Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What I Would Have Asked Moorcock

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I'd actually come up with a question I thought I'd ask Michael Moorcock at the question-and-answer session at NorWesCon if attendance was light and all the serious Moorcock fans had had a chance to ask their questions. As it turned out, the Q&A part of the session was relatively brief, twenty minutes out of an hour-long slot, with the bulk of that hour devoted to a one-on-on interview with Pierce Watters (and a v. good one, I might add). So I didn't get to ask but, since I'm genuine curious about the answer, thought I'd go ahead and post to query in case anyone out there might have any insights.

So here it is in long form: Moorcock is well-known as a Tolkien basher of long standing. He repeats his blast against the sort of soft fantasy he thinks Tolkien represents, the chapbook EPIC POOH [1978], in his book on the history of fantasy, WIZARDRY & WILD ROMANCE [2004]. China Mieville, in his Introduction to the latter work, even singles out how liberating he found Moorcock's denunciation of Tolkien.

And yet, at two spots in the book Moorcock praises the Peter Jackson movies (of LotR of course, the HOBBIT movies at that time having not been more than hinted at). In his brief concluding chapter on where fantasy is today, he writes

"The success of Star Wars meant that more producers 
and directors  became interested in producing unashamedly 
romantic science fiction and fantasy movies. 
With the exception of The Lord of the Rings
few of these have been much good up to now."

--he goes on to dismiss the CONAN movies ("derivative of bad action movies and of bad books derived and debased from Howard's originals" -- a judgment I agree with) and passes over the sword-and-sorcery movies since the late '70s with minimal comment ("generally disappointing" -- which I think too generous), adding "The people who make the movies seem to have no genuine instinct for the form . . . and cannot convince an increasingly sophisticated audience" before concluding "We have progressed . . . from true Romanticism to the infantile nonsense of Grand Guignol. There are signs, with the success of Tolkien's epic, that this will ultimately change" (WIZARDRY AND WILD ROMANCE, pages 144-145; emphasis mine).

It seems from this, then, that he feels Jackson's LotR films offers hope by showing what can be done in to bring fantasy fiction to the screen.

The other reference comes in a chapter on fantasy worlds. Again he starts with Howard, praising the original R.E.H. works and contrasting them with the pale imitations by other hands; the Conan movies he finds "inferior in every way to the originals". From this he segues into STAR WARS, briefly considers and condemns HAWK THE SLAYER and THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER for their cliches and "lack of creative originality", before saying

"The simple minded machismo of the movie Conan is 
a little like that of the movie Tarzan. All potential 
is lost. Happily, with the making of the Tolkien books 
into respectable movie versions, we might hope 
to see an improvement in the ambition and 
execution of heroic fantasy films in the future. 
Good directors, surely, can do more with the material, 
rather than less. We have to hope that the threatened 
schoolboys who tend to dominate Hollywood and seem 
only too eager to indulge their fifth-rate fantasies of 
male violence, will be discouraged as Lord of the
Rings continues to succeed at the box office. 
We can only hope that we no longer have to witness 
a deterioration from the crude, powerful prose of Howard, 
through the increasingly badly-done comic-strip versions, 
to the feebleness of the movies. The magic fades, 
its real achievement going // unrecognized. One longs for 
a good film version, say, of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser,* 
which conceivably might contain dialogue which grown up 
actors would not be ashamed to speak!"  
(p.58-59; emphasis mine)

Thus in both cases he sees Jackson's success as showing how quality fantasy films can be made out of the many classics of fantasy already out there, using the Schwarzenegger CONAN films as a contrasting example of What Not To Do.

My question, then, is simply: what did Jackson do right, in his view, to make Tolkien's story more appealing to him?

--John R.

*amen to that.

1 comment:

Magister said...

Go to the Q&A forum at www.multiverse.org and post your question there. Moorcock is very active there.

(Your previous blog post has already been linked there.)