LOTR Musical–a Big Myth-take?

London’s Daily Telegraph reports the success of Lord of the Rings–the Musical.

I can hear the purists moaning already, and wading in with wisecracks. Will we have tap dancing hobbits? Orcs doing a soft shoe number? Will there be a romantic duet between Aragorn and Arwen? Will Pippin and Merry provide the light relief and do a couple of comedy numbers?

I will probably offend the Lord of the Rings purists by opining that I think old Professor Tolkien wouldn’t have minded. I don’t think he would have minded the movies, the video games or the board games. I don’t think he would have minded the toys, the posters and the jewelry. I don’t think he would have minded any of it at all.

Here’s why: he understood myth. He was attempting to write a myth for the English people. He ended up writing a myth for the whole world. Now a myth, is by definition, a popular form of literature. It belongs to the people. It is bigger than one particular author. Since a myth belongs to the people they can do with it what they like. They can play games with it. They can re-tell the story and alter details. They can turn it into a film, a play, a musical or an opera. They can translate it and add to it and embroider it. That’s what myth is–it is not a set piece of art, but a flexible, adaptable and constantly changing work. The characters and basic plot stay put, but other things can change, and should change.

Take an example of another popular myth: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. You have the basic myth which grew from basic legend. Then Malory writes it down, then Tennyson writes his poetic version. The pre-Raphaelite artists paint pictures of it. Wagner composes operas around it. T.H.White writes a prose version in The Once and Future King. It becomes a Disney cartoon: Sword in the Stone. It becomes a Broadway musical: Camelot, Hollywood makes film versions, and the myth goes on.

It’s okay. In fact, it’s great. It’s creative and it’s exciting. Through this process the story gets deeper and deeper into the corporate bloodstream and continues to ‘baptize the imagination’ of ever more people.

Bring on Lord of the Rings–the Theme Park I say.

  • SM

    Well, I think you’re on to something. But art of the reason people won’t see this the same as a musical adaptation of King Arthur is because Tolkien’s work was extremely detailed, and every detail in the story counts. Part of the greatness of Tolkien’s vision, and what makes it work for so many people, is its backround radiation of history and legend, which was already bulit in to the story over decades of work by Tolkien.I’m not saying you’re wrong; it’s just that a lot of people will look at King Arthur and say, well, that’s a legend alright, but it’s also very spare by comparison to LOTR. You have to basically gut Tolkien’s vision to make a musical out of it, and that’s not necessarily true of Arthur.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12104810571720682119 the dúnadan

    Hmmm… As you mention, when Tolkien started out, he wanted to write a ‘myth for England’ (Carpenter’s phrase?) which others could add to, but did he not in later life call the idea a foolish one? Also, I seem to remember reading an anecdote which had him at a play of ‘The Hobbit’, smiling at the parts that kept to what he had written and frowning at the scemes written by the playwright. He also disapproved deeply of proposed interpretations of LotR.Any support that he gave the musical version of LotR, therefore, would – I think – have been qualified.As for the video game version – don’t get me started on that. I blogged on a recent release (LotR: Shadows of Angmar) and have still not got over the monstrosity of it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Not name dropping, but we had dinner last evening with Joseph Pearce and his wife, and I asked whether he thought Tolkien would have approved of all the spin offs and what he thought of my idea tht this is what myth is for.I’m sorry to say that he thought Tolkien would probably not have approved. So much for reading his mind then.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12104810571720682119 the dúnadan

    Has the Saint Austin’s Review folded? If so, please tell Mr Pearce you’ll only give him dinner again if he starts a blog as I miss his writing!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    St Austin Review is still going. I am writing an article for it at the moment. Maybe they need a website. Mr pearce is not a fan of blogs, but I am working on him…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12594214770417497135 Maureen

    “….a lot of people will look at King Arthur and say, well, that’s a legend alright, but it’s also very spare by comparison to LOTR.”ExSQUEEZE ME? The whole flippin’ Matter of Britain is spare?? If that’s what you think, you obviously haven’t been paying attention. Tolkien was doing his best to _simulate_ the kind of depth and overlapping of mythic motifs and historical figures that you get _all over the place_ in the stories of King Arthur, the German and Norse legends, or the Matter of France. He did a wonderful job of simulating it, but it couldn’t be hidden that it’s only the work of a single mind and it’s not nearly forgetful enough. And Tolkien would be the first guy to tell you that.What do they teach them in these schools!?