Stealing THE HOBBIT from the children (in which I state the crime)

 

 

JRRT - "The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water"
JRRT – “The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water”
JRRT "Rivendell"
JRRT “Rivendell”
JRRT "Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves"
JRRT “Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves”
JRRT "Conversation with Smaug"
JRRT “Conversation with Smaug”
JRRT "Death of Smaug"
JRRT “Death of Smaug”

(All images from The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, 2012)

Two winters ago I (along with millions of others) planted myself in a movie theater to watch the first installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. For several years, I’d included the book on my English syllabus (Purdue University). My students – many of whom had never read the book previously (or even heard of it – how is that possible??) responded to the story in various ways. [Note 1: my rather old-fashioned pedagogy requires students to arrive at class with a comment, question, or discussion starter – based on that day’s reading – written on a 3 x 5 card. In cursive, preferably. Extra points for using a fountain pen.] [Note 2: I’m not big on deconstructing a text to death and then discoursing in a lofty and snooty and philosophical manner about things that are killed by loft and snoot and philosophizing. I’m big on reading – carefully, enthusiastically, intentionally, thoughtfully, and joyfully – and letting a book be what it is, not what I or some dead French philosopher says it should be. But that’s just me.]

Last week, I stumbled across some of those old-fashioned 3×5 cards in an old-fashioned file drawer and enjoyed a few moments of old-fashioned reminiscing.

“I wish Bilbo and gang wouldn’t act so irrationally. Just do as you’re told!”

“I’ve gotten so attached to the dwarves and Bilbo that I may have shed a tear when Bilbo was saying goodbye. Is that normal?? I can’t believe I teared up over dwarves and a hobbit. They’ve changed me.”

“I wish Tolkien could read The Hobbit to me before bed every night.”

“STAY ON THE PATH!!!”

“I got so upset when they wandered off in the woods that I literally threw the book and didn’t pick it up again for several days. Why, Tolkien, why??”

“These dwarves have taken a terrible beating so far. Between giants, spiders, and being locked in barrels, they deserve a break – and TREASURE!”

“As terrible and disgusting as he is, I always just want to give Gollum a hug.”

“Why do the ponies always have to die??”

Who knew that 3×5 cards could be so enjoyable and that college students could be so endearing? But then, this:

“I really wish that Fili and Kili didn’t have to die. And this is going to be such a sweet movie.”

This, from an A+ student, who really loved the book and really can’t be blamed for having such high cinematic hopes.

But the movie wasn’t “sweet” – regardless of how you define the word – and not because it diverged from the written narrative extensively (which it did) but because in making it, Peter Jackson did that which an adult should never ever do: he stole from a child. From all children, actually.

While sitting in that theater two winters ago, I soon gave up on jotting down all the ways the cinematic experience strayed from the textual (and authoritative) narrative and instead got out my phone (yep – I was that person) and started frantically texting all my Tolkien-loving friends who were planning to take their kids to the movie that night, because, you know, children’s book, duh.

My text: Leave the children at home! Really! Truly! Just do it!

I fumed as I typed because, well, this was not a children’s movie. (And yet people brought their children anyway. What is wrong with people?) And if children couldn’t (or shouldn’t) go to see The Hobbit, then what was the point? (Besides the money, that is.)

Not surprisingly, I skipped installments two and three because, as my students rightly observed, The Hobbit is a story that should be read to children – or by children – at night. And also adults. Of course. Indeed. And though readers of all ages should rightly shudder at the thought of goblins (pony-eating horrors that they are) and Smaug (gentle and tame dragons are a freak of postmodernism) and Wargs (blerrgggh), we should still be able to sleep peacefully because the book is ultimately joyful and entirely eucatastrophic* in a way that honors all readers, and especially the children.

The movie – not so much.

“I hope the movie gives off the same happiness that the book does,” wrote one of my students on his 3×5 card just a month before the release date.

Um, no. It does not. Not in part one. I suspect not in part two. And definitely not in part three where two-plus hours of a large-screen  brutally vivid battle does not do justice to Tolkien’s genius of appropriately describing for children, on just a few pages,** the Battle of Five Armies – “and it was very terrible.” (Chapter XVII) Based on reviews I’ve read, neither does it do justice to Tolkien’s genius of narrative construction, which is just so very sad.

I’m a firm believe that the book – any book – is always better than the movie, just because (which isn’t to say that movies aren’t ever good or wonderful or brilliant or delightful.)

But when the movie exists in its present form only by way of being rudely, violently, and quite childishly wrested away from its intended audience – an audience that gives the story its very essence – then things have gone too far. They have perhaps gone there, but then failed to come back again.

Please, please, please – stop it, stealers. Really. Truly. Just write your own stories.

If you dare.

If you can.

*Read Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.” Now. Really. Truly. Just do it.

**I recently read this comment in an online forum: Did Fili and Kili die in the book, too? They are by far the greatest characters in the movie, yet I don’t have the heart to read the book since it is to[sic] long.

Grrrr.

You could read the entire book, cover-to-cover, in less time than it takes to watch the entire movie conglomerate, credit-to-credit. Really. Truly. Just read it, already.

 

C.S. Lewis, Lore, and Love

Photo: CKirgiss

It seems presumptuous to join all the other Lewisians today in celebrating what would have been his 114th birthday.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Perhaps not brilliantly, but oh well – we can’t all be Lewis.

Set aside for the moment that Lewis and Tolkien had a serious falling out, in part because of Lewis’s decision to join the Church of England after his conversion.

And that his writing sometimes echoes faintly of British snobbery.

And that he occasionally leaves you guessing as to what he really thinks and believes about specific doctrinal points (purgatory, for example).

And that Robin McKinley, one of my favorite young adult authors, who recently converted to Christianity, is quite thoroughly allergic to him (as stated here).

And that Hollywood has made a flozzergnashing priddlyshnotz of Narnia (there are no words for it, really).

And that HarperCollins has ignored all textual evidence, literary logic, and scholarly output by INCORRECTLY renumbering the Chronicles of Narnia (which many of us have ranted about in the past for all the reasons outlined here).

And that Tolkien pooh-poohed his Chronicles in part because they included Father Christmas.

And that many of his colleagues felt he’d sold out to the world of commoners via the BBC and popular publishers (or maybe it was just jealousy).

And that sometimes you have to read his sentences several times over to really digest all of the truth and logic and brilliance packed into them.

And that his literary scholarship can sometimes make current literary scholars feel incompetent.

And that he often leaves readers hanging with, “In a book I read one time – I can’t remember which one…” (the price of possessing a searchable-PDF-high-quality-flatscanner-like memory).

And that he smoked (this one really gets some people).

And drank (now I’ve really done it).

Set it all aside because it doesn’t matter; the fact remains – C. S. Lewis was a brilliant writer. Since his writings are all I personally have of him, they are all I can speak to.

And they are indeed brilliant. Delightful. Unexpected. Rich. Deep. Profound. Playful. Reflective. And so many other things.

The Lewis Society to which I belong does, on occasion, genuflect a bit more than necessary. And a friend of mine sometimes jokes that I adhere to the doctrine of the Quadrinity. But I recognize my sometimes excessive adoration of Lewis for what it really is – sincere admiration (with a dash of awe) for a man who wielded language like a warrior’s sword, waved words like a magician’s wand, and rang truth like a chorister’s bell.

He did this as an expert of literary scholarship.

He did this as a devout believer of Jesus Christ.

I am glad to know him, even if just through his books. Those are more than enough.

________________

[Lewis is so very much more than his Chronicles; even so, many readers only know him as the man who created Narnia. And so here are some of the best lines from that land where we all want to be.]

“Then he isn’t safe” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  –The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”  –Prince Caspian

“If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie.”  –The Silver Chair

“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”  –The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Was it all a dream?” wondered Shasta. But it couldn’t have been a dream for there in the grass before him he saw the deep, large print of the Lion’s front right paw. It took one’s breath away to think of the weight that could make a footprint like that.  –The Horse and His Boy

Then there came a swift flash like fire either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”  –The Magician’s Nephew

“Come further up, come further in!”  –The Last Battle

______

Okay, just one more, from Out of the Silent Planet, basically summing up the entire doctrine of the fall and our subsequent need for Christ’s redemptive work on the cross:

They were astonished at what he had to tell them of human history – …

“It is because they have no Oyarsa,” said one of the pupils.

“It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,” said Augray.

Lewis at The Kilns

the Word became flesh

Confession: I own too many books. Not just a few too many, or some too many. A lot too many.

Someone keeps saying it’s a problem.

I keep not listening.

So when I got an email today from one of my literature students with “book tree” in the subject line, I was intrigued. I thought it might be some kind of narrative thematic diagram resembling a family tree, which would be pretty cool.

But it wasn’t.

It was an idea. For a book tree. (Go figure.) Made out of books. To look like a tree. You know, for Christmas and all.

Which was so much cooler than cool I can’t even put it into words.

This email, and the resulting fervor it whipped up in my soul, is precisely why I don’t Pin. I would forfeit my life to this and that and such-and-such and so-and-so and ladeedahdeedoo and pretty soon I would be a crazy person who only converses with glue sticks and rotary cutters.

Truly.

Proof positive is that I spent several hours tonight constructing this:

Photo: CKirgiss
“The Word became flesh.”

It was a lot more work than I expected. The light schematic is pathetic. In a few places, I had to jerryrig shims of folded paper to keep things level. I didn’t know how to finish it off. I made a mess of my bookshelves.

But oh my, I am delighted. Beyond words. Because not only do I love my books (too much, says someone) but I love the season that my new book tree celebrates. The incarnation. The Birth of Christ. The eucatastrophe of mankind’s history (for all you Tolkien fans).

Breathtaking indeed. Beyond words.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)