Fireside Friday, June 26th, 2020

Hey folks! Fireside this week, as we’re coming off of the end of what is now my longest post-series, the eight part series on Helm’s Deep. It was a blast to write and I don’t seem to have worn a hole through my DVDs in the process (though, it will surprise no one, but my copy of Return of the King has a break in the spine in the appendices from being held open at that page too many times, even before I wrote this series).

I have a few things planned coming up for the summer. I’m hoping to start a series of posts (probably not consecutively like the Helm’s Deep series, but one-at-a-time like the A Trip Through… series) looking at how things got made in the ancient or medieval Mediterranean; farming, smithing, farming, tanning, timber, farming, etc. We’ll probably start with the production of iron objects (tools, weapons, etc.). I’m also planning posts on what the humanities are for in my own view, and how academic history research makes its way to non-academics. So, more to come, stay tuned.

If you are wondering why I am so climate-inappropriate for summer, it is because I took a bunch of these pictures back in January all in one go (mostly to save on the firewood). I promise I am not sitting around in mid-June with a lit fireplace.

Musing: Writing the Helm’s Deep series kept me pretty deep in both the book and the film adaption and I was struck by just how much the film changes the dynamic between Gimli and Legolas and their characters. I think it is actually one of the most negative parts of the film and speaks to some bad tendencies in our current literary/film culture and how it portrays men.

Put bluntly, Jackson, while preserving Gimli and Legolas’ friendship, has pretty dramatically reshaped the characters to fit modern standards of masculinity. Gone is Gimli and Legolas’ concern for each other over the result of the ‘game’ at the end of the Battle of the Hornburg, replaced by juvenile one-ups-manship in the film (also done away with, I will note, is that Gimli is wounded in the books: “about his head was a linen band stained with blood,” which colors the scene; I don’t think we ever see Gimli or Legolas truly wounded in the films). We get Gimli’s fear before the Halls of the Dead in the films (only when his comrades aren’t looking), but not his moment of vulnerability confessing the terror to Pippin (RotK, 165). Gone too is Legolas’ sea-longing, or his remark that there was grief at Aragorn and Eowyn’s parting and that it grieved him to see it – not only that it happened, but that it made him feel a feeling just to see it. We do not see Legolas feel many feelings in the Jackson films, really. Mostly he looks stoic and occasionally cracks wise.

Instead, Legolas turns into the silent type, playing the straight-elf to Gimli’s humorous blunderer. Gimli mostly exists as the butt of the joke while Legolas exists to be awesome (despite the fact that, as the Unfinished Tales remarks, Legolas was perhaps the least impactful of the company). A great deal of both character’s emotional vulnerability is lost, buried under layer after layer of cutting humor and ‘ribbing’ worn like armor. In effect, both heroes are remodeled into modern ‘action heroes’ at, I think, considerable cost to their richer, deeper book characters.

Now I don’t want to be overly harsh on Peter Jackson. He left quite a lot of the ‘manly emotion’ of the Lord of the Rings in the films. I think that is part of what made the adaptations so striking and why they feel so fresh, even now. Sam dashing into the water after Frodo; Merry and Pippin keeping up each other’s spirits and sharing each other’s doubts; Gimli and Legolas’ growing friendship; everyone’s grief at Gandalf’s loss (Boromir’s “give them a moment, for pity’s sake” is just a wonderful bit of acting, Sean Bean wrings every last bit of pathos out of the line). Jackson even managed to keep the occasional use of the word ‘love’ to describe the feelings between male friends – something that I have seen relentlessly mocked in some quarters because of how it breaks the modern man-code (typically by implying the hobbits are coded gay; now to be clear, if that’s your reading and you take joy from that, go right ahead. I suspect it is not the author’s intent, but the author doesn’t get a veto on how you read the text. My complaint is not with those who take strength from an alternate reading, but those who use it to mock the very idea of platonic companionship).

But most of that emotional vulnerability remains restricted to the hobbits in the films, in a way that such deep feeling is not restricted in the books. It seems to me that the hobbits are allowed to stick with Tolkien’s standards of masculine expression because they are already less ‘manly’ than the rest of the Fellowship, whereas Legolas and Gimli must be jammed, round-peg-into-square-hole, into a more ‘modern’ masculine standard.

When you read quite a lot of older literature – like most of the Greek and Roman source tradition – one realization that should strike you is that many of the things which we assume are just constants in the world are not. Humans, by default, tend to assume their own culture, their own time, and their own place are ‘normal’ and even ‘inevitable.’ And it strikes me both just how recent the contemporary ‘man-code’ is and how muted its emotional palette is.

The defenders of that ‘man-code’ hold it up as some timeless truth (often a ‘bio-truth’) as if men have always been this way. They have not. Achilles doesn’t merely rage – the poem is of course, as the poet tells us, about the μῆνις of Achilles, his rage – but he also grieves, fiercely and deeply. He has touching moments thinking about his father with Priam (the father of the man he has just killed; Priam grieves for the son who will never return to him but once; Achilles for the father he will never return to). So does Aeneas in the Aeneid; he’s suitably stoic about Dido, but not about his father, his lost wife Creusa, Troy or his fallen friend Pallas. Even just read some stoics! Seneca or Cicero or Marcus Aurelius; even the good stoic philosophers allow themselves expressions of profound emotions (one of these days, we’ll take a look at some of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and the profound melancholy that swirls through some of it). And, of course, more recently, Tolkien gives us a masculinity from not even a century ago where men could be effusive, could safely ‘love’ their friends, could express grief and joy and not need to couch that in ribbing humor. It is a heightened set of emotions, to be sure – one fit for the fantasy of the world it lives in – but it speaks to the language that rings out in the other writing of the time.

There is a great debate about whether modern American masculinity is toxic. I sometimes think toxic is the wrong word. Modern American masculinity is poor, it is impoverished, it has been robbed of its vital feelings and deep emotions. The men who defend that code point to the ‘great men’ of ages past as examples of masculine virtue, but those men often allowed themselves to feel so much more deeply and express that emotion so much more readily. They didn’t actually follow the modern man-code. I cannot look at our world and think that what our culture needs is more cynicism and detachment (though more rationality and erudition would not go amiss!); a bit more attachment, a bit more of the vulnerable emotions, of believing in something rather than against something could not possibly hurt.

On to the Recommendations

On the silly side, this video by Matt Easton thinking about how weaponry might change in a fantasy environment with dragons and monsters and so on is interesting. For my part, I think when considering most ‘big monsters,’ I tend to lean towards weapons that were preferred, historically, against war elephants. Generally speaking, what worked were javelins, pikes and axes, roughly in that order. His point – about midway through – about the changing spear shapes is spot on; the spear as a weapon is profoundly ancient, but the shape of spearheads change as the threat-profile facing them changes; wide, ‘leaf-bladed’ (I prefer ‘tear-drop shape’) spearheads are ideal against an unarmored opponent (wide contact area means wounds are most swiftly disabling), narrower spears (sometimes with ‘stiletto’ points) are more effective against armored opponents, both for splitting mail rings and also for finding gaps in plate defenses.

On the more serious side, I found this interview with Xiang Lanxin on The People’s Republic of China’s “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy to be doubly illuminating. In the immediate sense, it is a fascinating analysis of the PRC’s strategic thinking, which veers into what I termed the sin of ‘emotive strategy.’ The other reason I found it fascinating is Xiang’s discussion of the broader philosophical framework that forms the foundation for that strategy, both in how different he argues some of the fundamental questions and analytical frameworks are (right down to the Cartesian questions of the nature of existence) and in how those different systems of thought can still cross-pollinate. Just because a culture has thought one way does not mean that they will continue to do so. I can’t speak with any kind of expertise on Chinese culture, but the interview was noted by a couple of China experts I follow and was certainly thought-provoking.

On to book recommendations, this week I am going to go with a book I find myself recommending quite frequently, J.E. Lendon’s Soldier’s and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity (2006). The title is actually a bit misleading, Lendon is mostly not on about tactics or individual battles (although he does discuss several), rather his main focus is on the martial values that animate Greek and Roman armies. It is typically the first place I send almost anyone asking about Greek or Roman armies both because it offers a good overview of the topic (with quite ample endnotes to bring a newcomer up to speed on scholarly debates), but more importantly because it underlines the importance of how these guys thought about warfare. The central concepts and overall way of thinking can be quite different from ours (and quite different from each other!) and it frames just about everything they do (I should note that the way we think about things also frames everything we do). Lendon thus offers a useful sort of shortcut to learning Latin and Greek and immersing yourself in classical material until you get the feel of their worldview by quite adeptly describing it, at least in as it relates to war (Lendon’s Empire of Honor: The Art of Government in the Roman World (1997) does much the same for Roman imperial politics, but here it is compelled to share the spotlight with the rather more drab but far more comprehensive The Emperor in the Roman World, 31 BC – AD 337 (1977) by Fergus Millar).

Next week: Oh, the humanities!

54 thoughts on “Fireside Friday, June 26th, 2020

  1. On dissemination of knowledge in the humanities (and other subjects where I don’t have domain expertise in), one thought I’ve been having this week is: Are formal newspapers and publications really necessary anymore?

    These days, I get most of my articles on subjects that interest me through random blogs. They seem much better informed to me than major newspapers, but this relies a lot on my own estimate of my ability to figure out who’s expertise is trustworthy. For example, I get a lot of my overall impression of how to think about military history from this blog, instead of whatever random article about it I might run into in the New York Times – but while you seem better informed to me than an NYT writer would be, can I really trust my judgement on this, given that I don’t read much history outside of this?
    The second possible issue with getting informed through random blogs is thought bubbles and polarization – it’s pretty easy for me to end up only reading blogs by people who already think like me. In this case I think this form of dissemination of knowledge has a real problem – but nowadays, so do mainstream media channels. The mainstream popular media channels seem to all be extremely polarized and opinionated, and I don’t think there’s anywhere to go for anything resembling an objective, thoughtful opinion there anymore. (This was always a hard thing to find, but I think over the last few years it’s become effectively impossible).
    Overall, I think the “read random blogs over newspapers” approach wins out.

    Mainstream media channels have been running into more challenges lately, both on the financial/readership side and on the reputation side. I hear a lot of people warn of dire consequences if they vanish – but I increasingly think there won’t be any, that if they all vanish the alternate channels for dissemination of information will be just as good or better.

    (I kinda mixed the functions of disseminating information about “ongoing news” and “domain knowledge in various fields” into one category here when it probably shouldn’t be, but I think my comments above apply to both).

    (In more formal academic writing, it’s been clear for years that they aren’t in the sciences – math and CS have the arxiv, and while journals still exist I almost never actually opened one during my entire PhD. I don’t know if the academic process in humanities is sufficiently different that a humanities arxiv wouldn’t work, but I can’t think of a reason it wouldn’t.)

      1. The blog survived, and the author has a better income stream from it now than he did prior. I get what you’re saying about the vulnerability to attack, but at the same time, the source of that attack being the traditional media is a pretty heavy counterweight.

    1. While arXiv does cover physics, astronomy, cs, and math (and also some economics), it’s also not refereed. Some of the content is excellent; some is, well, a bit “edgy.”

      I have used arXiv papers when teaching my high school physics classes, including the useful
      “Five Frequently Fatal Freshmen Physics Fantasies”

    2. Journalists are generally generalists so with a few exceptions (like in-depth investigstive reporting) they’re going to know a lot less than subject experts or even enthusiatic amateurs simply because they have to write about so many different things. I know I’ve had a lot of problems with news articles that have touched on events I’ve seen or niche subjects I know a lot about.

    3. I think one huge difference between “random blogs” (assuming here you actually mean “blogs I found that are interesting”, not exactly random) and conventional newspaper journalism, is how long one is allowed to think over the writing. I don’t know how long Dr. Devereaux worked on the Helm’s Deep series, but it had to have been far longer than a typical journalist is allowed to work on an article of theirs.

      Moreover, the incentives are different. Even if he were only motivated by money, the nature of the blog-for-Patreon relationship is, “if this article is so good that I keep thinking about it, I will eventually sign up as a Patreon” (which I did, btw). The nature of the advertising model is, “if the headline is outrageous enough to get it clicked on, then the money has changed hands”.

      Of course, there is a long history of trashy journalism, most of which does not ever make it out of the year it was produced, much less the decade or the century. Whereas I find myself going back and re-reading some of this blog (and others which are of similarly high standards of thoughtful content) long after they were written (and I first read them).

      Which, by the way, brings up a good point for the author: someday, a collection of these articles (examining how LotR, GoT, 300, etc.) can warp our understanding of the ancient and medieval world, will get put into a book format, yes? I mean, not necessarily super soon, but eventually?

      1. Some good points! Not next week, but the week after, assuming I keep to schedule, I’ll be writing about how what the research environment looks like in history and how that filters out (both how I think it ought to work and how it often does work). That’ll talk about some of the incentives and funding streams (in particular what historians get paid to do vs. what we’re supposed to be doing).

        As for bookifying parts of the blog: It’s something that interests me quite a bit. Obviously a book would need new material too, but a sustained, critical eye on LotR in particular is, I think, well merited. That said, for professional reasons, it is not likely to be my project for quite a while. There are at least two academic books ‘in the queue’ ahead of it, possibly more. But it is something I want to do eventually, once professional circumstances allow.

        1. Note that it’s very easy to start pulling Lord of the Rings to pieces from the point of view of a field of knowledge of which Tolkien apparently had no experience. Even if we assume that Frodo is somehow miraculously protected by The One Ring from the heat and poison gases of what is apparently a highly active volcano, when Frodo stands at the Cracks of Doom, neither Gollum nor Sam are carrying such protection, and yet neither Gollum or Sam pass out or even seem weakened by the environment.
          But Tolkien is concerned by dramatic narrative, and not by physics, chemistry, nor biology. (Although he possibly half-remembers it later, and has Frodo and Sam pass out on the mountain slopes after Gollum has done his Olympic diving audition, when the drama of the moment suits it.)

          All the best with your projects!

          1. It’s not clear that the volcano is all that active before the Ring is thrown in. There is hot lava, to be sure, but it’s far below them; Gollum has time to shout “Precious!” while he’s falling.

            The tunnel to the Crack of Doom was constructed to enable living beings to access the volcano. The crack wasn’t far inside the doorway. It would have been quite possible for the diggings to be constructed so that heat and fumes were drawn away from the walkway.

            For comparison, I read a first-person account of a group of firefighters caught in a massive forest fire (the Big Burn). They and their horses took shelter in a cave and blocked the entrance. On the way to the cave, some of the horses’ hair _caught fire_ but they were still able to stay alive, travel, and even navigate in that environment.

            I do not think Tolkien can be accused of “half-remembering” something “later.” That’s not how high-quality writing works. You write, then you edit and rewrite and tweak the whole thing. Tolkien did say that the passage was hot even before the Ring was destroyed.

            Check out the picture captioned “A peek through a “skylight” into the interior of an active lava tube” at the link on my name. Note the person standing near the opening. Tolkien might well have seen comparable photos.

          2. While that may be true; nevertheless; it is fascinating to some of us to read more from someone with the background knowledge to discuss in detail.

          3. ‘Ed8r’: As far as anything for publication goes, I think there’s be more to analyse with something like the Elenium and Tamuli from David & Leigh Eddings. The Eddings do actually go into some technical terms for weapons (Sir Bevier has not just an ‘axe’ but a Lochaber axe specifically if I recall correctly), have a multi-chapter siege of a fantasy city taking place at one point, and if they need an army to be somewhere ridiculous in terms of travel in a hurry, they do actually have the army genuinely ‘magically assisted’ instead of engaging in shifty handwaves of distances which ignore travel and logistics issues. There’s some attention paid to cavalry tactics too; at one point (again if I recall correctly) they have knights engaged in a process of charging to attack an enemy, breaking off and falling back to rearm rather than just trying to keep on ploughing through whatever it is that they’re fighting.
            Unfortunately towards the end of the Tamuli it becomes a bit dominated (in terms of military action) by ‘and the Mary Sue super-soldiers go in and kill everything’ but there are efforts to look at and portray other sorts of fantasy warfare before that.

          4. Correction: ‘there’s be more’ should have been ‘there’s more’

            Anyway. The Eddings seem to me to have been writing from the point of view of authors more knowledgeable than Tolkien about pre-gunpowder combat, even if their skills when it comes to the development of ancient languages are less formidable.

      2. The nature of the advertising model is, “if the headline is outrageous enough to get it clicked on, then the money has changed hands”.

        “WATCH: Théoden King DESTROYS Isengard host using tactics and strategy!”
        “Eight of Saruman’s dumbest mistakes (number four will have you shaking your head in disbelief)!”

    4. One problem with blogs is assessing whether the blogger actually knows what they’re talking about. One looks for ways of performing expertise – such as referring to things one already knows, attempting to summarise contrary points of view favourably before demolishing them, admissions of what one doesn’t know – and one hopes that learning to perform those aspects is difficult apart from the process of actually acquiring expertise, and that one can separate this out from the author saying things one wants to agree with.

  2. Xiang’s discussion of the borader. philosophical framework -> Xiang’s discussion of the broader philosophical framework

  3. There is a great debate about if modern American masculinity is toxic. I sometimes think toxic is the wrong word. Modern American masculinity is poor, it is impoverished, it has been robbed of its vital feelings and deep emotions.

    +1 My initial impression about term “toxic masculinity” was that it is complaining about masculinity itself (and in some cases it is). impoverished/poor is much better word if one wants to describe what you mentioned.

    1. It’s the ones who complain that men don’t talk about their feelings, and then jeer at any man who does, who really impress me.

      1. Don’t forget the ones who say both “it’s terrible that men can never express any affection without people thinking they’re gay” and “Frodo and Sam/Legolas and Gimli are totally a couple”. That’s what’s known as “this is why we can’t have nice things”.

        1. And when you establish the cultural custom that “this is a sign of homosexuality!” a man who avoids this is obviously totally homophobic and not looking for a girlfriend despite women’s well-known preference for men who aren’t homosexual.

        2. I’ve heard criticism of GRRM because of the shortage of female friendships in his books. You finally have Sansa having real friendships in the last book or two with other women, and some of the same people are “Oh I’m totally shipping Sansa/Myranda as a couple!”

      2. Seen that. Gets old very quickly. I once shared a poem on depression with a female friend, hoping for some constructive criticism so I could revise it if necessary. no such thing – but I got a rocket from another female friend, who told me not to try “emotional blackmail” on this other friend – when I had no sexual interest in this other friend anyway.

        “feelings” and “emotions” are not supposed to include feeling so depressed that you wonder why you wake up some mornings? Or are only women allowed to express that sort of feeling? So who is manipulating who, who is applying the emotional blackmail? And with such an inbuild contradiction in gender relationships, why wouldn’t one wonder why one’s bothered to wake up some mornings?

        I’ve since given up on sharing anything to do with feelings, with women. It’s much easier to just forget that and only talk about them with male friends who I can trust.

  4. Hi Bret,

    I enjoyed your LotR series very much. I’d like to thanks you for putting the new perspective onto the books and the films, and analysing them from the historian point of view.

    Recently I came to the alternative literature version of the LotR, written by a Russian author, that is also a geologist. It’s called “The last Ringbearer”. The book tries to “fix” the geographical, sociological and technical part of the LotR by giving the other version of the event from the books. The book is not a masterpiece like Tolkins books, but it’s also fun to read.

    Now, I’d like to hear your opinion on the “history” from this book, in comparison with the LotR series.

    I’m posting here more info on the book and a link to the english version of the book.

    Thanks a lot for your enjoyable writings again.

  5. One question I have regarding how the relationships and behaviors of the male characters you’re referring to, e.g. Gimli and Legolas’ friendship is whether this is due to the rise of what I call “frat-boy” culture, centered around braggadocio, misogyny, and self-gratification, to the detriment of friendship. Both the concepts of male friendship (what the Greeks referred to as philia) and agape seem to have fallen out of the popular zeitgeist. Both were more evident in popular culture, even if they were no more common in reality, during Tolkien’s lifetime than they’ve been in the 21st Century.

    So, is the characterization of Gimli and Legolas’ and their relationship because this is how modern anglophones expect male friendship to work, in contrast to how Tolkien expected it to work, as the sort of male friendship common when Tolkien was alive is now considered somehow effeminate?

  6. Even John Mellencamp grieved the loss of the ability to express “love” for a male friend in the song Check it Out in the line “You can’t tell your best buddy that you love him”, and that was back in 1987. As near as I can figure, and as Brett alludes to, English speaking culture seems to have lost that permission sometime in the first half of the 20th century, though doubtless it was fading throughout the latter half of the 19th century.

  7. Bret, where I’d usually offer proofreading corrections, this morning I must ask for clarification: I cannot figure out exactly what is meant by your point here:
    how things got made in the ancient of medieval Mediterranean. What is “ancient of medieval”?

    Next, I assume that the multiplicity of mentions of farming in the list that followed, was entirely for deliberate effect/?

    A few more actual proofreading corrections:
    and sharing each others doubts -> and sharing each other’s doubts
    deep feeling does is not restricted -> deep feeling is not restricted
    debate about if modern American -> debate about whether modern American

  8. This is perfect. I was thinking of something to get my father for his birthday, and he is interested in military history. Very many thanks for the book recommendation.

  9. While I think that Jackson overall did an amazing job of an adaptation (his cutting between the two stories in The Two Towers makes much more sense than telling them sequentially in a film format), after watching those three films I thought he’d be a poor director for the Hobbit due to his slight down-playing of the Hobbits (while simultaneously playing up Aragorn and Legolas) and treating the dwarf character as the bumbling comic relief would not go over well in The Hobbit where they were all the primary characters.

    Sure enough, Bilbo’s role in his own story is minimized, and the dwarves are pretty much all treated as comic relief, and those dwarves with more serious roles are typically physically portrayed not looking much like the rest of the dwarves (Kili so much).

    1. Parts of the book version of ‘The Hobbit’ are definitely played for comedy. (‘Chip the Glasses, Crack the Plates’ for example.)
      If you check the ‘Troubled Production’ section of the TV Tropes website for ‘Live action films’, it summarises some of the problems that the Peter Jackson version of The Hobbit suffered from, though. Apparently there was a lot of executive meddling with the films, including inserting the Tauriel love triangle.

      1. Lindsay Ellis’ 3 part series “A Long Expected Autopsy” on YouTube is a good look at what went wrong with the movies.

      2. Jackson is probably a contributor to the misery, though. He loves slapstick humor and over-the-top action scenes. When directing LOTR, he had to make concession to more thoughtful co-workers. When he shot the Hobbit, there was nobody to reign him in.

        Viggo Mortensen once criticized Jackson for preferring to spend lavishly on CGI when given the chance and mentioned that the LOTR shoot was disorganized.

  10. In my first year attending a UK secondary school in the UK for some reason in ‘History’ classes we studied as one of the main subjects ‘prohibition’ (the banning of alcoholic drinks) in the USA.
    And it wasn’t until some time after I had quit formal academic study of history that I discovered just how extensive the UK’s empire had been at times – or some of the problems it had caused – or even properly heard about the First Duke of Marlborough.
    No doubt though there was some trendy and popular reason for the history curriculum in the UK at that time trying to pretend that particular things hadn’t ever existed or taken place, whilst messaging me about what a catastrophic mistake ‘prohibition’ had been…

    1. Was this during the 80’s? I remember history lessons about the futility of the US prohibition going hand in hand with ‘Just say No!’ and the war on drugs. Teachers telling us drugs are bad whilst teaching classes about opium addled Lake Poets. It was fun watching my English teacher jump through hoops about that. Thatcher and co even tried to ban books ‘glorifying’ or even about drugs. It was only when it was pointed out that they would have to ban Sherlock Holmes , Dune , most regency poets et al that the concept was quietly dropped.

      1. There seemed to be this great need to pretend in the UK that Britain had never ever had an empire. History classes about World War One somehow managed to mostly airbrush it out of the picture, too.
        And now we have a situation where a British person can bump into someone from India on the internet and be subjected to a torrent of ‘The Nazis and Imperial Japanese weren’t as evil as the British; the wrong side won World War II’ and have no idea where the heck that is coming from (or that indeed there are some valid points in amongst the vitriolic hatred and sadly, in some cases, wild exaggerations) because the UK education system systematically erased anything to do with British empires from the UK education system.

        1. Not sure why you would blame the British education system for Indian nationalism.

          Doesn’t nationalism depend on hating external enemies, even more so in diverse countries?
          If your only concern is the welfare of your tribe, you can always go full David Irving (he thinks that the disappearance of the British Empire was so bad that Hitler must have been the good guy and Churchill the villain). Grievances do not need to have any sense of proportion either. I recall a Chinese nationalist whose favorite subject when talking to Whites was the Opium War. Never had any people suffered as much as the Chinese under their evil European overlords! Conveniently, the Cultural Revolution was never mentioned…

          1. Not what he (?) said, read again. He said that because the British education system underplays Imperialism, young Brits don’t even understand what the Indian nationalists are talking about.

          2. The Opium War is yet another thing UK history classes didn’t even touch on.
            I didn’t mean to indicate that the current day UK education system is responsible for Indian nationalism, but now you mention it, you have a good point that it may well have helped fuel it.
            Acting (especially online) as if you don’t know about something (because you don’t) can very easily come across as arrogance and/or callousness about some point in the past where a country genuinely screwed up on one or more counts – which has a good chance of further fuelling hatred. (‘Look: there’s this British person, acting as if WW2/The Opium War/ was no big deal! They’re still racist maniacs!’)

          3. Okay there was a ‘whatever else’ in triangular bracket things after ‘…WW2/The Opium War/…’ in my previous comment, but it seems to have gone missing (presumably because of the triangular brackets.)
            Still getting used to this website and what does/does not work in comments on it.

  11. Some incidents from the opposite view on male feelings. In the movie, when Bilbo wishes to see the Ring again, causing Frodo to have a hostile reaction, it ends up with them clinging to each other, weeping. In the book, Bilbo reacts emotionally by… slapping Frodo on the back.
    Again, when Sam wades after Frodo’s boat- in the movies, they hug each other, almost crying. In the book, Frodo calls Sam a confounded nuisance, only expressing his emotion by saying “Still, I’m glad you are here”. Hollywood touchy-feely vs. British stiff upper lip?
    OTOH, when Sam and Frodo are together on Mt. Doom after destroying the Ring, Sam breaks into a rather out-of-place declaration of his love for Rosie Cotton- Peter Jackson reassuring the audience there’s nothin gay aout Frodo and Sam’s relationship?

    1. I think you’re right on the nose, on both points. My feeling is that having made Sam and Frodo so much more outspokenly touchy-feely than Tolkien made them (or would have written any two male characters), by the third film Jackson knew that many people were thinking they were a couple, and felt the need to stress that they weren’t.
      Like Tolkien I was brought up with the stiff upper lip, and it irks me a bit how few people now realise that the SUL doesn’t prevent people having emotions or even communicating them. People accustomed to it can readily decode remarks like ‘I’m glad you’re with me’, ‘I’m jolly fond of you, old girl’ or ‘How excessively vexing’ as the emotion-fraught statements they really are; conversely, they are liable to dismiss bursts of eloquence and floods of tears as ‘playing to the gallery’ and insincere. (My late mother, watching TV news scenes of Middle Eastern women bereaved by terrorism throwing themselves weeping on coffins and all the rest of it, could never bring herself to believe they weren’t just play-acting; in her world, truly grief-stricken people gritted their teeth and conducted themselves with dignity.)

  12. I don’t know about the lack of male love. To be fair, I’m pretty dang straight, but I’m from northern California, where a “no-homo” might be necessary, if just not to lead a guy on. I played 4 high intensity contact sports (American Football, Wrestling, Australian Football, and Rugby). I have no problem saying I love you to my brother, who lives in red red Idaho (and laments the lack of David Bowie fans there), my teammate also from Nor Cal, my teammate from Western PA, my friend the Kung Fu champion from red red Arizona, my friend the ex-military captain from red red Alabama, my gay teammate from San Diego, my Trumpie teammate from Nova Scotia, the #BLM teammate from South Carolina, that other teammate who isn’t BLM but came to his buddy’s protest anyway, the ex Air Force guy who used to by my neighbor…. jebus I’m out of fingers. None of these guys would think it’s weird and all of them would end a phone call with “I love you too man”.

    I tell my kids I love them. I tell the kids I coach I love them. I tell them to look around the huddle at the other kids, and think about how much they love their friends.

    I don’t know, maybe I’m just lucky. Maybe I’m just so hyper-masculine that I don’t have to worry about getting hit with a homo-brush. Maybe there’s a weird dynamic going on in NYC (so close to those Jersey bros, or maybe the finance guys ruin everything) and/or a weird dynamic going on in LA, and if you capture those two spots you have basically captured American media….. I dunno.

    1. And I don’t go to the South much, but isn’t anything less gay then two dudes getting drunk on Coors and saying “I love you and the mudflaps on your truck!”

      1. And just to pile on here where nobody is listening, the Phoenix basketball Suns ended a very weird but successful run in the basketball bubble, going 8 wins and no losses. Unfortunately they were eliminated based on pre-bubble record. The coach stood up in front of his players and the national TV cameras and told them that he loved them twice, directly and explicitly.

  13. Like quite a lot of people, I’m late-binging your blog, and spreading the word as I go.
    Regarding the character dynamics, my judgement is harsher then yours (and the main reason I despise the movies).
    As you said, the Theoden-aragorn dynamic was off. So was the gimli-legolas dynamic. And the ents-hobbits dynamic (in the book, the ents most certainly didn’t need to be tricked into attacking saruman!). And the pippin-denethor, faramir-denethor dynamic that you wrote about in the last series. And the frodo-sam dynamic (really? You had to introduce conflict between THEM?) And the faramir-frodo dynamic (no, faramir most certainly didn’t drag frodo all the way to osgiliath before coming to his senses). And the dumbing down of denethor, and theoden, and pretty much everyone. And on, and on.
    I mean, what’s left?
    Now, the visuals sure are impressive, and if the movie was called “Earl of the Earings”, or “Baron of the Bracelets, I’d probably quite enjoy it, but as it stands i hate it.
    You talked about the power of pop-culture to shape our thoughts, and on a much smaller scale that happened to the Lotr book. The movie shapes how people remember the story, both the feel of it and the plot. Even those that read it before. So for most people today Lotr isn’t a moving, complex, epic tale of friendship and courage, but a buffed up, dumbed down spectacle.

  14. Maybe you should tell us what you really think. 😉

    No, on one level I agree with you, as many fans of the book would also agree. However, going back to the point about spectacle, I think most fans were absolutely thrilled to see the “trappings” of Middle-earth–the casting, costumes, sets, locations, and let’s not forget the CGI–in a live action production. I’d say most also became more and more distressed as each movie emphasized more and more the large-scale battles without capturing the “truth” of the relationships between characters (not to mention the “character” of the characters!). But none of this changes the overall accomplishment of PJ and Weta Workshop. I love the movies for what they are, even while I still cringe about their failures.

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