Sunday, November 8, 2015

An Article

Recently I read an article that made me so frustrated I just had to share with you.  Unfortunately there was no comment section for me to rant about it directly to the author, so I am releasing my feelings here.  It was done on The Huffington Post.  The title was: "Don't like The Hobbit Movies?  Then You Don't Know Tolkien'." It was intriguing enough so I clicked on it.

First of all, the article claims that the movie critics reviewing it are going to be proven wrong when future generations look back and see how good the movie was.  This was very perplexing.  It is a completely unsubstantiated claim that frankly makes no sense.  What about ten years passing says that the movies will suddenly be accepted into pop culture (something, by the way, that is not necessarily a good thing and has proved detrimental to The Lord of the Rings already)?

The article goes on to explain that Peter Jackson's approach to the film was more from the perspective of "The Quest for Erebor" which involved Moria, Bolg, Dol Guldur, and yes, even Sauron.  I can see this, and I realize that this is what he was going for.  

Then the article explains what has already happened leading up to the story.

Later on--and this is the most shocking and irritating part of all--the article claimed that "Moreover, critics seem to be whitewashing the flaws of the original movie trilogy. The Washington Post complains of a lack of "engaging character development" in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as if that had ever been a hallmark of Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The original trilogy was itself a plodding, portentous affair with a good deal of unbearably melodramatic dialogue and head-shaking archetyping. We permitted it, as moviegoers, because The Lord of the Rings was and is an allegory, because it was and is beautiful to experience, because it has ever been intended as a lengthy and immersive experience, and because it tells a story of massive scope and scale: all things which, as it happens, are true of Tolkien's (and Jackson's) The Hobbit. "

I have no words.  Actually I have a lot of words that I'm not going to say because they are not very nice.

How could someone say this?  They are claiming there was no character development in The Lord of the Rings?  Frodo didn't change?  Aragorn is the same as he was in the beginning?  "We permitted it, as moviegoers, because The Lord of the Rings was and is an allegory".  "We permitted it, as moviegoers, because The Lord of the Rings was and is an allegory". An allegory?  This seems very odd to say for someone who claims that they know Tolkien and we don't.

"I cordially dislike allegory in all of it's manifestations, and have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect it's presence," wrote the professor in the introduction to The Fellowship of the Ring.  This completely contradicts what was said earlier!

The reason that people have a problem with The Hobbit--myself included--is that for the most part it forsakes the touching and subtle moments in sake of bloodier and grander battles, something The Hobbit was not originally based around.  I do grant that this article was written before "Desolation" and "Battle" so it is not entirely fair for me to enter that reason into evidence.

This is the point in the article when I just sort of snapped.  I simply could not bear it.  This article was completely removed from what Tolkien himself said, and to top it all off, the article claims to be the end all be all of it by claiming that "you don't know Tolkien".  How ironic.

(Just to be clear, I bear no ill will to people who enjoy the movies.  The movies are alright in themselves, though I feel that if you consider them with the book there is no comparison.  This is just my opinion, though it is strongly worded because of the extreme pretension of the article I am frustrated with.  The only person I am thoroughly requesting defense from is the author of that article.

UPDATE: I actually did receive a very well written defense from the author, much to my excitement!  I was very happy to see an author actually stand up for his work and his response made a lot of sense to me and opened my eyes a bit to what he was actually saying.  If you are interested in reading his thoughts on the topic, you can see it in the comments.


  1. You are absolutely right! Tolkien disliked allegory so why would they say that? Duh! *whispers* because they don't know what they're talking about :P

    I hope none of my older sisters reads this and believes it... Ugh! DARN YOU SOCIAL MEDIA! YOU ARE MEDDLING IN THE AFFAIRS OF TOLKIEN FANS!!!

    And in another point that I LOVED... the Hobbit movies were good but nothing compared to the book. That hits it on the head for me. I'm glad you found this! I never read the Huffington Post so I guess it's a good thing lol. I think I would've gotten just as mad as you did so don't feel bad :)

    1. Thank you, LittleFlower. It can get frustrating when you disagree over something so important to you--I have experienced it many times!

      I'm going to alter the article a bit just to make it as objective as possible because I was angry when I wrote it...

      Thanks for being so rock!

    2. Thanks LoverofLembas. I wish we could edit comments :'( but I will leave it so I may learn from my mistake :) By the way, you rock too! :D

  2. Hi,

    I regret--and cannot defend--the tone of both the article and its title. I can very much see in retrospect how the tone appears to be one of condescension; in fact, though no one would have cause to know this, the tone was in fact defensive. I was defending the film treatment of one of my favorite books against charges so vehemently leveled that it seemed they (the charges) could actually do long-term damage to Hollywood's willingness to release future fantasy films. That was certainly an overreaction on my part, but FWIW, that was what lay behind the tone of the article--a desire to rebuke film critics, and Hollywood number-crunchers, not long-time fans of Tolkien like you.

    I am well aware, as we all are, of Tolkien's view of his own book. I also know that Tolkien's voice is only one of many in determining the intentional and accidental qualities of LoTR. For instance, you don't stop listening to your favorite Black Sabbath album because Ozzy says it's rubbish. You keep your own counsel on that score, as do fans of Tolkien's oeuvre--as we (i.e. you, me, and other Tolkien fans) are able to see allegorical qualities in LoTR and other works by Tolkien even if Tolkien himself could not or would not. I'm the author of several books myself, and I expect and welcome the same thing with respect to my own readers: that is, whatever I think or hope I've accomplished in a book, my readers ultimately decide that question for themselves, and that's how it should be.

    The definition of "allegory" is "a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden moral." The focus in that definition, and in allegorical readings of literature, is on "interpretation"--i.e., whether a large number of readers can credibly build a case for a hidden moral. The focus is on "interpretation" rather than "authorship" because it finally is for scholars and readers to recognize ("interpret") a possible resemblance between LoTR and (e.g.) WWII, not for the author to tell us what he did or did not intend and for that to be the end of the analysis.

    Re: the LoTR films, I agree that I spoke about them indelicately and I regret it. I love those movies. All of them. But I'm human, too, so I do respond emotionally when (in the context of the time that article was written) the dialogue among LoTR fans was so intent on savaging the Hobbit that it tread very close to romanticizing the original trilogy beyond any sense of propriety. For instance, if the Hobbit is to be criticized for its dialogue, so too must certain scenes in the LoTR; that said, my own preference would be for neither criticism to be leveled. As to the question, "Doesn't Frodo change?" my answer would be "Yes! And so does Bilbo." IOW, LoTR includes several characters who change dramatically during the course of the movies (I personally would not include Aragorn in their number, but that's just an honest disagreement we have) but misses many opportunities to do the same with others--including my own favorite character, Sam, who IMHO was _internally_ just as loyal and brave at the beginning of the tale as at the end. (And for those who mention Sam's unwillingness to ask his crush to dance at the start of the trilogy: shyness around women is not a lack of bravery! Nor is Sam's later confidence the product of bravery; rather, it's that he now has sufficient perspective on the brevity of life to not want to waste life's many opportunities. Some may call that personal growth; I'd just call it "leaving Hobbiton." In other words, Sam's internals have not changed, merely his external frame of reference).

    [part 1 of 2]

  3. [part 2 of 2]

    Last thing I would mention is that this article was written a LONG time ago--just after the first movie was released. At that time, no one was saying that the trilogy "forsakes the touching and subtle moments in sake of bloodier and grander battles," because in fact--if we are to avoid discussing the article anachronistically--the discussion was not about the Battle of the Five Armies, which hadn't happened yet in the movie trilogy, and instead about whether the first movie in the trilogy was too focused on humorous interpersonal exchanges between characters (what some would argue were the most "touching and subtle moments" of the book) and too little invested in the atmospherics the original trilogy developed so well. A secondary complaint--and in fact an oddly contradictory one vis-a-vis the first complaint--was that there was too much of an attempt to tie the Hobbit to the original trilogy, though this was not due to any "bloody and grand battles" in the first movie of the Hobbit trilogy (the only one that had been released when I wrote that article) but rather the narrative framework Jackson used (as a whole), which is why I took the time to contextualize that framework in the article via a timeline.

    But here's the biggest point: I panned the second film in a follow-up article I don't think you read: Hopefully this proves that I do change my opinion in response to new information. Meanwhile, I really do appreciate your critique of the article, and I think that with 20/20 hindsight you're largely correct. But is it fair to use the lens of 11/9/15 to critique an article written on 12/20/12? That I don't know. Three years on, I'd write a very different article. And as with anyone who writes about Tolkien, I'll readily concede that I am just one voice and that I am not as expert as some--fortunately, we still live in a time when one can blog about a topic because one is passionately engaged with it and somewhat knowledgeable about it. If expertise at the highest level on a topic were a prerequisite to ever discussing it, how many topics would _you_ be permitted to write upon? Or me? Or any of us? I did my best, and I am sorry--sincerely so--if the article distressed you.

    Seth Abramson

    1. Hello,

      I appreciate you taking the time to respond. Let me start out by apologizing for the tone of my post. I admit that it was written in the heat of the moment and without much consideration, and for that I apologize.

      I do however, (as Tolkien would say) "cordially" disagree with you on your statement about allegory. Citing Tolkien again in his foreword to "The Fellowship of the Ring": "I think many people confuse allegory with applicability. But the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other with the purposed domination of the author." Considering this and the fact it is apparent that Tolkien did not "purposely dominate" the story, I think it is safe to say that it is not an allegory. This, however, does not mean that LOTR does not have allegorical elements, themes, and moral messages. It has a lot, in fact. The difference between a story with themes and an allegory is--in my experience--that an allegory tends to have one-to-one substitution. Gandalf=Christ, The Ring=Nuclear weapons, etc. Of course Gandalf does have some Christ-like qualities, and the One Ring is certainly similar to nuclear weapons, but they are not one and the same. I think this sort of substitution is the thing Tolkien was trying to avoid. Nevertheless, I think we are actually both on the same page. We both see that LOTR has themes and values, but we just seem to disagree over the terminology, which is of course a trivial thing.

      I completely sympathize with you on the aspect of the original movies being held as perfect. I too have carelessly come to this conclusion one too many times, and now that you point it out, I can see exactly what you mean. It's true: all six movies have their faults. We seem to be on the same page with respect to both movies having some character development, or at least attempted development.

      (As for Aragorn, his dynamic is a bit more obscure and not always recognized. I have always viewed him as changing from being in denial of his kingship and royalty to coming into his own and finally embracing it. Of course this could be argued it was simply because that was the only way he could be with Arwen--and his feelings for her never change--so I could understand why someone would see him as static.)

      I confess I did not actually notice the date of your post, and looking back it does seem unfair to critique it given you were only assessing the first of the movies. I did read your other article on "The Desolation of Smaug" and it was on point.

      Again, thank you for replying, and I am sorry if I offended you in any way. I am going to make some emendations to the article in light of the very good points you brought up.

    2. I am very sorry about my first comment. I didn't take the time to read either article and I apologize for that. I thought it was a general article written by the crew of Huffington Post like other websites do. Even if it was a group that wrote it, I should have been more respectful in what I say even if the people involved aren't on Blogger. I hope you will accept my apology, Mr. Seth Abramson and forgive me as well. By the way, I read your other article on The Desolation of Smaug and liked it : )

    3. No worries, LoverofLembas and LittleFlower2001! I really appreciate both of your comments here. All is well. Very best wishes,