Hopefully, a bit of wisdom for 2013

I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions because I’m not good at keeping them, but here are a few nuggets of wisdom to take into 2013. A few old saws here, but true nonetheless.

‘Most folks are as happy as they choose to be’
 – attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

“Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
Gandalf, speaking to Frodo about Gollum in Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’.

‘Junk will always expand to fill available space, and work will always expand to fill available time. So building more storage space is not the answer, and neither is working longer hours’.

‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’
– Jesus, Luke 12:15 

‘From the lying moon to the movement of stars,
Everyone’s wondering who they are;
And those who know don’t have the words to tell,
And those with the words don’t know too well’
 – Bruce Cockburn, ‘Burden of the Angel/Beast’

‘Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar;
The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade.’
Polonius, in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ʿloveʾ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
– C.S. Lewis, in ‘Mere Christianity’

‘There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chuses, and that is, his duty; not by maneuvering and finessing, but by vigour and resolution.’
– Mr. Knightley to Emma Woodhouse, in Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’

‘Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you’re making’.
– C.S. Lewis, in ‘Mere Christianity’

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy’.
– Portia, in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’

‘The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination’.
– C.S. Lewis, from a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’
 – several places in the Old Testament

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’
– Jesus, Matthew 7:21

‘So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’.
– Jesus, Matthew 5:31-34

“My father’s ‘eviscerated’ work”: An Interview with Christopher Tolkien

cjrt2This interview (the first ever for J.R.R. Tolkien’s son and literary executor Christopher Tolkien) first appeared in French in ‘Le Monde’ on July 9th 2012, and has now been released in English. It shows the deep level of discomfort felt by at least some members of the Tolkien family about the impact the Jackson movies have had on their father’s legacy.

Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25,” Christopher says regretfully. “And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.”

This divorce has been systematically driven by the logic of Hollywood. “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time,” Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. “The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.”

Read the rest here.


I’ve been challenged a number of times by members of my family to go and see the newHobbit1 Hobbit movie before dissing it. Fair enough; I will.

However, Ben Witherington has seen it. Here’s his review; it confirms what I expected: no longer the children’s story Tolkien wrote, too much Lord of the Rings read back into it, too much violence, too much development of characters not in Tolkien’s story and too little development of those who were, etc. etc. In a response to one of the comments he mentions ‘…the interminably battling which never really results in anything… either the defeat of some particular evil group or any serious loss to our heroes. It is indeed like a video game’.

Todd Hertz has also seen it, and in his review for Christianity Today he writes:

‘The divisive issue is not omissions, as is often the case with adaptations; in fact, all major events of the book’s first six chapters are fairly depicted. The issue here is that Jackson has made wholesale additions that make it all feel less like the book and more like the darker cinematic journey Jackson took us on not long ago with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. And that seems to be exactly Jackson’s goal.’

I also note my review of Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ movies (written several years after I first saw them, after I’d had time to consider), in which I explained why I thought they were ‘deeply flawed’, and my initial reaction when word of the Hobbit movie came out (at that time, we were only expecting a two-part production!).

I like Martin Freeman and I like Ian McKellen, so I expect I’ll enjoy their characters. If I’m wrong about the rest of the movie, I’ll be glad to retract my predictions (I was happily surprised about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, though not about the movies that followed it). However, I don’t expect to have to do so.

I love The Hobbit dearly, and when people talk about it in the future, I want people to talk about the characters and the story that Tolkien created. That’s why I’m apprehensive about going to see the movie. But I will go, and I’ll let you know what I think.

Tolkienisms number 2

‘”Deserves it! I dare say he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least”‘.

The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter II: ‘The Shadow of the Past’


‘”In one thing you have not changed, dear friend”, said Aragorn: “You still speak in riddles”.

“What? In riddles?” said Gandalf. “No! For I was talking aloud to myself. A habit of the old: they choose the wisest person present to speak to; the long explanations needed by the young are wearying”. He laughed, but the sound now seemed warm and kindly as a gleam of sunshine.’

The Two Towers, Chapter V: ‘The White Rider’.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, born January 3rd 1892

Today I pause to honour a great man, a man who many think one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, J.R.R. Tolkien. Had he lived, he would have been 120 today; not a great age for a hobbit, perhaps, but a respectable age for a man! He died, of course, in 1973, but ‘he being dead yet speaketh’ through his masterpieces, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and many other books (most of them published after his death by his son Christopher).

Tolkien was of course a devout Roman Catholic Christian, and one of his great services to the cause of Christianity was the part he played in the conversion of his friend C.S. Lewis from simple theism to full belief in Christ in September 1931.

I well remember the profound impact The Lord of the Rings had on me when I first read it in June 1975. I have re-read it several times since then, including reading it aloud to my children. It continues to be on my top ten list of my favourite books of all time.

Thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien, and may you rest in peace and rise in glory.

Is this the same ‘Hobbit’ that Tolkien wrote?

From Reuters:

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Peter Jackson’s two upcoming movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit have been given official names and release dates.

The first of the two films, which are currently being filmed back-to-back in New Zealand, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, arrives in theaters on Dec. 14, 2012.

The sequel, opening Dec. 13, 2013, will be known as The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Both will be released through Warner Bros.

The two prequels to Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy follow the adventures of Bilbo Baggins — to be played by Martin Freeman, with Ian Holm reprising his role as the elder Bilbo — in his quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug.

The sprawling cast includes a number of other Rings veterans: Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey; Cate Blanchett as Galadriel; Orlando Bloom as Legolas; Christopher Lee as Saruman; Hugo Weaving as Elrond; Elijah Wood as Frodo; and Andy Serkis as Gollum.

Er – I already have a bad feeling about this.

First, in The Hobbit, Bilbo did not have a personal quest to ‘reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor from Smaug’. Rather, his services were engaged as a burglar (the word is used many, many times in Tolkien’s story) to assist the thirteen dwarfs led by Thorin Oakenshield in stealing their lost dwarf treasure back from Smaug. The motive is entirely and unabashedly materialistic.

But secondly, and even more alarmingly – what’s with this list of characters? Galadriel, Legolas, Saruman and Frodo do not appear in Tolkien’s story in The Hobbit! True, in the retrospective on the ‘Hobbit’ story that we get in places in The Lord of the Rings it turns out that Gandalf, Saruman, and Galadriel have been involved in a meeting of the White Council to discuss the identity of the Necromancer – but Saruman and Galadriel are not mentioned in the much simpler account we get in The Hobbit – and in the LotR Frodo is far too young to have even been born at the time of the earlier book.

Thirdly, it is somewhat misleading to describe The Hobbit as a ‘prequel to The Lord of the Rings’. This is to interpret it backwards from the perspective of the later and much more complex work. The Hobbit as Tolkien originally wrote it was a simple fairy story for children involving dwarfs and their treasure, a wizard, a dragon, and a rather unadventurous hobbit. When Gollum’s magic ring first makes its appearance in the pages of The Hobbit it is not the ‘one ring to rule them all, one ring to bind them’ that it becomes later in the reinterpretation found in The Lord of the Rings; it is simply a magic ring to make the wearer invisible. Tolkien actually began The Lord of the Rings as a sequel to The Hobbit, not the other way around, and the early chapters of the LotR are decidely Hobbit-like (indeed, in Tolkien’s first drafts of these chapters ‘Strider’ was called ‘Trotter’ and Bilbo’s nephew was not ‘Frodo Baggins’ but ‘Bingo Baggins’).

I am very much afraid that Jackson is going to give us, not The Hobbit on its own terms, but rather The Hobbit as it is re-interpreted in The Lord of the Rings. And since Jackson’s Lord of the Rings is already significantly different from the story Tolkien wrote, we are going to be even further away from the original in this so-called ‘prequel’. In my review of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings I wrote the following:

Tolkien started out to write a children’s book, a sequel to The Hobbit, but his older mythology got pulled into it and he ended up writing an epic saga. Some of the saga remains in Jackson’s movie, but he has seriously perverted it, importing into it elements of both the modern psychological novel and the shoot ‘em and kill ‘em action movie.

I then concluded:

I hope that people who see these movies will go on to read the books. My fear is that Jackson’s story line and characterisations will be established in the minds of most people as definitive; that when they think of Frodo and Elrond and Arwen and Galadriel, it will be Jackson’s characters they will think of, not Tolkien’s. To me, this would be a shame.

I already have similar fears for Jackson’s The Hobbit, and the movies haven’t even been filmed yet.