Readersforum's Blog

June 4, 2013

Another World is Possible: Game of Thrones and the Politics of Imagination

winteriscomingBy Brad Nguyen

In his 1989 essay ‘The End of History?’ Francis Fukuyama argued that the end of the Cold War represented the ‘total exhaustion of viable systemic alternatives to Western liberalism’. Although popularly derided as a neo-conservative example of counting your chickens before they’ve hatched, a closer reading of the essay reveals that Fukuyama is not really arguing that Western liberalism is the teleological endpoint of humanity – to be at the end of history merely means that, from the perspective of the present, there are no real ideological competitors within our horizon of knowledge. Fukuyama even expresses ambivalence for what he identifies as the current post-historical era:

The end of history will be a sad time… The worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual care of the museum of human history.

‘The End of History?’ ends on a paradoxical note: Fukuyama suggests that history can ‘start again’ though this will require fundamental contradictions in modern liberalism to make themselves evident. He even ironically suggests that the ‘very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history’ is sufficient to serve this purpose.

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February 2, 2013

Think of Bread in General: On Making Books Into Movies



By Alan Levinovitz

When Christopher Tolkien recently broke a 40-year public silence in Le Monde, he did not have kind words for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25, and it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.”

Tolkien snubbed an invitation to meet with Jackson, and, as his father’s literary executor, he has sworn not to allow adaptations of material over which he has control (like The Silmarillion). Had it been his choice, Jackson’s blockbusters would likely never have been produced, and certainly not in their present form. But it wasn’t his choice. In 1969, United Artists made a prescient purchase from the elder Tolkien: £100,000 for full rights to movies and derived products for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. And that was that.

The result, according to Christopher Tolkien, was nothing less than disastrous: “[J.R.R.] Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time. The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing.”

Admirers of Jackson’s work may find such comments a touch melodramatic, if not downright inaccurate. Salman Rushdie, for instance, appears to favor the films over the originals: “Jackson’s cinematic style, sweeping, lyrical, by turns intimate and epic, is greatly preferable to Tolkien’s prose style, which veers alarmingly between windbaggery, archness, pomposity, and achieves something like humanity, and ordinary English, only in the parts about hobbits.”

Then again, there’s A.O. Scott on The Hobbit: “Tolkien’s inventive, episodic tale of a modest homebody on a dangerous journey has been turned into an overscale and plodding spectacle.”

Taste is a difficult thing to arbitrate, making debates like these fun but virtually irresolvable. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the participants all share a common assumption, which often remains unexamined. Rushdie puts it simply: “Everyone accepts that stories and movies are different things.” Indeed. But how, exactly? Is one a higher art form than the other? More illuminating? More demanding? Does one strengthen children’s brains while the other is more likely to rot them?

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November 23, 2012

Tolkien estate sues Hobbit producers over video and gambling games

The Hobbit: an unexpected journey to the lawyers

Lawsuit alleges Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit merchandising infringes copyright and upsets fans.

By Alison Flood

“Irreparable harm” has been done to JRR Tolkien’s legacy by gambling games featuring characters from The Lord of the Rings, according to an $80m (£50m) lawsuit filed by the Tolkien estate against the producers of the imminent film of The Hobbit.

The suit [PDF], filed in a Los Angeles court on Monday, sees the Tolkien estate, its trustees and publisher HarperCollins taking legal action against Warner Bros, its subsidiary New Line Productions and the Saul Zaentz Company’s Middle-earth Enterprises. It alleges that they have infringed the copyright granted to them by releasing gambling games and online video games based on Tolkien’s inventions, claiming that the 1969 sale of film rights only included limited merchandising rights to use characters, places, objects and events referenced in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. These limited rights included the right to sell “tangible” products such as “figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing, and the like”, but did not include “electronic or digital rights, rights in media yet to be devised or other intangibles such as rights in services”.

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November 10, 2012

Movie Alert: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

By Matia Burnett

It’s been 75 years since readers were first introduced to a furry-footed, breakfast-loving hermit named Bilbo Baggins. On December 14, everyone’s favorite Hobbit will embark on his first live action cinematic adventure, and buzz has been building in the Tolkien-sphere for some time. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is based upon Tolkien’s classic children’s fantasy, which takes place in Middle-earth 60 years before the Lord of the Rings series. The New Line Cinema and MGM Pictures film is directed by Peter Jackson (who also directed the three previous movies) Bilbo Baggins is played by Martin Freeman, with Ian Holm returning to play the elder Baggins. Other returning cast members include Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Elijah Wood as Frodo, and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel.

Some ‘Unexpected’ News

Amid the buzz at a busy Comic-Con this year came news of a Hobbit variety. Peter Jackson announced in July that The Hobbit will become a film trilogy, with the final movie to be drawn from Tolkien’s unpublished works. On his Facebook page Jackson wrote, “It is only at the end of a shoot that you finally get the chance to sit down and have a look at the film you have made. We were really pleased with the way the story was coming together, in particular, the strength of the characters and the cast who have brought them to life. All of which gave rise to a simple question: do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes.’ ” The second film, The Desolation of Smaug, is slated for release in 2013, with the third film, There and Back Again, expected in 2014.

Care for a “Hobbit Hole Breakfast?” How about “Frodo’s Pot Roast Skillet” or “Gandalf’s Gobble Melt?” The Hobbit is popping up in some unexpected places. According to the Huffington Post, Denny’s is currently serving up 11 Hobbit-themed meals, which will be available through January.

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March 8, 2011

Hobbit films may be given separate titles

New Line Cinema has registered the subtitles There and Back Again and An/The Unexpected Journey for Peter Jackson’s forthcoming pair of Hobbit films, say reports.

By Ben Child

Say my name ... the cast of The Hobbit in New Zealand. Photograph: Marty Melville/Getty Images

Each of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films was allocated its own name. Now it seems that the film-maker’s forthcoming pair of Hobbit films may also be individually monikered.

JRR Tolkien fan site reports that New Line Studios, the Warner Brothers offshoot that is co-producing the two movies alongside MGM, has registered titles for the new project. It has not been confirmed that either will be used when the movies hit cinemas in 2012 and 2013, but for what it’s worth, they are The Hobbit: There and Back Again and The Hobbit: An/The Unexpected Journey.

 At first glance, the two titles do not appear to be obvious names for separate instalments, though each would be a fitting tag for the project as a whole. There and Back Again is Tolkien’s own alternative title for The Hobbit, while “My Unexpected Journey” is one of Bilbo Baggins’s discarded titles for the fictional Red Book of Westmarch, a manuscript detailing the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings from the perspectives of their protagonists.                                                           

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