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Meanderings by josh m. shepherd: #4: Sub-creation and Peter Jackson
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The Council of Elrond"Strangers from distant lands, friends of old," intones the Elf-lord Elrond as his Council begins. "You are summoned here to answer the threat of Mordor. Middle-earth stands on the brink of destruction. You will unite or you will fall." These grave words apply to more than dwarves, Elves and warriors of the Third Age.

Replace "Mordor" with "Peter Jackson’s movies" and one will get an idea of the skepticism the film director has faced from J.R.R. Tolkien purists since day one. Added characters, cut chapters and visuals that made imagination obsolete surely spelled "destruction" for the lover of Middle-earth.

Peter JacksonIs the winner of four Academy Awards a Tolkien travesty? Is it merely a balance of Hollywood schmaltz with the written word? Rave reviews and $871 million gross from The Fellowship of the Ring don't give the answers to such questions. One must examine the philosophy behind this fantasy to weigh how closely Jackson comes to doing it justice.

"In the day that God created man," states Genesis 5:1, "He made him in the likeness of God." Man, then, must be similar to the Almighty. Indeed, we love, weep, long for perfect communion… and create. The Primary Creator has spawned "Sub-creators," to use Tolkien's word; the act man engages in is Subcreation. Fantastic myth is one aspect of that, called "narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode."

J.R.R. TolkienArt links imagination to Subcreation. By that process Tolkien crafted a mythic Secondary World, using firm guidelines. A place "into which both spectator and designer can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside," a true Secondary World has an "inner consistency of reality" (to quote his essay "On Fairy Stories"). Unlike drama, fantasy "seeks shared enrichment, partners in making and delight"—not manipulation and recovery without cost. Its plot-turns must, above all, deny "universal final defeat, [instead] giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief."

Gandalf Fights SarumanThe Fellowship of the Ring is not a bloodless, sanitized film. "Epic battle sequences" are the MPAA’s main concerns in doling out a PG-13 rating, but many Christians are more bothered over the film’s "magic" elements (mistakenly, one might add, as these moments are spiritual in a true sense). Certain parts could have been eliminated (the Wizards Duel, for instance, is laughable in its deviation from the text), but those are more that made up for in Jackson's brilliant interpretations of countless scenes.

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