Tolkien, creation & sin by Terry Mattingly
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Mon Dec 23 01:10:08 EST 2002
Tolkien, creation & sin
By Terry Mattingly
NEW YORK -- Screenwriter Philippa Boyens gets a tired look in her eyes
when she recalls the surgery required to turn "The Lord of the Rings"
into a movie, even a sprawling trilogy of three-hour movies.
"It's so hard," she said. "It's hard, it's hard, oh God, it's hard."
One agonizing cut in the screenplay removed a glimpse of the myth
behind J.R.R. Tolkien's 500,000-word epic. In this lost scene, the
traitor Saruman is torturing the noble Gandalf. "What," asks the evil
wizard, "is the greatest power?" Gandalf replies, "Life."
"You fool," says Saruman. "Life can be destroyed. Did I teach you
Trying again, Gandalf says, "Creation." "Yes," answers Saruman, "the
power to create life."
Millions of readers and now moviegoers have seen "The Lord of the
Rings" as an epic tale of good versus evil.
Many have tried to pin labels on each side. The dark lord Sauron and
his minions represent Nazi Germany and the armies of Middle Earth are
England and its allies. Wait, said scribes in the 1960s. The forces of
evil were industrialists who wanted to enslave Tolkien's peaceful,
tree-hugging elves and Hobbits. The dark lord's "One Ring to rule them
all" was the atomic bomb, or nuclear power, or something else nasty and
The reality is more complex than that, said Boyens, after a press
screening of "The Two Towers." Director Peter Jackson's second "Lord of
the Rings" reaches theaters on Dec. 18.
"This is not a story about good versus evil," she said. "It's about
that goodness and that evilness that is in all of us."
Anyone who studies Tolkien, she said, quickly learns that the Oxford
don rejected allegorical interpretations of his work.
Nevertheless, Tolkien was a devout Catholic and his goal was to create
a true myth that offered the modern world another chance to understand
the timeless roots of sin. Thus, even his darkest characters have mixed
motives or have been shaped by past choices between good and evil. Even
his virtuous heroes wrestle with temptations to do evil or to do good
for the wrong reasons.
The dark lord Sauron, noted Boyens, "was your basic fallen angel. If
you go back even further within this mythology, you have a world that
begins with Iluvatar, who is the One, who is basically God."
Iluvatar created the world through music, noted Boyens. But one angel,
Melkor, was "jealous of the power of creation" and struck a note of
discord, shattering the harmony. Yet Iluvatar did not destroy his
creation. Instead, he gave his creatures the freedom to make choices
between darkness and light, between goodness and mercy.
It is hard to put this level of complexity on a movie screen.
Nevertheless, Boyens and Jackson stressed that the "Lord of the Rings"
team tried to leave the foundations of Tolkien's myth intact. The
ultimate war between good and evil is inside the human heart.
"We didn't make it as a spiritual film, but here is what we did do,"
said Jackson, who is a co-writer and co-producer as well as the
director of the project. "Tolkien was a very religious man. But we made
a decision a long time ago that we would never knowingly put any of our
own baggage into these films. ...
"What we tried to do was honor the things that were important to
Tolkien, but without really emphasizing one thing over another. We
didn't want to make it a religious film. But he was very religious and
some of the messages and some of the themes are based on his beliefs."
The goal is to retain the timeless quality of the books, said Jackson.
Most of the filming for this three-movie project was done before the
events of Sept. 11, 2001, he noted. The director had no way to know his
movies would reach theaters during such tense times. Once again, many
want to match headlines with events in Tolkien's masterwork.
"You sort of get the impression -- which can be depressing -- that
Tolkien's themes really resonate today and that they're probably going
to resonate in 50 years and then in 100 years," said Jackson. "I don't
think humans are capable of actually pulling themselves out of these
Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) teaches at Palm Beach Atlantic
University and is senior fellow for journalism at the Council for
Christian Colleges & Universities. He writes this weekly column for the
Scripps Howard News Service.
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