Monday, December 15, 2014

It's All Over

I remember the first few minutes of watching The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie. A fan of Tolkien's work, I was interested to see if Peter Jackson could pull it off. In those first few moments I thought to myself: "He might actually be able to do it" and as far as I am concerned, for the most part, he did. Last Friday evening as the credits began to roll on the third Hobbit movie I said to myself, "It's all over". What an adventure it has been.

While the LOTR movies were greeted with acclaim, the same could not be said for three Hobbit movies which even some of the most devoted fans saw as Jackson trying to cash in on his original success. To be honest, I would not be so harsh, I genuinely think that Jackson just wanted to linger a little bit longer in Middle Earth and to include in the movies additional material, much of it taken from the Appendices of the LOTR, which will lay the foundation for what will happen later. And, overall, I think he has done a good job doing that. 

Yes, The Hobbit is a short novel, a tale which is much simpler that the epic which follows, but we must remember that while the tale is focused, there is a lot more going on in Middle Earth as Bilbo and his dwarf friends reclaim the dwarf kingdom under the mountain. I think what Jackson wants to do is to set The Hobbit against the bigger picture; as we will discover when Frodo begins his adventures, Bilbo's story did not take part in isolation. The hobbits for all their hopes, cannot exist apart and untouched by what is happening in the world. That said, one of the major criticism I have of the original trilogy is Jackson's idyllic preservation of the Shire at the end of the wars: Tolkien was at pains to show that even the peaceful Shire fell under the shadow as Saruman and his minions invade it, Jackson falls down there - the Shire cannot, and didn't, exist apart and untouched by what was happening in the world.

The two movie trilogies have opened up Tolkien's world, and values, to a whole new generation and that is a good thing, and I am delighted for that. We live in the age of the image, and many people no longer read, Jackson may well have brought people back to the books and that is a good thing, not only because it encourages people to read, but because it brings them face to face with Tolkien's vision, and it is a very Catholic vision. The LOTR is one of the great works of the Christian imagination and Christian literature and it could well be seen as a great instrument for evangelisation. 

These books are not mere fantasy unlike the genre which has grown up after them; when you compare them with the brutal and immoral world of Game of Thrones, for example, you see an altogether different spirit at work, Other works in the genre deal with good and evil but under the strain of original sin, devoid of grace, but the world and adventures in the LOTR present the bigger picture, the great battle, and there is grace, and it is at work in flawed creatures who are raised up through their struggles. When you read the LOTR you are aware of the presence of great hope even in what seem to be hopeless situations (see Gandalf's talk with Pippin as Minas Tirith seems to be about to fall). It is a work worth reading, studying and discussing.  

So thanks to Peter Jackson for his work, but while the filming is over, the works remain and I hope future generations will be as fascinated with Tolkien's work and teaching as previous generations. And I hope the Church, and her catechists, will realise just how important Tolkien's work is for the work of evangelisation.

UPDATE: The Thirsty Gargoyle has an excellent review of the Hobbit movies, it is well worth reading. His central argument: for all the wonderful stuff, Peter Jackson doesn't get Tolkien. I think he has a point.

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