Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Joy of Goodness

A fascinating take on the Lord of the Rings movies from Mere Comments, all about how the joy of goodness that Tolkien put into his books was lost in the films.
The trouble is that neither the director nor his fellow screenplay writers understood the joy of goodness. I don't mean happiness exactly, or the perky buffoonery of Merry and Pippin, but the simple and abiding joy that one feels, almost unconsciously, when one is doing a good thing, like planting out a garden of fine potatoes, or drinking excellent ale with old friends, or following one's master into Mordor, come what may. It's a kind of spiritual health, a brightness that you don't always notice until it is seared or spoiled.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is simply full of this joy, always threatening, like good but boisterous children, to burst out of the iron bonds of a bad world and rough things up again. I understand that when you write a screenplay you can't and shouldn't include every episode -- so I'm not blaming Jackson and his colleagues for cutting out Tom Bombadill. I'm blaming them for not understanding why Tolkien included that episode, unnecessary for the plot, in the first place. For if you cut out the good Tom, a force of nature, you sure had better not cut out Radagast, the simple wizard who spends all his time learning the languages of birds. Or you had better make sure that Merry and Pippin meet Sam and Frodo by design, since they are happy to accompany them no matter what. Or you had better be precise about the quiet humor, the eye-twinkling, of Aragorn. Or you better make Galadriel into something other than a female Boromir who pulls back from temptation at the last moment. You had better make your elves as beautiful as the trees they love; and you should sometimes shoot scenes that shine with the glories of wood and stream and sunlight.

The characters seem good in the way that weary, scorched souls may try to be good; they can no longer imagine the innocence they have lost. Or they stare wide-eyed out into nothing, like Elijah Wood, hoping that that will convey something like innocence -- innocuousness, at least. Even the wicked characters have no hypocritical traces of glory about them: so Saruman is reduced from the self-deluded, prideful fool who initially thinks he can do good by playing with evil, to a mere raving tool of Sauron; he does not rise to the level of the two-dimensional.

Read the comments as well.

(Masterpiece Theater's production of Bleak House is also mentioned in this post, and though I've never read the book, I have to agree that the unmigitated grimness of this version lacks the rambunctious cheer of even the most cynical Dickens novels.)

H/T Good and Happy, who comments:

Somehow, there is a moral legend afoot that we should pursue the Good merely because we ought, and ask no further. Yes. But In deep fact, we want the Good even as we want -- because they are good -- good food, good company, light and air, a happy home, love with a beautiful mate, the safety of children.

As the comments suggest, enjoying the good rather than distracting ourselves jerkily with that-defined-as-fun, implies touching bases and driving tent-pegs that we may have neglected for awhile. Beyond solipsistic hedonism indulging faux nostalgia for a tribe. Or the complexity-maven who finds torment "more interesting" than fruitful happy simplicity.

No comments: