I have been a fan of fantasy ever since I can remember.
Although I had interacted with fantasy in a multimedia context for years (predominantly through the Harry Potter films) my first literary foray into the genre that I can actively remember is that of Emily Rodda's Delotra Quest. If you don't recall such a storied franchise as Deltora Quest, fret not; while Rodda's works are fairly popular in their own right, they're far from being Tolkienesque groundbreakers.
And yet, it was the love of fantasy that those early Deltora books cultivated for me that motivated me to turn back to the godhead of all things modern fantasy: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
Moved by the scale, by the sheer epic nature of such a human story, I'm not afraid to admit that I was in love. Subsequently, I went on to consume everything and anything fantasy, and if you speak with me today, you'll find me one of the most unabashed nerds on the subject ever.
See, from the trailers that I first witnessed, it seemed that the film did everything it could to paint a rosy view of the famous author's life. It showed him finding fellowship at Oxford, braving war in the trenches of World War I, and courting love in true nerd fashion by spouting off geeky fantasy know-how (in this case, an entirely invented language) to his would-be lover.
The gloss of it made me skeptical.
It also distinctly reminded me of reading at some point in some biography a notion upon which Tolkien was apparently adamant: his books were not allegorical, especially in the context of the Second World War. Sauron is not Hitler and Frodo is most certainly not General Patton or the like storming through the sands of North Africa. Such is a point I always found admirable. As a writer myself, while I definitely do on occasion intentionally or unintentionally mean allegory, I can count plenty of times in English literature classes in which I have been exhausted by the sheer amount of deconstruction that scholars will insist upon doing with a work.
In the words of today's youth, sometimes it's not that deep.
As such, when I saw the trailer turn German flamethrowers into dragon fire and a loosed horse don the mantle of Shadowfax, I was worried that Fox Searchlight had gone woefully off base.
These fears seemed to be compounded upon my reading of a Guardian article which described the Tolkien estate as "firing a broadside" at the production, and blatantly disavowing it or anything that were to come from it. That, in my mind, surely sank the ship. How could the movie possibly be any good, possibly be a representative biopic, if Tolkien's own descendants didn't want anything to do with it?
And then I did what I always try to do, and I dug deeper.
What I found was frankly a bit surprising. Apparently, it seems that the Tolkien estate seldom, if ever, approves of additional production of Tolkien's source material. As Adam Tolkien (grandson of the first J.R.R.) said recently, "Normally the Executors of an Estate want to promote a work as much as they can. But we are just the opposite. We want to put the spotlight on anything that is not 'The Lord of the Rings.'"
While it is confusing, it seems to hold that the Tolkien estate believes The Lord of the Rings to be a work mined to completion and has a desire to see other aspects of the writer's work explored. Which is only fair enough. The man was a professor, philologist, and devout Catholic for 60 some odd years. He was prolific in his production of work, and it makes sense that those responsible for protecting and managing that body of work would want to see those parts less visited elevated to a level deserving of their worth.
Combine Adam's statements with those spoken some years back by Christopher Tolkien (J.R.R.'s son and previous head of the estate) in which he denounced Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy (albeit in the retrospect context of the inferior The Hobbit trilogy) and it becomes clear that Tolkien might have merit outside of what Tolkien et. al. have to say.
After all, Peter Jackson's original trilogy is revered by die hard fans and casual watchers alike. Collectively the series won 17 Oscars, including a record-tying 11 awards in 2004. Nearly $3 billion was taken in between the three of them. Critics frequently rank all the films as among the best of all time. It's difficult to make a convincing argument that Jackson's movies, "reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing" as Christopher Tolkien does.
If such a cautiously curmudgeonly group hated Jackson's originals so much, what clout does their word carry on some other film?
Additionally, according to what reviews I've read of it, it seems the film stays faithful to Tolkien's own life, letting the adventure of the moment play out in the imagination instead of merely making another CGI action schlock-fest. Tolkien's romantic relationship, his pre-Inkling compatriots, and even the psychological toll that WWI took on him, all seem to point to an entertaining story, even if it's one that isn't grandly differentiated from other biopics of other literary greats that have come before.
In short, I am going to see Tolkien and decide for myself, which is much how I believe all forms of speech should be treated. While I'll keep my fingers crossed that director Dome Karukoski doesn't lean too heavily on allegory, I also understand the occasional necessity of Hollywood liberties. I've been there myself, after all.
At best seeing this film will only enhance my love for fantasy and at worst it will do…nothing? Those are odds I can stomach.