Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Salman Rushdie on Tolkien; me on Alvin Toffler.

In a recent article on film adaptations of novels, Salman Rushdie considers The Lord of the Rings films superior to J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy.

The case against film adaptations thus remains unproven and, when we look below the level of great literature, a plausible argument can be made that many cinematic adaptations are better than their prose source materials. I would suggest that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films surpass Tolkien's originals, because, to be blunt, Jackson makes films better than Tolkien writes; Jackson's cinematic style, sweeping, lyrical, by turns intimate and epic, is greatly preferable to Tolkien's prose style, which veers alarmingly between windbaggery, archness, pomposity, and achieves something like humanity, and ordinary English, only in the parts about hobbits, the little people who are our representatives in the saga to a far greater degree than its grandly heroic (or snivellingly crooked) men.

I can't add to the discussion, never having seen the films. Why not? I didn't get around to it, which is a thing I do frequently these days.

However, a chink of something else comes into the reasoning, like a faint glister of gold from a tiny piece of lost treasure in a dark cave. That faint chink is the thought, back there in my mind, that I do not want to lose the mental imagery that was created the first time I read Tolkien's books. Watching the films would wipe my mental screenplay, choreography, art direction, character imagery and voiceovers and replace them with something else; the products of someone else's interpretations. And in any case, my mental imagery of the books remains 'sweeping' and, in turn, 'intimate and epic'.

I first read The Lord of the Rings as a teenager across six months in 1973. A weird kind of a meteorological contemporaneity followed me and the books. I started The Fellowship of the Ring in the depths of winter as the hobbits were crossing cold, forbidding mountains. Half a year later, I turned the last few pages of The Return of the King on a burning hot beach in the summer of 1973 as Frodo struggled at the fiery crack of doom.

I don't know who wrote the soundtrack to the celluloid The Lord of the Rings, but for me it was Pink Floyd's then newly-released Dark Side of the Moon. Of course, I was reading other books at the time. The Lord of the Rings was light relief to school texts such as the truly horrible Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, who sounded like a glam rocker of the day but was in fact a self-termed 'futurologist'. Toffler was the man who invented jargon as a way of turning normal English into a money-spinning business theory, inspiring a generation of best-selling business gurus and change-agent theorists who all mangled the language. Future Shock was full of 'durational expectancies', 'lifestyle models', 'adaptive ranges' and 'technocratic planning'. Essentially, the book's theme was: life is getting busier. The irony of someone taking 541 pages to write a book about information overload wasn't lost on me in 1973. That summer, when the academic year was over and I didn't have to worry about 'Toffler the waffler' (as we called him in class) any more, I used my copy of Future Shock to prop open my bedroom door to let in the breeze. Toffler would have termed it 'adaptive change'. I called it a doorstop.

As far as I know, no film has been made of Future Shock. Salman Rushdie might have been a little hard on Tolkien.


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Janis Gore said...

My brother, Charles, gave me "The Hobbit" for Christmas when I was twelve, then the Trilogy the next year.

The Tolkien cult in the drama department at my high school mystified me.

Charles was home from Vietnam at about that time and was collecting books of the day. My parents didn't oversee my reading habits, so I was reading Jerzy Kosinski's "The Painted Bird" at the same time.

paula said...

mmm, tolkein. i'll admit i'm living in complete tolkein/hobbit et al ignorance. the main game for me is a few more hints about where the great hot cross buns are? come on, that was a bit teasy, more info please!

Julie said...

Former English major here, so, well, you know.

I like both the books and the movies, having read the books repeatedly since I was about eleven. To me, the books and movies are SO incredibly different as to almost be two different stories. But the iconic scenes, Moria, Lothlorien, Battle of Helm's Deep, Frodo at the Crack of Doom, Gandalf falling into the Sunless Sea with the balrog... all those, in the movie, look exactly like the mental images that were in my head, from all those years of reading.

I dunno. You might like the movies.

writer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kitchen hand said...

Matthew and Tara, you have a website about emergency food supplies? Do you stock spam? I'll link to your site after you read Future Shock.

Janis, everyone seemed to be reading Chariots of the Gods in that era as well. I was trying to lay my hands on Lady Chatterly's Lover.

Paula, the great hot cross buns used to come from a street in Essendon until my mother discovered wholemeal flour during her alternative years in the seventies; when she also changed to brown rice for the rice pudding. Now? I'm not too sure. Yeasty but not too spicy; not fluffy but slightly chewy; matte not glossy top and best almost toasted and spread with melting salted butter. Heaven. Anyone know who bakes them like that?

Julie, that brings to mind the 12-hour BBC radio play (24 30-minute episodes) produced in 1978. I taped it off ABC-FM that year onto 12 one-hour Sony cassettes. I still have the set. Playing them in the darkness brings it all back, from Barliman's Prancing Pony to Mordor.

Anonymous said...

They did make a film of Future Shock. Orson Welles narrated it and appeared on camera, looking like shit.