A commentary on “Concerning Christopher”


A Tolkien fan for twenty-five years (and more to come...) Founding chairman of the German Tolkien Society, Co-Founder of Ring*Con, Co-Founder of the ITF, host, presenter and fantasy expert

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  • Deniz Bevan

    Bearing in mind that Christopher Tolkien has been involved in the stories for much longer than 30 years – he was, if nothing else, Tolkien’s cartographer.

    • Absolutely correct, Deniz. However, I didn’t want to go _that_ far in time – that would be a whole new article. :)

  • Deniz Bevan

    ” All the rest is either still with the Tolkien Estate and publishing houses like HarperCollins or with Christopher Tolkien directly” Thank goodness for this. I agree that the movies aren’t terrible – but they are a far, FAR, cry from the strength and power and depth of the books.

  • Deniz Bevan

    (sorry, commenting as I read)
    I agree – welcome to all the new fans! “But be aware that not everyone considers the film trilogies as they are to be the best there is.”
    Yet it is wonderful that so many people are coming to discover and enjoy Tolkien!

    • Absolutely! I can’t stress it enough how great this is – and I am truly grateful to PJ and his team to do these films! No doubt about that.

  • Marcel thank you writing this. I totally agree with what you are saying. We would not have the vast and rich literary treasure of The History of Middle Earth without the dedicated work that Christopher Tolkien devoted himself to do. In my research on the early mythology I am constantly impressed by the care and skill Christopher Tolkien put into editing, ordering and understanding his fathers work. Yes, there are times when I wish I can see the original manuscripts and the sections that Christopher did not include – but I trust his judgement. As you say he is not a fan he is the son of a man he loved and was brought up by and if he has concerns about the films then I am sure they come from a feeling of care, love and respect. With the release of the language papers (which are coming out) and the upcoming Fall of Arthur Christopher is doing his best to continue to bring more of his fathers work to the world – as a Tolkien scholar, who also appreciates the films as adaptations – adaptations in the sense that Medieval writers and chroniclers used to adapt the great tales in new versions – I applaud the work of Christopher Tolkien. I also find it interesting that With the first Hobbit film Jackson seems to be “trusting” Tolkien more – much more than in Lord of the Rings. A great piece Marcel and be interested to hear what other Tolkien scholars think. Bravo! best Andy

    • TroelsForchhammer

      Yes, and CJRT is not only a loving son, but actually a contributor to the legendarium (beyond the drawing of maps).

      We have long known that JRRT valued CJRT’s opinion — there’s the letter about not changing the name of Sam without CJRT’s permission — but in the “Le Monde” interview is referred to a letter by JRRT asking CJRT’s advice about name formation: this goes directly to the linguistic heart and roots of the legendarium and if JRRT was actually actively asking CJRT’s advice or opinion in such matters, he let his son deeper into the creation of the legendarium than I had understood earlier.

      Had the legendarium been a modern scientific article, CJRT would have been a co-author (and with greater justification than some of those who are listed as co-authors in actual scientific articles). I am, of course, not suggesting that he should be listed as co-author of “The Lord of the Rings” etc., but rather that he was deeply involved with, and contributed to, the evolution of the legendarium, and his understanding of both the legendarium and of his father’s views and ideas about the legendarium stands on far firmer ground than the TORn essay even hints at.

  • TroelsForchhammer

    What irked me about the original post was the presumption that the author, or any other fan, would have the right to judge the choices of Ronald and Christopher Tolkien. Agreeing or disagreeing is fine by me — we can all have an opinion, but to presume the right to sit in moral judgement over the original creator and his son (and to some extent co-creator — J.R.R. sought the advice of C.J.R even on linguistic matters such as name-formations) is, in my view, highly inappropriate and disrespectful (rude, impudent, insolent . . . you name it).

    Christopher’s statements in the “Le Monde” interview seem to me to have been taken out of their context and blown up — not only in places where one might expect a certain animosity towards Christopher Tolkien, but also by people who profess a sympathy to his decisions, such as this “JPB”, who implies that Christopher Tolkien’s resignation and distaste applies to a book display in 1973, thus portraying Christopher’s views by setting up a comfortable straw man.

    My impression, however, is that Christopher Tolkien is referring to his father’s image in popular culture as monstrous, and that he laments the superficial portrayal of his father’s work (and of his own work) in popular culture (and the extreme unification, brainwashing almost, of the associated aesthetic). Popular culture will always be shallow, I suppose (it is a matter of being inoffensive to as many people as possible), but the immense success and popularity of Jackson’s films have aggravated the problem a hundred fold. It is this image of J.R.R. Tolkien and his work that Christopher Tolkien laments.

    He does not resent the love and enjoyment of his father’s work or the careful study of his father’s writings in an attempt to understand the philosophical and aesthetic depth and breadth (and length) of this work (an attempt that has so far only brought to me an understanding of the immensity of the task that I have set myself, but even that is progress 😉 )

    • Your last paragraph is exactly what Christopher said in the ‘Le Monde’ interview, only formulated in a very positive manner. It is quite a pity that exactly this paragraph is being misunderstood due to the English translation available on the web.

      I whole-heartedly agree with your words, Troels, thank you very much for your comment!

  • Just wanted to comment on one part of this article. I was just talking to my wife about this very thing tonight. Calling a film adaptation of a book “Fan Fiction.” Doing this has seemingly become very popular, but is disingenuous to both film makers and writers of fan fiction, which both do two very different things. Fan fiction, as I understand it, may or may not happen in the same universe, or on the same timeline, as the original work. But it’s not a retelling of the same story. Film makers adapt stories for the big screen. A thousand fans of any book would create a thousand entirely different films (and for that matter, a thousand staunch purists would create a thousand different films).

    Another point on this matter is that, when it comes to film and TV, a screenwriter essentially can only get a job at a studio by proving themselves by writing what is essentially “fan fiction.” They write a spec script of a new episode of a show that is currently on TV. That’s what I feel fits the mold of “fan fiction.” I would prefer it if the word “adaptation” was used instead. It shows respect for all involved.

    • Dear Paul,

      thank you very much for pointing me towards this differentiation. Yes, you are perfectly right there – I have to admit that I was probably carried away when using this particular term. True enough, quite a few people have been willing to differentiate between the scripts provided by Jackson, Walsh and Boyens as fan fiction in comparison to the original books – but I am not quite convinced myselt yet whether this could be fully used as a ‘technical term’ or if this is rather a slur trying to negate the script writing capabilities of this trio (in contrast to the eloquent prose of Tolkien.)

      However, I would like to mention that “writing” is at the heart of both “fan fiction” and “script” – with the script the final result may be a film but in the beginning it is a piece of written text. Not quite sure what literary criticism makes of this but I would possibly argue that instead of providing a full-fledged individual and original piece of work as such (as an interpretation) the film trilogy scripts try to stick to the books and emulate some of their atmosphere (i.e. fan fiction.)

      • I appreciate the fair and thoughtful consideration of my own thoughts, Marcel. Thank you. When I read your closing sentence, I would have swapped the terms in parenthesis, which is what I was kind of referring to. A “full-fledged individual and original piece of work” (fan fiction) vs. trying to stick to the books and emulate some of their atmosphere (interpretation). For instance, if Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films featured all of the characters, in Middle-Earth, but instead of going on an adventure to destroy the Ring, they spent their time baking, singing and watching Lost on DVD.

        Anyway, thank you for taking the time to think about and consider my thoughts. I very much enjoyed your piece, even if I don’t agree with everything in it. :-)

        • Thank you for sharing your ideas on this blog; this is one of the reasons why I have started this project in the first place – to talk to people who are appreciative of Tolkien and works inspired by his life and works. Two heads are better than one :)

          And it is much more fun if people have things they can disagree upon! If we were all of the same opinion life would be rather boring. However, having said that some of the commentaries at the TORn website on the original essay are completely outrageous and a proper discussion no longer possible – that is why I wrote my own piece on this page.

          • As someone who has actually made a full-length fan-fiction film based on The Professor’s writings (at the insistence of my then 12yr old daughter), I totally understand both sides of the issue. I came to know Tolkien thru the books in the ’70’s. My daughter came to know Tolkien first thru the PJ films, then the books. Once she read most everything, she wanted more. So we made more (staying withing the “canon”) and out of a love for both the books and films, made our own film. Tolkien’s universe is just so rich that way – it makes you want to be a part of it.

          • Absolutely – it is inspiring to so many people and quite obviously also to a lot New Zealanders, Australians etc. :)
            Your daughter has an amazingly good taste, indeed *g*

    • TroelsForchhammer

      I wonder what to do with such as Yisroel Markov’s “The Last Ringbearer” that retells the story of the War of the Ring from Sauron’s perspective? Is that fan-fiction? Or is that an adaptation of some other kind?

      In many ways, this is, in my opinion, much closer to what the Jackson films have done — they are retelling the stories from a completely different perspective (ethically, philosophically, aesthetically, …) — a change that goes, in my experience, far beyond the normal ‘retelling’ variation (which will generally retain the ethical, philosophical and aesthetic viewpoint of the original).

      It is this, in my opinion rather drastic, change of perspective that sometimes make calling them ‘adaptations’ stick in my craw, but if ‘adaptation’ can encompass Markov’s work, then it can certainly also encompass the work of Rankin, Bass, Bakshi, Boyens, Walsh, Jackson and others 😉

      • Kirill Yeskov’s “The Last Ringbearer” would be considered “fan fiction” to me. It’s not an adaptation because it doesn’t follow the characters, events and locations from the book. Consider “Ender’s Game” and “Ender’s Shadow” as a point of reference. Or how about this, something that I know more about is Star Wars. Let’s say that the Star Wars Trilogy was released first as book, and Lucas’ films were just adaptations of those books. I come along and decide that I’m going to write a book called “The Last Sith Lord.” I write the story from Darth Vader’s perspective. It’s the same story as the Star Wars trilogy, but because it will include other characters, locations and events, it’s entirely not the same thing.

        In fact, the reversal of protagonist/antagonist itself would make it a fan fiction. Jackson’s work doesn’t change who the protagonist is, nor really the antagonist, making it an adaptation to me.

        Side note: the ethics, philosophy and aesthetics of the Lord of the Rings were all the same, to me, as in the book. I share Tolkien’s religion, and have found that to be the case for me. I have heard others say otherwise, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. I remain unconvinced and wouldn’t dream of thinking otherwise as I consider it to be the finest achievement in motion picture history. But, like all that I’ve written above, that’s all my own perspective.

        • Just as an aside: I love the films and am very appreciative of them – if judging them as films in their own rights. However, this is a completely different perspective from a literary adaptation. Film is its own medium, with its own advantages and disadvantages, and the decisions made by PJ’s team and himself were quite obviously made by professionals willing to do an amazing project – not doubt about that.
          But there has to be a differentiation in watching the films as a film critic and a literary critic. Both media interact, obviously, but the judgment is achieved from a completely different angle. They are not necessarily compatible which does lead to major misunderstandings.

  • Thank you, Marcel, for writing this!

    You have put the original essay on TORn in a somewhat different perspective for me, but I agree with virtually everything you’ve said. Yes, you are quite right in saying that much more can be said on several of these points, but this was the kind of reply that was needed speedily.

    On another point (well, related to at least three that you are making), I am somewhat miffed by the discussion flaring up on the Tolkien Society’s fb-group again on different kinds of fans looking down on another. It is beginning to look as if we Tolkienists are not allowed to take our hobby and interests seriously — let alone to express them in different manners. I have not mixed in this discussion and other recent versions of it, as I lack the time for a reasoned treatment and don’t want to rant, but it is certainly starting to rankle with me.

    • I know what you mean, Harm. That was one of the reasons why I wrote my article on the ‘different fan groups’ of the films and how judgment is passed on the film trilogies in the public. Some things simply can’t be discussed about (i.e. taste), some things are of no interest (me wanna see big boom bang!) and if you try to tell people there is something as judging a literary adapation on basis of its merits in comparison with the original some just go berserk. A reasoned argument very rarely happens when hysteria and fanboyishness is involved (not that I am not a bit of a fanboy everytime I see Priscilla :)

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  • Jason Fisher

    I’ve written something in response to a part of this discussion. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts. http://lingwe.blogspot.com/2013/01/christopher-tolkien-warren-hamilton.html