Talkin’ About Tolkien
Spending a lot of time at home recently has given me the solitude to do a lot of things; to get back to building websites and reviewing things and writing about things and…okay, fine, all I’ve been doing is playing video games, now stop judging me!
It’s been a while since I sat down and played any games; a big part of it was nausea and the general awkwardness of my brain after having surgery and various people and chemicals poking at my left hemisphere. But I’ve played quite a few games recently, and they’ve gotten me back to a sense of “normal.”
Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor has been sitting on my table, tempting me and teasing me for months; I bought it because it looked stunning (and cool) and because I wanted it. I didn’t touch it because I didn’t really want to invest in this fictional world for a variety of reasons (don’t ask my brain, I don’t even bloody know.)
I played some silly little things to get into the swing of things, I picked up the controller and BAM! I wanted to play that game so bad that I unwrapped the plastic, loaded it into the XBox One and boom, away I went.
But that…that gave me thoughts on Middle-Earth.
I read The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings back when I was a kid (actually a kid. I was about 8, and I started with Lord Of The Rings because obviously an 8-yeard-old should start with the three-book-epic that operates on so many levels that he’ll totally understand them.) I even gave The Silmarillion a try (multiple times…I just can’t read about all that Elven drama. THEY ALL HAVE SUCH SIMILAR NAMES, DAMMIT!)
To say I adored the books is an understatement; I re-read the trilogy every summer throughout most of my teenage years, sort of an annual pilgrimage to worship at the altar of Tolkien, so I was one of those people that was excited to see three films that would put the crazy of the Lord Of The Rings onto the big screen.
I was also one of those people who discovered (and was burned by) creative license during those years. How dare this trilogy ignore Glorfindel in favour of Liv Tyler?! And what was with that boring off-book lounging around Osgiliath at the end of The Two Towers? This was…disappointing. And, unfortunately, this was definitely not the last of many many many adaptations going off-book in an attempt to create a new, different narrative. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. (Dear The Dark Is Rising, I am looking directly at you. Now put some clothes on, Alexander Ludwig.)
Maybe that’s part of the reason why it took me so long to actually get into Shadow Of Mordor; three more films taking place in the same world had come out (because The Hobit totally needed three films..not) and the world had just changed so much from the world I knew that it just didn’t feel the same.
Mind you, the only reason I knew that world is because it was created in my own head; it wasn’t the world so much as it was my take on that world.
It’s part of the reason why Shadow Of Mordor was a great game to play, but it had me thinking about the world, the intentions behind it, and the creation of it. And no, I don’t mean the way in which the Valar and the Istari did their thing. So much of the design is indebted to the movie franchise, so much of the actions and movements are beholden to Peter Jackson, that…well…this doesn’t feel like the Lord Of The Rings that I read, but almost like it’s become something wholly new and different and other in every sense of the word.
In some ways, this doesn’t feel like Tolkien’s world any longer, but a shared corporate one made to sell video games and movies.
Is this the Middle-Earth I want to visit? I don’t know.
Is this the Middle-Earth I want other people to see? Oh, wow…I don’t know about that either. But I’m certainly not happy to think that here’s this clashy bashy video game and some kid somewhere is going to see this vision of Middle-Earth before they even know what the provincial life of the Shire is like, for their own sake.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it makes me feel weird; it makes me long for the olden days when there were books, books that we longed for adaptations, not a world where the film was produced, turned into a franchise and then rebooted before we even had a chance to finish reading the series.
This is a thing; reader response theory. I won’t go into the detail because, when I was in college doing my degree all about stories and story-telling, I didn’t pay enough attention to this narrative-about-narratives, and now I have to go read my Roland Barthes.
And all because of a video game.
Damn it, video games, you’re not meant to make me think.
As a game, I loved it; slashy slash blasty blast kill kill kill of games. But…is that really what this epic world was about? (No, it’s about Tom Bombadil, a character so outrageous and twee and hated with every fibre of my being that I have skipped his chapters in every single re-read of the book.)
I can’t hate these new worlds, not in the same breath as admitting that I hate those chapters and willingly skip them, thus creating my own version of Middle-Earth.
But I can prefer my version, right?
If this is something interesting, go look up some reader-response theory; go read Death Of The Author by Roland Barthes; and go get a little terrified of this brave new world.
If you think I’m just a raving old man, then pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
For context, this post started because I wanted to review a video game that I enjoyed playing over the last week or so, and then got side-tracked by a lot of reactions to the season five finale of Game Of Thrones. Hitting all the bases in this post then, eh?
Apologies and thanks to Laurence Musgrove for acquiring his image to justify my point, either beautifully or horrifically.
Also published on Medium.