Tolkien’s son: Peter Jackson ‘eviscerated’ Lord of the Rings

Tolkien

Stojanoski Slave, Wikimedia Commons

After watching Peter Jackson’s Hobbit, the usually soft-spoken Frank Schaeffer compared it to a botched circumcision. “[T]hey left everything they should have taken and took what they should have left,” he said, quoting Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

“The spirit of the book has been almost entirely lost and replaced by a movie that looks as if it was made to spin off theme park rides and videogame derivatives rather than to tell the story as written in the beloved children’s classic,” said Schaeffer.

J.R.R Tolkien’s son and the keeper of his literary legacy, Christopher Tolkien, agrees with the assessment. In 2012 the typically reclusive Christopher, who lives in France, gave a rare interview to Le Monde. I missed it when Worldcrunch offered its translation but was excited to see it last night nonetheless.

Given the opportunity to meet with director Peter Jackson, Christopher declined. “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25,” he explained. “And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.” His assumption was more right than he knew.

Christopher is fundamentally concerned about the debasement of his father’s work.

“Over the years, a sort of parallel universe has formed around Tolkien’s work,” said journalist Raphaëlle Rérolle, “a world of sparkling images and of figurines, colored by the original books of the cult, but often very different from them, like a continent that has drifted far from its original land mass.” It’s not just Jackson’s movies and its spinoffs. Le Monde mentioned, for instance, VeggieTales’ groan-inducing Lord of the Beans production. This continental drift has left Christopher beleaguered and evidently blue.

“Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time,” he said. “The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.”

Perhaps at this point, faced with the cartoonish spectacle of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit and two more artificially bloated films, we should too.

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

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  • Frank Schaeffer

    Hi Joel, thanks for this article and for mentiong me. I’m glad that my “take” on the movie is reflected by someone close to the story. Best, Frank

    • Joel J. Miller

      I had just seen the movie when I read your review. The fresh disaster in my mind made your point stick all the more.

  • Chris

    I disagree with what you guys think. I’ve been a Tolkein fan since I first picked up The Hobbit in 5th grade, exactly two years before The Lord of the Rings hit theaters. I then finished the series in the year and became obsessed with his writings. I watched the movies and thought they left out a lot but did a great justice to the books.

    The heaviness of the books, the epic journey the characters went out, how they translated those images to the screen, all fit right into what I had always imagined. The Hobbit Movie is exactly the same way.

    It takes the story of The Hobbit and puts onto the screen in stunning fashion. Christopher Tolkein has generally had a bad attitude towards the films, something that comes from him not wanting to give up the rights to the series.

    Your writing, however, reflects the piggyback and lazy journalism that has surrounded this movie from the start. It’s almost as if none of the reviewers actually watched this movie, they read prior reviews, went in with a negative attitude, and had clouded vision the entire time.

    The movie was amazing and I am very grateful that Jackson included material from the appendices in the film, that is exactly what Tolkein would have wanted.

    • Joel J. Miller

      Nothing wrong with disagreement, but it’s less than cool to say I’m piggybacking and lazy. I found some quotes from Tolkien’s son that I hadn’t seen anywhere else and blogged them; undoubtedly many were like me and had not seen these observations before. I’d humbly count that as a useful service to the reading public.

      What’s more I’ve seen all the movies and read no prior negative reviews. I came to my negativity all on my own, fair and square.

  • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

    Tolkien himself was open to selling movie rights to an American film crew that almost certainly would have done worse. The “chase scenes” in Hobbit are a bore, admittedly. And it’s absurd that the good guys take out hundreds of orcs — it’s like squashing ants. Also I missed the song in the pine trees. But the movie does focus down and deliver the goods at many key moments. Tolkien was not so naive as to think his book would be treated with kid gloves: and no great book is ever fully captured on film.

  • John

    The words “lacerations, eviscerations and incinerations” are even uttered in the movie when Bilbo (played by Martin Freeman – who, btw, did an excellent job IMO) reads the employment contract presented to him by the dwarves. Calling the the film a “theme park ride” is an exaggeration. Although my encounters with The Hobbit and LOTR in literature form is more recent, I couldn’t be more impressed with Tolkien’s literary genius. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the film – edit: almost all of it. I’ll grant that it is somewhat of a ‘mixed bag’. There are many amazing ‘visual accomplishments’ – perhaps even ‘works of art’ – which seem to have gone unnoticed by some film reviewers. Perhaps people shouldn’t go to films for a ‘visual experience’? The detail and depth of field in 3D – 48fps has never before been seen on film for the general public – which in itself is groundbreaking. (Yes, I’ve seen Avatar in 3D too.) Even here, I’ll concede to a mixed bag – not everything worked equally well visually. I thought the wolves (wogs) seemed artificial and ‘superimposed’ – so they should go back to the drawing board on that one. I thought the mountain giant scene was overdone – and yet boring. Bilbo getting covered in Troll snot was just gross – unnecessary, trite / tacky. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater!
    Disappointments aside, there were MANY scenes which were simply stunning visually while at the same time preserving the essence of the literary and intellectual aspects of the story. I thought that the ‘additions’: of Radagast, the existence of the necromancer residing at Dol Guldur (amazing scene!), the historic battles between the dwarves and orcs at Moria (absolutely awe inspiring scenes!) – only served to give the film more depth and integrate the film into the greater LOTR epic story. There are other visual gems one could mention. I’m looking forward to the next 2 films. In the mean time, I will enjoy Tolkien in his more purely literary form – listening to Rob Inglis’s excellent audiobook narrations (free sound samples at audible.com!).

  • Derek M

    As a fan of the books and the films, I think the good thing is that people can read the master’s works and judge for themselves where they stand and what they like or dislike with any of the interpretations. I would think JRR himself would love the fact that he has influenced another billion people and his wonderful world lives on. The beauty of it is, whether filmmaker or fan when we read the books we all have our own interpretation of what it looks like, sounds like, the meaning, lessons, motivations etc. etc. And I believe the more the stories are told the more people will fall back on, and inspired by, the original material. From my experience, I’ve seen many, many people pick up one of the books because of all the recent hoopla. In the end I understand the differences in opinion, but the great thing is it brings more attention to these magnificent books.


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