Monday, October 24, 2011

A Lord of the Rings Marathon

My oldest daughter indulged in a Lord of the Rings (LOTR) marathon (and yes, she also read the books, but everyone in the family likes the aesthetics of the movies, and I have 2 editions of LOTR with  annotations, so shush about movie vs. book; we just enjoy).

The running comments were mostly about filmmaking. And then about whether it would have been possible to include some omitted elements of the books into the movies, and how, and whether the alternative/compromise was acceptable.

No, we didn't come to any final conclusion. What would be the fun in it? We reserve the right to continue the discussion.

But once again I had the thought that LOTR the movie is a variant of LOTR the story. And that in the end, Tolkien would have approved.

Because Tolkien wished to create an Anglo-Saxon mythology, a creation story similar to the Greek myths or the Mesopotamian epics. He would have enjoyed how readers absorbed his tale and started re-telling it in their own words (or images).

Anything that doesn't have ONE fixed AUTHOR and one FIXED, PUBLISHED, and CANONICAL text begets an infinity of variants -- and still somehow manages to remain the SAME STORY. Changes in words. Changes in emphasis on details. Changes in the length of scenes or chapters. Even to the omission of certain scenes or chapters, depending on the preference of the storyteller -- or of the audience. Or, in our case, of the medium. Peter Jackson didn't really make up anything. He merely borrowed from other stories of Tolkien's world to fill out his movie-space. Just like a storyteller of old would have borrowed from a tradition at large to expand a story for an eager audience -- and to earn himself a couple extra drinks.

It's something that students in my folklore courses always have some trouble grasping: the fluidity of folkloric texts. But it's also something that makes it possible for me to enjoy a movie based on a book -- assuming that the director managed to show what I saw in that story.

And it's a tall order.

LOTR the Book
and Jackson's movie are the Same Story -- but told by different storytellers. I can handle that -- after all, I spent months and months as a graduate student reading variants of the same songs as told by different singers and collected by different collectors.

Repetitive? Yes and no.

The differences emphasize what both storytellers and listeners (viewers, readers) considered important. The LOTR movie trilogy wouldn't have been so successful if it hadn't hit on the high points of Tolkien's mythology, on what resonated with today's audience.

The similarities between the different tellings reveal the bare skeleton, the pure core of the story. And that is what we want to hear, that is what we don't ever want to change. That is what echoes throughout all cultures and throughout the world.

Because that skeleton is elementally human. And that, in the end, is why we love Tolkien.

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