Jackson, Peter - Daniel Timmons

Comments by squire, January 11, 2007

Only nominally about Peter Jackson, this is the Encyclopedia's review of the three New Line films of The Lord of the Rings. I think it's an excellent and fair appraisal of the films. The most interesting part is his breakdown of the problem of adaptation into four categories: abridgement, compression, transformation, and addition. This detailed analysis helps explain the films' maddening quality of being "like, but not alike" to their source.

Timmons's critical appraisal is probably best captured by his favorite phrase: the films suffer from "disharmonies of tone". Jackson gets a lot of credit here for the tremendous amount of work he did, but in the end he is awarded this less-than-glorious judgement. Timmons does note that his measured and cautious reaction is massively outweighed by the overwhelmingly favorable critical and audience response that the films have received in their first few years of circulation.

It might have been more accurate to title this article The Lord of the Rings: Films by Peter Jackson. The bibliography is first rate.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 1, 2008

Adapted from a best-selling, six-part 1950s novel into a ten-hour film released in three installments, winning awards and critical acclaim (“awesome in ambition and achievement … this powerful epic dwarfs every other film” –  Shipman, The Story of Cinema) though not without some dissent (“grueling, conventional, and a little portentous” – Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film).

Surely Peter Jackson’s film of The Lord of the Rings must be a “unique” enterprise, as Timmons reports.  Except that here I have just described Kobayashi’s 1959-1961 trilogy, The Human Condition (Ningen no joken), adapted from Gomikawa’s book of 1956-1958.  To be fair, Timmons writes that The Lord of the Rings’ “production schedule was unique for a three film project” (my italics).  But as he never compares LotR to The Human Condition or any other film trilogy, how can we be sure he knows? 

The chief flaw of this generally strong article is that Timmons mostly fails to contextualize LotR as a film, or to analyze its achievement in those terms.  He never considers, for instance, what other movies may have influenced Jackson’s LotR. In fact, the only movies other than LotR mentioned in this article are earlier works by its director Peter Jackson and by Tolkien Enterprises license-holder Saul Zaentz with the exception of “the second Star Wars trilogy” (regarding which, I think Timmons is wrong to ascribe the failure of Jar Jar Binks’ characterization relative to Gollum's, to the quality of his animation). 

But isn’t this the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia?  Indeed, and Timmons is strongest in explaining how the films succeed or fail as an adaptation of Tolkien.  Still, he is imprecise in his general statement that “[c]ompression (or condensation) of the source material is unavoidable” when adapting “[p]rose fiction” to film. It is true that any work of novel length must be cut if it is to work, even as three commercial theatrical films. But this is not necessarily so when adapting shorter works, or when adapting to a television serial – as some readers have suggested for LotR.  Also, Timmons's comments on “transformation” don’t address how Tolkien's creation of suspense was affected by Jackson’s decision to open with an explanatory historical prologue (which is absent from the book), or to present parts of the story from the point-of-view of the villains (where the book keeps almost exclusively to the perceptions of the protagonists). 

More attention to other cinematic qualities would help here, too.  Merely listing the songs that play over the three films’ closing credits says nothing about their effect on the viewer.  The article has no comment on the quality of the acting, a subject surely relevant to the question of how the film presents Tolkien’s characters (Timmons treats their film characterization only as a function of the script).  His claim that Jackson successfully dramatizes the Ring’s power by giving it a “subtle and seductive voice” seems particularly wrong to me: compare the Ring’s noisy but incoherent mutterings to the whispers of the vampire brides in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Finally, Timmons lists the films’ reported box office earnings, noting “the financial risk that New Line Cinema took, investing in three films without any guarantee even one would be successful”, but he never provides an estimate as to what the films cost, making the risk hard to judge.

Timmons helps himself with a great ‘Further Reading’ list, including even a general work on film adaptation – which Timmons cites in his article – and an article by Kristin Thompson that has recently been expanded into a book, The Frodo Franchise.

 

Japan: Reception of Tolkien - Roberto Arduini

Comments by squire, July 23, 2007

The familiar course in the "Reception of..." series is to recount the progress of translating Tolkien's works into the language in question. Arduini follows this path, but with several welcome twists: he starts with a summary paragraph, and even better, he explains some of the difficulties of translation from Tolkien's unique English to Japanese -- with its multiple linguistic modes of discourse and its nuanced ways of "importing" a foreign word. It's always a treat on these tours to meet the translators and get a sense of their capabilities.

Twice Arduini emphasizes that Japan only really woke up to the Tolkien books after the arrival of the New Line films a few years ago. He does not quantify this with book sales data or any other measurement. But I'm more disappointed that he skips entirely the question of how well Tolkien's Northwest-European romantic masterpiece "translates" to Japan's taste for retro-historical fantasies. And given Arduini's central thesis, this question begs to be compared to how Peter Jackson's grandiose Hollywood vision appears to an audience fully acquainted with comic books, classic monster movies and medieval costume war dramas. If nothing else, I'd love to know if anyone in Japan is writing "Tolkien"-style fantasies, and if so, when they started and what the Japanese Tolkien fans think of them.

The 'Further Reading' list looks short but excellent.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 1, 2008

The interesting remarks on translation could be clearer: for example, why was it “correct according to Tolkien’s ‘Guide’” to use Chinese-character names for Tolkien’s names “Staddle” and “Crickhollow”?

Arduini says that a 1997 translation of The Annotated Hobbit was criticized in Mythlore, but the only appearance of that journal in his ‘Further Reading’ list is for a 1969 article.  Also, the quote he gives, referring to the translation as “smooth, idiomatic, simple in vocabulary”, only sounds critical (perhaps) on the last point: did Arduini misread “idiomatic” as “idiotic”?  Or is “idiomatic” a typo here?

Finally, Arduini reports that “a Japan Tolkien Society does not yet exist”, but later he mentions “The White Rider” fan-group of Tokyo, founded in 1981 – has that organization been refused some sort of charter?

 

Jewels - Allan Turner

Comments by squire, December 4, 2006:

Pretty basic analysis of the most well-known jewels in Tolkien. Turner makes a clean, if unattributed, tripartite assignment of the meanings of jewels in "traditional tales", and then shows how Tolkien uses all three archetypes in his various works. It doesn't seem like Turner was given much room to say any more -- if he had any more to say. His conclusion is unfortunately weak.

 

Jones, Gwyn - Lisa L. Spangenberg

Comments by N.E. Brigand, July 9, 2007

Jones published Tolkien’s poem, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, in his periodical, the Welsh Review.  Also, Tolkien referred to Jones’ translation of The Mabinogion in the lecture, “English and Welsh”. 

Spangenberg’s short biography of Jones and his scholarship seems thorough, but those are the only two connections that she makes to Tolkien.  Most scholars cited by Tolkien don’t get their own encyclopedia entries, so Jones must be here for publishing the poem: why him over the publishers of other Tolkien poems, or the Unwins?

One further Tolkien connection comes to mind: Jones accepted for publication Tolkien’s short story, “Sellic Spell”, but the Welsh Review folded.  Douglas Anderson (The Annotated Hobbit, p. 325) describes the story as “a reworking of the folktale underlying Beowulf”.  Even had Spangenberg added that fact, I’m not sure Jones would merit a separate entry.

 

Jordanes: History of the Goths - Sandra Ballif Straubhaar

Comments by squire, July 23, 2007

There's a lot to learn here that relates to Tolkien and his literary creation. There is even more that doesn't, particularly. Perhaps that's why Straubhaar feels she has to hammer her connections home: Tolkien may have read the work, but if he did, it was "closely", and Théodred's death was "presumably equestrian" to match the account in Jordanes. Unfortunately for Straubhaar's note, Tolkien gave Théodred a different ending in his Unfinished Tales account.

Far more rewarding is the quote from Jordanes' description of the Huns. I wonder why Straubhaar diffuses its power by saying it refers to all of Tolkien's "eastern enemies", including the many tribes of Easterling Men, when to me it so plainly matches just the Orcs.

Since the 'Further Reading' list gives only one work about Tolkien, I have to presume it is Judy Ann Ford who "has argued" that Théoden's death was inspired by Jordanes' accounts of the deaths of three different Gothic kings. Oddly, a quick perusal of her "The White City" article shows no mention of Théoden, but instead yields a very interesting analysis of Jordanes' work in relation to Tolkien's as a fictionalized history. Straubhaar might well have spent more time on this...after properly citing that Théoden reference.

 

Joyce, James (1882-1941) - Charles H. Fischer and Paul Edmund Thomas

Comments by squire, July 23, 2007

This is a brilliant exercise in the development of "photographic negatives" as a method of comparative literary criticism. Fischer and Thomas start with Tolkien's and Joyce's infinite distance from each other, on almost every point of authorial and stylistic comparison, and then inexorably move them closer together. Aghast, one anticipates an ending as explosive and mutually annihilating as when matter and anti-matter touch.

But it ends "not with a bang but a whimper", to invoke a less than neutral third party. "Modernist difficulty meets retrograde romance" sounds good, but doesn't really explain how Finnegan's Wake is similar to The Lord of the Rings.

Among other difficulties, one realizes that Joyce's literary progression of six published works over 32 years is really being compared to Tolkien's two over 16 years. Joyce's last book came out one year after Tolkien's first, The Hobbit. Tolkien doesn't really have any "later works" that "succeed" as if earlier ones had failed, at least if one sticks to published books. In short, despite the clever parallel structure of the essay, it is Joyce who makes all the progress past modernism to something more complex -- something with more theoretical than actual identity to the only kind of book Tolkien was ever really capable of writing.

Still, points for the sheer brass of including a clever and well-written article on James Joyce in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia.

 

Judaism - L.J. Swain

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 25, 2007

This is a capable article, though probably too long, since it repeatedly explains that Tolkien, though sympathetic to the Jewish people, knew little of either Judaism or Hebrew, and that those elements influenced Tolkien’s fiction in only a few small points.  The most interesting material is the history of Tolkien’s work on the Jerusalem Bible, for which he was chosen because of his expertise in English, not Hebrew.

[See here N. E. Brigand's comments on the problems of the standards of citation set and enforced by the Encyclopedia - squire]

In the end, it may be Routledge not Larry Swain who failed to address the following issues regarding Swain’s entry on “Judaism”:

  • The letters in which Tolkien regrets a lack of Jewish ancestry and his comparison of dwarves and Jews are carefully listed by number, so why not the letter, also mentioned by Swain, in which Tolkien expresses affection for Cecil Roth? 

  • Why do “The Alphabet of Rúmil” and a 1977 issue of Amon Hen, both mentioned in the text, not appear in the “Further Reading” list? 

  • Which of the four items in the entry’s bibliography is/are the source(s) for the three paragraphs outlining Tolkien’s involvement with the Jerusalem Bible

  • The final paragraph appears to be based on examination of Tolkien’s manuscript translation of the Book of Jonah – why is there no bibliographical information on that manuscript?

 

Juliana – Patricia Tubbs

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 24, 2007

In this solid and informative entry, Tubbs explains what the Juliana is, gives us a sense of its possible chains of influence from Old to Middle English, explains its interest for Tolkien, and then offers some critical interpretations of the footprint it may have left on Tolkien’s fictive world. The entry packs a lot of useful detail into a short space, but perhaps Tubbs could have made room for a little more, e.g., that the Juliana was part of the famous Exeter Book, which also contains the Crist poem – which we know had a profound influence on Tolkien. She also tells us that the poem “was written  … no later than the middle of the tenth century,” but she might have added that it was probably no earlier than the beginning of the ninth. And a minor clarification: Tubbs says that the poem was composed in the Anglian dialect (citing Sisam); however, it would be more accurate to explain that the extant copy is in the West Saxon dialect, but showing evidence that an earlier version, now lost, was composed in the Anglian. All very minor points, however; the present essay is really very good as written.

A point of passing interest: like the Old English Exodus, Crist, The Dream of the Rood, and others, Juliana contains the word middangeard (“Middle-earth”). That’s always gotten my attention and seems to underscore Tolkien’s putative strategy for integrating his own legendarium into the flow of Primary World literature, language, and mythology.

The entry is accompanied by a nice, focused Further Reading list, though a primary source for the poem itself wouldn’t have been out of place. One corrigendum: in the d’Ardenne, for “Te”, read “Þe”. Also, in the title of d’Ardenne’s book, for “Juliene”, read “Iuliene” in both the Further Reading and the text of the essay. A couple of corrigenda for the See Also: for “Gordon, E.V.”, read “Gordon, E.V. (1896 – 1938)”; and for “Middle English Vocabulary”, read “Middle English Vocabulary, A (1922)”. Also, I would suggest adding “Alliteration”, "'Ms Bodley 34 etc.'" and “D’Ardenne, S.R.T.O. (1899 – 1986)” – and perhaps also “Christ: ‘Advent Lyrics’” (though the existing pointer to “Cynewulf” might cover that well enough).

Jungian Theory - Christopher Vaccaro

Comments by squire, July 23, 2007

This is nice, as far as it goes. Vaccaro introduces Jung and explains his theories, then makes a graceful transition from psychological to literary applications. It seems odd to quibble that Tolkien was evidently unfamiliar with Jung, since the essence of this approach is that all authors use Jungian archetypes perforce.

Unfortunately, Vaccaro seems to have room left for only one example, a fine if abbreviated Jungian interpretation of the "meaning" of the Misty Mountains in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. What's missing is some kind of conclusion, which might have pointed out the weaknesses as well as the strengths of Jung. His images and structures are so fundamental to human narrative constructions that they apply to everything, and so ultimately to nothing. To make a Jungian approach to Tolkien interesting, I should think one might compare the frequency of relatively explicit Jungian symbols (like caves, shadows, growth in wisdom, etc.) in his fantasy to that of those found in more conventional fiction of his time.

The See also should certainly include references to the examples Vaccaro uses, such as "Gandalf", "Bilbo", "Misty Mountains", and "Caves and Mines".

Comments by Jason Fisher, July 31, 2007

I’m not sure squire is reading Vaccaro accurately when he, squire, says, “it seems odd to quibble that Tolkien was evidently unfamiliar with Jung.” What Vaccaro actually asserts is that “experts […] agree that there is no direct evidence of Jung’s influence; however, some acknowledge Tolkien’s familiarity with Jung’s theory on dreams” (emphasis mine). And indeed, I think that the use of dreaming in The Notion Club Papers suggests pretty clearly that Tolkien was indeed aware of Jung, though he does not say so explicitly.

On another note, I find the 'Further Reading' a bit scant, considering how many articles have been published on Jungian approaches to Tolkien (both arguing for as well as against them). Judith Johnson’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Six Decades of Criticism gives at least a dozen major examples that Vaccaro omits. It would have been nice to see a few more here in his entry.

 

Justice and Injustice – David Oberhelman

Comments by Jason Fisher, January 24, 2008

Once again the question arises: couldn’t the entries for “Justice and Injustice” and “Law” (each of which points solicitously to the other) have been combined? In any case, Oberhelman’s entry is solid and serviceable, if not particularly insightful. I liked his use of “On Fairy-stories” and “Leaf by Niggle” but felt that most of the entry lacked depth. Moreover, it took a little while to drill down into specific discussion of Tolkien, and when it did, the points made seemed somewhat facile.

One genuine quibble. Oberhelman’s description of “justice in the world of the Homeric epics” leaves out the notoriously capricious nature of the Greek Gods, as demonstrated in the Iliad, for example. There, the Gods take sides like the fans of rival rugby teams, prodding and interfering in the affairs of mortals whenever and however they wish – an image that couldn’t be further from Tolkien’s view of justice and (rare) divine intervention.

The 'Further Reading' looks very good. The only addition I can think to suggest, and this may be a stretch, is William Stoddard’s “Law and Institutions in the Shire,” Mythlore 18 (1992): 4-8. Additions I would recommend for the See also: at least “Aragorn”, “Penance”, “Good and Evil”, “Sin”, and possibly others.