"Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by 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 gone too far for me. Such commercialisation has reduced the esthetic and philosophical impact of this creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: turning my head away."Is this a dramatic response to the extraneous popularity, and subsequent commercialization, of a prominent literary work by its grouchy old benefactor? Why, yes. Yes it is. Does he have a point? Yes and no.
No because, for one, ol' Chris has himself benefited massively from "what it has become" and has himself participated in its becoming. We would not have the tangential brilliance of The Silmarillion or the wonderful peeks into what-would-have-been from Unfinished Tales were it not for him. But Christopher has also spent his life drilling down into his father's unending notes to strike paydirt in releasing things like The Histories of Middle-earth. I have yet to read these but, in short, they are a glimpse into how Tolkien created his world through various drafts and manuscripts and notes. Christopher and the estate have profited greatly from these books and a number of others released almost strictly from drafts with hefty editing by Christopher. Did his dad want or expect his son to publish all his inner workings and make them public? I can't say. It is, I'm sure, a great look into the writing process of one of modern English's great authors and wordsmiths, but it is also taking advantage of dubious property for ones' own gain. I've not read many interviews on the subject, so maybe Christopher's motives were and are pure.
No also because things like the games and movies have drummed up an intense interest in the source materials, the texts from which all these "circuses" are drawn. I myself would not be the Tolkien enthusiast I am today were it not for the films (probably). The amount of honest Tolkien scholarship going on today is unmatched and many youngsters were inspired by some of the other media byproducts (then again, I've had students at the school in which I teach actually say, "Did they ever make books from those Lord of the Rings movies?")
And no because this circus started long before that wily New Zealander got his mits on the movie rights. From the get-go, Middle-earth has been a stomping grounds for the obsessed. Tolkien himself loved and hated this, as it cost him his privacy but gained him a swarm of like-minded people through which to enjoy his creation. Things may be hitting the stratosphere, but the launch happened the day Fellowship was published (and was accelerated when film and entertainment rights were sold to SZC).
Yes, because there have been and will be some gross luxuries taken by media shitbirds who want to make a buck off of Gandalf's beard. Many "interpretations" into new media have been very good: the PJ films are, of course, quite good; LOTRO, while it has taken it's liberties, still holds to the theme of the subject matter; there is the Return of the King musical and so the examples go. Tolkien did not seem to be completely averse to people taking his source material and making things with it, in fact that was what he wanted. He just got picky when things were muddied or simply not to his taste.
Then there are things like the forthcoming Guardians of Middle-earth monstrosity.
Before I rant, I like to preface things by saying I am ready to admit that I am likely wrong about most things. So, this game could be the next life changing event we experience. It could be the London Calling of video games. That said, it will probably be just another stain on the windshield of the ever-speeding semi truck we call the mainstream video game industry as it makes its way to nowhere, and rightfully so: it looks awful.
You see, games like LOTRO and War in the North and The Lord of the Rings the card game, despite their flaws and errata, actually attempt to stick closely to the source material and to produce stories and gaming experiences that would not be completely at odds with the books on which they are based. Guardians of Middle-earth is more like an 8 year old who, having just seen "teh errsome" films, promptly goes to the store, buys up some officially licensed action dolls, and starts smashing them together. It's DOTA with characters from The Lord of the Rings. Ever wish you could watch Gandalf, Legolas, and Thrain face off against Sauron, an orc chieftain, and Durin's Bane? Well now you can! From the comfort of your own internets (I don't know of Durin's Bane playability, just sayin'). Pick your favorite characters, alive or dead, stick them in an arena and see who comes out alive. Finally all of those "who would win" questions can be answered, and thoroughly. My money is on Galadriel.
My complaints, of course, can raise some larger questions about the nature of art and the implications of products based on a canon of source material and where the proverbial lines need to be drawn. At best it's an informed subjectivity that says, "I think this is what the thing is about and this flies in the face of it and so it is bad" and that's basically where I stand. It's a crappy, generic genre of game deserving a crappy, generic setting and story until someone is ready to do one better with it. Stop sending half-orcs to the Shire.
New episode this week (finally)!