Card File: “The Art of Fiction”

From Henry James’s “The Art of Fiction”:

…the only classification of the novel that I can understand is into that which has life that which has it not.

Catching the very nite and trick, the strange irregular rhythm of life, that is the attempt whose strenuous force keeps Fiction upon her feet.

It appears to me that no one can ever have made a seriously artistic attempt without becoming conscious of an immense artistic increase–a kind of revelation–of freedom.

No good novel will ever proceed from a superficial mind…

Lord of the Rings (1978)

LotR 1978The Lord of the Rings

Watched this out of curiosity and liked it actually. This adaptation faces the same challenges as Jackson’s. The main one is length. This version makes many of the same exclusions as Jackson’s adaptation, no Bombidil, a large focus on Moria. But is different in that it stops with The Two Towers.

Jackson has taken visual cues from this version. This is obvious in the characters’ dress and the landscape, but it is also clear in the framing and blocking of specific scenes, e.g. the ringwraith sniffing out the hobbits on the road and the ringwraiths ritually killing the hobbits in beds they discover are empty. There is no other visual reference for these moments. So the duplication must come from here.

A few comments I typed up while I was watching it:

  • This tells the story of the original rather than adapts it. It is not looking for naturalism or immersion in the action. I think this is a smart choice that is closer to the novel’s structure as a tale of men telling stories to each other.
  • This version is also more interested in presenting the storytelling of the original in the film, e.g. Aragorn telling a story by the fire, the celebration when the hobbits arrive at Rivendale.
  • The discursive quality makes the mythic seem mythic. Myths are retooled to the moment. They imply a scene of storytelling.
  • The translation of Aragorn, “the man of the West” as an Indian makes this very British myth-making oddly American. The effect is very odd and very interesting, even if it is left undeveloped.
  • The multi-media stuff is great. It feels inventive and crafty (in both the literal and “off” senses of the word), and I really loved it.

Interesting detail: the random elf on the road at the end of the first book is changed in both adaptations in telling ways. In 1978, the change compresses the narrative by introducing Legolas and eliminating an unnecessary character. In 2000, it introduces a love interest absent from the original and necessary for the Hollywood production both because of narrative conventions of the new form and for the marketing demands (i.e. female movie stars to broaden the demographic appeal).

Conversation v. Connection

The Flight From Conversation –

WE expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship. Always-on/always-on-you devices provide three powerful fantasies: that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone. Indeed our new devices have turned being alone into a problem that can be solved.

When people are alone, even for a few moments, they fidget and reach for a device. Here connection works like a symptom, not a cure, and our constant, reflexive impulse to connect shapes a new way of being.

Think of it as “I share, therefore I am.” We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings as we’re having them. We used to think, “I have a feeling; I want to make a call.” Now our impulse is, “I want to have a feeling; I need to send a text.”

So, in order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.

We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely.