Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tolkien Biopic

So, while there's a lot of Lewis activity because of the great milestone of his having been honored with a plaque in Westminster Abbey, there's also been some interesting bits regarding Tolkien of late.

[I] First off, thanks to the Mythsoc list I learned about a Tolkien biopic that's supposedly in the works, simply called TOLKIEN: The Movie (thanks to Douglas Kane for the link):,0,6989541.story#axzz2lKE1cqRX

I've been expecting that eventually they'd be Shadowlanding Tolkien -- after all, we've been creeping up on it through the 'dramatic re-enactments' of various scenes, like CSL's conversation or an imagined Inklings meeting, in various documentaries on his (or Lewis's) works in recent years. Just hope that when, and if, someone actually does this that they do a decent job of it. This particular one is said to focus on "his formative years at Pembroke College and as a soldier in World War I" -- i.e., the years 1915-1918 and 1926-1945. The former block includes his marriage (though it leaves out all the courtship), the loss of the T.C.B.S., and the start of work on the Legendarium, while the latter includes academic triumph, the Inklings' glory days, THE HOBBIT, and most of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Though of course, being a movie, I doubt they'll stick to chronology. Still, the two periods mentioned give an indication of where the film's emphasis is likely to be: early and mid-career Tolkien.

Given that the film is said to be "in development", a stage from which few projects emerge, odds are this will never get made. But being obsessed with all things Tolkienian I'd love to see that script the director, David Gleeson, is said to be working on.

[II] I had been vaguely aware of the mooted MIRKWOOD movie mentioned in the above post, described as "a fantastical look at his work as a codebreaker during WWII". Given that Tolkien was not a codebreaker in World War II, that seems not to leave them much to go on. There's also the complication that the novel I assume it's based on, Steve Hillard's MIRKWOOD (which is NOT about Tolkien's work as a codebreaker), is the worst of all the novels featuring JRRT as a character that I've read, so that project's collapse might be just as well.

What I did not know, until learning of both through another post in that same Mythsoc thread (thanks, Marcel B), is that two more Tolkien biopics either are or have been in the works in recent years.

[III] The first of these, TOLKIEN AND LEWIS is described in the following link:

The poster shows Aslan and a Nazgul, with the tag-lines "Friendship Changes Everything" and the obligatory "Based on an Incredible True Story"; the accompanying descriptive paragraph gives a better idea of the film's apparent focus: "Some friendships last forever. Others last until they are no longer needed . . . "

This actually sounds like an interesting focal point: the two men's friendship as Tolkien struggles with THE LORD OF THE RINGS and Lewis begins his career as an apologist with rock-star fame on the radio. Unfortunately, there are ominous signs of psychobable  in references to Tolkien's need "to face his psychotic nightmares" (are they talking about Numenor?) and CSL's need "to rediscover his inner child" (Huh?), and of Tolkien's "jealousy" and "neurosis" (what neurosis?). So I'd say these folks have hold of an interesting approach but seem likely not to know how to handle it.

[IV] The second, THE LION AWAKES, is (or rather was) primarily a Lewis film, though a FAQ about the project asserted that "J. R. R. Tolkien will be featured for the first time on film in this movie". The script was said to be by Louis Markos (who recently wrote a book on Tolkien, ON THE SHOULDERS OF HOBBITS [2012]), which I've not read, and Darren Scott Jacobs, whom I don't know. The project was announced in April 2012 (apparently there was a Kickstarter) and declared defunct in August 2013,  Here's that link:

While the project's website is shut down, there's still a two-and-a-half minute promo clip on Youtube which includes the tagline 
"In a time of war and chaos, 
doubt gives way to faith,
fear gives way to courage,
and friendship changes everything"

Watching this trailer, it seems to be claiming that CSL's radio broadcasts won the War (kind of like the similar, and equally silly, claim made in THE KING'S BROADCAST). The similarity between this project and the "TOLKIEN AND LEWIS" film cited above, even down to being set in the same year (1941), made me wonder if one had morphed into the other, but that other project lists different scriptwriters (Jacqueline Cook and Paul Bryan), so apparently not. Seems a bit worshipful at the shrine of St. Jack, but also seems to avoid the psychoses and neuroses of the other. I'd be nice to see a film which acknowledged that Tolkien and Lewis were complex, gifted men without either haliography or pat pop-psychology. 

FINALLY, there's the actually existing and already broadcast piece on BBC radio's "Afternoon Drama"show,  LEWIS AND TOLKIEN: THE LOST ROAD (thanks to Janice for the link)

Unfortunately, I didn't actually get to listen to more than the first three minutes (and three seconds) of this myself, having put it off during a busy week and then discovering that my laptop had trouble streaming it. By then it was on the next-to-last day of the one-week window during which it'd be available online for listening. I made plans to play it the next night on Janice's laptop, which is newer than the one I use, and which had no problem with the streaming. Unfortunately again, I miscalculated, and forgot to take into account the difference between UK time and Seattle time. So while I was getting ready to sit down and listen to it, we found it'd already expired.


Apparently, so far as I can tell, it is not available on dvd or as an mp3 file. There's still one hope, in that some past episodes of AFTERNOON DRAMA are made available for purchase a month or two after they've been broadcast, but I have no idea whether this Tolkien and Lewis piece will be one of the chosen few.

Alas again.

And I'd been particularly interested in this one, since I've made a special study of THE LOST ROAD and THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS, and wrote an essay about Tolkien and Lewis's bargain as my contribution to Christopher Tolkien's festschrift (TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM [1996])

So, if anyone out there learns that this is or becomes available, let me know. Failing that, any critiques/synopsis of the piece beyond what's given in the link above wd be welcome.

Great picture of JRRT on the 'Afternoon Drama' page, by the way; clearly taken from the 1968  TOLKIEN IN OXFORD special. Nice to see.

--John R.


Brer said...

I caught the radio show some days ago now, but I have set down my remembrance of it as best as I can recollect. As far as I can tell the title of "The Lost Road" is metaphorical for the lost friendship of Tolkien and Lewis that led to the development of their imaginary worlds.

The drama is framed as a story told by a narrator identified as an 'Elf Queen,' and sounding rather like Cate Blanchett.
The story opens with Tolkien looking for a letter while a disembodied voice berates him for his dilatory nature and the scattering of his energies. Tolkien angrily replies. The story segues into the history of the friendship of Tolkien and Lewis.
The two men meet and begin discussing their tastes in literature; Lewis disparages Eliot and Yeats. Tolkien reveals his 'Atlantis haunting' and his work on an imaginary world to Lewis, and they 'travel' to Middle-Earth. Lewis is very impressed.
Years later in the real world they meet to discuss a new work by Lewis. First Lewis must get rid of an annoying student, Betjeman. Then Lewis takes Tolkien to Narnia through a wardrobe; Tolkien is less than impressed. They return.
Tolkien is angry with Lewis about his secretive marriage and his popularity. They part.
The story returns to Tolkien looking for the letter, which turns out to be a request for him to write an obituary for Lewis. The nagging voice, which first Tolkien calls a 'Worm,' he then identifies as pride, and jealousy, and then simply as himself. Tolkien dies...
Then seems to find himself on the shore of a green land with a swift sunrise. He is met by Lewis. Lewis says that the poetry of Yeats and Eliot and even Betjeman are all recited in Heaven, but not a line of Tolkien's or Lewis's stuff.

I've probably got some of the order muddled. I thought it was pretty hard on Tolkien, but parts of the harshness were hard to deny. The elf-framing device was a bit 'precious.'

David Lenander said...

I love this ending, even though the whole thing sounds absurd. I don't know that I think this would be a likely outcome in heaven--maybe all poetry is recited there forever--but the unexpectedness of the ending to this story. --David Lenander