to the surface. More on this in #6.

4. "Arwen can have an active role in the fellowship without having to slay everything in sight."--Once again, I don't think anyone has a problem with it being an active role, but rather with the fact that it's "in the Fellowship." It's simply unnecessary to put her in the there to accomplish what you want.

5. "Hmmm, well we could move it elsewhere."--Suggestions? A neutral forum will be hard to find, unless we create it ourselves.

6. "In any case, I can't see how I can possibly admit your distaste for PM or PPM any further than I did."--This is understandable, given that I've refrained from offering any of my arguments against it for the sake of staying on topic. It's just that every person I've met that holds to PM or PPM also displays an implicit faith that their position is unassailable. I've found that PM, in particular, is fatally flawed on both the practical and theoretical levels, and it surprises me how many of its adherents have never actually thought through their own position. I suppose that section of my response was intended to be a gentle prod in the direction of true open-mindedness, suggesting that you not dismiss my arguments off-hand before you've even heard them. My questions now are, "Is your position, as you hold to it, actually falsifiable? Is it conceivable that I could prove you wrong?" My position has historically held up concrete assertions that, if disproved, would negate the value of the system itself. If yours does not offer any such claims, then not only is the point of practical discussion moot, but it all degenerates back into a question of blind faith. If it does, what are they? [Again, I hesitate to embark on this, for fear of bothering other readers. Webmaster, if you think this too off topic, we will refrain and/or take it elsewhere.]

7. "Are we to believe that simply because Tolkien wrote this book (which was more or less reinterpretations of older myths that he did not write), that nobody else is allowed to play in the sandbox?"--I'll content myself with replying to this for the sake of time and space, minus the cosmic connotations sometimes attached to those words ;). In short, there is no problem with authors building on the work of others or even just synthesizing it at times. I do both myself nearly every day as a historian. But we must draw a line between that sort of endeavor and interpretation. The two are not synonymous. My problem isn't with people who "want to play in the sandbox" so to speak. It's with those who want to perform major renovations on existing sandcastles built by other architects and pretend it's still the original, all in the name of interpretation. If someone wants to look at Tolkien and say, "the man was a genius", and then build on his work in something of their own, that's just fine. To continue the analogy, if they want to examine Tolkien's sandcastle and then incorporate parts of it into their own creation (Much like Tolkien did with existing Scandinavian mythology, as you pointed out), then they should feel free to do so. What we're talking about here is something different. PJ isn't creating his own Tolkien-influenced fantasy movie. In theory he's trying to translate Tolkien's sandcastle into another medium, an ice sculpture, for instance. Given his stated goal, therefore, I see no excuse for artistic liberties not dictated by necessity (for instance, I have no problem with the rewrite of the Prancing Pony scene mentioned in the spy report on 11-14). As example of interpretation gone wrong, take that abysmal rendition of the Arthur legends (with which I am also familiar) called "First Knight". Had the director simply given all the characters and places new names and kept the Arthurian flavor, it would have been an excellent movie, one that I would have enjoyed. But since they tried to tie it into Arthur, I spent the whole movie shaking my head (especially when Lancelot became king of Camelot!). It wasn't interpretation, it was recreation. Other than the fact that they happened to share the same names, the characters in that movie had little or nothing in common with the "real" ones. If they had simply admitted this from the beginning by offering it as a new story influenced by the previous one, it would have been much more effective. I'm even ok with something that explores existing characters in new situations, so long as the characters are as "true to form" as possible, though these will always find themselves on thin ice with "purists." "First Knight" was neither here nor there and consequently suffered greatly (as I did upon viewing it). A decent interpretation, on the other hand, can be found in the movie "Excaliber." Many of the legend's main points are incorporated into the movie itself in an interesting way, and in scenes not directly mentioned in the originals, we find the characters acting in ways mostly consistent with the how they're portrayed in the "canon." I would also point to the majority, but not all, of the BBC Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett as excellent examples of transferring books onto film. "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" posed a particular challenge, but they handled it well, in the manner I advocate.

T'is late. G'night all. Best regards.