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Why I'm glad that purists are being denigrated - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Why I'm glad that purists are being denigrated
"Oh, everyone likes Jackson's LotR, except for a few nutty purists..." "While this is sure to annoy literal-minded purists, so-and-so's choice to change such-and-such is inspired..." "Other than purists, with their slavish devotion to the text..."

And so on.

I've been a purist all my life, but until the LotR flap, no one really bothered to complain about us. We might as well have not existed. Now, we're nutcases and "literal-minded" dunderheads.

It's progress. It means there are now enough of us not keeping our mouths shut like good little fangirls that they have to make some acknowledgment of our existence, even if it's just to say, "You know... them. They're not as bright as sophisticated as we are; there's just no pleasing them."

Not that it doesn't drive me plainly berserk, of course. Assuming that I don't agree with a philosophy because I just don't understand it and need to have it explained to me again is extremely condescending. I know the philosophy behind adaptations. I've been a movie fan all my life. I've also written and produced a regular drama at college, and done an under-the-table adaptation of a book with my high school drama club. I've also acted and studied storytelling. I'm well aware of the differences and similarities among different types of narrative art.

I also understand visual symbolism, and am intrigued by different ways of envisioning the same scenes. I love looking at different illustrations of the same characters, or seeing different actors play them, so I'm also driven to distraction by, "Well, G-d, they can't accept that it's not EXACTLY the way they saw it!" Well, no kidding! Who'd'a thunk? Of course no two people who read the same scene will visualize it in precisely the same way. That doesn't change the fact that they're reading the same scene.

So, yes, I'm bothered by the fact that reasonable purist objections are met with no answer but an insult to a competing philosophy. No one has yet been able to explain to me why, for instance, changing a rape scene to a seduction in Dracula was true to the "spirit" of the book... and I am open. I'll even start, by bringing up the question of the attraction of evil in Victorian society. (Though I'll argue with that by pointing out that the seduction of Lucy Westenra was directly contrasted with the rape of Mina Harker because the two women were different and were meant to be.) Instead, an objection like that is met with, "Well, you have to understand that movies and books are different media. Let me explain again, using small words..."


Still, I'm not sorry to have this happening, simply because it means that more people have stopped being so enamored of having a movie made from a favorite book that they are willing to ignore things that make no logical sense. Like the response to fanfic Mary Sues who defy all canon logic and whose writers say "Use your imagination! It's fanfic!" as a defense, the response to silly changes to canon is starting to become quite pronounced. And that can only be a good thing for everyone.
32 comments or Leave a comment
ashtur From: ashtur Date: June 2nd, 2004 11:36 am (UTC) (Link)
As another purist (though certainly not a fangirl ^_~), let me say how much I agree with you. It's been great to actually find people who don't look at me askance for having issues with The Two Towers (the movie), and who are more than a bit nervous about PoA.
pauraque From: pauraque Date: June 2nd, 2004 12:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
On this subject, I agree with Roger Ebert, who once said that an adaptation is not a marriage, and being "unfaithful to the book" is not adultery.

Though I often enjoy movies made from books (and vice versa), I honestly don't care what sorts of changes the person doing the adapting makes; I only care whether the end result is a good book/movie on its own merits. Likewise, I don't get upset over the fandom "remix" challenges, or the Disney versions of fairy tales, or any other various sorts of adaptations. It doesn't change the source text.

However, it may change the way some people _view_ the source text, and that, I do care about. Movie fanon is sometimes harmless (costuming), and sometimes pernicious (Rickman!Snape). The examples I just gave are purely my opinion, of course -- some people think Rickman!Snape is canon enough, but go mad when they see striped scarves and ties in a fic.

Some fandoms deal with this sort of thing very differently from HP and LotR. X-Men fandom accepts both "comics canon" and "movie canon", and sometimes combines the two. I don't know enough about it to talk about the results, but it is an example of a source text and a radical adaptation coexisting peaceably.
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: June 2nd, 2004 12:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, it's worth noting that X-Men continuity is notoriously confused and existed in multiple variations (not all of them official alternate timelines, and not all of them internally consistent) in the first place. We're used to it. We're also pretty much utterly lacking in reverence for the "original creators," except occasionally for some individual favorites. This is partly because the writers and artists keep changing, and sometimes fans know a good deal more about the characters than the people currently being paid to develop them. (And sometimes, the people currently paid to develop them may know what they're doing and still do something stupid.)
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: June 2nd, 2004 12:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
...That said, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies. And Shadows of the Empire. And on examining the League of Extraordinary Gentleman comics, I think I liked the movie better, although I have no dispute with the fact that the comics are more complex and less frivolous.

Fern may have to cut me dead over the first two. Darn.
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: June 2nd, 2004 12:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
an adaptation is not a marriage, and being "unfaithful to the book" is not adultery

In a college class on Old English, our professor shared an (acknowlegedly sexist) adage about translation, that seems to apply equally well to adaptations:
"Translations are like women: when they are beautiful they are rarely faithful, and when faithful, they are seldom beautiful."
I have seen a few books into film which manage to be both: The Princess Bride does quite well, partly because the author was also a screenwriter, and knew how to adapt it.

But, back to the notion of purism, not only didn't I see PB in the theaters, I tried to avoid all coverage of the film because I loved the book so much, I didn't think any movie could do it justice. [Keep in mind, this was only a couple years after Disney's The Black Cauldron was released. Hollywood didn't have a good track record as far as fantasy was concerned.]

But on the whole, adaptations are tradeoffs.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 2nd, 2004 12:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think one of the differences between a series-based canon and a book based canon is that series-based canon really boils down to a "high concept"--superhero mutants, in a school. Man gets spidery superpowers. Etc. The concept is meant to be developed in new and different ways (I got into this a bit in my review of the New Battlestar Galactica), so going back to the drawing board and trying it from a different angle seems natural. Books, on the other hand, are a specific handling of a high concept--LotR is Tolkien's handling of "small and insignificant person takes on the great burdens of the world." What makes it itself is in the detail, in the things that are important to Tolkien. A different story could be made from the same high concept (and has been, many times), but it's not LotR.

My problem with the view of the world issue is a bit deeper than the scarves and such, which I think are cute, and Rickman, who I think is lovely (I like the whole cast, actually, of both HP and LotR). It's the concept that the movie somehow supercedes or "perfects" the book, hence the ubiquitous notion that Jackson "fixed all the problems" in Tolkien. And of course, with HP, I'm tearing at my hair because a mother of my acquaintance has told her son that he doesn't have to bother reading the books, since they're making movies anyway. (Isn't that some sort of legal definition of child abuse?)

Also, of course, I have an AU-writer's brain in my head, and when I see something changed in canon, I want to follow its logical consequences, not pretend that everything would have ended up in the same place anyway!
likeafox From: likeafox Date: June 2nd, 2004 01:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I must say that people bashing canon purists bugs me too, not because I am one myself (I actually wanted them to change /more/ things in the Harry Potter movies, if you can believe it!) but because everyone is entitled to their opinion. It seems to me that saying "those nutty purists..." is a last resort argument of people who don't know how else to say they think the movie's are good, despite changes.

Personally, I love the Lord of the Rings movies. There /are/ changes I object strongly too *grumbleFaramirgrumble* but in the end I thought the movies were wonderful. I got chills during parts of Two Towers when I first saw it in the theater. That has been the only time in my life watching a movie has given me a similar reaction to reading the book it was about.

My personal opinion on making books into movies is that changes should be made. If the book is something I love, like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, nothing is EVER going to top it, movie or otherwise. I'd rather the movie be something in it's own right instead of just a shadow of the original.

Still, I'm not about to go bashing people because they disagree with me!

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 2nd, 2004 02:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's appreciated, and despite my constant stream of arguments, I do accept that other people have different philosophies of translation/adaptation. I'd just like to see more of a representation from purists in the actual theaters... we got Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile (mostly), but it's not often that an attempt is made.
malabud From: malabud Date: June 2nd, 2004 02:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I actually mused about book-to-movie adaptations recently in my journal. I guess I'm somewhat of a purist. I enjoyed the LotR movies, but cringed at quite a few of the changes. To quote my recent LJ entry:

I find myself both anticipating and dreading the PoA movie. Naturally, the movies won't give us the careful and painstaking characterization, plot development, and character growth that we get from the books. I've accepted that. However, I would hope that the movies would make an attempt at such important details. The movies do not need to be--indeed, they cannot be--completely faithful to the books. It is the spirit of the books I look for in the movies. (Giving Hermione Ron's important, character-building lines in a scene where Ron is still present is deviating from the spirit of the books, for instance.) Most of the time, I find that I like a book better than its movie adaptation. I have only two exceptions to that, which are The Princess Bride and E.T. Movies that I like nearly as well as the books are few and far between, but I would say only Pride and Prejudice, Seabiscuit, and Holes fall into that lofty category. For everything else, if I've read the book first, I like the book better. Of course, there are those movies which bear the name of the book, but whose plots have no discernible similarity to the those of the books. (I'm looking at you, Count of Monte Cristo!) These may be good movies, but they may as well be named something else for all the divergences from the book.

When I was traveling recently, I started chatting with a woman next to me. She said she had never read the Harry Potter books, and that she would not read them until all the movies came out, for fear that they would not be as good as the movies. I gaped at her for a moment, then exclaimed, "But the books are so much better!" She insisted that she did not want to ruin the movies by reading the books. Another lady I recently met said that she would not read the first three Harry Potter books. Instead, she will watch the first three movies and start reading with book four. (This reminded me, unfortunately, of my older sister and her husband, who decided to watch the first LotR movie when it first came out and then start reading the books with TTT instead of FotR.) I hope that the average fan of the Harry Potter movies are not like these women. I hope that the movies inspire more people to read the books, not fewer.

There is also what Lexicon Steve calls "movie contamination," when we see something in the movies and become convinced it's also in the books. Prime example, as cited in a comment above, who goes into the Forbidden Forest in the first book with Harry on detention? Well, it's not Ron. And that change hardly improved the movie, IMNSHO.

(I tend to get long-winded in my comments sometimes. Sorry!)
From: leeflower Date: June 2nd, 2004 02:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
When it comes down to it, to me, LoTR will always, always be the books. There is nothing in the world that pisses me off more than people who try to use the movies as an authority by which to judge the books. That's just dumb. That's as annoying as the twelve year olds who go around claiming that LotR and 'Timothy Hunter and the Books of Magic' stole from Rowling because they're too illiterate to check the publication dates.

But to me, it's just like Shakespeare. When I saw the Lerman version of Romeo and Juliet (Dicaprio and Danes version), I didn't think it was a terrible bastardization of the original. I thought it was a re-envisioning, the same way the Jackson version of LotR was, and I appreciated it and critiqued it on the basis of the directorial choices made in regards to the original material. I also tried to let it stand on its own feet.

What annoys me about such re-envisionings isn't that they exist; it's the people who treat them as better than the original. Because really when it comes down to it, they're fanfic with liscensing, and that's how they should be judged.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 2nd, 2004 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I saw the DiCaprio and Danes version of R&J, and I think it was mostly pretty faithful--it just re-set it and changed swords for guns, which was a kind of funky surrealist illustration of the text but not a serious change. Except for the weird thing in the swimming pool. I didn't care for it, because part of Shakespeare is getting away from the everyday and mundane (it was in his time as well; his viewers certainly didn't live in Verona!). But as far as the text went, though I didn't have my book open, I think they mainly got the scenes and dialogue in, and it was spoken by the right characters. That's pretty much my criterion for "faithful"--lots of funky things you can do from there!

I enjoyed West Side Story, which is my idea of how to do an unfaithful adaptation--just call it "inspired by" and run.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 2nd, 2004 02:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
(This is true of a play. In a novel, the setting and details aren't the prerogative of the director, but of the writer, who runs the whole show. A play script, by its nature, is open to wacky visuals, usually quite deliberately. A novel comes with its set decorated.)
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 3rd, 2004 12:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
(click-over from mme ubiquity's journal, and got sucked in due to my insane Tolkien fanness)...
I like that. "fanfic with licensing". Ha! My attitude in watching the Peter Jackson films was a great interest in, basically, reading the book through someone else's eyes; what he loved (you can tell he loved Boromir more than the average reader, for example, and seemed to care for Faramir less...), where his imagination spun away from the book, what the eyes of the Weta folks saw in it. I'm way too steeped in my own imaginings of the book to have his vision take it over (with the possible exception of McKellen's excellent performance), but I found watching it to be an opportunity for a renaissance of my own view of the text, precisely *because* I read the damn thing so many times that it's becoming hard to get new meaning from it anymore. But add in another person, and yet more worlds of meaning open up. Peter Jackson was able to do this for me, I think, where other adaptations of other movies have failed (witness: HP& the sorceror's stone), because he is himself a poet. So yes, while I'm a purist, and some things about the movie ticked me off (how could they do that to Faramir? Where's Saruman's speech? Why aren't the hands of the king the hands of a healer anymore?), all in all, I found that it has added to my appreciation for Tolkien's story more than it has diminished it.

Tolkien had his flaws. Peter Jackson had different ones. I think that the behavior of Chris Tolkien and his estate has been slightly reprehensible, especially when, upon watching the movies, it becomes clear just how much these movies were a labor of love, and not of commercialism. Great stories take on a life of their own, and cannot be possessed, even though they can be copywrited. I think it might just be possible that there is a middle view-- that maybe Jackson's movie *does* heal some of Tolkien's flaws, and Tolkien takes care of Jackson's; that we are witnessing, as the professor once said he hoped, the birth of a new mythology, both for England, and (bonus!) for the rest of us.

The book is better. But the *story* is the thing.

(sorry this got so long-winded! I'm really passionate about Tolkien.)

~Lizzie O.
Somerville, MA
From: leeflower Date: June 3rd, 2004 01:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
spot on. I like a lot of what you're saying here.

I really do feel like it is a mythology. And just like the many incarnations of Arthurian legend can all be good or bad on their own while completly different from each other, different encarnations of the red book of westmarch will never change the original, or the love we feel for it.

I wonder, seven hundred years from now, if time will look on LotR as it now looks on that french romance that has become the fuel of so many imaginings.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 3rd, 2004 02:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm also passionate about Tolkien, which is why I'm pretty much with Chris Tolkien on the subject--I thought the movies really were pretty crass commercialism. I just didn't see much love for the original in them... otherwise, they'd have followed it a bit more closely.
chris tolkien - (Anonymous) - Expand
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