A few days ago I finished playing the Return of the King video game. It’s based on the film, not the book, so the story ends at Mount Doom. I’m sure that Peter Jackson’s film will go further, but I know that the Scouring of the Shire is out (and, personally, I find that a relief), and perhaps trying to explain the White Ships and the Straight Path within the confines of an action, hack-and-slash video game wouldn’t have been possible, wouldn’t have worked. I know Tolkien’s story–I read the trilogy for the first time when I was seven, and I’ve read it a dozen more times in the twenty-odd years since–and for a video game, based on a movie based on a book, I thought Electronic Arts captured the broad strokes of Tolkien’s story within the confines of the medium.
Tolkien’s story is a magnificent example of prose storytelling. I think Jackson’s films are excellent examples of filmic storytelling. The two mediums are vastly different, with different requirements and different conventions. If there’s a point where Tolkien surpasses Jackson, it’s in the subversion of convention–Tolkien wasn’t a novelist, and it shows in his construction, yet that is one of the very strengths of his story. Where others might have done something modern, Tolkien’s story actually has a certain timeless charm because it is so determinedly anachronistic. I don’t know that Jackson’s films will have that timeless quality to them, if a generation from now they’ll be remembered fondly and with great reverence. In a way, I hope not. I would hope that another filmmaker could bring his own interpretation of Tolkien’s vision to the screen. And that’s probably how it should be. Tolkien’s stated aim was to write a mythology for England, that Albion’s native myths were lost as the Romans, the Germans, the Normans, the Danes invaded the country over the span of a thousand years and her population assimilated into the new cultures. If one views Tolkien’s created mythology through the prism of mythical truth rather than than as a literal truth, then Jackson’s interpretation stands, to my mind, as a valid interpretation of the tale.
So, I don’t think of myself as a Tolkien-purist. I can find something of value in the Rankin-Bass animated films. I have yet to find anything of value in the Ralph Bakshi film. Musicians have used Middle-Earth as an inspiration for music, interpreting Tolkien’s prose in music. I see no reason why Peter Jackson shouldn’t have the same freedom, to interpret Tolkien’s prose in the form of film.
Book-fans aren’t wrong to have issues with the films. Nor are film-fans wrong for having experienced the world of Middle-Earth first through the films. If the experience of the films suffices to bring them to Tolkien’s prose, then so much the better.
Can’t we all just agree to be fans, and leave it at that. 😉