Wednesday, 11 June 2008

"Even worse will be the Tintin Purists..."

Among the many groups of humanity that I don’t understand, there are a few that I feel I ought to be able to understand and concordantly I understand them least because my lack of understanding is beyond my understanding. One of these groups is Tolkien Purists. These are people who adore J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, ‘The Lord of the Rings’, and despise Peter Jackson’s movie interpretation.

The Lord of the Rings movies made a lot of minor changes to the flow of the story and the tone of some characters. ‘The Two Towers’ is especially notorious and this is because the changes were more major than in either ‘Fellowship’ or ‘Return’: no-one cried when Tom Bombadil was left out. Rather, purists take umbrage with Gimli being used as comic relief, Faramir being momentarily tempted by the ring, the Elves at Helm’s Deep, and dozens of other things. The main polemic seems to be that if Tolkien didn’t write it, it shouldn’t be in a movie with his name attached. Tolkien purists are people who love the books, love the characters, and don’t want to see them bastardised by Hollywood.

Yet, their main problem is that they focus on the little things Jackson changed rather than the big things he didn’t. The underlying story is essentially the same: a Hobbit takes a ring of power to Mordor in order to destroy it defying the minions of the Dark Lord Sauron along the way. The message and theme of the story is still intact and expressed wonderfully by Sam in a scene from ‘The Two Towers’ (ironically a scene that seems to be cut in the Purist Edit). Most importantly, the movie gets the tone of high fantasy right: Jackson succeeded extraordinarily in depicting a world with Elves, Ents, and Orcs, and making it seem realistic. Jackson’s vision on screen took the tongue out of the cheek of fantasy movies. It has opened the door for projects like the HBO ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series and maybe even aided the prevalence of the MMO, ‘World of Warcraft’. The honest and realistic depiction of a fantasy world has led to a change in the public perception of fantasy literature (admittedly aided enormously by J. K. Rowling). Fantasy books, previously a niche genre, are getting public recognition and even (sadly, especially) children’s fantasy fiction is creeping onto bestseller lists. The fact that ‘The Return of the King’ represented the first time a ‘fantasy’ film has won an Oscar cemented this public acceptability.

Sadly the Tolkien Purists don’t see this; all they see is Gimli the clown and Aragorn falling over that cliff. This animosity between Tolkien Purists and Tolkien Revisionists stems from a propensity prevalent in many human beings: the urge to focus on small details to the neglect of the larger picture. This focusing on the small can be seen in many places but especially in Christianity. Many Christians will go on marches and protests based on one tiny passage in ‘Leviticus’ condemning homosexuality; this ignores the overarching theme of the entire Bible (New Testament if not Old) – ‘treat others as you would want to be treated’ / ‘Love Thy Neighbour’. Sadly I think that many people focus on the small because they just can’t see the larger picture. People focus on their own culture, their own values, their own petty morality, because they are unable to see humanity’s true place in the cosmos or even their place in larger human society. Like Tolkien Purists, people will niggle and fuss over the smaller details while the larger questions and the ultimate themes of existence go ignored.

Despite all my pontificating and judging of humanity, I too find myself to be all too human. While I am able to focus on the larger picture, my blood boils and I am pulled back down to a paltry level of simple existence when I hear that Jack Black has even been considered to play Bilbo Baggins. Maybe I understand the Tolkien Purists more than I think.

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