J.R.R. Tolkien

Hild und hjalmi

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It pretty much finishes at Helm's Deep. Hence my remark about it would be nice to see it completed.

I've read that this was because Bakshi ran out of money, and was also forced to kind of half-conclude it because United Artists thought audiences wouldn't want to see a story spread out over two movies.

On a Fortean note: I always heard that JRRT and his son Michael shared the wave dream that inspired the story of Númenor. In fact, he believed it might have been some kind of ancestral memory of the destruction of Atlantis, since he found out about the shared dream from his son without ever talking about it. This is why I don't like it when I read blanket assumptions like "It's impossible to share dreams."
 
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Yithian

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I've read that this was because Ralph Bakshi ran out of money, and was also forced to kind of half-conclude it because United Artists thought audiences wouldn't want to see a story spread out over two movies.

Somewhat short-sighted given the sackful of Oscars and truckloads of cash that Peter Jackson took home for his trilogy.
 

Mythopoeika

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Somewhat short-sighted given the sackful of Oscars and truckloads of cash that Peter Jackson took home for his trilogy.
I think it was because in those days, they didn't typically make 'franchise' films or 'trilogy' films.
Marketing was more primitive then.
 

sherbetbizarre

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I've read that this was because Ralph Bakshi ran out of money, and was also forced to kind of half-conclude it because United Artists thought audiences wouldn't want to see a story spread out over two movies.
Bakshi says it was always meant to be two movies, but the staff changed at UA, and he went onto other things, so no-one was eager to complete it.
 

Hild und hjalmi

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Bakshi says it was always meant to be two movies, but the staff changed at UA, and he went onto other things, so no-one was eager to complete it.

And also that it showed him how unfit he was for adaptations.
 

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As young adult LOTR and animation fans in the 1970's, my friends and I followed the course of Bakshi's attempt at an epic pretty closely. I have to say that in the end we were left even more disappointed than we'd expected to be.

In the eyes of LOTR fans, the Bakshi project was seen as more or less doomed from the outset.

There were initial claims the tale was to be spread over 3 films (reduced to 2 by the time the project was officially underway, and cut to 1 while still in production). Everyone familiar with the print trilogy recognized the film version would have to be substantially condensed, so expectations were never high among the Tolkien fan base.

There was also extreme apprehension about an animated treatment. It was the 1970's, and a couple of decades of progressive devolution in the quality of animated productions (what I like to call 'Hanna-Barbarism') had all but eliminated respect for the form (except, perhaps, for the big Disney productions and art-house shorts). Bakshi's reputation at the time was based on satirical fully-animated cartoons for adults (e.g., Fritz the Cat). There was little publicity about, nor appreciation for, Bakshi's aspirations for an innovative quasi-animated treatment.

To make matters worse, the light / satirical tone of his only widely known works made folks wonder whether he could, and how he would, treat the deeply serious Tolkien story.

It's fair to say Bakshi was out of his depth when it came to filming the live action that was supposed to underpin the animated overlays. The original live action filming was a debacle, and this didn't help matters.

The studio's truncation of the originally-planned multi-film project - forcing Bakshi to roll out a fraction of the storyline(s) under the title of the whole work - was the last straw.

My personal scoring at the time:

- High marks for technical innovation and overall contribution to the animation genre;
- Decent marks for internal coherence and quality of the film in and of itself; but ...
- Nothing short of 'travesty' with regard to portraying Tolkien's trilogy - partly because I feared this fiasco would prevent anyone from ever trying to film Tolkien's work again.

This is not to say I think ill of Bakshi for making the attempt, nor does it mean I believe he should be the sole fall guy for the project's ultimate failure. Having said that ...

IMHO (and admittedly with the benefit of hindsight ... ) I'd say Bakshi screwed up at the very beginning, when he convinced the studio to buy out John Boorman's stalled franchise for turning LOTR into a single condensed film. He'd have done better, and run far less risk, to have leveraged this demonstrated interest in LOTR toward getting support for a more tractable single movie treatment of The Hobbit. If nothing else, that project wouldn't have been $3 million in the hole at its launch.
 

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What do you think of it? A lot of people think it was weird because of the mix of animation and rotoscoping Bakshi used.

I liked it as a 6-year-old, but every trip to the pictures was a treat back then, so I wouldn't have failed to enjoy it. Seen it since and can see its flaws, but I have a soft spot for it. Now I've seen Bakshi's other cartoons I can place it in context (he never really got LOTR out of his system, despite moving on after it failed).
 

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I liked it as a 6-year-old, but every trip to the pictures was a treat back then, so I wouldn't have failed to enjoy it. ...

Your report jibes with others I've heard over the years that seem to suggest a sort of generational difference in opinion about Bakshi's LOTR.

Older folks who got 'into' LOTR via print (especially during the 1950's / 1960's) didn't think much of the film, though some gave Bakshi an 'A for effort'. Such consolation kudos increased proportionally with awareness of all the production hassles and / or enthusiasm for animation in and of itself.

Younger folks in general, and anyone who wasn't already familiar with the trilogy, generally accepted it as OK or better at the time.
 

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Has anybody here listened to Nicol Williamson's narration of the Hobbit? The man has superb diction and would have become a great actor were it not for alcoholism and the problematic behaviour it brings (most famous for his show-stealing Merlin in Excalibur).

This version is freely available online and well worth a listen. The incidental music, if I recall, is of a medieval nature.
 

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Your report jibes with others I've heard over the years that seem to suggest a sort of generational difference in opinion about Bakshi's LOTR.

Older folks who got 'into' LOTR via print (especially during the 1950's / 1960's) didn't think much of the film, though some gave Bakshi an 'A for effort'. Such consolation kudos increased proportionally with awareness of all the production hassles and / or enthusiasm for animation in and of itself.

Younger folks in general, and anyone who wasn't already familiar with the trilogy, generally accepted it as OK or better at the time.

I think the main problem Bakshi found was he'd bitten off more than he could chew, he just didn't have the funds or support to carry off the project to as high a standard as he wanted, or much of the audience did. Watching it now, the rotoscoping looks cheap, even though we see motion capture in big special effects movies all the time these days - yet LOTR '78 doesn't look like it was predicting the future of filmmaking at all.

But yeah, when you're a kid, the mere idea of a LOTR cartoon was cool enough to forgive a lot. Heck, I thought Bored of the Rings was a really funny book when I was a teenager.
 

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Watching it now, the rotoscoping looks cheap, even though we see motion capture in big special effects movies all the time these days - yet LOTR '78 doesn't look like it was predicting the future of filmmaking at all.
If I recall, the quality actually tailed off towards the end of the film.
 

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... Watching it now, the rotoscoping looks cheap, even though we see motion capture in big special effects movies all the time these days - yet LOTR '78 doesn't look like it was predicting the future of filmmaking at all. ...

This aspect of his film's relative failure was partially a result of the timeframe / context. The decade preceding its production and release was the decade in which movie audiences were enlightened to, and ever more accustomed to expecting, the new and impressive FX capabilities that arrived in a steady progression from (e.g.) 2001 to Star Wars. As a result, Bakshi's techniques seemed as quaintly old-fashioned as Harryhausen's stop-motion in 1978.
 

Hild und hjalmi

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Has anybody here listened to Nicol Williamson's narration of the Hobbit? The man has superb diction and would have become a great actor were it not for alcoholism and the problematic behaviour it brings (most famous for his show-stealing Merlin in Excalibur).

This version is freely available online and well worth a listen. The incidental music, if I recall, is of a medieval nature.

I've heard of but only listened to bits of it. I've also heard part of the BBC radio play (not that good) and am listening to the Mind's Eye radio adaptation broadcast by NPR, which I like a lot so far.
 
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Hild und hjalmi

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Part 5 of Donald Swann's song cycle The Road Goes Ever On, authorised by JRRT and performed by William Elvin:

 
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Hild und hjalmi

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Does anyone else love JRRT's poetry and not skip the songs when reading LOTR? Honestly, I think it's some of the best ever written, but I might be slightly biased since when we had to recite a poem of our choice in primary school, I chose a few stanzas from 'The Song of Beren and Lúthien'.
 

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When I was young I would always skip the songs and poetry, now I have the Tolkien ensembles versions on my Walkman.
 

Hild und hjalmi

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Getting serious for a bit...

Recently I found this post on a short story that comments on US race relations by using a racist Hobbit senator in a more 'modern' version of Arda. It reminded me of some Tolkien criticism I've read which says that JRRT's work is subtly or even overtly racist, based on the fact that the opponents and supporters of Sauron are distinguished based on skin colour ---- the heroic Free Peoples are (supposedly) mostly light-skinned while at one point, the men of Far Harad are described as

black...like half trolls with white eyes and red tongues
and there is a strong emphasis on the importance of unmixed lineage in those of Númenorean descent from the High Men.


TBH while this horrifically oversimplified conception of Tolkien does sound iffy in a 21st century context, IMO these basic concepts are most likely carried over from the medieval romances he studied and taught, including the chansons de geste which contain some very dehumanising depictions of Saracens, who are often portrayed as monstrous ---- the Saracen king Marsile in the Chanson de Roland commands whole armies with inhuman features and pitch-black skin. There's a racist component in many of these stories; in The King of Tars the title character's skin is black until his conversion to Christianity, at which point it turns white and his deformed child with his Frankish wife is miraculously cured. Medieval Norse literature often emphasises the heroic lineage of its protagonists; the only examples I can think of right now are Sigurd the Volsung and Egill Skallagrimsson. Dark skin is also a sign of difference and unpredictability, linked to nonhuman ancestry. Sigurd's aunt, Signý, commits incest with her twin brother Sigmundr to conceive a child who will be a Volsung from a Volsung, and worthy of avenging their father.

That said, as someone whose heritage is Chinese, I have to admit I used to cringe a bit at JRRT's unfortunate phrasing in Letter 210, when he describes the physical appearance of Orcs as something close to "degraded and repulsive versions of the least lovely (to Europeans) Mongol-types" even though I know he just meant/implied that quite a few Europeans thought that East/Central Asians were ugly (he most likely didn't share this opinion). Probably they were inspired by the Dusky Men from William Morris' The Roots of the Mountains, demonic versions of Huns who fight the clearly-Germanic Dalemen of Burgdale.

What does everyone else think of "Tolkien is racist" criticism? I think it's an oversimplification and often ignores the inherent racism in the medieval texts he drew on.
 
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A thoughtful post--to which I don't have time to respond at length.

In general, modern 'racism' has no basis historically; for much of Tolkien's time, if the term were applied at all, it would have been applied to cases where a) such discrimination was enshrined in law, b) an individual was excessively (by the standards of the day) prejudiced against other races. The modern hypersensitivity toward images of light and dark, for instance, didn't exist, it was an age-old metaphor. And, as you say, Tolkien was not even 'of his own time', in many respects, and dwelt mentally in the works of the distant past--one in which 'racism' was a survival instinct against foreign marauders, not an undergraduate parlour game.

Slightly more specifically, surely any distaste one might feel towards mention of pure lineage in Tolkien's work must be tempered by the positive pictures of miscegenation and cross-racial love he depicts.

And the events of the First & Third Age portray races that struggle to understand or appreciate one another's perspectives, uniting to overthrow greater evil.
 

Hild und hjalmi

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A thoughtful post--to which I don't have time to respond at length.

In general, modern 'racism' has no basis historically; for much of Tolkien's time, if the term were applied at all, it would have been applied to cases where a) such discrimination was enshrined in law, b) an individual was excessively (by the standards of the day) prejudiced against other races. The modern hypersensitivity toward images of light and dark, for instance, was just normal. And, as you say, Tolkien was not even 'of his own time' in many respects, and dwelt mentally in the works of the distant past--one in which 'racism' was a survival instinct against foreign marauders, not an undergraduate parlour game.

Slightly more specifically, surely any distaste one might feel towards mention of pure lineage in Tolkien's work must be tempered by the positive pictures of miscegenation and cross-racial love he depicts.

And the events of the First & Third Age portray races that struggle to understand or appreciate one another's perspectives uniting to overthrow greater evil.

Exactly, Yithian. Good point about the importance of cross-racial romantic love and interracial relationships. I'd also add in interethnic marriages among Harfoot, Stoor and Fallohide Hobbits, who have distinct physical appearances even past the point where ethnic distinctions really matter ---- after all, those terms only appear in the 'Concerning Hobbits' preface and never in the actual narrative --- and are mostly portrayed positively (of course the Harfoots, smaller and brown-skinned, are also the majority of Hobbits), even though most Hobbits are extremely narrow-minded.


OTOH other more 'pulpish' fantasies are often subtly/overtly racist, and the modern perception of Tolkien as racist might be due to the fact that the generic idea of 'fantasy' is based on ideas that ultimately come from later fantasy novels and roleplaying games inspired by Tolkien rather than his works themselves. Even the idea of nonhuman races having some kind of distinct human culture, usually a minority one, has roots in folklore, where elves/dwarves or their equivalents (or similar beings eg trolls) are often identified with indigenous peoples, particularly in the Norse context. It horrifies me that some white supremacists think Tolkien shared their worldviews.
 
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I think the descriptions/imagery Tolkien uses for the people of Khand and Harad, especially in the battle scenes, are explicitly racial, as for being racist.... I think it can be read as such. I put this down to the fact that he was so obsessed and learned about his subject, so immersed in it's language and mythos that he was totally unaware of it's racism. I think this happens to a lot of academics, they are so knowledgeable about one thing but totally oblivious to anything else.

Also, for fans of a writer, it can be difficult to accept that they may not be as lovely as we thought so we explain away the uncomfortable bits.
 

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I think the descriptions/imagery Tolkien uses for the people of Khand and Harad, especially in the battle scenes, are explicitly racial, as for being racist.... I think it can be read as such.

So racism is now subjective, is it?
That will lead you to interesting places.
 

Yithian

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...as for being racist.... I think it can be read as such.

If it could be read as being racist, it could also be read as not being racist; racism, therefore is down to subjective reading.

I read your post as racist.
 

Hild und hjalmi

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Racism isn't subjective.
But there are any number of things that can be seen as racist, especially if they were written in a time when overt racism was accepted, and whether or not the writer actually held racist views. One example (not saying that these supposedly-racist aspects of Tolkien are in any way similar) is Eugene O'Neill's play The Emperor Jones, which was written in 1920 as a veiled commentary on the US occupation of Haiti.
Its protagonist is an American man called Brutus Jones who used to be a Pullman porter and arrived on an unnamed island as a stowaway after escaping from a chain gang, where he killed a white guard who whipped him (he was originally sent to jail for killing a friend who cheated in a craps game) and has spent the last two years ruthlessly exploiting the locals. This play has always been controversial, mostly because O'Neill used the n-word multiple times in it and the dialect resembles the conventionalised speech used in minstrel shows, based on various nineteenth-century black dialects from all over the American South.

If it's read one way, the story could be seen as being about a black man who's punished for being too ambitious and wanting to be something other than a sleeping car porter, with additional implications that black people are all savages deep down. If it's read another way, it's a commentary on white Americans' treatment of black Americans, with an additional exploration of the corrupting nature of power and the exploitation behind colonialism. I personally agree with the second interpretation.

Boiled down to its basic plot, it's about a dictator who suffers hallucinations/pangs of conscience while fleeing from revolutionaries. IMO it's a massive oversimplification to say that a story or play about a black dictator who's destroyed by his conscience ---- or that having 'black men like half-trolls' ---- I've read opinions that this actually refers to distorted versions of the black Men of Far Harad, created in Saruman's breeding experiments with orcs/trolls --- as nameless forces is necessarily inherently racist. It depends on how it's written. And O'Neill's personal racial attitudes were genuinely complex, not like Tolkien's.
 
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Hild und hjalmi

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On the other hand, I think Tolkien's conception of the hobbits was inspired by the 'Turanian dwarf theory'; the euhemeristic idea that all those folk stories about dwarves, brownies and pixies were rooted in folk memories of a small, dark-skinned human subgroup (including the Picts) who lived in underground houses. Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, and John Buchan also used this concept, but the main difference is that hobbits aren't malevolent, unless you consider Gollum/Sméagol a hobbit.
 

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Wasn't Sméagol supposed to be a hobbit? The explanation/backstory being that the evil of the ring made him mutate into Gollum.
 
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