believe the subject in question in this thread is ultimately whether
the new films "stayed true" to the books. The actual definition of
"stayed true" is what ends up causing most of the disagreement. Which
makes sense, since what is "true" for one person is obviously different
for another. Such disagreement is natural. In fact, it constitutes the
vast majority of the disagreement that occurs in this world. We might
sum it up as follows: People acting on their emotions, and making
reasoned arguments to give their emotions more validity. I think this
is a little silly and useless, but I have no problem with it. That is
not what I take issue with.
What I take issue with is the claim, both explicit and implied, that these films are in any way a stain or bad mark on Tolkien's tradition or tale. What I mean to say is this: PJ's films, as made, cannot in any possible way hurt the mythic tradition that Tolkien began. In fact, by their very nature, they only have the potential of taking it to greater heights. The issue that must be addressed here is one regarding the nature of storytelling, and more specifically myth. Without an understanding of the essential elements of storytelling and myth, it is easy to see how so many folks can go astray.
I believe that at the core of a lot of folks animosity towards the films is fear. We need to examine this fear if we are to further the debate. I will be perfectly honest here: The film's critics fear, at a certain level, that the film may somehow replace Tolkien's book. Not literally, of course. But on a popular, cultural level, they fear that "Lord of the Rings" will be perceived from hereon out as PJ's tale, and not as Tolkien's. They fear that this book, which has affected them so personally, will be replaced or forgotten. This fear manifests itself at varying levels, from mere discomfort at changes in the tale, to outright malcontent and maliciousness. Essentially the film's critics feel a need to tell the world: "This is NOT Tolkiens' book!!!" They fear that the world might make that assumption. What I'd like to ponder is just why this fear still manifests itself in certain folks, while others are completely free of it.
I believe the answer is based on simple psychological principles. I said a moment ago that the films' critics fear that the world may see "Lord of the Rings" as PJ's, rather than Tolkien's. But that's not really what is happening here, is it now? What they really fear is that they themselves will mistake PJ's film for the real "Lord of the Rings." You see, in the mind of the critic, there cannot exist 2 versions of The Lord of the Rings. There can only exist one, and that is Tolkiens' book. And previous to the films, there was never any issue. Every interpretation of Tolkien was so remote from the original source that there was never any threat. If anything, the critics took more pleasure in these interpretations of Tolkien, because they offered a greater sense of security. Take the cartoon adaptations, for instance. These adaptations are so far from the book that for the critics these hardly present a threat. Indeed, the film critic might in fact find more comfort in these adaptations. This eventuality, though clearly absurd, shows how entrenched this fear is in certain individuals. They would rather experience a horrible adaptation, because such an adaptation presents a smaller threat to Tolkien's book. The great irony here, of course, and the one I find most fascinating, is that these critics have less faith in the power of Tolkien's tale then those fans who enjoy both book and film. To understand why this statement holds true, you must first understand the nature of myth.
Let me employ a metaphor here to assist me in outlining the nature of myth. We might compare myth (and storytelling in general) to a tree or a bush. It begins as a seed, which in this case would be Tolkien's original book. As more people read the book, the seed slowly develops, as each reader interprets it differently. Eventually these passive interpretations become the roots of the tree. By "passive" I mean that the interpreter has not acted on his or her interpretation; it is still only in their mind. In this case it would be each reader of Tolkien’s tale, reading the book, and interpreting it personally in their mind. The next stage of myth, and the one which concerns us, is when folks start interpreting myth actively. I'm skipping many intermediary steps, but this is the just of it. As individuals begin interpreting the tale actively, the roots (which were previously just passive interpretations) develop into branches. This would be where PJ, Bakshi, and every other Tolkien artist or musician exists. They have taken their personal interpretations, and acted on them. As these branches develop, they gain branches of their own. This is the final step of myth, where people interpret an interpretation. Although we are not quite there with Tolkien yet, a minor example would be some of the drawings we've seen of certain movie characters engaging in scenes that weren't in the films.
So to summarize, we have three key steps, or "generations": The original storyteller telling the tale (first generation), someone interpreting the original tale actively (second generation), and someone interpreting the interpretation actively (third generation). Tolkien is the first generation, PJ is the second generation, and we have yet to see a development of a third generation.
Here is where the film's critics fail: They fear that once a strong branch develops, the roots will die. Actually, that would be an innocent enough mistake. They fail long before that. They fail the moment they claim that the branch can in any way be a detriment to the roots; In other words, that PJ's film can taint or hurt Tolkien's tale. Much like a tree, branches can only help. They allow leaves to be exposed to the sun, which in turn nourish the roots. In other words, PJ's film can only be an asset to Tolkien's legacy. More people will hear this great tale, and more people will learn it's key lessons. The more people who watch it, the stronger the tree will become. Here is where the film's critics fail: They fear that once a strong branch develops, the roots will die. Actually, that would be an innocent enough mistake. They fail long before that. They fail the moment they claim that the branch can in any way be a detriment to the roots; In other words, that PJ's film can taint or hurt Tolkien's tale. Much like a tree, branches can only help. They allow leaves to be exposed to the sun, which in turn nourish the roots. In other words, PJ's film can only be an asset to Tolkien's legacy. More people will hear this great tale, and more people will learn it's key lessons. The more people who watch it, the stronger the tree will become.
By fearing that the roots may become obsolete, the detractors reveal how little faith they have in the roots that are holding this whole tree together. Instead of enjoying PJ's film for what it is, they first and foremost see it as a threat. As mentioned earlier, for the critic there can only be one adaptation, one branch. As such, the critic wishes for the film to either 1) fail utterly as an adaptation, or 2) be so identical to their own interpretation that they'll be able to trick themselves into thinking the two are the same. Like I said, for the critic there cannot be two branches, or two adaptations. There is either the tale they know, or there is a tale that is completely different. This attitude is, in many ways, the absolute anti-thesis of the age-old tradition of myth. Where would Homers epics be had such an attitude been common? For that matter, where would the Bible be? Yes, even the Bible was interpreted to at least the second generation, if not arguably beyond. In short, I believe the phenomenon of folks not wanting to see Tolkien's tale develop into a fully-fledged myth is not PJ's issue, but one that certain individuals have to deal with personally. This is not some brand-new issue; the issue is ages old, and I can only count those who have accepted the films blessed. They understand the nature of myth.