Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fans, Fiction, and Creativity

I wrote below about the ugly nature of some sectors of the Tolkien fandom. I took up reading badfic sites and message boards in college, because doing so is great fun and often a way to improve one’s own writing by counterexample. I now do the same of LiveJournal, wherein there is simply no end of comms devoted to spectacularly horrid fanfiction and fan-created characters. Again, great fun, though the general tone of discourse is often degenerate compared with the sites and comms I read Back in the Day.

The Tolkien fans, though, frequently come across as just narrow-minded gits. These self-proclaimed defenders of canon often take ‘fic writers to task for things that well, aren’t actually violations thereof, sorry.

Example 1: During the course of the ‘fic dissection, one writer was mocked for naming an original character “Laurelin.” Why? ‘Cause it’s the name of a tree. Ha ha, stupid writer.
[/ me picks up my copy of the Silmarillion and goes to the index]
Hmm. Let’s see... Tolkien has a character named “Nimloth,” a female elf who married into a very important family. And... oh, of all things! “Nimloth” is also the name of a tree, the very White Tree of Numenor. Also, Tolkien gave the name “Tar-Palantir” to the last “good” king of Numenor. Try trotting out a character named “Palantir” into fandom and see the reception you get. There was also a writer who named her hobbit character for a gemstone and was ripped, because apparently hobbits don’t do that... except for the canonical ones that do-- like Diamond Took, Pippin’s wife.
Translation: Tolkien did it, but YOU CAN’T, fic writer.

Example 2: I’ve seen ‘fic writers given a virtual mauling for giving original characters (OCs) the hallowed names of characters from Tolkien’s own works. Sometimes, it is clumsily done and deserving of at least a virtual pinch-- giving names of male characters (Elendil, Earendil) to Mary Sues and other new female characters, giving the names of the Valar to human OCs, that sort of thing. But sometimes... is it really worth reaming an author for dubbing an OC “Amroth”? Who was Amroth, again?
Again, Tolkien reused names, and no doubt with a purpose. Many of the characters from the Lord of the Rings (War of the Ring) timeframe have the names of antecedents from the First Age, Second Age, etc. Finduilas? Borrowed elf-name with a tragical story behind it. Denethor and Ecthelion? Elf names. Glorfindel? Okay, apparently Glorfindel is the same elf from the Silmarillion. But still.
Translation: Tolkien did it, but YOU CAN’T, fic writer.

Example 3: Another darned annoying thing is when ‘fic writers are taken to task for using terms like “sapphire,” “jade,” and “topaz” as descriptive terms. Granted, this sort of thing should be done sparingly, and gets old in itself (quick, what colour is a “jacinth”?) But some of these Defenders of Canon and the English Tongue get snippy over the very concept of using gem-terms for colour, as there’s natural variance in stone-colour and the terms are imprecise.
I wonder if these people send nasty letters to the likes of J.K. Rowling and Elizabeth Peters when they open a book and phrases like “emerald green eyes” and “sapphirine orbs” leap off the page at them. Maybe they should, but if they don’t, then they’re hypocritical wankers.
I think some of these people are coming from a warped modern perspective on what gem-colours are. We know, from QVC if nowhere else, that any hue of gem quality corundum is a sapphire-- save the red ones, which are automatically rubies. So, we whinge about people using “sapphire” to denote blue because hey, they could mean peach, blush, canary, violet... Um, no. “Sapphire blue” is, historically, one of those things that is. Like “emerald green” (There’re red emeralds too! National Geographic says so! Send Rowling your hate mail, pronto). Jade green, likewise, in spite of the existence of white, red, yellow and purple jade. As for topaz... if someone is writing fanfiction for Lord of the Rings, they are writing about a world wherein blue, pink, and various colour-treated crap forms of topaz haven’t flooded the market. Citrine got its name “false topaz” for a reason, y’ know-- its orange-yellow colour. That rather indicates that “topaz” had a clear meaning before our era (shoutout to QVC, again).
I won’t even get into Tolkien’s own flowery descriptions of the hair, etc, of his surpassingly beautiful characters. Suffice it to say...
Tolkien (and others!) did it, but YOU CAN’T, fic writer.

Sigh. I can see, I really can, why a lot of these writers tear their virtual hair out over fan-scribbles that genuinely violate the spirit of Tolkien’s legendarium. Promiscuous elves, rapist elves, assassination of canonically “noble” characters, modern-day girls “falling into” Middle Earth to shag Legolas, these are the sort of thing that makes one want to ask the writer, “If you ignore/abuse canon this badly, why are you a fan again?”
But really... is it so wrong to think “That whole Faramir/Eowyn romance is thrown together and not very convincing. Maybe I can tweak things a bit...”? Or going, “Hey! Wikipedia says that Aragorn did hook up with Eowyn in early drafts! Nothing against Arwen, mind, but I want to run with this...”
Some circles of fandom would have you believe that sort of thinking is a capital offence. As is, say, going subversive and re-writing things from the POV of Sauron. Goodness, no, we can’t have that.
Translation: John Gardner did it to Beowulf, but YOU CAN’T, ‘fic writer.

Oh well. It’s the Internet, and people are going to continue to write what they want to, regardless of quality and canon-compliance. They’ll keep on giving Lord Elrond second daughters, and falling into Middle Earth, and naming their original characters Nienna and Yavanna and having N&Y shag Faramir and Legolas (with Boromir-bashing on the side). And 95% of it all will be sheer godawful crap, and maybe some of it will be worth reporting to for TOS violations (the ultimate weapon of the canon nazi).
But, you know what? A lot of the canon-compliant stuff I’ve read by these same canon purists wasn’t great shakes either. ‘Twas boring, actually.

Wankers. All is wank, and we all are but wankers. Piffle.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Lord of the, Rings

Finally got the chance over the last two weeks to see the full Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition box set, even though I've owned it since Christmas. Good movies, can't wait to watch them again with the commentary.

Random thoughts on LotR, books and films--

Fellowship of the Ring really is the best of the films. The Two Towers is the weakest, not just because it's a "middle chapter" but because the flow of it is so warped by the War plot, as opposed to the original Quest plot. RotK suffers from the same, but to a lesser extent. I would love to know how those two installments would have turned out had 9/11 never happened. We would have been spared Sam's wretched monologue at the end of TTT, that's for sure.

At least people weren't constantly breaking into song in the films. Made the death scenes easier to take. The absolute worst part of Tolkien's books that I can remember is the poem about King Theoden's friggin' dead horse. It was one poem too far, and marked yet another use of the phrase "Whosit's Bane." Tolkien overused that one to death. Durin's Bane, Isildur's Bane, Swift Snowmane, his Master's Bane. Just die, already.

I respect movie adaptations for being movie adaptations, as long as they remember they are films and not pretending to be the book (I'm thinking now of an atrocious Madame Bovary I had to watch in school that vandalized the spirit of the book while claiming, onscreen, to be true to Flaubert). So I don't mind most of the tweaking that Jackson and pals did to the Tolkienverse. Give Aragorn some reluctance to be King, fine. Make Boromir more of a jerk than he is in the books-- fine, and on second watch he's not that bad anyway. Totally screw up Faramir by giving him a dark side-- cool, man. Kid was a drip in the books. But what they did with Denethor (messed-up father of the aforementioned 'Mirs) was kind of painful. Couldn't Jackson have mentioned, even once, that the reason Denethor was insane was that a palantir had scrambled his brain? Palantir abuse was all over the films, so why leave that crucial detail out? A five-second glimpse of the bloody thing would have explained so much. Denethor and Sons got canon-raped pretty badly, yeah.

Speaking of canon-rapine, Tolkien fans are the most anal, pinheaded bunch of self-proclaimed "canon nazis" I've ever come across online. And half the time they're in the wrong themselves, because "canon" (if you go beyond the Baggins books and deal with the Silmarillion and worse) is so vast, subject to so many retcons by the author, and so contradictory in itself. Ugly, ugly fandom, and I came out of Sailormoon and Gundam Wing, which were bad in themselves. I'm talking about the LiveJournal crowd, mostly, but the Wikipedia entries have some screwball stuff in there too.

And, regarding fandom... Legolas, WTF? Dude barely exists in the books (JRR himself said in a letter that Legolas "accomplished the least" out of the Fellowship). The reader doesn't even learn what colour hair Leggy has. He's there, he's an elf, he makes nice with a dwarf. That's about it.

All right, I know. Legolas is popular because he was played by Orlando Bloom. Dunno, the fake blond hair doesn't do it for me. He's a little cute, but if I have to watch Orlando Bloom, he was cuter in Pirates of the Caribbean. And probably in Troy, though I never saw that. Orlando-Legolas has weird hair, inconsistent-coloured contacts, and not much to do. John Rhys-Davies got to play Gimli and Treebeard both, and was amusing as both, but Orli just looks... elven, I guess.

People More Attractive Than Orlando-Legolas in the LotR Films:

1) Elijah Wood-Frodo / Viggo Mortenston-Aragorn
Two different types of male beauty, both very, very welcome. And I don't usually like stubble. Or hairy feet, for that matter.
3) David Wenham-Faramir
A big step down from Aragorn, here, but still pretty good-looking. From what I've gathered, Book!Faramir (the insufferably noble one) had longish black hair, grey eyes, and no beard or stubble. Ditto for brother Boromir. Heck, IIRC it says that Faramir looked enough like Aragorn to be his younger brother. That would have been real nice, but what the film-viewer gets instead isn't bad.
4) Sean Bean-Boromir.
Some chicks really, really dig this guy. He's not quite my type, and Book!Boromir sounds more attractive to me, but Film!Boromir has his moments. He's human, for a start.
5) Figwit
"Figwit" is the fan-created acronym for a very attractive elf in Jackon's movies. He has lovely dark hair, blue eyes (iirc), and basically no lines. He's the one in RotK that was trying to lead Arwen to the Gray Havens when she turned 'round and hightailed it back to Rivendell. Apparently he's also in the Council of Elrond scene in FotR. Best-looking elf in the film, hands down.
6) Theodred
No, not the old king. Theodred, the dead kid we see in all of three scenes. Looks like he would have been quite nice on the eyes, cleaned-up and alive.
7) The youngish-looking Ent. Dunno his name. Nice foliage on that guy.
[Insert Orlando-Legolas Here.]
I don't go for elves, really. Elrond? Nope. Haldir? Was glad when he bit it; guy was annoying me. Celeborn? Galadriel can keep him. The most attractive male elf I saw in the film was "Figwit," and he's not even a real character. Orli-las is the best of the elven lot, I admit.
9) Bernard Hill-Theoden
Hey, he's human! And I'd rather look at Theoden than at his nephew. No lovin' here for Karl Urban as Eomer, 'cause he looks like an escapee from the early years of Metallica.
Beneath the cut: two wizards, assorted Hobbits, and Grima Wormtongue. No, just no.

A final note about the Jackson films-- my husband hated the battle scenes the first go-round, and liked it even less when we watched King Kong and loathed the action scenes there. Me, I liked the LotR battle scenes much, much better than the action scenes in Kong, because Our Heroes got muddy, bloody, cut-up, and trapped under their own horses (Die, Snowmane!). Watching Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody (aka Mary Sue and Gary Stu) get through dinosaur attacks and the like without a scratch was just sickening to behold. The LotR battles are still kind of messy to watch, but at least Eowyn isn't prancing around looking like she just stepped out of her onset dressing room. And Aragorn gets stepped on by a troll. My suspension of disbelief doesn't shatter like the bridge of Khazad-Dum, y'know?