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I have a love-hate relationship with fantasy films. Ralph Bakshi’s 1980 attempt at animating The Lord Of The Rings was deeply disappointing to me, so much so that I didn’t even bother to see the first film of Peter Jackson’s trilogy when it came out in 2001. Despite my love of the genre, there have been fantasy films which have been so awful as to be unwatchable. Eragon, for example.
I haven’t finished The Dark Tower series yet. Even though the pace is slow and some of the episodes are gruesome, I am very, very impressed by it so far. So impressed that I am ready to consider it the quintessential piece of American mythopoeia. The Dark Tower is American in a way that reworks our history. For this reason it is violent and virginal at the same time. There is a lot more I would like to say about King and The Dark Tower, but not now.
I hope Ron Howard is up to the task. He is not the first director that springs to mind in adapting Steven King to the silver screen. He is somewhat sentimental, but in this, he matches King himself. The Dark Tower is awash with sentiment, despite its darkness. Brian De Palma didn’t capture it in Carrie and Stanley Kubrick certainly didn’t capture it in his emotionally frigid The Shining. Both of those films are technically superior to Hearts In Atlantis or The Green Mile, but these two imperfect films capture King in a way that Carrie or The Shining do not. I have to keep telling myself that Howard has some fantasy rep; Splash, Cocoon, and Willow were all good films.
It remains to be seen if the rest of the series is as well-casted. May I suggest Ryan Gosling as Eddie Dean, and Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran Stark from A Game Of Thrones) as Jake Chambers? I know Isaac is British, but isn’t Jake upper-crust New York? It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
Apparently, that is the Paschal Greeting in Tolkien’s constructed Elvish language Quenya. It was fun tracking down the exact translation of this phrase. Apparently, it comes from Tolkien himself, who also translated several Christian prayers into Quenya, such as The Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary.
Naturally, this leads to some speculation as to what significance the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Eru Ilúvatar has for the Elves. There is precious little to go by either in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillon. Human piety or apostasy is measured in these works by the human group’s faithfulness to the alliance with the Eldar, and by extension, to the Valar. Yet there is a line drawn between the Elves, who are bound to this world and cannot transpass it, and Men, whose fate lies “beyond the circle of the world, and what it is, even Mandos cannot tell.”
Nevertheless, Tolkien constructed his mythology to be, at the least, compatible with the worship of the Blessed Trinity. I view the Valar as Elementals, roughly corresponding to the των στοιχειων του κοσμου [“the elements of this world”], mentioned so coyly in St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (2:20). Alas, the Elves never finish their apprenticeship. The virtual immortality in this world which is so coveted by the fallen Numenoreans, turns out to be a perpetual submission to the Valar. Men would eventually come, because of their participation in the Divine nature, to overshadow their titular overlords. So, the First would be Last, and the Last, First.
The number and depth of human-Elvish relationships show that the Elves have at least a capacity to enter into the communio sanctorum, except that they would be participating from the streets of Tirion and Alqualondë, rejoicing in the good fortune of their younger brethren and awaiting their own eventual redemption. I am certain that the learned among them, on this bright Feast of Feasts, would greet each other with the Paschal greeting:
Ortanne Laivino! Anwa ortanne Laivino!
laivë noun “ointment” , hence Laivino, “the Anointed, the Christ”
orta– vb. “rise”, also transitive “raise, lift up”, pa.t. ortanë (Nam, RGEO:67, ORO; misreading “ortani” in Letters:426). According to PE17:63-64, this pa.t. form ortanë is only transitive (*”raised”), whereas the intransitive pa.t. (*”rose”) is orontë.
anwa adj. “real, actual, true”
From an online Quenya dictionary
Marija Gimbutas (1921 – 1994) is a name all of you should know. Fleeing the Nazi occupation of her native Lithuania in 1944, she settled in Southern California, eventually becoming a full professor of anthropology at UCLA.
Dr. Gimbutas first attained prominence in the field of Indo-European studies by identifying a Neolithic culture of the Russian steppes, the Kurgan culture of appr. 4000 BC, as the speakers of Proto-Indo-European, the ancestral language of the majority of European and Indian languages spoken today. The Kurgans were a militaristic, patriarchal, and technologically obsessed society which, in various waves, dominated and submerged what she called “Old Europe”, a uniform (!?!?) Neolthic culture which was pacific, aesthetic, matriarchal, and meticulous about ecological relations to the natural world.
Dr. Gimbutas’ theory of Indo-European procedence is not entirely accepted by scholars in archeology or linguistics. It remains a “fruitful” hypothesis, meaning, I suppose, one that can still be invoked to apply for grants and to lend legitimacy to articles published in scholarly journals. The jury is still out as to whether the Kurgans were indeed the linguistic great-grandfathers of Homer, the writers of the Vedas, Virgil, and the bards of the Cattle Raid on Cooley.
Nevertheless, outside the more rigorous climes of official academe, her ideas took fruit in a series of novels written by one of her ex-students, Jean Auel, who had a good run of success with her “Earth’s Children” series, beginning with “The Clan of the Cave Bear”, which was made into a decent film starring Darryl Hannah.
The Earth’s Children series degenerated swiftly from the original book, which was quite good from both a literary and imaginative perspective, into a predictable set of romances between the protaganist Ayla and a series of broad-chested, long-haired, sensitive Neolithic swains who followed her across Old Europe in obedience to the Great Goddess, whom they worshipped and who Ayla symbolized.
I never finished the second book, although I have been meaning to. Whatever made the first book special is definitely lacking in the second. At any rate, Ms. Auel made Dr. Gimbutas’ speculations plausible to a host of moderns looking for a reason why their lives weren’t working so well.
Gimbutean fiction is quite a lively sub-genre these days, with plucky, Goddess-honoring heroines standing shoulder to shoulder with brave, shining-eyed, long-locked heroes against the awful Horse People and their ferocious, oppressive Sky-God (Guess Who?).
The mythology is quite potent, which is why its not going to go away because it doesn’t have any basis in verifiable history. Christians, as usual, had their seismic triggers posted elsewhere and didn’t see Dr. Gimbutas coming up behind them.
On Palm Sunday, the HBO network will broadcast the first episode of their much-anticipated adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones, which is the first volume of his fantasy epic A Song Of Fire And Ice. Since I didn’t want the television series to be my first introduction to the work of a writer that many have called “the American Tolkien”, I decided to burrow my way into this massive narrative. Currently, I find myself in the middle of the third volume, A Storm Of Swords. The whole opus so far consists of four books, A Game Of Thrones, A Clash Of Kings, A Storm Of Swords, and A Feast For Crows. A fifth volume, A Dance With Dragons, is supposed to be published this summer. It has been since 2005 that the last volume had been published, and Martin’s fans have been remarkably patient.
So, how does A Song Of Fire And Ice compare to its great predecessor? Like The Lord Of The Rings, Fire and Ice starts in media res. The narrative opens to the north of the Great Wall that protects the kingdom of Westeros from an unnamed and undescribed threat. A petulant lordling leads a group of reluctantly celibate lay brothers from an order known as the Night’s Watch deep into the northern forests in search of “wildling” raiders. They find a zombie-like threat none of them are ready to face. Immediately, Martin jumps a thousand leagues to the south, to Winterfell, the seat of House Stark. The Starks are the northernmost of the great baronal families that govern Westeros under the Iron Throne, whose current occupant, King Robert Baratheon, arrives at Winterfell to celebrate with his good friend Lord Eddard Stark.
Like Tolkien, Martin draws on an enormous canvas, and you learn about the complex history, geography, and anthropology of Westeros bit by bit, in much the same way as Tolkien introduced his backstory into Middle Earth. Martin is a masterful writer. He braids his tale from separate strands, yet never drops the thread. The pace is leisurely, and there is a lot going on at any particular time.
Martin accomplishes his remarkable feat by weaving third person viewpoints from nine or ten separate characters. Martin’s characters are where his genius really shines forth; the plot is fairly pedestrian, albeit ambitious, and the setting of Westeros is just medieval Britain written continent-size. There is a civil war between several baronial families, highlighted by the conflict between the conservative and honor-bound Starks of the North, and the arrogant and wealthy Lannisters of the West. It is the characters, especially Martin’s wonderful female characters; dreamy Sansa, masculine Brienne, resourceful Arya, compassionate Catelyn, troubled Lyssa, that hook you and drag you into the story.
In many places, I was reminded of Tolstoy’s War And Peace . Martin’s characters are that internally consistent. He excels at getting you to sympathize with morally shaky characters such as Jaime Lannister the Kingslayer, or rigid Stannis Baratheon. Without any doubt, however, his masterpieces are the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, and the last of the deposed Targaryens, Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons. The books crackle with excitement when they take up the story. I especially look forward to seeing Peter Dinklage portray Tyrion the Imp, which has to be a dream role for this talented actor.
If I had any complaints about this series, there would be three. First, Martin doesn’t seem to have any problem killing or maiming a character even though it doesn’t further the narrative. Bran Stark’s paralysis, Lyssa’s madness, the loss of Jaime’s hand, the deaths of Ned Stark, Daenerys’ husband Drogo, or Renly Baratheon leave the reader with a sense of uneasiness. It kept me from getting too attached to any of the characters lest I should find them ripped away from me without a moment’s notice.
Secondly, Martin creates a baker’s half-dozen intriguing faiths, but no one ever seems to believe in any of them. The gods (and there are a lot of gods) never intervene in the narrative, never work any miracles, never answer prayers. The best they do is to offer psychological support for the handful of devout characters that stand out from the general agnosticism. Of course, clerics are usually portrayed as venial and self-serving, so in that Martin is crafting a very up-to-date fantasy indeed. I know it isn’t fair to fault an author for not being interested in what interests the reader, but a glimpse behind the scenes of the fate of Westeros would have added a lot to the story. Competing gods would have made it a lot like The Iliad.
There is sex. Overall, I think this is a good thing. There are some R-rated scenes concerning whores, bawds and bastards. This is fantasy for the whole man, including below the navel. However, I didn’t find myself objecting to that so much as to the overall tone of the series. If you are going to write heroic fantasy, there should be some heroic figures in it. I do not foresee a eucatastophe for poor, sad, war-torn and zombie-plagued Westeros. There will be no Fall Of Barad-Dûr, no crowning of the True King, which is a shame, because Westeros could truly use one. Martin, though, appears too wedded to his post-modern viewpoint. I hope he proves me wrong. I really do believe he has it in him, but I also wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that “valar morghulis” turned out to be Old Valyrian for “shit happens”.