Tuesday, October 4, 2016


So, last week I posted about having gone to see a new film about Tolkien and Lewis called, appropriately enough, "TOLKIEN AND LEWIS".  I'd been unsure whether this was to be a biopic, as some things I saw online suggested, or instead a documentary. As the subtitle makes clear -- "MYTH, IMAGINATION, AND THE QUEST FOR MEANING" -- it's a documentary, not a dramatization.

What's more, it's a ten-year-old documentary: most of the interviews seem to have been filmed at the Aston conference nr Birmingham back in 2005. * The most notable figures are Verlyn Flieger and Tom Shippey; others Tolkien and Lewis (mostly Lewis) experts who took part include Ward, Duriez, Hein, Reza Aslan, along with others whose names I didn't know and so can't pass along now. The biggest shock, by far, was seeing my friend Chris Mitchell. I'd assumed the interviews were recent, and so didn't expect to see a friend who died more than two years ago prominently featured. It was unsettling in ways I can't quite describe.

As for the film itself, the subtitle shows how ambitious its goal is: to look at the Inklings' beliefs that imagination could be a vehicle for truth. At least that was part of their intention, I think: while the piece focused on Lewis's conversion and the rule his long walk and talk with Tolkien and Dyson had on it, I found it a little unfocused and had a little trouble following how each specific part fit into the whole.

I give them praise for making a point to include Hugo Dyson, the third of the three who took that long walk on that memorable night. I'd made a private bet with myself that they'd drop Dyson -- most dramatizations of  that event do -- and I'm glad to say they didn't. Too bad we don't have any record of what Dyson said, since he's the only one of the three who so far as I know left behind no account of the evening.

Naturally there were a few things I wish they'd done differently. For one thing, it opens with a quote from Joseph Campbell -- perhaps unfortunately, since he belonged to a school of myth-theorists with whom Tolkien was profoundly at odds. Then too you'd think a documentary that explored such subjects would bring in Barfield, whose work is directly apropos  to several points they raised. But the biggest omission was "Mythopoeia".

After all, we know of that evening's discussion partly through C. S. Lewis's v. brief mention in a letter, and far more through Tolkien, who wrote up his side of the conversation as a sort of dramatic monologue, better known as the poem "Mythopoeia". However it might differ from Tolkien's actual words that evening in the give-and-take of conversation, it's the closest we can get to the actual words of their conversation. So I'd have expected them to have read it towards the end of their film as an encapsulation of the theme of their entire movie. Maybe they cdn't get permission to quote it, or just didn't know about it.

All in all, I'm glad I got to see this -- particularly for the parts with Verlyn, Chris Mitchell, and Shippey -- but found myself wishing it had been the dramatization I'd been half-expecting.

This being a showing at the MILW. FILM FESTIVAL, there was a question-and-answer session afterwards, but since the writer/director cdn't be there and the person substituting for him, the film's editor, cheerfully admitted not knowing a thing about Lewis or Tolkien ("other than that Tolkien was a life-long Catholic, born into the faith" [a more or less direct quote]), there didn't seem to be much point in asking him questions he cdn't answer.

Here's a link to the film's listing from the film festival's website


and here's a description of the film by its editor:


I might point out, though, that virtually nothing of what the director says in this interview about Tolkien's and Lewis's life appears in his film.

--I was going to include in this post a write-up about another recent film on Tolkien, TOLKIEN'S ROAD, and also something about an in-the-works play about the two men, but given how long this post is already I think I'll save those for another day.

--John R.
current slow, careful (re) reading: THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW
current light reading: THE CASE WITH NINE SOLUTIONS by J. J. Connington (1929): a G. Fay book.

*I was sorry not to be able to go to this at the time, but simply cdn't tear myself away from MR. BAGGINS, which was finally nearing completion after so many years of working on it.

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