Thursday, January 3, 2013

I Am Interviewed (Smithsonian)

So, in addition to being Tolkien Day, today's also a good day for me because a piece I'm quoted in has just been published online at : "The Tolkien Nerd's Guide to THE HOBBIT", by Rachel Nuwer.

I was happy to be interviewed for the piece, both (a), because it's Smithsonian, and (b), because it's on a topic of special interest to me. I know the text of THE HOBBIT really well, and am also pretty well up on references relevant to THE HOBBIT in Tolkien's other work. Given the resources available to Jackson -- THE HOBBIT itself, all the references to events from the time of THE HOBBIT in LotR, and Jackson's own LotR films to which these films are prequels -- how wd he weave those strands together? Equally important, how wd he handle to tricky issue of material relevant to his work-in-progress to which he did not have the rights, like "The Quest of Erebor", "The Istari", and "The 1960 Hobbit"?

As for the article itself, I enjoyed it. It takes on an interesting subject -- how did Jackson use the sources available to him, and how did he work around relevant works that were not available? -- which I suspect will be the topic of some essay or essays in some future version of a follow-up book to Jan and Phil's PICTURING TOLKIEN. And I think it does a pretty good job with it.   It's easy to nit-pick (Tolkien's LotR is not a "trilogy", although Jacksons films of LotR arguably are; the sword's not the Necromancer's but the Witch-King's; we don't know if Thror's murder was one-on-one or not) but I know the piece's author went to a good deal of trouble to try to get details accurate.

Which, combined with problems I encountered in the two Tolkien-themed Trivia books I've been reading lately, has reminded me just how difficult it is to paraphrase Tolkien correctly. Tolkien's work has always been complex, where detail really mattered. We may have to face the fact that with the publication of so much draft and unfinished material Tolkien's writings are now too diverse and complex and contradictory to hold in the mind in toto, as we used to be able to do in the days before UNFINISHED TALES. I know for a long time I've distinguished between scholarly and popular works; the former I'm pretty ruthless with so far as details go*, while I'm aware I mentally 'grade on a curve' with the latter.

Did find the quotes and comments from Michael Drout interesting; he obviously had a v. different response to the film than I did in that while we like and dislike some of the same bits, our reaction to the parts we dislike is dissimilar.** Here's a link to his own review of the film:

In this Smithsonian piece, I disagree with Drout that "the Tolkien estate . . . are litigious". Tolkien Enterprises (the people who own the movie rights) is certainly litigious, but the Estate (an altogether different entity, being Tolkien's family) strikes me as resorting to lawsuits only when driven to exasperation (e.g., by the news of hobbit slot machines). In any case, the lines cited don't sound particularly close to me (the sentiment, yes; the phrasing, no).


current reading:
 THE PRICE OF POLITICS by Woodward without Bernstein, on the Kindle (bit dreary)
 GREEN SUNS AND FAERIE by Verlyn Flieger (fascinating, as expected)

*I once listened to, and enjoyed, an hour-long talk by my friend Taum Santoski about Tolkien artwork and, afterwards, had a one-word response: "Denmark!" -- he having at one point mis-identified which country the queen who illustrated the Folio Society's edition of LotR had come from as Sweden. To my credit, I was heartily ashamed of myself afterwards once I realized what I'd done -- which was to pick a point of disagreement as a starting point for the next round in our endless discussion of all things Tolkieian.

**I think the difference is that Drout falls into the group of Tolkienists who take those departures from the original that don't work as a sort of personal insult, while I just dismiss them as a part of the film that didn't work when it cd have worked, had they been more faithful.

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