The JRR Tolkien biopic (titled simply, Tolkien) due in theaters in May can forget about getting an endorsement from the Tolkien Estate. The legal body responsible for preserving and protecting the fictional works and intellectual property of the long-dead English literary giant released a statement to The Guardian today that made clear the estate “did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of” the Fox Searchlight Pictures film and that it does “not endorse it or its content in any way”.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. Christopher Tolkien, the only surviving son of JRR Tolkien who dedicated his life to editing and publishing his father’s unfinished works (including The Silmarillion and the 12 volume The History of Middle Earth) and the primary actor behind the estate, was not a fan of Peter Jackson’s films or the commercial juggernaut his father’s imaginings have been made into since those films reignited interest in all things Middle Earth in the early 2000s.
In the first interview he has given since his father’s death in 1973, Christopher Tolkien told French newspaper Le Monde in 2012 “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time.” He went on to say “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. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.
“Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time.”
And I can’t say that I blame the guy. In a world largely divorced from the religious, philosophical, cultural, and historical underpinnings of its own traditions, it’s unsurprising that the importance of the literary works (or even the works themselves) has been eclipsed by the industry they’ve inspired.
But I’m not sure it’s all bad. After Jackson’s first film The Fellowship of the Rings hit theaters, sales of Tolkien’s books went up 1000%, with 25 million copies of The Lord of the Rings sold between 2001 and 2003. Setting aside the cosplaying, video games, and other distractions, surely 25 million new eyes on the literature itself must be a good thing, right? I mean, if preserving and promoting the literature is your stated goal, millions of new people reading these 60 year old books has to be a pretty good trade off. One would think.
At any rate, I can’t say I disagree with the Tolkien Estate’s stance on the forthcoming biopic. It looks like melodramatic Hollywood trash. And, honestly, the first thing I thought when I saw the trailer was I hope this doesn’t taint Tolkien’s legacy.
Tolkien hits US theaters on May 10th.