Movies, books, and hobbits

Hile, my beloved inklings. I hope this finds you in fine fettle and pie.

This is yet another post that has gestated long in my Drafts folder. Its conception occurred when I watched the first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and then read John Scalzi’s review of the same. Since that all happened a few minutes ago, I won’t go into review mode concerning that movie specifically. Instead, here are a few thoughts about Jackson’s Hobbit films, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and, in brief, my position on books vs. movie versions.

Jackson’s Hobbit Movies

I love them. Unabashedly. Radagast is ridiculous and drives me a little batty (bird poop? really?). I wanted the Beorn scene to go more like the book (dwarves arriving two and three at a time). I might be forgetting my appendices and Silmarillion, but I’m not entirely sure what Galadriel and Legolas are doing in this trilogy. The Tauriel-Kili romance seems gratuitous and far-fetched.

But Radagast isn’t there for me. He’s there to make the kids laugh. The Beorn scene as Jackson filmed it makes far more sense in the movie than would Tolkien’s far, far slower (dragging?) approach. Galadriel makes a great addition for showing us the grave, behind-the-scenes power struggle of Good vs. Evil (as opposed to the more light-hearted material we get from Bilbo and the dwarves). Legolas…well, what would a Middle-Earth movie be without our resident surfing elf, he of the subtly snarky facial expressions?

And I adore Tauriel. She’s a hero, she’s vulnerable, she’s conflicted, desperate, determined, passionate, soft, and unyielding. She’s a female character with power and influence over the course of the story, which is something Tolkien missed the boat on. Another good reason for including Galadriel as well. Two female characters with agency aren’t nearly enough, but they’re better than none.

Side note: Seeing Galadriel’s story brought to the big screen would be FABULOUS. BRING IT, JACKSON.

So, although I admit that Jackson’s movies do have their issues — both internally and from a Tolkien-canon standpoint — I still enjoy the heck out of them. Besides, Martin Freeman is the utterly perfect Bilbo, Richard Armitage is brilliant, and Benedict Cumberbatch is exactly the Smaug I’ve always pictured. It just doesn’t get any better.

Side Note II: Jackson’s trilogy is so superior to the 1977 Hobbit, it’s barely worth mentioning, but for one element. The 1977 version of Gollum terrified me at age 9 to the point that I refused to watch the movie again until I was 16. And since then, that 1977 Gollum has remained the creepiest version of the character that I’ve ever seen. I adore Andy Serkis’s performance, but that animated Gollum from 38 years ago will always be my monster in the closet.

Tolkien’s The Hobbit

I didn’t read the book — or any of Tolkien’s works, for that matter — until I was in my mid-teens. Likely, this “delay” came about partially because I was scared of Gollum and didn’t want him in my head any more than necessary. But part of the reason was that I picked the book up at age 12, found the style of writing dull, and put it down again after reading the first page. Looking back, I find this peculiar, as I maintained an advanced reading level throughout my childhood. Why I didn’t “get” Tolkien back then is a mystery to me. When I picked up LotR a couple of years later, I enjoyed it thoroughly. So I don’t know what my deal was with Hobbit.

In my mid-teens, I came across the book at a German bookstore. I wasn’t interested in reading it in German. I wasn’t interested in reading it at all. But I did wonder why the Germans shelved this book in the children’s section. I’d been a child and tried to read it without success. Silly Germans. Imagine my surprise when I followed where curiosity led and discovered that American and British publishers considered this a children’s book, as well! Stuff and nonsense!

So, at age 17? 18? I read The Hobbit, loved it, and admitted that maybe this did qualify as a children’s book. Maybe my 12-year-old self wasn’t as highbrow a reader as she’d considered herself to be.

Books vs. Movies

There is no “books vs. movies.”

It’s apples and oranges. No. Not even that, because film and print are more different from each other than that. If we’re gonna stick with food metaphors: Books are meat and potatoes, and movies are lasagna.

I heartily enjoy meat and potatoes.
I heartily enjoy lasagna.

I can’t like one more than the other. I enjoy each at different times and for different reasons.

Both are food, but their forms are different. They require vastly different ingredients. They require different seasonings and cooking times and cookware and serving dishes. They belong to different cultures. One person will always like lasagna best. Another person will always prefer meat & potatoes. (What’s taters, precious, eh? What’s taters? >>PO-TAY-TOES.) Comparing one dish favorably over the other means stating that one person’s tastebuds and brain are superior to another’s, and that just ain’t gonna fly.

I can’t sit down to a meal of lasagna and complain that there aren’t french fries in it. Well, I can complain — but everyone will peg me as a lunatic or a bumpkin. “Don’t take Courtney out to dinner — she’ll gripe that there isn’t any sushi in the center of her cordon bleu.” I can’t order meat & potatoes and then demand to know what happened to my sausage & ricotta. It doesn’t make any sense to expect the ingredients of one dish to be mixed into another dish.

In the same way, I’ve decided it doesn’t make any sense for me to compare books and movies. Characters that work great onscreen aren’t going to function the same way on paper. Pacing that is comfortable and familiar and readable in a book is going to be deadly dull in a film. Events a writer has time to portray in a 600-page novel just can’t take place in a 140-minute movie.

The recipe for a book won’t translate directly to film. Just as directly translating German to English can result in ridiculousness, so can directly translating a book to a movie. The 1977 Hobbit pretty much tried this, and the result was a cute but not fantastic movie. Watchmen suffered translation problems. (I will say it has more issues than that, though.) From what I’ve heard, The Great Gatsby did, too; I can’t judge because I hated the book and haven’t seen the movie. But I’m sure any one of you can think of great examples where a book-to-film movie flopped because it contained too many book ingredients and not enough movie ingredients.

So I don’t compare books and their movie versions anymore. If it’s a good book, great. If it’s a good movie, great. I take each for what it is and don’t expect the same from either. It makes my mental life easier and allows me to enjoy more of the entertainment available to me. I can’t complain about that.

Is Virtue Your Trap, Too?

(Or: Confessing My Creative Recovery, Pt. 2)

Awhile back, I promised to do a series of posts on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

This might or might not be the first post in that series. I don’t know yet. I’ve been keeping myself pretty well confined to Confessions of late, so after today, I might need to break out of that for awhile. We’ll see.

Today, however, I’m definitely talking about my experiences with The Artist’s Way, and I’ll start by saying this:

If you’re a practicing Creative, then you need to work this book.

If you know you’re a dormant Creative, then you need to work this book.

If you’d like to be creative, then you need to work this book.

I say “work” instead of “read” because this book is work. I won’t hide that. It’s work, and it is painful, hard work.

But it’s worth it. If you work it the way it’s meant to be worked, it’ll change your life. At the very least, it’ll alter in a positive way how you see yourself. And that, my lovelies, is always worth the effort.

Get Well? Yes, Please!

There’s a whole ‘nother story behind how I ended up with a copy of The Artist’s Way in my grubby hands (thanks, Gail!), and maybe I’ll tell you sometime. For now, all you need to know is that this book grabbed me from page one, because I had realized I was very, very sick (see posts on boundaries, fear, God, confessions).

And though I’d already started on my journey toward creative recovery, the start of that journey was similar to that of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: I ran out of my proverbial house in a panic, carrying with me no supplies but the clothes on my back. No shoes. And not even a pocket handkerchief!

I knew I was on a journey of healing, and I desperately wanted to get well. I’d reached a point in my journey that called for finding supplies or giving up and going home.

Cameron’s The Artist’s Way was my Gandalf, my dwarves, and my stop at the inn to catch up with them all and catch my breath.

The Virtue Trap

Cameron’s book consists of cramazing thoughts on creativity and practical exercises to go along with all the thoughts. Today, I’m sharing with you some of her ideas. Next week, I’ll open the door and let you see the start of the bonfire her thoughts sparked in me.

Cameron writes (p. 97-98),

For an artist, withdrawal is necessary. Without it, the artist in us feels vexed, angry, out of sorts. If such deprivation continues, our artist becomes sullen, depressed, hostile. We eventually become like cornered animals, snarling at our family and friends to leave us alone…

Many of us have made a virtue out of deprivation. We have embraced a long-suffering artistic anorexia as a martyr’s cross. We have used it to feed a false sense of spirituality grounded in being good, meaning superior.

I call this seductive, faux spirituality the Virtue Trap.

Cameron goes on to talk about how, when we fall into the Virtue Trap, we abandon self. Like a wounded animal, our artist self goes to ground because we’ve sold it out in favor of others’ approval. The only thing left for the world to see is this Virtuous shell that everybody likes.

This is what happened to me when acquaintances disapproved of my art and mentors called my writing a selfish waste of time — and I abandoned my creativity in favor of a Virtuous shell.

Rage Against the Machine Myself

My Virtue was fake, it was deceptive, and it enabled me to go on self-destructing on the inside, where nobody had to watch. I was leeching blood from myself, vampirizing my soul.

When that one acquaintance called my art “demonic,” I hid my dark fantasy paintings away — in exchange for apathy and resignation.

When that one mentor told me I was being selfish for wanting time to myself, I gave up that time — and the result was a secret, uncontrollable rage.

But nobody knew I was feeling both apathetic and furious at the same time, because all anybody could see was my outer shell of likeable Virtue.

Our artist is not merely out of sorts. Our artist has checked out. Our life is now an out-of-body-experience. We’re gone. A clinician might call it disassociating. I call it leaving the scene of the crime (Cameron, 98).

Whose crime?

Mine. My crime was selling out my artist self to everyone else’s opinions, desires, and demands. My artist self met with disapproval — and because I’m an approval addict, I set out to destroy my artist self with hidden apathy and rage.

Weird Enough?

Virtuous to a fault, these trapped creatives have destroyed the true self, the self that didn’t meet with approval… The self who heard repeatedly, “Don’t be selfish!” The true self is a disturbing character, healthy and occasionally anarchistic, who knows how to play, how to say no to others and “yes” to itself (Cameron, 99).

I’m a weirdo who grew up as a Creative immersed in several different cultures at once. That’s disturbing enough in and of itself. But now I’m supposed to become even more disturbing by defending my artist self and saying “no” to people? I’m supposed to become that weird?

I couldn’t face it. So I constructed the Virtuous shell and systematically destroyed myself on the inside.

I didn’t become consciously aware of all this until I read what Cameron wrote about the Virtue Trap.

Come back next week, and I’ll let you peek at my Virtue Trap homework.

Good grief, that sounds dirty. đŸ˜€


What can you relate to about the Virtue Trap?

What about this feels familiar?

What do you think about Cameron’s claim that we develop a Virtuous shell out of a sense of superiority?

Have you worked any of The Artist’s Way? Share your experiences with us!