The Tolkien Professor

Corey Olsen

Arts, Literature

Chart Positions

Literature 62

The Tolkien Professor podcast is a series of lectures, discussions, and seminars on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien by Corey Olsen, Assistant Professor of English at Washington College in Maryland. Find me on Facebook at "The Tolkien Professor," on Twitter at @tolkienprof, or at my website at www.tolkienprofessor.com. I have also begun a grand new venture: the Mythgard Institute, offering courses on Tolkien studies for credit at the MA level, or just for fun! Join us at www.mythgard.org.


SilmFilm Episode 0-03: Storytelling

July 13th, 2015

Episode 286 of 366 episodes

Introduction Today’s topic is rhetorical level, register and language: a foundational issue. Core questions: How close to Tolkien are we trying to stay? Connections between texts and film? Looking Back to Last Episode Previous episode (3 weeks ago) Representation of magic through music (and visuals) for the Maia/Valar/Illuvatar Elemental forms prior to meeting the elves: Tolkien mentioned a similar idea in letters explaining Silmarillion aspects Why wouldn’t Yavanna take the form of a bear or hedgehog? The answer to “Which of the beasts and plants are noble?” would likely be different from Yavanna’s perspective (vs. Elves or Men’s perspectives) Oromë’s antlers – bipedal but still animalistic Mythgard Announcements The Force of Star Wars: Examining the Epic – This Fall, Amy H. Sturgis is teaching a class on the Star Wars epoch – a study of the entire phenomenon, cultural impact that the story has had as well as the studying the story itself. Introduction to Anglo-Saxon–Immersion in the language as well as literature. “We’ll take you from zero to Beowulf by the end of the semester.” Secondhalf of the semester will be translating Anglo-Saxon poems. Tolkien's Wars and Middle-earth – John Garth, author of Tolkien and the Great War,is teaching a class on Tolkien’s biography: insight into creative life, impact of his circle of friends, and the impact of WWI on Tolkien’s writing. Mythgard Academy class: Wednesdays (9:30 pm ET). The first class on The Lays of Beleriand. Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO)vicariousadventure with Coreyimmediately after this class – follow on LOTRO Streamevery Friday at 12:30 pm ET Book Context of this Episode As we’re talking about establishing visual and musical vocabulary/cues and maintaining consistency, pretty much all of it. Today’s topic: Rhetorical Register – a few examples. Fellowship of the Ring Paragraph 2: Narrator’s voice with Hobbity dialogue (rather rustic) Do we want a voiceover narrative? (leaning towards no) Vocabulary: what level of archaism is appropriate? Syntactic structure: How complicated are the sentences? Modern vs. archaic sentence structures – Someone wrote a letter to Tolkien telling that he was being too archaic, to which he said “real old (medieval) people talk like this” and gave a Theoden monologue sample in “modern voice” which didn’t sound “right.” Sentence structure is complicated, but tone is still conversational. Return of the King “Field of Cormallen” Different from the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring – more archaic but not difficult. Syntax: unapologetically using poetic and archaic structure. More stately, less conversational. The effect is different. Silmarillion “of Maeglin” chapter Vocabulary: a bit elevated/“King James”-ish to modern readers. “the craft of finding ores of metals in the mountains” vs “He learned about mining” – stresses the connection to the mountains, and the relationship between the craftsmen and the metal. Book of Lost Tales (Lost audio) Vairë: in prose – one of the most archaic that Tolkien ever used. Extended expression instead of simple words. (The elaboration has a function, but what is it?) By comparison, Game of Thrones: “British” accents but modern language/politics. It’s a modern story with the trappings of fantasy. Trish: We need a synthesized accent (the Valar would have a dialect, the Hobbits have more of a rustic/English country accent, the different Elves having their own accents based on region) Discussion “Art should not be a slave to a perceived audience.” – We should NOT dumb this down à la Hollywood. (comment from attendee) We have precedents of this with other shows on Netflix/HBO. (House of Cards’s Kevin Spacey uses ‘old school’ language) We still see Shakespeare adaptations with the original language. “Archaic language is less a problem than the run-on sentences.” “We should follow Tolkien’s language as much as possible. His style is what makes his works so great.” Tolkien is a more finely crafted linguistic performance, and changing the wording would lose much of the meaning. Silmarillion is a *summary* of the history. We would need more dialogue to make it more accessible to the audience. The prose style of the Silmarillion isn’t appropriate for a screen adaptation. We would need a more “novel like” story. Majority of an episode would be dialogue, so we need to think about how the characters will talk. Tolkien gives more directives for how Samwise talks than other characters (capturing his accent in the writing). How many levels of distinction do we need? Do we try to draw a distinction between how the Elves talk vs. the Valar? Narrator’s register should be different from the character’s register/syntax. The narrator might be a good place to do the more complex Tolkien writing (long sentences, archaic vocabulary), while the dialogue might be better suited for shorter lines. But if our narrators are characters, then they need to sound true to that character. Originally against the idea of voice overs, but as we get into making individual episodes, we may need to have narrative voiceover to bridge the gaps in time, as the first season would cover a LOT of years and we need a way to convey the passage of time. Talked about the narrator having his own story – timing the narrator’s story/voiceover with events happening Skipping the gaps in years to compress time fundamentally changes the story (Gandalf left Bilbo’s party to search for answers about the One Ring for 17 years, not just a few days), so not in favor of shortening the timeline, but would need to skip “long periods of bliss”. (Time lapse!!) Dialects: Elves don’t use contractions whereas Men would…do the Wood Elves have a different dialect from Elves of other regions? Dwarves would likely have a different accent. (No Hobbits in the Silmarillion, so don’t need to worry about them) Beren doesn’t speak the way he’s depicted in the Silmarillion – it’s the Elves telling his story and describing what he’s saying. The Silmarillion doesn’t have a lot of registers because it’s told from the Elvish point of view. The Edain should have a dialect closer to the Elves, vs. the Easterlings. Languages – at the very least, we should at least “make a nod” towards the different languages. (Significant differences between Quenya and Sindarin, so the dialect should reflect this.) Dwarves with Yoda sentence structure! (not specifically, but rather that level of syntactic difference) Valar/Noldor might speak Quenya almost exclusively amongst themselves (since Quenya becomes like Latin – a dead language) If they’re speaking English to each other, we can imagine that they’re actually speaking their own language, but if we inject words here and there, it may make it seem more obvious that they’re speaking English. “Hunt for Red October” starts them in Russian and then switches to English, but that transition may be too jarring. In the ThirdAge, there is a common tongue that everyone understands, (which we could believe is English) but that’s not the case in the First Age. When we have the two Elf peoples coming together, we need to sort that out. (We’ll likely need subtitles) Solution: (not the best, but for the moment) different accents, and when the Noldor start speaking Sindarin, they need to change their tone. If we get too hung up on this, it may end up being more confusing. We don’t want to lose the story for the sake of details We also have visual components to help distinguish between groups. Detailed stories that overlap in time: Tuor and Turin crossing paths. Contemporaneous stories vs. skipping around the timeline a lot, which could make things confusing. (Think Two Towers film, how Jackson is telling the threesimultaneous stories.) We could build drama by going back and forth, and might be good to break up the Bliss of Valinor. The narrator at the beginning or end, not in the middle to be a “tour guide” for the viewer. This is more of an awareness episode, as opposed to coming to final decisions (maybe we can’t make some decisions till we get started). Narrators: if we use narrators “the cool way,” we may be stuck with the contiguous stories. Would be good to synthesize a few stories together. Summary and Decisions made Syntax – a kind of “reverse Silmarillion” – the narrators will have more modern syntax, dialogue from the first age more archaic. Chronology – interleaving stories Closing Questions for Season 0, Episode 4 Laying out plot structure of entire show (big picture season arcs for Seasons 1-3) to have a sense of where we’re headed. Where should we end each season? Multiple story lines? Next class: July 17 Trish:We should consider a “wrap up episode” where we go over all our decisions and combine special guests, before we start Season 1. Especially if there are outstanding decisions. (In light of “tabling” the Register question and other issues for the moment.) Recommended Reading Refresh memory up to Flight of the Noldor to Middle Earth to the Dagor Bragollach

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