Portishead: Portishead
Interpol: "NYC"

On Not Watching Amazon's New Tolkien Series (probably)

There never was much chance that I would want to see this. As I've said before, probably to the point of tedium, in the end I was more negative than positive toward the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings, in spite of there being many good things about it. I won't bother to go into all that again. And I didn't even see the Hobbit movies, which seem to have been a fundamentally terrible idea, no matter how they were executed. And even if there were no other reason to avoid this new thing, I don't want a Hollywood spectacle burning its Tolkien-based imagery permanently into my brain.

The new series is based on stories mentioned in the appendices of LOTR and told in more detail in The Silmarillion. Within broad parameters, the writers are free to make things up. That's okay, but a year or so ago word got out that Amazon was advertising for an "intimacy coordinator" for the series, so that seemed to be pretty much the end of the matter.

Still, I can't help following the story. A few days ago this piece appeared at National Review. It in turn is based on an article in Vanity Fair which reveals more than had previously been known about the plans for the series. The NR writer thinks it gives cause for both hope and alarm. I don't see a whole lot of the first.

Then, while watching the Super Bowl (or rather the last half of it), I saw Amazon's "teaser trailer," and all detailed considerations about fidelity to Tolkien and so forth went out the window. It appears to be a big, loud, action movie, seasoned with cuteness and sentimentality, and that's enough to know about it.

Still, I add the "probably." It's unlikely, but I won't totally rule out the possibility that I might give in to the temptation to check it out. A well-imagined and constructed Numenor, for instance, might be a grand sight....

This article at Crisis is a pretty good appraisal: negative, but judicious and reasonable. 

A question for anyone who's more familiar with The Silmarillion than I am: is the portrayal of Galadriel as a warrior justified? I don't remember anything in The Lord of the Rings that would warrant it, but perhaps in earlier ages she took part in physical combat. I only read The Silmarillion once, and it was several decades ago. 


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I'll certainly watch the first episode to see if it is interesting. While I own a copy of The Silmarillion I only tried to read it once, likely several decades ago, and found it far too dry to continue.

You all have way more of a reverence to Tolkien than I do. When I revisit these books I never find them as interesting as I did when a teen-ager, whereas the movies are worth re-watching because they are amazing cinema.

A while back I was reading an essay by a famous author about making movies from books. He said that the LOTR movies are greater than the books because Peter Jackson is an extraordinary filmmaker while Tolkien was an average writer. All this is of course very subjective but I found that statement mildly shocking, perhaps more so because of my involvement with this blog?

Who is this famous author? And what’s wrong with him?

Tolkien is indeed a very different sort of writer, very out of step with the modern literary world. He says in a foreword (I think ) that a lot of contemporary writers and critics don’t like his work, and it’s ok with him because he doesn’t like theirs either.

I think reverence is a good word to describe my attitude towards LOTR. Which is why I didn't like the movies. And why I have no interest in the new series. My son (who should know better) has some hope for the new series. He texted me when the trailer came out, so I watched it. It just seemed like a very generic fantasy movie/show with lots of CGI and absurd action and swelling music. One thing my son commented on was the "paucity of rings" in the trailer :). He said he paused on every shot of hands and there were no rings. :)

"All this is of course very subjective."

Nah. There are in fact objectively better writers. Shakespeare IS better than Neil Simon. Dante IS better than Kerouac.

Tolkien IS better than Alice Walker.

To say that Tolkien is an average writer is.... Wow. Just, wow. As they say on Wisconsin, "yah no."

Stu, try reading it aloud, as I have several times. If you don't tear up at least once....

An “extraordinary filmmaker” would not have made that awful scene with the cave troll. Or that cringey remark about tossing a dwarf.

I agree about objective aesthetic value. Also, Don, with your impression of the trailer.

When I read The Silmarillion in the 80's I thought it was "dry" too, until I got past the initial creation narrative bit. When it got into the "founding myths" material I found it pretty exciting.

"When I revisit these books I never find them as interesting as I did when a teen-ager, whereas the movies are worth re-watching because they are amazing cinema."

It's obviously possible for movies based on books to be "amazing cinema" but still not as good as the source material. The list of such films is vast. But films based on books can also be great movies even when they're only tenuously connected to their source. But it would seem that the response to a movie by a viewer who has read the book will necessarily be different from that of one that hasn't.

I can't say I ever got excited while reading the Silmarillion. I wasn't exactly disappointed, though, because I'd heard enough not to expect another Lord of the Rings. I'd like to read it again.

I didn't read LOTR until I was well into my 20s, so it wasn't a teenage enthusiasm. It has not grown stale for me.

Regarding that famous author: I agree with Auden, that if someone dislikes it I will never completely trust his literary judgment. Some people just don't respond to it. Their expectation of literature is completely formed by naturalism, and a writer like Tolkien just seems childish or ridiculous to them. That's ok, but it will remain in my mind as a reminder that their judgment has that limitation.

I'm sure I have mentioned here before that I read fantasy almost exclusively when I was much younger and as a result was always watching fantasy films, which were uniformly bad. Bad to the point that a movie like Conan starring Arnold Schwarzenegger seemed really good! With that in mind I have a more startling memory of how great I found the first Peter Jackson LOTR movie than I do any recollection of how wonderful I thought The Hobbit was when I first read it. Perhaps this is just a visual thing, but really I still think WOW what an amazing movie and how did they do that? Silly dwarf-tossing jokes aside, it is the full visual effect, actors, etc. I don't think I have been as awed by another movie since then although I watch a lot of them.

I followed more or less the same pattern with science fiction that you did with fantasy. Read a whole lot of it in adolescence, later on found it much less interesting and in fact pretty seriously lacking in one way or another. When I was in my teens though there weren't any really excellent movies in the sci-fi realm. I think 2001, which came out in 1969 (I think), was the first one that was visually convincing.

But "what an amazing movie"--I just don't get that about the LOTR movies. I was pretty impressed and at least half-enthusiastic about the first one, but didn't feel anything close to awe.

"Some people just don't respond to it. Their expectation of literature is completely formed by naturalism, and a writer like Tolkien just seems childish or ridiculous to them."

My dad, who famously only liked "realism" in his fiction.

One of my closest friends ever, as well. It's not necessarily a character flaw. :-)

I had a friend years ago who would not read any fiction for basically the same reason. He was something of a religious ideologue -- a strict Calvinist, with a system where his moral imagination should have been. He wasn't anti fiction, he just found it utterly irrelevant to his concerns -- simply didn't see the point.

I read a lot of fantasy in my college years and into my mid-20's. There is very little of it that I would revisit.

I think it's not unusual for some people, more likely men than women, to read a significant amount but have no interest in fiction. I see that sometimes when writers for a magazine list their 10 best books of the year and such--for some it's entirely non-fiction.

Your strict Calvinist friend has a Catholic counterpart in some strict Thomists. Certain young men are especially susceptible to that.

Tolkien thought that readers would not understand LotR unless they read the Silmarillion first. He was very insistent for a long time that the whole the S'lion &LotR should be published together.

I probably don't need to comment on whether or not I will watch the series.


Yeah, I figured it was safe to assume that.

I thought the Sil was not really assembled as a book till well after LOTR? Anyway, Tolkien was clearly mistaken about that. In fact as someone, maybe Auden, said, part of the thrill of LOTR is the sense of a vast, distant, mysterious past.

I began re-reading LOTR over the weekend - very enjoyable! Of course I also find the movies quite enjoyable, so I suppose that is where I part ways with many of you. I'm already thinking that when I am done with the books I'll re-watch.

I wonder if your "very enjoyable" and general view of both book and movies is atypical. I can see how liking both books and film would fit into that. In my experience people tend to be either indifferent to negative about the books, or else wildly enthusiastic, bordering on cultish veneration.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)