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Kino Korner April 22, 2004
 
Bad Hobbit
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
Page 5 of 7
 
After enduring Sam's weepy bootlicking love scenes, you start to see Gollum's point of view. "Nasty fat hobbit, we hates it, Precious, yesss, always kissing up to Master..." Jackson's Gollum is a decent creation. It would almost have to be; Gollum is by far the easiest character to translate to our Philistines' sensibility, for the simple reason that he's a 20th-c. character, the only one in the whole trilogy. Parachute Gollum into J. Alfred Prufrock's neighborhood and he'd be right at home.

In fact, the middlebrow move would be to make Gollum a sympathetic character -- the same sort of formulaic value reversal that lead half-baked poets to call Judas the only decent apostle, and half-bright screenwriters to turn Hannibal Lecter into Jodie's best pal.

You can count on Jackson to swallow and pass along that sort of lame received idea. Sure enough, Return of the King opens with poor Gollum, still a wee hobbit, falling under the Ring's spell, strangling his brother and ending up the desiccated voice we all love. Poor little murderer! Saint Gollum, right up there with Saint Gacy.

Tolkien, of course, would have been disgusted at this crap. He knew exactly what he was doing when he made Gollum talk like Eliot's Londoners. He hated our world -- hated it advisedly.

That's what's most deeply wrong with Jackson: he reconciles Middle Earth with this world. This is wrong; the two worlds are enemies, and should remain so. Most of us are so slackly accretive in aesthetics and ideology that the rigor of Tolkien's counter-earth is hard for us even to imagine.

Tolkien was not only a genius but a man of honor, ttwo traits which distinguish him from C. S. Lewis, the canting prig who is often and wrongly associated with Tolkien. Tolkien was a brilliant poor boy from nowhere, from a genteel failed Catholic family -- a pariah with a huge mind, from a steely generation that walked into machine-gun fire without complaint. They were unlike us; they kept their word. He married without love simply because he had made a promise. He and his wife treated each other decently, without love. They raised a large family, in something like domestic happiness. He survived as a Catholic in a deeply anti-Catholic university culture, and kept the faith as a living oxymoron: an English-nationalist Papist. On retirement he moved to a dull seaside town he hated, again because he had promised his wife he would.

And in his spare time -- when not translating, lecturing, editing, tutoring or learning roughly a dozen languages on his own, he quietly started writing layer after layer of lore, inventing whole languages, sanding away at his stories so that they would age and blur as real lore does, and even sketching key scenes from his new world -- sketches which remain the only decent illustrations of LOTR.

Now you see why Jackson's shrinklit version of this giant's life work is so very popular: because it tells us this cold, superior being was a weepy, sly, ignorant schemer, just like us. And he was not.

Jackson's deep, unconscious hostility to Tolkien's tale is the product of envy.

Tolkien's generation was so far superior to us that even now we feel it, and hate them for it. If you saw Cameron's film, Titanic, you saw a work very close in tone to Jackson's Tolkien. Pope, another English Papist Prometheus, actually predicted Cameron's film almost 300 years ago in his essay, "Peri Bathous, or the Art of Sinking," forecasting that future epics would pander to base middleclass tastes by "sinking" the high poetry of Epic to the mob's level.

And Cameron, never having read Pope, rang in the new millennium by doing so -- very literally creating an "art of sinking." And those who sink, in this vile film, are the European elite of Tolkien's generation. Cameron's script first vilifies them as cowards -- our vice, not theirs; in fact, the one vice of which they were demonstrable not guilty -- then gloats over the Supermen's slow drowning.

The heroine is a survivor, in our trademark Gollum style: she says, "I'll never let go," just as she lets go of the hero's hand, letting him sink into the deep. She shows up as a 100-year-old populist crone with a cute habit of telling sexually explicit stories, effectively assuring the audience that the colder and higher world that died in Flanders never really existed. Titanic is one long gloating savor of our betters' extinction. It's a very happy film.


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