August 19, 2001
Art vs. Commerce: A Grey Area
Stacey B. is worried at "the adaptation of an artistic
enterprise into a commercial enterprise." She says, "... a book, becomes
popular, and someone (in this Culture of the Green Glow) perceives that they might make
loads of money off of it in some way, in this case making books into movies."
Well, whilst I am sympathetic to the basic point she is making, and I do cringe at the
"disneyfying" of many great stories, it's not quite as simple as all that. For a
start, the Lord of the Rings was always a commercial as well as an artistic enterprise.
J.R.R.T. and the Tolkien foundation et al made money from the book (in its many editions
and covers), as did diverse publishers, artists, reviewers and merchandisers. Not to
mention the whole fantasy genre that it spawned. LOTR has always been a marketable item. I
wonder if Stacey has ever bought a LOTR calendar, T-shirt, or diary? Yes it is arguably
the most imaginative and original work of fiction of the 20th century, and a monumental
literary masterpiece. But that doesn't mean no one should make money from it, especially
when the film making of PJ is in itself a monumental creative effort of considerable
artistic merit in its own way.
Second, Jason B has a point when he suggests we should wait and see what actually is and
isn't in the films when they come out. However, I don't think it's unreasonable to discuss
how well or poorly casting and character adaptation (insofar as we know it) has been done,
in terms of being true to the spirit of the books.
My prediction (based on what we have seen and heard already from the official releases,
etc), is that overall the movies will probably be pretty true to the books. Certainly they
are likely to be the best effort anyone has made to date. But some of the probable changes
discussed in this forum (if true), are very hard to understand, and whilst they may not
result in a total travesty of Tolkien's designs, they will dim the enthusiasm for many a
Finally, I agree that we ought to keep it in perspective - it's true that LOTR is not the
Gospel, nor is it "sacrosanct" in an absolute sense. But it is based on
(Tolkien's Catholic interpretation of) the Gospel. It is not an allegory, but nevertheless
many of the characters (including Bombadil!) are typological of certain aspects of the
character and work of Christ (or the Father or Spirit) or other figures in the bible such
as Mary. This is what Tolkien intended. And it will be interesting to see how true the
movies are to that Christian "atmosphere" that pervades the story. Whether the
rich symbolism of those threads will be left intact or whether it will be turned into
merely another ripping yarn with elves and hobbits on the side, remains to be seen.