This is quite a short chapter and, as indicated at the end of my last instalment, the main plot development is to get our heroes from the comfort of Lake Town to the side door of the dragon’s den on the Lonely Mountain surrounded by the Desolation of Smaug. However, a film release, events in the story, and other commentaries have given me a few ideas to discuss.
Before we go any further, I have to confess that I have only just seen my first 3-D film. This is obviously something I would have to do sooner or later if I am going to comment on the use of such technology in the forthcoming film of The Hobbit. My initiation into this new cinematic experience came with watching The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. I apologise to readers in North America who will have to wait until 21 December to see this, but I would recommend it as very good value entertainment. I was amazed not just at the quality of the depth effect on screen, but the way things can be made to leap out at you. I felt the added dimension was used to good effect by those up-and-coming directors, Spielberg and Jackson. They were helped by a story based on a comic strip so that any amount of amazing scrapes at high speed did not seem out of place. With The Hobbit, as a live action film, I think Jackson will have to be more sparing with the eye-popping 3-D effects. We need more credible stunts and action from most of the characters in The Hobbit, and I, for one, will be looking for a film which in some way reflects the pace of Tolkien’s carefully crafted narrative.
Tolkien also has some action-packed scenes and scary moments, so there should be good opportunities for using 3-D in Jackson’s film. I would go further and say that 3-D will be welcome in bringing Middle-earth to life in a super-realistic way, which will do justice to the magic which Tolkien works on his readers by drawing them so effectively into his secondary reality which, after all, is the Realm of Faerie where the supernatural interacts with the natural.
Talking of supernatural events, it was fortunate (or providential, whichever way you want to look at it), that, as I was getting a little concerned about the content for this article, I should be walking down a street in Cambridge when I saw the notices shown in the photograph outside the Church of St Edward King and Martyr announcing lectures on “The Inklings: Fantasists or Prophets”.
I had not heard of Malcolm Guite before but a little Googling took me to his blog, and it soon became apparent to me (whereas Mark Sommer, that great denizen of the internet, already knew) that he is an Inkling scholar of some note. I am very much enjoying listening to his lectures on-line. I was particularly keen to start the podcast about Owen Barfield as he is the most important Inkling whose works I have not read, and I was aware that his book, Poetic Diction, had a big influence on Tolkien and Lewis.
No doubt, I will be referring to these lectures again when I have listened to them all. In the meantime, I would like to mention one theme I picked up from the talk on Barfield. Apparently, Lewis and Barfield discussed at length the power of words to produce a “felt change of consciousness”, particularly in poetry, and I think this is the same or closely related to the entry into secondary reality which Tolkien describes in his essay On Fairy-stories. Barfield draws an analogy with electric current being induced in a wire as it moves into or out of a magnetic field and the effect on his mind as poetry begins and ends its effect. Now I normally feel great apprehension when I start moving into the academic field of the Inklings, but, as an engineer, I would dare to offer an extension to this analogy. For me, the great thing about Tolkien’s writings is not the feeling of moving into, or out of, his imaginary realm, but the time I spend there reading the stories and, if possible, sharing the experience as they are read out loud. That would be analogous to the present day method of electricity generation where wires are moving continuously within a magnetic field, which is less magical than the early experiments which Barfield refers to, but does provide us with the conveniences of modern life, including the internet. Perhaps there is a discussion to be had about differences between the power of words in poetry, story and theatre. At which point I am getting out of my depth and will turn back.
Before leaving this topic, it’s worth noting that in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”, C.S. Lewis makes an observation on the effect of a fairy story on a reader. The fairy story, “far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.” So, I think I’ve got some moral support there. (Hat tip to MG.)