A new film, simply titled Tolkien, purports to depict the author’s formative years as a child and young man, but will, I fear, show only a perverted and distorted version of the truth, weaving lies in a manner of which Wormtongue himself would be proud…
I hate to say it, but I think that Wormtongue has risen from the dead, or at least from the pages of Tolkien’s epic, and is intent on spreading lies and mischief about the man who gave him life. I refer of course to the character in The Lord of the Rings who poisons the ear of King Theoden with lies and distortions, preaching defeatism and teaching the heart of his noble lord to despair. It is no wonder that Gandalf calls him a snake and no wonder that Theoden can only recover his stout-hearted spirit once the aptly-named Wormtongue is removed from his midst.
I fear, even as I write, that Wormtongue is plotting his revenge. I fear that he has been whispering into the ear of those involved in a new film, simply titled Tolkien, which purports to depict the author’s formative years as a child and young man.
The film, which is due for release in May, will claim to show Tolkien’s early years but will, I fear, show only a perverted and distorted version of the truth, weaving lies in a manner of which Wormtongue himself would be proud.
Before making my predictions or prophesies with respect to the sort of distortion of truth we can probably expect in the film, let’s remind ourselves of the actual facts of Tolkien’s early life. He lost his father when he was only four years old and his mother when he was twelve. He remained convinced that his mother had died because of the persecution she had suffered following her reception into the Catholic Church. “When I think of my mother’s death,” he wrote, “worn out with persecution, poverty, and, largely consequent, disease, in the effort to hand on to us small boys the Faith…. I find it very hard and bitter, when my children stray away.” Nine years after her death, shortly before Tolkien would go off to fight in what he called the “animal horror” of World War One, he wrote passionately of his mother’s sacrifice and of his own passionate adherence to the Faith for which he was convinced that she had died: “My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith.”
Following the death of his mother, a priest of the Birmingham Oratory, Fr. Francis Morgan, whom Tolkien’s mother had befriended, became the boys’ legal guardian. Fr. Morgan was a good and diligent guardian, though he strained Tolkien’s loyalty to him when he forbade Tolkien from seeing a young lady, Edith Bratt, who would later become his wife. “I had to choose between disobeying and grieving (or deceiving) a guardian who had been a father to me, more than most real fathers… and ‘dropping’ the love-affair until I was twenty-one.”
In spite of the obstacles put in their way by Fr. Morgan, Tolkien and Edith were married in March 1916, only two months before Tolkien crossed the Channel for what he called “the carnage of the Somme.” During this carnage, this “animal horror,” Tolkien would lose several of his closest friends and would be inspired by the courage and virtue of ordinary private soldiers, one of whom would prove the inspiration for the character of Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings.
These then are the facts of Tolkien’s early life upon which the new film Tolkien purports to be based. This is the potency and the potential of the raw material with which the writers of the film had to work. And yet, as T. S. Eliot reminds us, “between the potency and the existence… falls the Shadow,” and “between the idea and the reality [and] the conception and the creation falls the Shadow.” In this case, the Shadow that is likely to fall is the Shadow of Mordor, of which Wormtongue is an unwitting servant.
Why am I so convinced that the vicious spirit and venomous lies of Wormtongue are likely to inform this new film? The answer lies in the track record of the two screenwriters, David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford.
The first feature film that Gleeson directed and wrote was Cowboys and Angels about a young man who “moves into an apartment with a gay fashion student and finds himself on the catwalk”. Beresford’s first film, aptly titled Pride, is about “a group of lesbian and gay activists who raised money to help families affected by the British miners’ strike in 1984, at the outset of what would become the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign.” Unsurprisingly Pride won the so-called Queer Palm award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Apart from this dubious distinction, Beresford’s main claim to fame is being placed at number 17 on the Independent on Sunday‘s Rainbow List in 2014, the British newspaper’s “annual celebration of the 101 most influential lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Britain.”
Any thought that Beresford might put his pride and prejudice to one side in his writing of the film on Tolkien seems forlorn considering that he has stated brazenly that when working on screenplays, he always looks for projects with an “element of subversion” in them, so that he can find ways to smuggle in messages and meaning. Taking Beresford at his word and acting as a prophet who’s hoping to be proved wrong, I predict the following “elements of subversion” in Gleeson’s and Beresford’s re-creation of Tolkien in their own image.
The heroism and “martyrdom” of Tolkien’s mother will be airbrushed out of the picture altogether, as will any other positive portrayals of Catholicism. Fr. Francis Morgan will be seen as a repressed homosexual who has a sordid homo-erotic attraction to the young Tolkien and whose opposition to Tolkien’s relationship with Edith is enflamed by feelings of jealousy. As for Tolkien himself, if he is to be portrayed positively, he will no doubt be portrayed as being bisexual. This is necessary because heterosexuality is now seen as the last refuge of the scoundrel. I prophesy that he will have homo-erotic feelings towards his friends and towards the young soldier who inspired the future characterization of Samwise Gamgee, thereby “queering” The Lord of the Rings as well as its author.
I might be wrong of course and will happily apologize to Messieurs Gleeson and Beresford should this be the case. I fear, however, that homosexism is so bigoted and narrow-minded that it lacks enough imagination to see the truth that lies outside the closet.
The irony is that the Dark Lord in The Lord of the Rings is motivated by Pride, as is Saruman, and as is Saruman’s servant Wormtongue. The power of the Ring is itself the power of Pride. I expect this new film to have much to do with Pride and prejudice and very little to do with the real Tolkien and the masterpiece of literature which he described as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.”
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Editor’s note: The featured image is a still from the 2019 film, Tolkien, courtesy of IMDB.