hugo dyson

According to J. R. R. Tolkien’s son, Christopher, Hugo Dyson (1896-1975) had quite enough, thank you, even though the lesser-known Oxford don was considered the most fun-loving of the Inklings.

As another newly-written passage of The Lord of the Rings was read aloud by its author, Dyson was “lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, ‘Oh f***, not another elf!’” Other versions of the incident are even more colourful. Dyson was not the only one, and so Tolkien eventually stopped reading the updates in the pub.

Folk of Dysonian temperment may avoid Peter Jackson’s, “ The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, ” but it is expected to gross $70 million initially. It cost $270 million to make and opens Friday (December 14) in North American cinemas, as only the first part of a trilogy expected to take nine hours overall to depict Tolkien’s 300-page book.

Not only Dysonites will give the movie a miss. Writing in Britain’s oldest magazine, The Spectator, Melanie McDonagh has self-confessed Hobbitophilic tendencies.

A reviewer of modern children’s fiction, she writes, “there are enough subplots in the quest story of The Hobbit to sustain a dozen contemporary narratives.” But she still isn’t going to see the film of what she calls,

“…a wonderful story, perfectly formed, with all the gaiety and compactness that The Lord of the Rings lacks. It’s a combination of disparate things: saga and myth and larders with seed cake, and dwarves and goblins and the things of fairy tales, along with pocket handkerchiefs — which fairy tales rarely feature.”

So why no popcorn with Bilbo and Gandalf? The critic explains that even an entertaining film-version is “still doing what Tolkien, as storyteller, would have hated: it makes explicit everything that the mind previously imagined. He only sold the film rights to pay off his debts.” She concludes:

You can never fully recover your own ideas about a book after you’ve seen a screen version, good or bad. Already, I can’t get my own idea of Gollum back from the film image of Andy Serkis all over the papers. Take it from me: in the time it takes to see the film, you can get through several chapters of the book. Don’t watch. Read.

Write it off to critical contrarianism if you will, but she has a point. No film can fully equal its novel; the best it can do is to remain true to the original spirit and plot while sacrificing nuance and detail, and change for good or ill the work of a reader’s imagination.

So what is an imaginative conservative to do? Moreover, what about one with children?

One could be the parental equivalent of Vlad the Impaler, and insist that that the little dears don’t see the film before they read the book (if they go to state schools, they may be simply unable before their junior year in college).

Might watching the film now make them more, or less, eager to read it in full later on? I do not know, but as a child television programmes often lured me to history books.

So, as poor Bilbo puzzles over how to outwit Smaug, some of us may struggle over whether or not to see the movie, while in a celestial pub Professor Tolkien glowers as Professor Dyson groans and sinks another pint of bitter.

What do you plan to do?

Books on the people and topics discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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5 replies to this post
  1. If I can channel Eleanor Clift from the McLaughlin Group for a moment, I DISAGREE. ::waves arms, talks loud than my curmudgeonly neighbor::

    The thing about Tolkien's books is that they are the most magnificent in their original form: the novel. They are not plays, and they are not screenplays. Therefore, no real Tolkien purist could ever go see a movie based off a Tolkien book because it is no longer Tolkien's true intent for how the audience views his work. It is an interpretation (even if it may be "original intent"), and thus that is what is being judged.

    That being said, I'll probably go see it once the hoopla has died down. I'm actually more wary of how many dang dwarves are in The Hobbit! Either way, it should be an enjoyable watch. I like seeing books interpreted on screen, even in the face of possible disappointment and devestation, if only for a chance that I may get a few laughs or love it! Unless the BBC has already done it – then why mess with a beautiful thing?!

    What say you, Mr. Masty? Do tell!

  2. Miss Robison, were you on the McLaughlin Group (which I have not watched in 20 years)I bet I would never miss another episode. You'd be a cross between Saint Joan and the small boy in The Emperor's New Clothes, and the producers would need to keep a tank of helium on hand to keep reinflating the other participants! Another thing to pray for, I suppose.

    I adored and still venerate Tolkien's Hobbit (yet I do enjoy the Dyson anecdote), I prefer books to movies as a rule, I have come to hide from serials and soaps (9 hours to tell the story?), and so I'd watch the first installment on a plane until I nodded off, or here in Nepal buy a $1 pirate DVD to watch with my business partner and his six-year-old boy. Like Father John, I doubt I'd schlep down to the cinema when I am in London and fork out $20 or so (excluding popcorn, fizzy drinks, nachos…nachos? Aren't movie-house nachos in The Book of Revelations? Have the cinema owners anything against Lobster Thermidor?)

    No doubt the BBC will re-shoot The Hobbit someday, but ITV or Channel 4 would do better (the non-Beeb hit soap, Downton Abbey, they say, had an American production company to boot).

    In the BBC version Bilbette (yes) and her saucy Hobbettes-with-attitude, will stop Smaug from contributing to man-made global warming by fitting him with a state-mandated catalytic converter at each end, give the treasure to Progressive NGOs in the Third World, lecture the orcs on safe sex and marry off Gollum to another male amphibian of some kind. Rather than return to live among their backward, unenlightened neighbours, they will then troop off en masse to obtain law degrees at Mordor U (the highest ranking in the Poison Ivy League) and then work on Sauron's Senate staff.

  3. Ha! That would be good fun. I remember my writing teacher in college taking a class poll of my future occupation: "Columnist" was the vote! That way my eye rolls and poorly hidden smirk (and, in some cases of illogical arguments, giggles) wouldn't offend.

    Ticket prices alone are a reason to stay home, although I did see the latest James Bond and adored it (I love spy stories, though; Will didn't care for it… he's a curmudgeon too!) Anything worth eating won't be found in a movie theater. Is that even real cheese? THEN WHAT IS THE POINT.

    That BBC version would be awesome. "Based loosely on J.R.R. Tolkein's 'The Hobbit', this movie is now culturally relevant to today's audiences. We hope you glean nothing from watching it and continue to be satisfied with your life."

  4. S’kay article. But McDonagh is either completely wrong, has poor taste, or hasn’t properly considered Lord of The Rings. Its really pretty sad when you read Lord of The Rings and take Tolkien’s letters and Essays and the whole sum of the Legendarium and then realize: Peter Freaking Jackson.
    Civilization ended, good bye!

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