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

Monday, May 19, 2008

No Visible Means of Support

We made a rare venture out to the movie theater to see Prince Caspian when it opened in theaters this weekend. I won't write a full review now, but overall I thought it was better than the first Narnia movie -- and that the plot threads they made up out of whole cloth actually were more tightly written than the ones they were trying to adapt. A good solid attempt at adapting a book which is structured in a very difficult fashion when it comes to putting it on the screen.

However,a couple of the scenes therein reminded me of an ongoing beef that I've had with the recent spate of epic fantasy movies.

How is everyone getting fed?

Yes, this labels me as officially being a history and economics geek, but this invariably bothers me when you see the sweeping shot of an isolated citadel set on rolling plains with a mountain crag in the background.

Take the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies. You see lots of farm land and grazing animals in the Shire because that's a comforting and pastoral place, but throughout the rest of the movie cities and citadels are set in complete isolating in New Zealand wilderness.

In Tolkien's original Two Towers, Edoras is set amidst rich pasture land. In the movie, it was built on top of this hill.Similarly, in Tolkien's account of the battle of Helm's Deep, the fortress is nestled against hills above some of Rohan's more fertile farmland, and as the defenders watch from the walls they can see the orcs' approach because they're burning the fields, farmhouses and haystacks as they come. In the movie, Helm's Deep was built in this valley:In the lead-up to the battle of Pelennor Fields at Minis Tirith, Tolkien describes all the farmers and villages from the surrounding farmland being brought into the citadel, and the invading army burning crops and farmhouses. In the movie, the citadel is again in a barren, windswept plain of low grasses:And finally, the reason last night's movie reminded me of this, in Prince CaspianMiraz's castle is set amid an empty landscape, with the only Telmarines that ever appear being soldiers until the very, very end when suddenly 10,000 commoners appear out of no where for the closing crowd scenes. No fields, no flocks, no herds.

Now, don't get me wrong. The visuals on these movies are brilliant, and the starkness of the landscape is one of the things that gives them their beauty. However, it strikes me that this underlines in part a fundamental disconnect we have as modern people from the way that people have traditionally lived. When we imagine ancient civilizations, we imagine the big buildings, and perhaps the surrounding buildings in a city. We're picturing the ruins that we see when we visit historical sites. And we don't think about where the food comes from, because we know that food comes fromrestaurants and supermarkets. Fields? When's the last time you had to have a field near your house in order to eat well?

In a real ancient or medieval level culture, you'd virtually never have a city or major fortress that wasn't within a few miles of food sources. But to our eyes, unconcerned with food production, the huge windswept vistas seem more ancient and primal.


boomvark said...

"Amateurs discuss tactics. Dilettantes discuss strategy. Professionals discuss logistics."

I've long since forgotten who said that ... Clausewitz? Bismarck? Whomever; it's become such a generally acknowledged axiom that the original source almost doesn't matter.

rhinemouse said...

Heh. Good point. (And I am such a typical modern that I never noticed!)

I liked the movie a whole lot to--and, to my great surprise, liked almost all the changes at least in concept, even if I thought they sometimes fell down on the execution.

Scott Carson said...

In the movie, the citadel is again in a barren, windswept plane of low gasses

Man, I think I lived in that plane when I was in graduate school. It probably had something to do with the proximity to my dorm of a cheap Mexican restaurant....

Darwin said...

Sigh. I had a ladle spell chequer...

At least we're clear they were not noble gases.

LogEyed Roman said...

Darwin, God bless you for making this point!

I had forgotten the part in the books about all the farmland of Rohan visible from Helm's Deep. But I was annoyed at Edoras and, especially, Minas Tirith standing there in the midst of an apparantly totally uninhabited wilderness. If I recall, JRRT specifically described all the farms around Minas Tirith. Now the Pelennor Fields were not given over to small farms, or all the walls, sheds, cots, etc. would preclude dramatic horse charges etc. But they easily could have been large fields belonging to the city, kept as pastureland for the large number of food and work animals in the city--not to mention the horses of the soldiers.

Oh, and Boomvark, my thanks to you; the quote I had heard was that "Amateurs discuss tactics. Professionlas discuss logistics." Yours is far more complete.

LogEyed Roman

Bernard Brandt said...

The point, rather, is a practical one: who is going to go out there in arable land and do the sort of traditional agriculture which involves no harvesting machines, no artificial fertilizers, and no pesticides, and further, will plant in the sort of small plots required when all agricultural preparation was done by hand or with the help of an occasional ox or horse?

Of course, if you are around in 30 years, and we have not had some major breakthrough in energy production, I dare say that you will have that sort of quaint farm scenery. We shall have run out of oil by then (if not beforehand), and oil is at the base of the current agribusiness, from the planting and harvesting equipment, to the fertilizers, to the pesticides.

Of course, without the economic base which we now have, it is doubtful that people will have the leisure time to be able to afford to see movies, or to make them either.

Literacy-chic said...

Tolkien took great care to create a world that was in all ways believable, including in matters of food and drink. Lewis did not. His food, when it appears, is fantasy food or symbolic food (except when it is the inconvenience or unpleasantness of the food that is foregrounded). Tolkien's symbolic food was always the product of someone's labor or talent (in one sense or another). So, in this case at least, the author might be partially to blame. Though Lewis did have that one line about squishy raw bear meat in one's pockets.

Anonymous said...

Get the "Tough Guide to Fantasyland" by Diana Wynne Jones. You will find your answers therein.