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An Author’s Journey: The “Many-Terraced Houses” of Fantasy, 2: Book Review of James & Mendlesohn’s “The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature”

Inspiration of 20th Century Fantasy: Edward James, "Tolkien, Lewis, and the explosion of Genre Fantasy," in James & Mendlesohn, eds., "The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature" (here, Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast," art by John Howe)

Inspiration of 20th Century Fantasy: Edward James, “Tolkien, Lewis, and the explosion of Genre Fantasy,” in James & Mendlesohn, eds., “The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature” (here, Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast,” art by John Howe)

An Author’s Journey: The “Many-Terraced Houses” of Fantasy, 2: Book Review of James & Mendlesohn’s “The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature”

Good Morning, Everyone!

Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn, eds., "The Cambridge Guide to Fantasy Literature" (CUP: 2008)

Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn, eds., “The Cambridge Guide to Fantasy Literature” (CUP: 2008)

On a recent return flight from NYC, I had the pleasure of finishing The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (edited by Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn, 2008).  I’ve been arguing in these blogs for a couple of years that the epic (or “high”) fantasy market needs a “reboot,” and it my heart good to see an academic approach to the entirety of the subject, especially in such a concise book, whose articles run the gamut of the origins of modern fantasy in the 17th Century to works that reach well into the 21st.

James and Mendlesohn even reach past a typical academic audience and find a way to popularize their material by making a three-legged stool of Fantasy Literature, investigating the subject via the themes of “History,” “Ways of Reading,” and “Clusters.”

Inspiration of Early Modern Literature: Ludovico Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso" ("Ruggiero Rescuing Angelica," by Gustave Doré)

Inspiration of Early Modern Literature: Ludovico Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso” (“Ruggiero Rescuing Angelica,” by Gustave Doré)

The first leg of this approach, the “historical assessments,” let the editors clear the brush of the many ancient or medieval examples that might have expanded this slim volume to twice its length.  By stating that they’ll “ignore those earlier fictions about the fantastical — The Odyssey, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Orlando Furioso, The Midsummer’s Night Dream and very many other texts…” — the reader immediately hits the early modern period running, with Gary K. Wolfe‘s essay, “Fantasy from Dryden to Sunsany.”  Wolfe starts with an examination of the first instance of “fantasy criticism” — in Joseph Addison’s 1712 magazine The Spectator — to centuries of attempts to refine a definition of the subject include a host of literary luminaries (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George MacDonald, Sir Walter Scott, the Brothers Grimm, through to William Morris and the Pre-Rapaelites.

I was surprised to learn that even William Blake was an early contributor to what’s become a still-relevant debate in literary circles about the merits of Fantasy (when compared to traditional forms):

William Blake's "The Day of Judgment" for Robert Blair's "The Grave" (1805)

William Blake’s “The Day of Judgment” for Robert Blair’s “The Grave” (1805)

[Begin Wolfe excerpt]: “In his 1810 ‘A Vision of the Last Judgment’, William Blake equated imagination with ‘Visionary Fancy’ and set this apart from fable or allegory, ‘a totally distinct & inferior kind of Poetry … Fable or Allegory is Form’d by the daughters of Memory, Imagination is surrounded by the daughters of Inspiration’. Blake’s distinction not only anticipates [Samuel Taylor] Coleridge (albeit with a different set of terms), but also anticipates a critical battle that authors of fantasy from George MacDonald to C.S. Lewis would wage: namely, that fantastic narratives are not necessarily allegories or fables.” [End Wolfe excerpt]

Other authors and essays in Part I’s “Histories” section include: Adam Roberts, “Gothic and horror fiction”; Paul Kincaid, “American fantasy 1820-1950”; Maria Nikolajeva, “The development of children’s fantasy”; and Edward James, “Tolkien, Lewis and the explosion of genre fantasy.”

Kari Maund's essay, "Reading the fantasy series" (Here, Fritz Leiber, "Swords against Death," Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser (art by Jeffery Catherine Jones, d. 2011)

Fritz Leiber, “Swords against Death,” Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser (art by Jeffery Catherine Jones, d. 2011)

Greer Gilman's essay assesses "Languages of the Fantastic" w/reference to such works as Michael Swanwick's "The Dragons of Babel" (art by Stephan Martiniere)

Greer Gilman’s essay assesses “Languages of the Fantastic” w/reference to such works as Michael Swanwick’s “The Dragons of Babel” (art by Stephan Martiniere)

The second leg of the book, “Ways of Reading,” offers a variety of ways to approach fantasy, many of which are grounded in modern literary studies (e.g., “Political Readings,” “Psychoanalysis,” “Modernism and Post-Modernism,” etc), but in this section I was struck by three essays: (1) Brian Attebery’s “Structuralism” (pp. 81-90), (2) Greer Gilman’s “The languages of the fantastic” (pp. 134-146) and (3) Kari Maund’s “Reading the fantasy series” (pp. 147-153)

Just to cite one interesting example from this section:  Brian Attebery‘s convincing argument that the “structuralist” 1960s/1970s critical mode of interpretation & analysis is particularly well-suited to the study of fantasy, because “…The very origins of the structural analysis of literature are tied to traditional fantastic genres such as fairy tale and myth, and the structuralist approaches remain useful as correctives to critical assumptions about the pre-eminence of realism as a literary mode.” Atterby takes the reader on a ride through the history of linguisitics on the way to making his point (works by Ferdinand de Saussure, Vladimir Propp, before assessing the works of Joseph Campbell and Claude Lévi-Strauss in relation to myth-making.

Inspiration of Ancient Myths & Legends: "Oedipus & Antigone exiled to Thebes" (oil on canvas, Eugène-Ernest Hillemacher, 1843)

Inspiration of Ancient Myths & Legends: “Oedipus & Antigone exiled to Thebes” (oil on canvas, Eugène-Ernest Hillemacher, 1843)

I appreciated that Attebery criticized the works of both, but allowed for the areas where Campbell’s and Strauss’s research & methodology could be helpful in critiquing “Fantasy.” For example, here’s Attebery on Lévi-Strauss’s interpretation of the Oedipus story [where a Theban king tragically & unwittingly fulfills a prophecy that he’ll kill his father and marry his mother]:

NY Times Headline, 3 Nov 2009: "Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologist, Dies"

NY Times Headline, 3 Nov 2009: “Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologist, Dies”

[Begin Attebery excerpt]:  “… in his 1955 essay, ‘The Structural Study of Myth’…Lévi-Strauss claims to be working inductively, first identifying all the motifs within a particular myth – he focuses mostly on the story of Oedipus – and then grouping them into ‘bundles’ of relations. In practice, though, his groupings depend upon the particular binary oppositions that his previous structural studies have led him to expect. He innocently ‘finds’ in the Oedipus story just what he expected to find: oppositions such as life and death, kinship and strangerhood, human parentage and monsters born directly from the earth. Thus, ‘the myth has to do with the inability, for a culture which holds the belief that mankind is autochthonous [i.e., in mythology, the belief that people are born from the earth] … to find a satisfactory transition between this theory and the knowledge that human beings are actually born from the union of man and woman.

"Oedipus and the Sphinx" (oil on canvas, Gustave Moreau, 1864)

“Oedipus and the Sphinx” (oil on canvas, Gustave Moreau, 1864)

‘Furthermore, he finds these oppositions at all levels of the narrative, from names of characters to aspects of the setting of significant actions. The same message is given many times over, because ‘repetition has a as its function to make the structure of the myth apparent.’

‘…Lévi-Strauss has been criticized for privileging the researcher over the culture-bearer: he seems to find meanings that no one within the society that tells the stories is conscious of. It is unlikely that oral storytellers in ancient Greece would have singled out the single meaning that Lévi-Strauss does. Certainly when Sophocles dramatized the story, his version did not invite the spectator to focus on autochthony as a key theme, nor do Aristotle or Freud emphasize it in their readings of the story. However peculiar this reading of Oedipus may be, Lévi-Strauss’s central insight that meaning, as well as narrative, might be structural, is a powerful tool for studying all kinds of literature and especially fantasy.” [End Atterby excerpt] 

Other authors and essays in Part II’s “Ways of Reading” include: Andrew M. Butler, “Psychoanalysis’: Mark Bould and Sherryl Vint, “Political Readings”; Jim Casey, “Modernism and Postmodernism”; Farah Mendlesohn, “Thematic criticism”; Greer Gilman, “The languages of the fantastic”; Kari Maund, “Reading the fantasy series”; and Gregory Frost, “Reading the slipstream.”

Nnedi Okorafor's essay "Writers of color" includes reference to N.K. Jemisin's "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms"

N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Inspiration of Different Voices: Steven Barnes's "Lion's Blood" (2002)

Inspiration of Different Voices: Steven Barnes’s “Lion’s Blood” (2002)

The third and final leg of this analytical seat upon which James and Mendlesohn situate their study on Fantasy is a section called “Clusters,” or a series of sub-genres that allow for broad coverage of the current spate of fantasy literature that don’t easily fit into categories (e.g., “magical realism,” “writers of colour,” “quest fantasies,” “urban fantasies,” “paranormal romances,” etc).

Here, Sharon Sieber’s essay “Magical realism” (pp. 167-178) begins with a question of “What is realism?” and answers that most of the Western usually ties any interpretation of “reality” to scientific evidence and explanations; to begin the discussion, she uses Rosemary Jackson’s Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion as an inroad into discussing how modern fantasy reflects this generation’s understanding of the term:

Rosemary Jackson, "Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion"

Rosemary Jackson, “Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion”

[Begin Jackson excerpt]: “As a literature of ‘unreality’ fantasy has altered in character over the years in accordance with changing notions of what exactly constitutes ‘reality’. Modern fantasy is rooted in ancient myth, mysticism, folklore, fairy tale and romance. The most obvious starting point for this study was the late eighteenth century —the point at which industrialization transformed western society.’ [End Jackson excerpt] 

Sieber gives a fine sketch of the current debate that surrounds this term, and then asks a great one of her own:

Inspiration of Quantum Mechanics

Inspiration of Quantum Mechanics

[Begin Sieber excerpt]: “The question to ask here is why the magic of magical realism has become so important in twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature, particularly at a time when hard-line, linear scientific discoveries seem to diminish in importance and reality next to the fantastic discoveries such as Hugh Everett III regarding the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. This development was also taking root at just the time when the two literary movements which had become paradigms of the Western world, modernism and post-modernism, have affirmed the random nature of existence and events, twentieth-century alienation and fragmentation, assembly-line mass production, lack of free will and self-determination, identity disintegration, chaos, dysfunction and dystopia… [End Sieber excerpt]

Alexander Irvine's essay "Urban fantasy" assesses aspects of China Miéville's "Perdido Street Station" (art by Gordillo, DeviantArt)

Alexander Irvine’s essay “Urban fantasy” assesses aspects of China Miéville’s “Perdido Street Station” (art by Gordillo, DeviantArt)

Other authors and essays in Part III’s “Clusters” section include: Nnedi Okorafor, “Writers of colour”; W.A. Senior, “Quest fantasies”; Alexander C. Irvine, “Urban fantasy”; Roz Kaveney, “Dark Fantasy and paranormal romance”; Catherine Butler, “Modern children’s fantasy”; Veronica Schanoes, “Historical fantasy”; and Graham Sleight, “Fantasies of history and religion.”

For those who’d like to quickly catch-up on the latest interpretations of the Fantasy genre, I heartily recommend The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature.  Edward Jones and Farah Mendlesohn have done a remarkable job in distilling centuries’ worth of thoughts and ideas about the subject into a well-organized, accessible, and immensely readable volume.  The book is a welcome contribution to both academic and popular studies on fantasy literature.

Thanks for visiting, and have a great week!
A.J.

An Author’s Journey: The “Many-Terraced Houses” of Fantasy, 1

Sara Douglass, "The Wayfarer Redemption" (art by Luis Royo)

Sara Douglass, “The Wayfarer Redemption” (art by Luis Royo)

An Author’s Journey: The “Many-Terraced Houses” of Fantasy, 1

Good Morning, Everybody!

An excellent essay published recently in fantasy-magazine.com by Hugo-Award winner Kameron Hurley http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kameron_Hurley made me think about the way that today’s audiences assess “epic fantasy” as a genre. (http://www.fantasy-magazine.com/new/new-nonfiction/language-and-imaginative-resistance-in-epic-fantasy/ …)

Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley

In the piece, Hurley assails the ways in which creators, readers, publishers, and the marketplace collectively “frame” our expectations of the epic fantasy genre — especially in publishers’ almost-reflexive shunting of any female-crafted epic fantasy into “romance,” “young adult,” or “fantasy” categories.

Overused fantasy landscapes: "Bored of the Rings" (Harvard Lampoon)

Overused fantasy landscapes: “Bored of the Rings” (Harvard Lampoon)

When Hurley looks at epic fantasy as a genre, she writes:
[Begin excerpt: “Epic fantasy seems to have drifted into a prescriptive mode characterized by gritty descriptions, multiple POVs, abuse and maiming, medieval milieus, and, oddest of all (!), work that does this as written by male authors … When one holds up as examples of a type of fiction only work written by men, and only dark, pseudo-medieval work by men, it’s an effective way of shutting out all other types of work … 

Kameron Hurley, "God's War"

Kameron Hurley, “God’s War”

… Once one has constructed a frame, one has to work very hard to maintain its borders, even when those borders can clearly be far broader. This was the frame they were shown. This is what fits. Everything else must be put in different boxes … What we fail to understand when we critique the reading habits and choices and shoring up of the frames that people have made when called out about this—this lack of memory and categorization of women authors, this constant pushing out—is that though these are things done by individuals, the actions themselves are part of a broader system of dismissal and un-seeing that we’ve been internalizing—all of us—from the time we were children. We grew up in a system that wanted us to see and remember and prioritize particular voices and worldviews, and we perpetuate them whether we’re aware of them or not… [End excerpt]

Gerold Sedlmayr & Nicole Waller, eds., "Politics in Fantasy Media: Essays on Ideology and Gender in Fiction, Film, Television and Games"

Gerold Sedlmayr & Nicole Waller, eds., “Politics in Fantasy Media: Essays on Ideology and Gender in Fiction, Film, Television and Games”

Hurley’s “system of dismissal and un-seeing” perhaps coincidentally echoes some of the points made by Dirk Vanderbeke’s recent discussion of “inclusive & exclusive systems” in his essay, “Haven’t I Been Here Before? China Miéville’s Uncanny Cities” (in G. Sedlmayr & Nicole Waller, eds., Politics in Fantasy Media: Essays on Ideology and Gender in Fiction, Film, Television and Games, MacFarland; 2014), but as applied to the overall perception about epic fantasy in the marketplace, I think that Hurley’s points are well-taken, especially her concluding call for action that asks us “…to be part of rebuilding the landscape. The truth is we must be part of building new stories. But first we must pull down our preconceptions of what we can and should and ought to write … .”

For my part, I’ve no problem reassessing how we define epic fantasy, and indeed a movement’s already underway to classify all of the ‘subgenres’ that Hurley lambastes in a way that opts for complete inclusion under the term “fantasy.”

This attempt at definition is occurring at the academic level — where, remember, the works of Oxford medieval professors J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis arguably created & popularized the entire genre in the 1930s-1960s!

The most accessible place to peek at the literary consensus is in the recent book, The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (edited by http://www.ucd.ie/~history/staff/james.html & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farah_Mendlesohn, 2008), where I’ll end today with some excerpts that concisely sum the current state of affairs:

Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn, eds., "The Cambridge Guide to Fantasy Literature" (CUP: 2008)

[Begin Excerpt, from Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn, “Introduction,” The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature, pp. 1- 4]:

“Fantasy is no so much a mansion as a row of terraced houses, such as the one that entranced us in C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew with its connecting attics, and a certain level of consensus around the basic bricks, but the internal décor can differ wildly, and the lives lived in these terraced houses are discrete yet overheard.

China Miéville,  "The Scar" ("Pirate City of Armada," art by Benjamin, http://thelakeandmountain.blogspot.com/2013/03/its-been-while.html)

China Miéville, “The Scar” (“Pirate City of Armada,” art by Benjamin, http://thelakeandmountain.blogspot.com/2013/03/its-been-while.html)

Edward James

Edward James

[excerpt continued]: “Fantasy literature has proven tremendously difficult to pin down. The major theorists in the field — Tzvetan Todorov, Roesmary Jackson, Kathryn Hume, W.R. Irwin and Colin Manlove — all agree that fantasy is about the construction of the impossible whereas science fiction may be about the likely, but is grounded in the scientifically possible…

M. John Harrison's "Viriconium" series (art by Les Edwards)

M. John Harrison’s “Viriconium” series (art by Les Edwards)

[excerpt continued]: “…after Tolkien’s classic essay, ‘On Fairy Stories,’ the most valuable theoretical text for taking a definition of fantasy beyond preference and intuition is Brian Attebery’s Strategies of Fantasy (1992) … [where he] proposed that we view fantasy as a group of texts that share, to a greater degree or other, a cluster of common tropes which may be objects but which also may be narrative techniques. At the centre are those stories which share tropes of the completely impossible and towards the edge, in subsets, are those stories which include only a small number of tropes, or which construct those tropes in such a way as to leave doubt in the reader’s mind as to whether what they have read is fantastical or not. The group of texts resolves into a ‘fuzzy set’ (a mathematical term), and it is the ‘fuzzy set’ of fantasy, from the core to the edge — that sense of more and less fantastical texts operating in conversation with each other — which is the subject of this book.

Tanith Lee, "Biting the Sun"

Tanith Lee, “Biting the Sun”

John Clute & John Grant, "The Encyclopedia of Fantasy" (Orbit Books, 1997)

John Clute & John Grant, “The Encyclopedia of Fantasy” (Orbit Books, 1997)

[excerpt continued]: “When we leave the project of defining fantasy, the most useful theoretical text is formed from the entries by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Clute in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (ed. by J. Clute w/John Grant, 1997). When read together, these construct a grammar of fantasy which draws together notions of structural and thematic movement in the text, of moods, and of tropes and metaphors which have become part of the conversation.  Clute’s most significant contribution to the language of criticism has been his definition of the ‘full fantasy’ to the entry FANTASY. In the full fantasy, a text (which may be a multi-volume work) passes through WRONGNESS, THINNING, RECOGNITION, and HEALING (using the Encyclopedia’s typographic style) …

"Portals 7th Heaven" (illustration by Ivany86 @ deviantart.com

“Portals 7th Heaven” (illustration by Ivany86 @ deviantart.com

Farah Mendlesohn

Farah Mendlesohn

[excerpt continued]:  “…The most recent contribution to the theoretical debate … is Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy (2008). Mendlesohn abandons the search for definition and accepts Attebery’s fuzzy set and Clute’s grammar, but argues that there are four distinct modes of fantasy, defined by the way in which the fantastic enters the text and the rhetorical voices which are required to construct the different types of worlds which emerge. The four categories are the portal-quest, the immersive, the intrusion and the liminal. In the portal quest, the protagonist enters a new world; in the immersive, the protagonist is part of the fantastic world; in the intrusion, the fantastic breaks into the primary world (which might or might not be our own); and in the liminal, magic might or might not be happening.

Fantastic Realms (webtaj.com)

Fantastic Realms (webtaj.com)

What the schema offers is a way of considering fantasy on its own terms rather than in the terms used by critics of mimetic fiction. [A.J.’s emphasis] It may even offer a way of evaluating the quality of a particular fantasy; as just one example, an immersive fantasy that uses the rhetorical (and over-explanatory) voice of a portal-quest fantasy is, Mendlesohn argues, unlikely to be effective. [End excerpt: James & Mendlesohn, “Introduction,” The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature, pp. 1- 4]

Kameron Hurley, "The Mirror Empire"

Kameron Hurley, “The Mirror Empire”

For this new generation of “fantasists” such as Kameron Hurley who are trying to push past the boundaries of traditional expectations of the epic/high/fantasy genre, a book such as James & Mendlesohn’s collection of essays offers the promise that change is, indeed, possible, and that perhaps Hurley’s recommendation to “rebuild” the fantasy landscape is already well underway!

Thanks for visiting,
A.J.

Next time: A look at Carlisle’s own definition of the term, “Literary Epic Fantasy!” 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Film Comments 1, “Not at Home”)

Ian McKellan (Gandalf) & Martin Freeman (Bilbo) in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (New Line Cinema & Warner Bros., 2014)

Ian McKellen (Gandalf) & Martin Freeman (Bilbo) in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (New Line Cinema & Warner Bros., 2014)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Film Comments 1, “Introduction”)

 J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit" (2013 version, w/art by Jemima Catlin)

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit” (2013 version, w/art by Jemima Catlin)

Good Afternoon, Everyone, & Happy New Year!

I’ve been away for a while, but the family and I were able to see Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies over the holidays. In the next few weeks — between regular blogs on medieval literature, epic fantasy, & a forthcoming Kickstarter project — I’m going to assess this latest adaptation in much the same way as I did a year ago with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Richard Armitage (Thorin) & Martin Freeman (Bilbo)

Richard Armitage (Thorin) & Martin Freeman (Bilbo)

Out of the gate, I should let you know that I’m very partial to Jackson’s film adaptations of both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, believing that they should be viewed as he created them: a Middle Earth fan’s reverential film adaptations of epic fantasy literary works that are beloved by J.R.R. Tolkien fans worldwide.  I emphasize the distinction between film and literature to be clear about how I frame any critique of the different works. As I wrote last year when starting my 29-blog film assessment of The Hobbit: DoS:

J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit: Ch. 13, Not at Home" (illus. by Alan Lee)

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit: Ch. 13, Not at Home” (illus. by Alan Lee)

[Begin excerpt from A.J. Carlisle’s Blog, 1.30.14 https://ajcarlisle.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/1-30-14-the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug-film-comments-1/ ]: Before continuing, though, please remember two significant words, “adaptation” and “interpretation.”  In the past month, I’ve seen way too many dismayed reactions on the part of die-hard The-Hobbit-as-Book fans to the release of The-Hobbit-as-Film “Part 2’s The Desolation of Smaug.” I believe that an essential part of that outrage and/or disappointment is expressed because the reviewers forget the one truism of any film that derives its material from a book, especially when Hollywood gets involved:  you’re going to get some essentials of the source material, but never a word-for-word explication of the written text.

Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) Burns Lake Town

Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) Burns Lake Town

Smaug the Destroyer (Ted Nasmith)

Smaug the Destroyer (Ted Nasmith)

[continue excerpt]: Who’d want that, anyway?  If I want to read a book and follow the author’s intent, I go read the book and remain within the bounds of the tacit agreement I have with the creator that his or her use of language is going to fire-up my imagination (and even that agreement fails sometimes…sit in an English Lit class sometime and listen to debates that occur about authorial intent within just a written work)!  Once a book makes the jump to a completely different medium, all bets are off because completely different demands and expectations come into play.

J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit, Ch. 14: Fire and Water" (art John Howe)

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit, Ch. 14: Fire and Water” (art John Howe)

It’s one thing for me to read [to my children] Adriana or Seth chapters of The Hobbit at bedtime each night, because by following a chapter-by-chapter narrative of Bilbo’s adventures “there and back again” we are in the same pacing and moments that Tolkien hoped and expected when he wrote the book back in the 1930s.  Should we expect that same kind of pacing and textual interaction to translate to the big screen?  Maybe, but that’s a question of personal taste.  Given some of the irritation that certain reviewers are feeling with the film versions of The Hobbit, I wonder if the Jackson’s films are being judged on their own merits, or against (my belief) some idealistic yearning for a chapter-by-chapter, line-by-line adaptation of the 1937 children’s story.  

"Bard of Lake Town" ("The Hobbit," Rankin-Bass, 1977)

“Bard of Lake Town” (“The Hobbit,” Rankin-Bass, 1977)

Bard (Luke Evans) vs. Smaug (2014)

Bard (Luke Evans) vs. Smaug (2014)

See links below for some of the accusatory fingers shakily leveled at Jackson & Co. for having dared to depart so greatly from Tolkien’s source material, but you won’t find this viewer among them.  If I want to see a “faithful” line-by-line adaptation of The Hobbit, I can always turn to the fantastic 1977 Rankin-Bass animated version! (Still holds up after all of this time…). [End excerpt] Not surprisingly, a year later in Jan. 2015, many of the same critiques levied at the first two films in this trilogy of adaptations are again cast at this last film, but we’ll get to the positive, negative, and “meh” reviews later in this blog series. For right now, check out some of the reviews on the film, and next time we’ll start with Tolkien’s actual work before seeing how Jackson & Co. adapted it! Thanks for visiting, A.J. The Hobbit Official Website http://www.thehobbit.com Link to IMDB’s full cast & credits: http://www.imdb.com/The Hobbit_Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner Bros. & New Line Cinema, 2014)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner Bros. & New Line Cinema, 2014)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Film Reviews: “Positive”:
James Dyer, Empire http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?FID=137273
Scott Foundas, Variety http://variety.com/2014/film/reviews/film-review-the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-1201367492/
Baz Greenland, What Culture http://whatculture.com/film/the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-10-reasons-its-a-great-adaptation.php
Brendan Hodges, The Metaplex http://themetaplex.com/reviews/2014/the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-movie-review#.VLbhgcaBuwU=
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movie/hobbit-battle-five-armies/review/752865
Khusro Mumtaz, TNS http://tns.thenews.com.pk/movie-review-the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies/#.VLbkocaBuwU
Sheila O’Malley, Roger Ebert.com http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-2014
Andrew Pulver, The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/dec/01/the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-review-film-peter-jackson

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner Bros. & New Line Cinema, 2014)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner Bros. & New Line Cinema, 2014)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Film Reviews: “Mixed”:
Russell Baillie, The New Zealand Herald http://www.nzherald.co.nz/movies/news/article.cfm?c_id=200&objectid=11372636
Nicholas Barber, BBC http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20141212-is-the-final-hobbit-film-a-flop
Adam R. Holz pluggedin.com http://www.pluggedin.com/movies/intheaters/hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies.aspx
Metacritic http://www.metacritic.com/movie/the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies
Nicolas Rapold, The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/movies/the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies.html?_r=0

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner Bros. & New Line Cinema, 2014)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner Bros. & New Line Cinema, 2014)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Film Reviews: “Negative”:
Andrew Cunningham, arstechnica.com http://arstechnica.com/the-multiverse/2014/12/battle-of-the-five-armies-is-a-soulless-end-to-the-flawed-hobbit-trilogy/
Inkoo Kang, thewrap.com http://www.thewrap.com/the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-review-martin-freeman-ian-mckellen-cate-blanchett/
Germain Lussier, slashfilm.com http://www.slashfilm.com/hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-review/
Tim Robey, The Daily Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/11260252/The-Hobbit-The-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-first-look-review-begs-not-to-exist.html Screen Rant: http://screenrant.com/hobbit-battle-five-armies-reviews/
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-20141217

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