J.R.R. Tolkin letter to authors of the LOHR movie....

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J.R.R. Tolkin letter to authors of the LOHR movie....

Postby Jynks on Tue Nov 28, 2006 5:12 am

This is a old letter to the last set of LOHR would be movie makers.... it is not the Jakson ones... still interesting read.

Tolkin wrote:210 From a letter to Forrest J. Ackerman [Not dated; June 1958]
[Tolkien's comments on the film 'treatment' of The Lord of the Rings.]
I have at last finished my commentary on the Story-line. Its length and detail will, I hope, give evidence of my interest in the matter. Some at least of the things that I have said or suggested may be acceptable, even useful, or at least interesting. The commentary goes along page by page, according to the copy of Mr Zimmerman's work, which was left with me, and which I now return. I earnestly hope that someone will take the trouble to read it.
If Z and/or others do so, they may be irritated or aggrieved by the tone of many of my criticisms. If so, I am sorry (though not surprised). But I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about. ....
The canons of narrative an in any medium cannot be wholly different ; and the failure of poor films is often precisely in exaggeration, and in the intrusion of unwarranted matter owing to not perceiving where the core of the original lies.
Z .... has intruded a 'fairy castle' and a great many Eagles, not to mention incantations, blue lights, and some irrelevant magic (such as the floating body of Faramir). He has cut the parts of the story upon which its characteristic and peculiar tone principally depends, showing a preference for fights; and he has made no serious attempt to represent the heart of the tale adequately: the journey of the Ringbearers. The last and most important pan of this has, and it is not too strong a word, simply been murdered.
[Some extracts from Tolkien's lengthy commentary on the Story Line:]
Z is used as an abbreviation for (the writer of) the synopsis. References to this are by page (and line where required); references to the original story are by Volume and page.
2. Why should the firework display include flags and hobbits? They are not in the book. 'Flags' of what? I prefer my own choice of fireworks.
Gandalf, please, should not 'splutter'. Though he may seem testy at times, has a sense of humour, and adopts a somewhat avuncular attitude to hobbits, he is a person of high and noble authority, and great dignity. The description on I p. 2391 should never be forgotten.
4. Here we meet the first intrusion of the Eagles. I think they are a major mistake of Z, and without warrant.
The Eagles are a dangerous 'machine'. I have used them sparingly, and that is the absolute limit of their credibility or usefulness. The alighting of a Great Eagle of the Misty Mountains in the Shire is absurd; it also makes the later capture of G. by Saruman incredible, and spoils the account of his escape. (One of Z's chief faults is his tendency to anticipate scenes or devices used later, thereby flattening the tale out.) Radagast is not an Eagle-name, but a wizard's name; several eagle-names are supplied in the book. These points are to me important.
Here I may say that I fail to see why the time-scheme should be deliberately contracted. It is already rather packed in the original, the main action occurring between Sept. 22 and March 25 of the following year. The many impossibilities and absurdities which further hurrying produces might, I suppose, be unobserved by an uncritical viewer; but I do not see why they should be unnecessarily introduced. Time must naturally be left vaguer in a picture than in a book; but I cannot see why definite time-statements, contrary to the book and to probability, should be made. ....
Seasons are carefully regarded in the original. They are pictorial, and should be, and easily could be, made the main means by which the artists indicate time-passage. The main action begins in autumn and passes through winter to a brilliant spring: this is basic to the purport and tone of the tale. The contraction of time and space in 2 destroys that. His arrangements would, for instance, land us in a snowstorm while summer was still in. The Lord of the Rings may be a 'fairy-story', but it takes place in the Northern hemisphere of this earth: miles are miles, days are days, and weather is weather.
Contraction of this kind is not the same thing as the necessary reduction or selection of the scenes and events that are to be visually represented.
7. The first paragraph misrepresents Tom Bombadil. He is not the owner of the woods; and he would never make any such threat.
'Old scamp!' This is a good example of the general tendency that I find in Z to reduce and lower the tone towards that of a more childish fairy-tale. The expression does not agree with the tone of Bombadil's long later talk; and though that is cut, there is no need for its indications to be disregarded.
I am sorry, but I think the manner of the introduction of Goldberry is silly, and on a par with 'old scamp'. It also has no warrant in my tale. We are not in 'fairy-land', but in real river-lands in autumn. Goldberry represents the actual seasonal changes in such lands. Personally I think she had far better disappear than make a meaningless appearance.
8 line 24. The landlord does not ask Frodo to 'register'!2 Why should he? There are no police and no government. (Neither do I make him number his rooms.) If details are to be added to an already crowded picture, they should at least fit the world described.
9. Leaving the inn at night and running off into the dark is an impossible solution of the difficulties of presentation here (which I can see). It is the last thing that Aragorn would have done. It is based on a misconception of the Black Riders throughout, which I beg Z to reconsider. Their peril is almost entirely due to the unreasoning fear which they inspire (like ghosts). They have no great physical power against the fearless; but what they have, and the fear that they inspire, is enormously increased in darkness. The Witch-king, their leader, is more powerful in all ways than the others; but he must not yet be raised to the stature of Vol. III. There, put in command by Sauron, he is given an added demonic force. But even in the Battle of the Pelennor, the darkness had only just broken. See III 114.3
10. Rivendell was not 'a shimmering forest'. This is an unhappy anticination of Lrien (which it in no way resembled). It could not be seen from Weathertop : it was 200 miles away and hidden in a ravine. I can see no pictorial or story-making gain in needlessly contracting the geography.
Strider does not 'Whip out a sword' in the book. Naturally not: his sword was broken. (Its elvish light is another false anticipation of the reforged Anduril. Anticipation is one of Z's chief faults.) Why then make him do so here, in a contest that was explicitly not fought with weapons?
11. Aragorn did not 'sing the song of Gil-galad'. Naturally: it was quite inappropriate, since it told of the defeat of the Elven-king by the Enemy. The Black Riders do not scream, but keep a more terrifying silence. Aragorn does not blanch. The riders draw slowly in on foot in darkness, and do not 'spur'. There is no fight. Sam does not 'sink his blade into the Ringwraith's thigh', nor does his thrust save Frodo's life. (If he had, the result would have been much the same as in III 117-20:4 the Wraith would have fallen down and the sword would have been destroyed.)
Why has my account been entirely rewritten here, with disregard for the rest of the tale? I can see that there are certain difficulties in representing a dark scene; but they are not insuperable. A scene of gloom lit by a small red fire, with the Wraiths slowly approaching as darker shadows - until the moment when Frodo puts on the Ring, and the King steps forward revealed - would seem to me far more impressive than yet one more scene of screams and rather meaningless slashings.....
I have spent some time on this passage, as an example of what I find too frequent to give me 'pleasure or satisfaction': deliberate alteration of the story, in fact and significance, without any practical or artistic object (that I can see); and of the flattening effect that assimilation of one incident to another must have.
15. Time is again contracted and hurried, with the effect of reducing the importance of the Quest. Gandalf does not say they will leave as soon as they can pack! Two months elapse. There is no need to say anything with a time-purport. The lapse of time should be indicated, if by no more than the change to winter in the scenery and trees.
At the bottom of the page, the Eagles are again introduced. I feel this to be a wholly unacceptable tampering with the tale. 'Nine Walkers' and they immediately go up in the air! The intrusion achieves nothing but incredibility, and the staling of the device of the Eagles when at last they are really needed. It is well within the powers of pictures to suggest, relatively briefly, a long and arduous journey, in secrecy, on foot, with the three ominous mountains getting nearer.
Z does not seem much interested in seasons or scenery, though from what I saw I should say that in the representation of these the chief virtue and attraction of the film is likely to be found. But would Z think that he had improved the effect of a film of, say, the ascent of Everest by introducing helicopters to take the climbers half way up (in defiance of probability)? It would be far better to cut the Snow-storm and the Wolves than to make a farce of the arduous journey.
19. Why does Z put beaks and feathers on Orcs!? (Orcs is not a form of Auks.) The Orcs are definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types.
20. The Balrog never speaks or makes any vocal sound at all. Above all he does not laugh or sneer. .... Z may think that he knows more about Balrogs than I do, but he cannot expect me to agree with him.
21 ff. 'A splendid sight. It is the home of Galadriel. . . an Elvenqueen.' (She is not in fact one.) 'Delicate spires and tiny minarets of Elven-color are cleverly woven into a beautiful[ly] designed castle.' I think this deplorable in itself, and in places impertinent. Will Z please pay my text some respect, at least in descriptions that are obviously central to the general tone and style of the book! I will in no circumstances accept this treatment of Lrien, even if Z personally prefers 'tiny' fairies and the gimcrack of conventional modern fairy-tales.
The disappearance of the temptation of Galadriel is significant. Practically everything having moral import has vanished from the synopsis.
22. Lembas, 'waybread', is called a 'food concentrate'. As I have shown I dislike strongly any pulling of my tale towards the style and feature of 'contes des fees', or French fairy-stories. I dislike equally any pull towards 'scientification', of which this expression is an example. Both modes are alien to my story.
We are not exploring the Moon or any other more improbable region. No analysis in any laboratory would discover chemical properties of lembas that made it superior to other cakes of wheat-meal.
I only comment on the expression here as an indication of attitude. It is no doubt casual; and nothing of this kind or style will (I hope) escape into the actual dialogue.
In the book lembas has two functions. It is a 'machine' or device for making credible the long marches with little provision, in a world in which as I have said 'miles are miles'. But that is relatively unimportant. It also has a much larger significance, of what one might hesitatingly call a 'religious' kind. This becomes later apparent, especially in the chapter 'Mount Doom' (III 2135 and subsequently). I cannot find that Z has made any particular use of lembas even as a device; and the whole of 'Mount Doom' has disappeared in the distorted confusion that Z has made of the ending. As far as I can see lembas might as well disappear altogether.
I do earnestly hope that in the assignment of actual speeches to the characters they will be represented as I have presented them: in style and sentiment. I should resent perversion of the characters (and do resent it, so far as it appears in this sketch) even more than the spoiling of the plot and scenery.
Parts II & III. I have spent much space on criticizing even details in Part I. It has been easier, because Part I in general respects the line of narrative in the book, and retains some of its original coherence. Pan II exemplifies all the faults of Pan I ; but it is far more unsatisfactory, & still more so Pan III, in more serious respects. It almost seems as if 2, having spent much time and work on Pan I, now found himself short not only of space but of patience to deal with the two more difficult volumes in which the action becomes more fast and complicated. He has in any case elected to treat them in a way that produces a confusion that mounts at last almost to a delirium. ....
The narrative now divides into two main branches: 1. Prime Action, the Ringbearers. 2. Subsidiary Action, the rest of the Company leading to the 'heroic' matter. It is essential that these two branches should each be treated in coherent sequence. Both to render them intelligible as a story, and because they are totally different in tone and scenery. Jumbling them together entirely destroys these things.
31. I deeply regret this handling of the 'Treebeard' chapter, whether necessary or not. I have already suspected Z of not being interested in trees: unfortunate, since the story is so largely concerned with them. But surely what we have here is in any case a quite unintelligible glimpse? What are Ents?
31 to 32. We pass now to a dwelling of Men in an 'heroic age'. Z does not seem to appreciate this. I hope the artists do. But he and they have really only to follow what is said, and not alter it to suit their fancy (out of place).
In such a time private 'chambers' played no pan. Thoden probably had none, unless he had a sleeping 'bower' in a separate small 'outhouse'. He received guests or emissaries, seated on the dais in his royal hall. This is quite clear in the book; and the scene should be much more effective to illustrate.
31 to 32. Why do not Thoden and Gandalf go into the open before the doors, as I have told? Though I have somewhat enriched the culture of the 'heroic' Rohirrim, it did not run to glass windows that could be thrown open ! ! We might be in a hotel. (The 'east windows' of the hall, II 116, 119,6 were slits under the eaves, unglazed.)
Even if the king of such a people had a 'bower', it could not become 'a beehive of bustling activity'!! The bustle takes place outside and in the town. What is showable of it should occur on the wide pavement before the great doors.
33. I am afraid that I do not find the glimpse of the 'defence of the Homburg' - this would be a better title, since Helm's Deep, the ravine behind, is not shown - entirely satisfactory. It would, I guess, be a fairly meaningless scene in a picture, stuck in in this way. Actually I myself should be inclined to cut it right out, if it cannot be made more coherent and a more significant part of the story. .... If both the Ents and the Hornburg cannot be treated at sufficient length to make sense, then one should go. It should be the Hornburg, which is incidental to the main story; and there would be this additional gain that we are going to have a big battle (of which as much should be made as possible), but battles tend to be too similar: the big one would gain by having no competitor.
34. Why on earth should Z say that the hobbits 'were munching ridiculously long sandwiches'? Ridiculous indeed. I do not see how any author could be expected to be 'pleased' by such silly alterations. One hobbit was sleeping, the other smoking.
The spiral staircase 'weaving' round the Tower [Orthanc] comes from Z's fancy not my tale. I prefer the latter. The tower was 500 feet high. There was a flight of 27 steps leading to the great door; above which was a window and a balcony.
Z is altogether too fond of the words hypnosis and hypnotic. Neither genuine hypnosis, nor scienrifictitious variants, occur in my tale. Saruman's voice was not hypnotic but persuasive. Those who listened to him were not in danger of falling into a trance, but of agreeing with his arguments, while fully awake. It was always open to one to reject, by free will and reason, both his voice while speaking and its after-impressions. Saruman corrupted the reasoning powers.
Z has cut out the end of the book, including Saruman's proper death. In that case I can see no good reason for making him die. Saruman would never have committed suicide: to cling to life to its basest dregs is the way of the son of person he had become. If Z wants Saruman tidied up (I cannot see why, where so many threads are left loose) Gandalf should say something to this effect: as Saruman collapses under the excommunication: 'Since you will not come out and aid us, here in Orthanc you shall stay till you rot, Saruman. Let the Ents look to it!'
Pan III.... is totally unacceptable to me, as a whole and in detail. If it is meant as notes only for a section of something like the pictorial length of I and II, then in the filling out it must be brought into relation with the book, and its gross alterations of that corrected. If it is meant to represent only a kind of short finale, then all I can say is : The Lord of the Rings cannot be garbled like that.

now go heck adra for a list of the ways the movie changed the book

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