Tag Archives: The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien Almost Didn’t Write LOTR

It’s J.R.R. Tolkien’s 125th birthday today. As has been the case for years, there’s a toast to honor the professor on the books for 9:00 local time. Wherever you are with whatever you wish to drink, raise a glass to Tolkien at 9:00 tonight with the words, “The Professor.”

Brenton Dickieson offers what he calls “The Shocking Reason Tolkien Finished The Lord of the Rings,” drawn from the author’s letters. Tolkien suffered with illness and a busy schedule for a quite a while and made excuses to his publisher for not making progress on their planned sequel to The Hobbit, but something happened to provoke him to write again.

A new leaf

I’m still working through the Inklings book I’m reading. I must be getting near the end – most everybody’s dead now. Maybe there’s a long notes section at the end.

But for now, you’re stuck with my idle thoughts.

My reading today got me thinking about The Lord of the Rings, and my mixed feelings about the Peter Jackson films.

I remain a fan of the original movie trilogy. It has its flaws, but all in all (and this is my personal metric) the experience of watching the films is fairly similar to that of reading the books. So they get a thumbs up. The Hobbit movies are a different matter. I saw them in a theater, but hope never to watch them again.

Still, there are moments in the LOTR movies that should have warned me, I think, of what was to come with the Hobbit fiasco. I’m thinking primarily of the treatment of smoking.

It’s impossible for anyone who understands Tolkien’s life and culture, his friends and environment to understand the smoking in the LOTR books as being about anything but tobacco. Tolkien and the Inklings were inveterate smokers. No doubt we might have enjoyed their presence in this world longer if they hadn’t been, but the world was different then. Lewis is on record as disbelieving all the health warnings.

But in the very first movie, as Gandalf and Bilbo smoke together, they consistently refer to what they’re smoking as “weed.” That’s shorthand, of course, for “pipeweed,” which is what tobacco is called in the books. But the clear implication for the modern viewer is that they’re enjoying marijuana. This is reinforced later on, when Saruman taunts Gandalf, saying that his love of “the halflings’ leaf” has muddled his thinking.

Of course it’s a different world today. People today are taught to treat tobacco as if it were plutonium. It has almost become magical in its evil effects, in the public imagination. So Jackson, no doubt, thought he was helping Tolkien out by turning his beloved tobacco to cannabis. In so doing he changed the Shire, replacing Tolkien’s idealized agrarian English village with something that might be his own ideal – a 1960s California commune.

And that’s Jackson’s problem, it seems to me. He thinks he’s in a position to correct Tolkien. To explain to him how a story really ought to be told. In his view, he is the master, Tolkien the student. Tolkien is lucky to benefit from his storytelling genius.

And that’s what spoiled the Hobbit movies.

In my opinion.

Hi-yo, Hiatus!

Hiatus. A word with mixed associations for me, having undergone surgery for a hiatus hernia some years back…

TMI? Probably.

In any case, the word also has its positive meaning. I’m on a brief hiatus now, having finished my last summer course on Saturday, and having begun a week of vacation today. I plan to fritter away my time cleaning the house, and maybe watch a few shows on Netflix. Tried the first episode of “Peaky Blinders” last night, on Andrew Klavan’s recommendation. Verdict: No, not for me. Too sunny and optimistic.

My grad school course was “Back of the Book Indexing,” which I never even knew was a discipline. I knew there were indexes in the backs of nonfiction books, and that they were often very valuable. I had no idea there were different ways to organize them, and debates raging between scholars and librarians as to how they should be alphabetized. Very abstruse stuff, and in the end it tends to be kind of subjective. But I think it was probably the most fun class I’ve taken in my graduate curriculum. It didn’t hurt that the instructor was bubbly and enthusiastic and seemed to think everything I wrote was just wonderful!

In September I’ll start my final (God willing) semester of classes. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks for bearing with me through the process.

A couple Sundays ago I went down to Kenyon, the old home town, for the semiannual (biannual? Every two years) family reunion. Attendance was down this year. Not only have we lost a couple archs (the patri- and matri- kind), but it seems to me as the old people pass on, the younger people see less reason to rally round. The old folks were the big exhibits that drew in the crowds. I’m becoming one of the old folks myself, but I think I lack the venerability of the pioneers.

Cousin Tom, from a distant city, said to me, “Don’t sneak away without saying goodbye. I’ve got something I want to give you.” Continue reading Hi-yo, Hiatus!