Between the Lines: A Conversation with Matthew Dickerson – Part 4

We recently had the chance to talk with Matthew Dickerson about his new Brazos book, A Hobbit Journey.

Matthew Dickerson (PhD, Cornell University) is a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, a writer, and the director of the New England Young Writers’ Conference at Bread Loaf. His previous works include From Homer to Harry PotterThe Mind and the MachineNarnia and the Fields of Arbol: The Environmental Vision of C. S. Lewis; and Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J. R .R. Tolkien.

In Part 1, Matthew spoke about the relationship between our world and the world of The Lord of the Rings.

In Part 2, he explained how his love for Tolkien’s writing influenced the composition of A Hobbit Journey.

In Part 3, he discussed whether The Lord of the Rings should be understood as allegorical.

Today he offers some thoughts on Peter Jackson’s film portrayals of The Lord of the Rings.

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Do you think the original trilogy of The Lord of the Rings films accurately portrayed the themes you see in the books? Do you anticipate that The Hobbit films will be accurate portrayals?

I will reserve judgment of Peter’s forthcoming trilogy of films based on The Hobbit until I have seen them. I am curious to see how much use they make of material in the Appendices, and how much they add to (or take away from) the plot. I think it might be really good. The one thing that concerns me from the trailers I have seen is the addition of a sword fight between Bilbo and Gollum. That could very much change some important philosophical and moral ideas that Tolkien incarnated in his original story.

As for the original trilogy, there were certainly some aspects that were very well done by Jackson. I was particular moved by his portrayals of a few of the individual characters. By and large, I thought he did Boromir very well, and Eowyn too, though perhaps his Eowyn might have been a bit stronger. Sam was well done. I think Jackson also did a good job with some environmental aspects, in his portrayal especially of the ravages of Isengard under Saruman.

But by and large, I thought that Jackson absconded with Tolkien’s names and characters and plot elements in order to put forth a very different underlying worldview that in many ways was entirely at odds with that of Tolkien. I read once that Jackson said he might change a few plot elements to make them fit better with film instead of book, but that he was committed to Tolkien’s most basic philosophical beliefs. And in that I think Jackson is flat out wrong on some very important areas. I outline a few examples in my book. One is how Jackson undercuts some of the most important moral free-will choices of the book’s heroes. Another is how he seeks to show corruption and moral failure in almost every important virtuous hero such as Faramir, Galadriel, Elrond, and Gandalf; he applies broad brushstrokes of cynicism where Tolkien did not.

Jackson, in making his grand cinematic display—and trying to keep it more action centered—not only eliminates much of the dialogue and description and the importance of the world itself, but I think he also glorifies violence in a way Tolkien’s books never do. It is much more “sword and sorcery” than Tolkien’s works.

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For more information on A Hobbit Journey, click here.
To read an excerpt, click here.