The Hobbit (2012) — Mis-Review

Failed revelry.  It seems film adaptations have such difficulties trans-lating mirth to the large screen.  Or perhaps, it is exceptionally difficult for me to follow a journey, for which I have some background to compare it against, if this key element is missed.  Emerson has famously in-scribed ‘Whim’ on his doorpost and I ‘d very much like to see something I ‘ll try to capture as the author’s whim or ‘character’ better matched.  This is the very thing which makes Tolkien so readable — he so naturally (in product not in process, perhaps) communicates: Middle Earth has a personality strange yet familiar to us, nearly forgotten yet perhaps recoverable if we can listen for it.

Ironically, ‘character’ follows an idea of engraving from its Indo-European roots ‘to scratch’.  This is what I must have to meaningfully track with a story.  It ‘s why I reject all beginnings to any stories of my own generation: if it should ever be different it will be because the engravings present themselves wholly of themselves.  Writing should be introducing myself to this other, not parts of myself to a member of the audience.  It is this element of ‘engraving’ which endears the ‘Avatar: the Last Airbender’ series to me, while simultaneously causes me to reject as inauthentic M. Night Shyamalan’s rendition.

Tolkien shows the dust of the road and the intermittent boredom which is part of adventure.  It’s in the telling that a story becomes mere transitions from one battle scene to the next.  Attempts were made to bring us into the joke (certainly in the costume design of Radagast and of the dwarves), but Jackson seemed too caught up in the dramatic flourishes and keen lines to present a 3-dimensional embodiment.  Or else, that ‘s what I was hoping to see.  We are expected to transport the de-hobbitization of Samwise, Frodo, Peregrin, and Meriadoc into the backdrop of the hobbit.  I feel we needed a refresher — certainly if we are to be fed this work in bits.

And speaking of bits, Tom Bombadil’s absence from LOTR should ‘ve been redeemed by an appearance in a film already grasping for whimsy.  Tolkien would call Bombadil an intentional enigma, so who better to insert where there is little to cheer or to fret, only varied hordes of dangers to run from and be wared of?  Who better to laugh at the smallness of the great world and its cares?  Such balance is sorely missing.  There was enough care given to the sojourners in LOTR to make up for the grey, but not here.

I completely fail to understand how Jackson hopes to generate enough suspense in these movies when we are well aware of the extended, world-altering sagas which comprise his LOTR rendition.  How can such be drummed up again without deeply felt characters?  Thorin presents a relatively flat performance, entirely predictable; Martin Freeman as Bilbo can’t surprise when little runs off our expected script; other than Balin, the supporting dwarf cast shows little in range of emotions.  It seems we are left to wonder how they shall so nearly escape absurdly certain death again and again.  But this was masterfully done in LOTR and the second time it is unsurprising altogether.

–Some may notice I am drawing too near a comparison of the Hobbit and LOTR.  Agreed, but the mistake has been made to connect them implicitly by first producing and releasing LOTR so that the proper backdrop is reversed.  What should be left to cover the difference is glaringly missing — revelry.  To add some positive: Andy Serkis’ performance of Gollum is again superb, but Freeman barely acts up to it and again I ‘m left annoyed that I can’t shake my annoyance.  This was so sadly an all-too-expected-journey.

Stooping the Shoulders & Retraining the King

I endeavor here to repeat a mis-take I unwittingly made some fortnights ago when my teacher keenly informed me that my writing was a ‘series of loosely connected quotations’.

~May I ever be guilty of such a charge~

Here I do not mean to emphasize too quickly a connectedness of words and their value as taken from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  It would be foolish to say that Mark Twain undervalued words — but he was n’t keen on tipping a cap to erudition un-derived from the genius of the lowest social castes.

I care not to prove such a point — tis wreckun’d eas’ly ’nuff.

Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe.

– Ch. XXVIII: ‘Drilling the King’

Here the king wills to partake in the gest of guising himself and going about amidst the lowest people with his 19th century courtier.  But while his head can be made to understand the value of cloaking himself in downtroddenness, his kingly shoulders will not learn by words what a lifetime has failed to teach them.

Similar enough remarks are tossed about when King Arthur and ‘the Boss’ are auctioned off: I safely remain at my library post while the words take on a whole new meaning when the chains are attached.  But it is a point too easily glossed over.


This brings me to a remark of value: in my trade we are tempted to compare salary offerings at face value without fully considering what is invested in exchange for what manner of life may be acquired.  This economic point is given quite a broad space in the Boss’ discussions with an incorrigible working class (of ‘free’ men in name) — who can not conceive to converse of payment apart from numerical value (for them 10 is more than 8 whether one can buy more for that 8 in a different community).

‘More than’ is all this community recognizes — that should n’t sound too unfamiliar to any of us.  It takes on a whole other meaning when you ‘re in the less than (and that ‘s a gap I can only bridge as far as I ‘m cut off from easy purchase).


I remember every detail of what he said, except the words he said it in; and so I change it into my own words.

–Ch. XXXV, p. 205

Too often we give pride of place to the account which recovers the exact transcript of the conversation, even when we should have argued enough in our days to know that ‘reading it back’ often elicits a resounding ‘that’s not what I said!’

There is much to be said, and therefore I shall say less, for communicating the gist — it is only when we can reply in our own words and the Other can recognize their intents represented courteously that we can say the details are remembered.  Words alone are n’t the it we ‘re looking for.


Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself.

—Ch. XXXV, p. 207

To be such a worker of words that the true fire shows, that the paint strokes may so easily obscure…  That thought should remain undescribed by words, though they remain sepulchers else — enlivened only to dance away.  Our words can at best dance along the flames.

Chasing Location and Author-ship in Foucault’s Example

In explaining the work undertaken in The Archaeology of Knowledge (L’Archeologie du Savoir) Foucault relates what he is herein attempting to say with that which was said in his prior works (namely Madness and Civilization, Naissance de la clinique, and The Order of Things).  These are his landmarks for the discourse (largely about discourse/discursive practices) he would seek to free ‘from all anthropologism’ (Archaeology trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith p. 17). 

When I first read this (and the statement which follows), it thoroughly struck me that Foucault was learning the language with which to approach his research project.  But what he published was still, though released/published, a series of thoughts incomplete of themselves.  They were, as our words truly are, as likely to point the reader to the wrong stars as to provide a coherent means of navigating the waters with Foucault’s instruments.  To be honest, I don’t understand what was wrong with these works (I have n’t read them as yet and might not even then be in the proper position to see the weaknesses in his own publishings Foucault saw or was made aware of) and so won’t illustrate the specific items.  It is enough to hear Foucault admit:

It is mortifying that I was unable to avoid these dangers: I console myself with the thought that they were intrinsic to the enterprise itself…


The enterprise itself does not concern us here, but we must again note that it was not something Foucault was immediately able to recognize in his own writings – how to retool his language so that it better served his purposes and was free from the language used by ‘anthropologistic’ historical methods.  The succeeding lines shout loudest where I can but underline:

“[W]ithout the questions that I was asked, without the difficulties that arose, without the objections that were made, I may never have gained so clear a view of the enterprise to which I am now inextricably linked.  Hence the cautious, stumbling manner of this text: at every turn it stands back, measures up what is before it, gropes towards its limits, stumbles against what it does not mean, and digs pits to mark out its own path.”

~ibidem, p. 17 – emphasis mine

I could n’t identify more with such sentiments.  We expect, too often, in reading some work that the author’s ideas are fixed and stable (why else should they put their author-ity at stake) and probably assume that all decisions are consciously made.  Foucault exemplifies how this is not the case for he cautions the reader that he may in fact not be going about this in the best way.  He only knows that this is what can be said at this moment in pursuit of this goal.  At every moment he is questioning (and invites the reader to question) how the current assertion can be supported and what precisely that knowledge is serving.  Hence he says:

I have tried to define this blank space from which I speak, and which is slowly taking shape in a discourse that I still feel to be so precarious and so unsure.


Not only does he know that his research may be misunderstood (and used to serve ends of which he does not approve), he suspects that the approach he takes may counteract his purpose.  He may not only be misunderstood, he very well may misunderstand his own project!  For all energies sacrificed to achieve a location from which to speak, an author such as Foucault may find that such a location is entirely unsuitable.  It is unsurprising then that he is cautious, even halting, in his approach.

But if Foucault is unsure of his location, how is one to counteract his assertions?  He gives voice to his detractors in saying:

‘Aren’t you sure of what you’re saying?  Are you going to change yet again, shift your position according to the questions that are put to you, and say that the objections are not really directed at the place from which you are speaking?  Are you going to declare yet again that you have never been what you have been reproached with being?  Are you already preparing the way out that will enable you in your next book to spring up somewhere else and declare as you’re now doing: no, no, I’m not where you are lying in wait for me, but over here, laughing at you?’


Surely this is not a fair case if the author can perpetually evade her detractors by maintaining ‘I am not really there, but here – although, I can see why you thought so’.  But such maddening displays are true to life.  While we do speak from a location, we may not be the best author-ities to tell another where that location is.  It is, rather, injudicious of us to expect that a writer to accomplish his ends by way of the simplest definitions.  Instead, we find that we are grasping for landmarks by which to locate from whence the author is speaking – even as the author is attempting to do so! 

Misunderstandings then, as I am attempting to use the term for this moment from wherever here may be, might also describe such landmarks.  They are impressions by which we might just succeed in locating ourselves for long enough to utter some meaningful misunderstanding.  If such is the case, we would do best to tread lightly and think from as many locations as possible as we attempt to engage in that discourse we (and the author) are pressing for.


For those who would attempt to follow such guidelines I offer Foucault’s words:

I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face.  Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order.  At least spare us their morality when we write.


‘The Fantastic Imagination’ by George MacDonald

After speaking of those laws which must be most strictly adhered to in any world authorially constructed, which MacDonald asserts that contradictions to the constructed laws will cause the world to evaporate and that, as writing cannot help having a meaning, it should not violate moral consistency either by calling good a character who does bad things.  In this manner, we are made to understand

“[I]f it have proportion and harmony it has vitality, and vitality is truth. The beauty may be plainer in it than the truth, but without the truth the beauty could not be, and the fairytale would give no delight. Everyone, however, who feels the story, will read its meaning after his own nature and development: one man will read one meaning in it, another will read another.”

~The Fantastic Imagination (1893) by George MacDonald accessed here

Laws, even inverted physical or metaphysical laws, provide a space which may offer vitality.  Perhaps we should think of something being ‘true to life’ in order to grasp what MacDonald might mean by “vitality is truth” or perhaps I have n’t grasped his meaning at all.  Regardless, however, for the time I am pleased to consider such a thought (and to be guided to a better one should it present itself).

It reminds me of a time I attempted to defend the notion of truth as a person contra my fellow speaking of truth solely as correspondence.  In his definition, ‘true to life’ meant that it was true to some overarching laws we might never be able to perceive truly (though he would assert, I think, that we know a good deal already – it is the denial of this which betrays weakness of stomach for him) but I can’t let the matter go so easily.

Truth is not a thing to be had in such a manner, but that which some chase while others abandon all hope of ever turning up the trail again.  Perhaps it is not so elusive, but truth is at least that which is acceptable within our discourse (and so it lives as our stumbling words enable it to) and I think it goes beyond that as some persons are wholly incapable of being summed within our discourse well.  Chief of these is, for my faith, Christ who seemed interested in showing the untruthfulness/deceitfulness of the hearts of many (coupled with the offer to then come follow).  But the healing movement was not to agree to his underlying principles, it was to ‘go and sin no more’ – to be a follower in the truest sense, the living one.

My own considerations have, I think, bent away from where a close reading might take us (of Fantastic Imagination, not of MacDonald’s corpus I think) so I return to consider that the experience of that vitality in reading will be different for each reader.  It is not that the reader has failed to meet the author’s intention, but that the author always says more than she intended and that some readers may find items which enrich the discourse in a manner the author could not have dreamed of.

“If so, how am I to assure myself that I am not reading my own meaning into it, but yours out of it?”

‘Why should you be so assured? It may be better that you should read your meaning into it. That may be a higher operation of your intellect than the mere reading of mine out of it: your meaning may be superior to mine.'”


I love that MacDonald answers question with question for if we will understand our questions we may understand what we are hoping for.  Many read with the hope of reconstructing the author’s intended reading, but no such thing can be reconstructed while maintaining the vitality which captured the author.  It is the author’s job (as the sculptor’s) to remove that which is not truly part of the story so that the story may exhibit that life of which we are speaking.

As Pierre Bayard asserts, we are going to assert our meaning into the text – but hopefully we shall realize we are doing so and in so doing test our ‘seeing as’ to note whether it will hold up to the richness of the story.  Instead of being assured that we bring nothing to the text (whether through force of will or otherwise) we ought to fully dive into this reading and see what can be made of it.  Perhaps it is less than the author envisioned, but it may be more.  Or, more likely, our seeing-as will teach us about the way in which we view the real world – the manner with which we approach vitality.  It is my hope that, through submitting such readings in dialogue, we might learn how best to reconnect with our own world rather than escape from it and be trapped within the fantastic.  Instead, the imagination is a tool to teach us indirectly about true vitality so that we may experience it in its fullness and that is most unlikely if we settle for the catching the author’s meaning where we should practice ‘living in’ so that we might learn how to better see home.


In sum,

“If a writer’s aim be logical conviction, he must spare no logical pains, not merely to be understood, but to escape being misunderstood; where his object is to move by suggestion, to cause to imagine, then let him assail the soul of his reader as the wind assails an æolian harp. If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it.”


I believe logical conviction to be far less meaningful than the attempts to awaken or stir the soul of the reader.  In such case misunderstanding is not the object of fear – it is to be immovable and incapable of being stirred from slumber.  Which is the more frightening?  Better by far to misunderstand and be misunderstood but strain to catch the music and join in.