• Tolkien the Movie

    From Troels Forchhammer@21:1/5 to All on Sat Apr 11 00:37:03 2020
    In message
    theswain <larsprec@gmail.com> spoke these staves:

    On Saturday, May 18, 2019 at 8:35:19 PM UTC-5, Bill O'Meally

    So ... reving a long-dead thread here (sorry!)

    And not just that -- freely rearranging text to create a better flow
    of the conversation (as I would have it).

    I did not care for the movie.

    It was a nice enough film, I suppose (despite some of the more
    problematic history errors), but it was not, to my mind, a film about
    J.R.R. Tolkien.

    If I did not know Tolkien and his works, I would have been
    confused about a lot of the sequences where dragons, fire demons
    and black horsemen appear on the battlefield.
    I would have thought that Tolkien had lost his mind in the battle
    of the Somme, jumping out of of a trench wrapped in a blanket,
    screaming after fellow TCBS companion Geoffrey. I would have
    thought there was a romantic attraction for the two.

    In terms of the battlefield stuff, anyone coming to a biographical
    film on Tolkien who doesn't get the battlefield dragon and all
    that...well it'd be shocking to have anyone in the theater who
    doesn't have at least a passing knowledge of what Tolkien wrote
    So I doubt anyone would be confused by that.

    You are probably right to some extent, Larry. I agree that it
    probably wouldn't /confuse/ many (surely there must have been some
    viewers who were not familiar with Tolkien's ouvre?).

    However, I think that a majority of those going would nonetheless
    misunderstand entirely. They would see Smaug and Nazgűl (the story
    about the German horsemen seems rather dubious to my mind) on the
    battlefield rather than the creatures that the battle of the Somme
    actually /did/ inspire: the the Orcs and the semi-mechanical dragons
    of the first "Fall of Gondolin".

    From the perspective of the Tolkienist, my primary complaint here was
    the way they try to tie the Battle of the Somme so directly to his
    best known stories -- /The Hobbit/ and /The Lord of the Rings/. There
    is scant evidence for most of that[*], and what evidence there is for
    other inspirations (particularly the early stuff) is ignored

    I am aware (as you point out elsewhere) that they couldn't be very
    direct due to restrictions from the Estate, but instead of hinting at
    the existence of other stories, they opted for something that is, at
    best, extemely dubious.

    Overall, I found the whole battlefield thing the worst part of the
    film. The backstory is presented as fevered flash-backs, so we have
    an officer who is raving incoherently and deliriously around the
    battlefield, but who gets these very sharp and correct flash-backs
    to his pre-war life? Not particularly credible, nor did it work at
    all for me as the framing device for the film's plot.

    That goes for the other scenes from the battle of the Somne: they
    depict Tolkien as suffering from trench fever,
    I think they did a good job at depicting a fevered mind suffering
    from among things than the fever itself including a pretty serious
    case of combat-induced PTSD.

    Yet there is no evidence that Tolkien was delirious from trench
    fever. Actually, what John Garth reports is the following:

    On Wednesday 25 October Tolkien felt weak and unwell, but he
    did not report sick until after the Fusiliers had been
    inspected and thanked by General Gough of the Fifth Army and
    by Field-Marshal Haig, the British commander-in-chief. On
    Friday, a cold and showery day, he went to the medical officer
    with a temperature of 103.
    Garth, John. /Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-
    earth/ (p. 200). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

    So anyone coming out of the cinema would get the, blatantly false,
    impression that Tolkien was raving around on the battlefield of the
    Somme, deliriuos from (trench) fever.

    I would have thought, though raised by a priest, Tolkien was not
    especially religious.

    I do agree that the film stayed away from all questions of
    religion and faith..not just Tolkien, but throughout. After seeing
    the film, I read that the director had actually crafted and filmed
    scenes attempting to depict Tolkien's faith, but test audiences
    did not respond well to them, so they were cut.

    ... and of course we're not supposed to gainsay our test audiences

    Well, I do understand the reasoning no matter what I might think of
    it :)

    I general, I think that way too much is made of Tolkien's faith and
    it's impact on his /work/ (as opposed to the impact on other aspects
    of his life), so the absence of his faith in the film did not bother
    me all that much (in some ways it was a relief), though it was, of
    course, a biographical fallacy.

    I would have thought he was an officer over one, and only one
    soldier whose sole responsibility was to seek the location of

    They depicted an officer's batman; as 2nd LT Tolkien would have a
    batman, a soldier assigned to him as personal servant. John Garth
    covers this in his book on Tolkien and the Great War;

    The batman performed domestic chores for an officer: making
    his bed, tidying and polishing, and furnishing his table with
    the best. This was a practical arrangement, not just a luxury.
    Officers undoubtedly led a cushier life than the other ranks,
    but they had little time to spare from training, directing
    working parties, and, on ‘days off’, censoring the men’s
    inevitable letters home (a deeply divisive and unpopular duty).
    A resourceful batman could win a great deal of gratitude and
    respect. Tolkien, who found it hard to warm to his fellow
    officers, developed a profound admiration for the batmen he
    knew. However, the batman was not primarily a servant but a
    private soldier who acted as a runner for officers in action.
    As such he had to be both fit and intelligent so that he did
    not garble the orders or reports. Like any other private, he
    also fought in the field. One of the ‘A’ Company batmen,
    Thomas Gaskin, a working-class Manchester man, was among the
    thirty-six Fusiliers killed or missing at Ovillers. Tolkien
    preserved a poignant letter from Gaskin’s mother asking about
    her son.
    Garth, John. /Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-
    earth/ (p. 171). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

    Incidentally, there is, in Garth's book, no information about
    Tolkien's batman at any point. Garth makes much more of the batman in
    his paper 'Frodo and the Great War'[*], and his linking of Samwise to
    the batmen Tolkien would have known in the war is one of the really
    credible parts of that paper.


    So I would disagree that the film gives the impression that
    Tolkien commanded a single soldier: we see instead his batman. Of
    course, not everyone is going to know that...but does every
    historical movie need to discuss every detail for the audience?

    Yes, I would agree that it seems fairly clear. Even if one is
    not particularly familiar with the British tradition of batmen, I
    should think that the idea of a soldier assigned as a more personal
    assistant to an officer should not come as a surprise to many: after
    all, the concept has been shown again and again in various popular
    media portrayals of armies at war.

    There were no sequences showing the hours he was putting into his
    early legendarium, and the very first thing he ever wrote was "In
    a hole in the ground..."
    They did not tie Edith dancing in the field to the Luthien
    legend. In fact, there was NO mention of Luthien & Beren, or the
    Valar, or the Elves, or the Lamps, or the Two Trees.... And at
    the end, they mention only that on their headstone were the names
    of two lovers from his mythology.

    So much promise, so much material to work with, and such a
    disappointment .

    You have valid criticisms here. Some of them the film makers
    couldn't help because of copyright issues and lacking permission
    from the Estate, they could not mention Luthien, Beren, any of his
    works and so on. The extant of that I do not know, but given in
    the final scene with what he writes on the paper lacking the word
    "hobbit" it seems fairly safe to say that that legal stricture
    explains the lack of references to his writings and legendarium.

    Well ... I am not going to quarrel about what they /could/ have done
    within the limits of the copyright (I am not sure that the Estate
    could have done anything about merely mentioning the names of Beren
    and Lúthien, but telling their stories, or showing the grave is
    another matter altogether).

    One might complain that the alternative that they often opt for is a
    complete and fallacious invention of their own ...

    It isn't perfect, but I enjoyed it, thought the cinematography was
    top notch.

    Unfortunately my viewing was on the in-flight screen on a
    transatlantic flight in December, so I didn't get the full pleasure
    of the photography, and I shouldn't comment on that. Other aspects
    of the cinematography, script-writing in particular, however, were
    not, in my view, 'top notch' in any way.

    Certainly as someone knowing a bit about Tolkien, I, and the crowd
    of Tolkienistas I was able to see it with, was able to pick out
    where they were adapting material from Carpenter's Bio, the
    Letters, and from certain Tolkien scholars. That was actually a
    bit fun.

    Yes, I agree that it was a bit fun to recognise some of the correct
    bits and remembering where they would have gotten that from.

    No, they didn't ruin it.

    In some ways I think I liked the film-Edith far better than Tolkien's
    wife :) Film-Edith has far more pluck and is far more self-assertive
    than what we know about Tolkien's real wife, for instance.

    Yes, there is much to quibble about (far less to quibble about
    than a certain film maker's travesties), and some enjoy the
    quibbling. But it is a good film, enjoyable, and worth seeing
    whether on the big screen or wait until picked up by a streaming

    I have to disagree to some extent here.

    Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy are, in my opinion,
    actually /good/ films -- they are, however, definitely /not/ at any
    level 'true' to Tolkien's book. The visualisation of Middle-earth in
    the films is quite different from Tolkien's visual imagination (and
    we do have some quite good illustrations from Tolkien's hand to
    support our reading of the text in this), and of course the
    characters and the underlying philosophical and aestic aspects of
    the book are changed beyond recognition.

    The new film, 'Tolkien', is, to my mind, mediocre at best. I have no
    particular wish to see it again, and I wouldn't particularly
    recommend anyone to see it, though I wouldn't advise them to stay
    away either. It is mediocre and it is merely 'mostly harmless'.

    So, I would say that, as a film in its own right, and divested from
    what they actually attempt to portray, the new film is worse than
    Jackson's 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy (no no-where near the
    horror of his 'Hobbit' trilogy ... <shudders>), but as an adaptation
    of something Tolkien it is much less bad than Jackson's works

    It's good: not great, not revealing new insights, esp to those who
    know stuff about Tolkien like people in this group, but not
    "ruined" or even bad either. It is meant it seems to me as a labor
    of love more than anything else, to pay some homage to the
    development of Tolkien's life and literary output.

    It doesn't reveal any new insights to anyone. If you don't know
    better, and accidentally comes out of the cinema believing what's in
    the film, you'll be worse off from having seen it (in terms of
    knowledge of Tolkien's life), as the fallacies you will end up
    believing outweigh the true information that you can gain from it --
    and there is no way for any non-expert to tell the difference.

    I remember from the credits that there were 3 or 4 consultants of
    name. Two I do remember are John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War,
    and Andy Orchard,

    You might recall that a number of top-notch Tolkien scholar names
    were also credited in Peter Jackson's 'The Lord of the Rings'
    trilogy, and in his 'The Hobbit' trilogy. Having consulted with top
    Tolkien scholars is definitely no guarantee for getting things

    I think that about the best I have to say about it is that it could
    have been so horribly much worse that it is nearly a blessing that
    they didn't do any worse than that ...

    [*] I think John Garth overstretches in his paper, 'Frodo and the
    Great War' in /'The Lord of the Rings' 1954-2004: Scholarship
    in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder/. He tries too hard to tie
    Frodo's character and character development to Tolkien's WWI
    experiences, with, in my view too little consideration of the
    actual strength of his evidence and other possible sources of

    Troels Forchhammer
    Valid e-mail is <parmakenta(a)gmail.com>
    Please put [AFT], [RABT] or 'Tolkien' in subject.

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  • From John W Kennedy@21:1/5 to Troels Forchhammer on Sat Apr 11 14:22:16 2020
    On 4/10/20 6:37 PM, Troels Forchhammer wrote:
    I general, I think that way too much is made of Tolkien's faith and
    it's impact on his /work/ (as opposed to the impact on other aspects
    of his life), so the absence of his faith in the film did not bother
    me all that much (in some ways it was a relief), though it was, of
    course, a biographical fallacy.

    I know that as a 17-year-old atheist with atheist parents and a
    Protestant family background, I needed only about three chapters to
    conclude that Tolkien was a Roman Catholic.

    (I also concluded from the slog across Mordor that the author had seen
    war. For what it’s worth, I made a similar deduction about Alexandr
    Volkov when I read “Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers”.)

    John W. Kennedy
    "The blind rulers of Logres
    Nourished the land on a fallacy of rational virtue."
    -- Charles Williams. "Taliessin through Logres: Prelude"

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