Sunday, 3 February 2008

Launch a Website - Read Tolkien Books

This week in the midst of launching a new website for the theatre I work at the Hackney Empire I got through two excellent books from the latest batch of books on Tolkien - The Frodo Franchise by Kristen Thompson and The Silmarillion Thirty Years On edited by Allan Turner. I enjoyed both very much and found some really good insights in each.

The Frodo Franchise is an in-depth analysis of the development he current Rings franchise from the movie and DVD's to website, games, and fan clubs that have sprung up. I especially love how that moment when Peter Jackson pitched the movie idea to New Line's Bob Shaye (after beiing forced by Mirimax to attempt to compress the movie into two parts - including cutting out completely Lorien and Galadriel) and after watching the preview reel Shaye said why two movies when Tolkien wrote three books - there is something almost mythic about this moment. Also the line of one of the Weinstein's (loveling depicted as trolls in one of the credits) saying - "do you have to have four hobbits?" just showed what PJ was up against. From a marketing point of view the online promotion and alliance with the fans now seems just commonplace (just look at the current marketing campaign for Cloverfield) and it will be interesting to sse how The Hobbit movie(s) will be promoted. Also, this book brought me to two web sites that has passed me by in the course of the movies - Lord of the Peeps and Figwit the Elf in Rivendell who thanks to the fans has become an online elf star (and made into a peep as well). Well worth a read a Thompson's blog is one I look at on a regular basis - especially as news on The Hobbit movies are starting to take off (as well as Ian Mckellen's excellent website where one can find any news and rumors of his Gandalf doings - the king of actors as his recent Lear in the UK showed)

On a different front - Walking Tree Presses The Silmarillon Thirty Years On is an excellent series of essays celebrating the thirty anniversary of the publication of The Silmarillion in 1977. The two essays that really had an impact on me (they are all very good) is Professor Michael Drout's very personal essay on what it was like to first read The Silmarillion when his parents were in the midst of a divorce and the idea of sadness and nostalgia (coming from the greek words nostos - "return home"/algos "pain."

My other fav article was Jason Fisher's Tolkien, Lonnrot, and Jerome - a really fascinating article about the role of Christopher Tolkien in forging together the vast source work of material Tolkien left at his death in 1973 into the published Silmarillion and comparing to the same process Lonnrot used in fashioning The Kalevala and Jerome used in The Vulgate Bible. This is a topic I first became interested in when I read Nagy's article in Jane Chance's Tolkien the Medievalist "The Great Chain of Reading" which relates that the various versions of some of the key cycles Tolkien developed (Beren, Turin, etc) were paralleling the various source works of the key myths and legends in different versions (lays, prose works, chronicles). What Christopher did is take these and develop a single narrative that became the "accepted story" of that specific cycle of legend - that is until he published in the 1990's The History of Middle Earth and we learned that actually there are many versions of the stories. Fisher who has an excellent blog called Lingwe - Musings of a Fish, also shows places in the story where Christopher actually had to write some of his own material (as in the chapter in the Silmarillion "The Ruin of Doriath") to give the story a unified narrative struture) Fisher as also done some great work on paralleling this to the creation of the Finnish epic The Kalevala - and he has made me take that CN Eliot Finnish Grammer I purchased for Ebay a year ago (the very 1915 edition Tolkien used to study Finnish) and start to "plod through some of the original" as JRR said.

It also got me thinking of another poet we all read and accept what is fixed in the literal poem as the "authorized story" - and that is Homer and The Iliad and The Odyssey. In college I did some work on the various lies that the willy Odysseus uses when he returns to Ithaca (to the goatherder Eumeaus, his son Telemachos and finally wife Penelope) - in each he says he from Crete and analysis of the language and structure indicated that this might be an older part of the oral tradition of the Odyssey (also similar with the Proteus episode) - it would be interesting to look at how those forgers of the Homeric tradition in Athens put together these epics into what we now accept as the Iliad and the Odyssey - and can we do similiar with Gilgamesh and Beowulf?

Both two great reads and worth a read - now its on to three more Tolkien books and I am slogging my way through the new translation of War and Peace which is excellent.

1 comment:

Jason Fisher said...

Hey Andy, I’m pleased to hear you found my essay interesting and thought-provoking. I liked your thinking about Homer and Beowulf, although I don’t think you’d be able to make strong enough or similar enough cases for comparison with either. What we have with Lönnrot, Jerome, and Christopher Tolkien, really, is an editor assembling and offering as canon a work comprised of material already in independent existence. With Homer and Beowulf, I think you’d be able to draw significant comparisons in the realm of source-study only.

Perhaps a better analogue, if you’re looking for one, would be in the Arthurian Tradition. Now, I’m no expert in Arthuriana, but I believe that the various texts in the Mabinogion, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Caxton’s incunabulum Morte d'Arthur and its manuscript, the Winchester Mallory, might all comprise similar raw material of the kind Tolkien left behind — of course, all by different hands writing in different periods (where this diversity is all feigned in Tolkien). On the other hand, has a single ‘editor’ emerged to construct out of this material a single ‘canonical’ Arthur? No, I think not yet.

So, really the best two examples are the Kalevala and the Vulgate. But I’m excited to see you ‘trying the theory’ out along other avenues. Perhaps you’ll turn up something new and interesting too!

Anyway, thanks for the review, and the kind words about my chapter, and the book. FWIW, I also found Mike’s essay really moving. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to reply; I’ve had the flu since last Thursday and am only just emerging from my den ...

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