Tolkien Grousing on Retro Friday

Over spring break, the Cornells huddled together and watched all twelve hours of the Extended Editions of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movies. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen them, and I’m pleased to report that they’ve aged rather well. The CGI still holds up, although the trickery to make the hobbits look tiny does not. “Oh, look!  A body double! Wow! Bad digital shrinkage! Neat! Forced perspective!” It’s very, very obvious once you look for it.

It’s interesting to watch them after having seen the cinematic adaptation of “The Hobbit,” because, even in the extended versions, they lack the bloat and padding that marred the retelling of Bilbo’s adventure. They’re tightly constructed, well performed, and, for the most part, true to Tolkien’s vision.

Unless, of course, you ask a Tolkien. Christopher Tolkien, that is, the curator of his father’s legacy who, at the age of 87, recently granted his first lengthy interview ever in which he complained that Jackson’s films “eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25.”


At the age of 44, I’m sad to learn that I don’t fall into the film’s demographic. And I first saw the trilogy when I was apparently too old to appreciate them, too, so accept these musings from someone who is obviously too immature to have anything substantive to say.

But still, ol’ Chris Tolkien needs to pull his head out.



I have some problems with the movies, yes, particularly in the areas where Jackson went too far afield in altering the original story to make it more cinematic. I find the character arc of Faramir to be particularly grating, although I understand why Jackson did it that way, as, literarily, Faramir had no character arc – he was a saint from the get go, and saints aren’t as much fun to watch on screen.

That doesn’t excuse the moment in “The Return of the King” when Frodo sends Sam home, though, particularly since Sam actually leaves. The same Sam who risked his life to jump on board Frodo’s boat at the end of “Fellowship of the Ring” and swears never to abandon Frodo voluntarily starts back home from the border of Mordor? Ridiculous. And I would have liked to have seen Sam struggle with the ring, as well as a few other additions and subtractions.

But other changes made an awful lot of sense. No Tom Bombadil? That’s Tom Bomba-tastic! And the absence of the Scouring of the Shire is absolutely fine with me – it’s a long, tedious, undramatic section that undermines just about everything that went before. Those who complain that the movie version of “The Return of the King” has too many endings don’t remember that there are over a hundred pages left in the book after Frodo destroys the ring. Tolkien’s story is a wonder, but it’s also overlong, plodding, filled with tangential weirdness, and largely uncinematic.

That’s not a criticism so much as a straightforward assessment. Tolkien was not writing with movies in mind, and any adaptation has to prune and focus all of his narrative cul-de-sacs and poetic indulgences into something watchable. The fact that Jackson was able to do this and still maintain both thematic and narrative consistency with Tolkien’s work is nothing short of miraculous. It is, in its own way, an act of creativity on par with Tolkien’s book. So to hear Christopher Tolkien grouse that it’s some sort of evisceration strikes me as petty and vindictive.

Honestly, what did Christopher Tolkien expect? Would he have preferred a sequel to Ralph Bakshi’s lamentable LOTR cartoon? Maybe a few more Rankin-Bass kiddie versions with very unTolkieny songs thrown in? (“Where there’s a whip, there’s a way…”) Actually, he’s stated he’d prefer none of the above, as he doesn’t consider his father’s work filmable. And he’s right. It’s not filmable in its original state – it needs to be adapted to suit a new medium, which is what Peter Jackson did so well.

He also complains that he has not been adequately compensated for the movies, since the film rights were sold for a relative pittance way back in the day. Well, boo hoo. The movies increased sales of the books by 1000% in the three years they were in theatres, with a whopping 25 million copies of the books flying off the shelves between 2001 and 2003. These “eviscerations” sparked a renaissance of interest in the source material from whence they sprang. Surely that’s a good thing, Chris? And surely your father’s estate profited handsomely thereby?

I love the books. I love the films. And I have little patience for multimillionaire whiners.

And now, of course, it’s time for round two of…


retroAs I mentioned previously, I’m editing, categorizing, and tagging all my blog posts, ten per week beginning at the beginning, in order to better manage the info. I’m also posting links to the spruced-up posts to those who are deranged enough to want to read or reread them.

And here they are! Although I’m scrapping the whole thumnbnail picture thing I started last week- they’re too much work, and they’re really not necessary for what I’m trying to accomplish.


Really enjoyed rereading this little gem about vampire novelist Ann Rice’s warped perspective on abortion and the redistribution of wealth. This piece has proven to be prescient, methinks.

SOMETIMES LANGY’S RIGHT – posted August 25, 2007

MORMONS AREN’T VICTIMS – posted August 26, 2007

Discussion of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and its context in Mormon history, as well as a warning against the MMM-themed movie “September Dawn,” which nobody ended up seeing anyway.

ANDREW FOGELSON’S MAGIC KISS – posted August 27, 2007

Still one of my most frequently-viewed posts, wherein I tell the story of my obnoxious behavior in my role as the lead of 1985’s Calabasas High School production of “The Music Man.” Andrew Fogelson’s son is now the Chairman of Universal Pictures, so this was kind of a stupid bridge for me to burn.

THE LOST ART OF THE CRANK CALL – posted August 28, 2007

The first mention of My Esteemed Colleague and the story of how we hounded an innocent man into madness because he used to answer the phone by saying “HOWWWWWDY!” Also uses the phrase “Frog Hopkins Joe Joe Joe Joe.”

ON REQUEST: WEIRD MORMON STUFFposted August 29, 2007

Just what it says. A reader asked about the more Galactica-esque points of Mormon doctrine, notably Kolob and human deification, and I do my best to answer him without sounding like a lunatic.

ON HATINGposted August 30, 2007

The first in a series of discussions about the multitudes of people who hate my guts. The focus here is Bill and Jacqui Landrum, who originated the phrase “These are my jewels. You don’t like them? I take them back.” Devolves into a discussion of My Esteemed Colleague’s little raccoon.

LEARNING FROM LARRY posted August 31, 2007

Poor Former Senator Larry Craig. This post recounts the downfall of the Idaho legislator who solicited gay sex in a restroom, plead guilty to doing so, and then tried to take it back. It also laments the fact that I don’t know how to solicit sex or buy illegal drugs.

posted September 1, 2007

The story of a Kids of the Century girl who nursed a grudge for over a decade because I used to make fun of her making out in public. I think the main reason this bothered me is that when I was mocking her, I wasn’t making out with anybody.

posted September 2, 2007

The Stallion Cornell family tree is explored in depth here as I recount the story of Richard, the reluctant pioneer who came to Utah only because all his money burned up and he couldn’t afford to go back to Birmingham, England.

Tune in next week for:




And much more!



Singing for Shatner
Thoughts on the World

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