Tolkien, new film, a critical review

This March 2019 film trailer video from the USA says about itself:

TOLKIEN | Trailer 2 | FOX Searchlight

TOLKIEN explores the formative years of the renowned author’s life as he finds friendship, courage and inspiration among a fellow group of writers and artists at school. Their brotherhood strengthens as they grow up and weather love and loss together, including Tolkien’s tumultuous courtship of his beloved Edith Bratt, until the outbreak of the First World War which threatens to tear their fellowship apart. All of these experiences would later inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-earth novels.

The film is produced by Fox, part of the Rupert Murdoch empire. Not a good omen.

By Sandy English in the USA:

Tolkien: Biopic of author J.R.R. Tolkien rings false

5 October 2019

Directed by Dome Karukoski. Screenplay by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford.

Tolkien is a fictionalized biography of the early life of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit (1936) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1947-55).

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) is the most significant figure in the field of heroic fantasy, one of the most popular genres of fiction, film and television today. Fantasy, closely related to science fiction as a type of imaginative writing, emerged in the 19th century from the study of folklore, northern European epic poetry and medieval romance. The understanding of these sources was making great strides in the second half of that century, and helped to inspire fantasy, which was influenced by the romanticism of the earlier 19th century.

It is generally agreed today that Tolkien’s stature as an important English-language novelist—whether one agrees with this characterization or not—should not be diminished by the fact that he wrote about imaginary worlds with fictitious mythologies in which magic is used and which he populated both with humans and with a variety of human-like creatures.

After an initial success of The Lord of the Rings in the 1950s, the trilogy, and its prequel The Hobbit, steadily grew in popularity and are today a defining influence on the fantasy genre, which includes many bestselling novels and popular television dramas, such as Game of Thrones.

Tolkien was born in South Africa, where his father died in 1896. His mother relocated the family to Birmingham, England, and raised him and his brother in poverty until she, too, died in 1904. He spent the rest of his youth under the stewardship of a Catholic priest, Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan (played in the film by Colm Meaney), who sought to prevent his attachment to a fellow orphan, Edith Bratt.

Tolkien shows the author as a young man in the period preceding, during and immediately following the First World War of 1914 to 1918, in which Tolkien served as a junior officer in the British army on the western front. The film more or less stops there, however.

On this basis alone, the film must be judged wanting. It cannot possibly give a serious depiction of the times and experiences that produced Tolkien and his work while omitting the impact of the rest of the first third of the 20th century on Tolkien’s work. Even more seriously, it gives a simplistic and linear view of artistic development in general.

The film lavishes attention on Tolkien’s childhood and youth as an orphan, his association with a group of young friends, first at King Edward’s school in Birmingham, and after 1913—while he was at Oxford University—the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS). The TCBS scenes are given far too much emphasis in the film. Another focus is Tolkien’s courtship of Edith Bratt (Lily Collins). Both of these elements only add to a misleading impression of Tolkien as simply a typical middle-class youth of the pre-war period, with an interest in ancient languages.

This was the period of Tolkien’s life during which he formed an interest in the study of Germanic languages, ancient and modern. His love of linguistics and ancient Germanic literature (the Old Norse Eddas or the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, for example) and his play with word-origins became the focus of his academic career after the war, but also a significant source of his own fictional mythology of Middle Earth, the world of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and other works.

To its credit, Tolkien does show this interest—in one scene, John Ronald (Nicholas Hoult) approaches the famous Oxford Germanic linguist Joseph Wright (Derek Jacobi) to ask to be transferred to his course of study.

The acting in the film is generally good. Jacobi is a scholar obsessed by his field, and Hoult has the right proportions of enthusiasm before and discouragement after the war.

Tolkien’s induction into the military, and the depictions of battle on the Somme in 1916, are vivid and affecting scenes. The nightmare visions of thousands of soldiers are here: the piles of corpses, the maddening artillery barrages. One gets a sense of the suffering and carnage that Tolkien saw in that battle, one of the worst in human history.

But the film makes completely misguided attempts to locate these experiences in the development of Tolkien’s art. At one point on the Somme, feverish, he goes on a journey through the trenches to find his TCBS friend Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney). He is accompanied by a soldier conveniently named Sam (the name one of the characters Tolkien uses in an epic journey in The Lord of the Rings 20 years later). Clouds of shell smoke form themselves into the shape of wraiths that resemble those of the Peter Jackson’s film version of The Lord of the Rings.

The rest of the film also indulges is this kind of oversimplification of the sources of Tolkien’s artistic work. When Edith asks John Ronald to tell her a story, he begins by saying, “It’s about journeys, the journeys we take to prove ourselves,” leading the viewer to assume that Tolkien already had in mind the kind of journeys that form the basis of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

While Tolkien was a flop at the box-office, it is true that anything associated with Tolkien is potentially worth millions. In this case, the film was disavowed by the Tolkien Estate, which announced before the film was released that it wished “to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film.” The estate has taken authors and business to court several times, and it sold rights for a television series based on his works to Amazon for $250 million in 2017. The company is said to be investing over a billion dollars in the production of this series.

Tolkien is loosely based on a biography by John Garth that covers the same period in Tolkien’s life, Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-Earth (2003). Garth has also raised doubts about the accuracy of the film.

Garth’s biography is a better effort. Overall it sticks to the facts of Tolkien’s life. it makes some interesting observations about the work that Tolkien began writing when he was convalescing from trench fever and was associated with the mythology that later became the backdrop to the Lord of the Rings.

Garth, however, uses the same method as the film does when he fails to identify the place of World War I in history, to trace the conceptions that formed Tolkien’s sensibility or to compare his time on the Somme in any detail with those of other writers who experienced the war. There is little in his book about the immediate postwar period and the enormous impact of the war on European society and politics.

While the war unquestionably had a profound effect on Tolkien—years later he called it an “utter stupid waste” and “an animal horror”—the real question is, what impact did World War I and the next 20–25 years, which saw the rise of fascism, the depression and the coming of a second world war, have on him and his creative work.

Any assessment of the effect of the war itself would have to be weighed in that context, especially since his work about Middle Earth did not appear for nearly two decades. The complexity and richness of a whole historical period during which Tolkien worked out his languages, mythologies and fiction is missing from the book as well as the film.

The immediacy of the war came full force and gave expression to the feelings and thoughts of millions of active-duty soldiers, in works such as Henri Barbusse’s novel Under Fire (1916) and the poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, which were also published during the war.

But other works by soldiers took time to develop. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front was not published until 1928, for example, and William March’s Company K not until 1930.

In fact, few authors had a less immediate response to the world around them than J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien, who invented his own mythology and even whole languages, passed through a prolonged development, 19 years between the end of the war and the production of The Hobbit.

Understanding Tolkien’s life is an entirely legitimate project, especially for what it can reveal about the social, artistic and personal influences on his work, but the film unfortunately fails to give a broader sense of the times in which he lived.

Tolkien is not in any way critical of British society before the war. The viewer is as surprised as the characters when war is declared and when it turns into a disaster. The film offers few insights into the character of the war, aside from its bloody violence, and it does not show a world transformed by the war. At best we get a sense of what it did to Tolkien, but not to European society. This method does not help us understand the 20th century, the artists that it produced, or Tolkien’s own work.

Euro Birdwatch 2019 in the Netherlands

This 5 October 2019 Dutch video is about Euro Birdwatch 2019 today at the Tongplaat in Biesbosch national park in the Netherlands.

See here.

All the birds seen there that day: here.

The national Top Ten for the Netherlands of bird species and individuals seen today is:

1. Starling 159,905
2. White-fronted goose 69,497
3. Chaffinch 54,344
4. Siskin 47,026
5. Song thrush 31,922
6. Black-headed gull 21,920
7. Meadow pipit 19,081
8. Redwing 16,848
9. Graylag goose 15,533
10. Jay 14,331

Apart from these numerous birds, also rarer birds were seen in this EuroBirdwatch in the Netherlands.

Like a pallid harrier; two penduline tits; a red-footed falcon; an olive-backed pipit.

Really special: a red-flanked bluetail seen in the coastal sand dunes near The Hague.

A total of 208 species.

US neonazi Coast Guard officer pleads guilty

This 3 October 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson Pleads Guilty In Gun Case

A Coast Guard lieutenant accused of stockpiling weapons and targeting Supreme Court justices, prominent Democrats and TV journalists has pleaded guilty in a case charging him with gun and drug offenses. Katie Johnston reports.

By Matthew Taylor in the USA:

White supremacist Coast Guard officer pleads guilty to drug and weapons charges

By Matthew Taylor

5 October 2019

Christopher Paul Hasson, a US Coast Guard lieutenant and avowed white supremacist, pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to charges of unlawfully possessing a firearm silencer, illegal possession of the prescription painkiller Tramadol, and possession of a firearm by an addict of a controlled substance.

It was discovered during an investigation that Hasson had stockpiled at least 15 weapons, including assault rifles, as well as over 1,000 rounds of ammunition to potentially be used in carrying out a series of terrorist atrocities and assassinations of Democratic Party politicians, journalists, and others he dubbed “cultural Marxists”.

He is due to be sentenced on January 31 of next year and faces a maximum of 31 years in prison.

Hasson was arrested in February of this year after investigators learned he had been viewing far-right websites on his computer at the Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he served as an acquisitions officer. Hasson had previously served in the US Marine Corps from 1988 to 1993 as well as two years of active duty in the Army National Guard.

In arguing for his detention without bail, prosecutors in February introduced into evidence several documents found on Hasson’s computer in which he expounded his fascist views, as well as a record of his internet searches which indicate that his plans to carry out an attack had proceeded beyond mere bluster.

In one letter composed to a neo-Nazi leader but never sent, Hasson characterized himself as “a long time White Nationalist, having been a skinhead 30 plus years ago before my time in the military.” He went on to write, “I never saw a reason for mass protest or wearing uniforms marching around provoking people with swastikas etc. I was and am a man of action you cannot change minds protesting like that. However you can make change with a little focused violence.”

Hasson outlined the typical neo-Nazi view that white people in Europe and the US are under siege by Muslim and Jewish people and racial minorities. His letter spoke of the need for a new white homeland and complained about the weakness of other white supremacists.

In one passage, Hasson wrote: “We need a white homeland as Europe seems lost… until whites wake up on their own or are forcibly made to make a decision whether to roll over and die or to stand up remains to be seen.”

Though Hasson was inspired and researched numerous far-right figures, including the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, his primary model was Anders Breivik, the far-right Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in two attacks in 2011, many of them teenagers attending a Social Democratic party summer camp.

Breivik wrote a manifesto in the years leading up to the attack that detailed his ideology and discussed training and tactics for the upcoming war against “globalism”, Islam and “cultural Marxism”. His actions made Breivik a hero among the far right and his manifesto has been cited by numerous far-right terrorists since then, including Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 Muslim worshipers at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year.

Prosecutors showed that Hasson had purchased multiple firearms from various sources, as well as a large amount of ammunition. He was also found to be in possession of a large cache of human growth hormone, following Breivik’s suggestion that potential terrorists take steroids in preparation for their attacks.

The list of potential targets found on Hasson’s computer included those Democratic Party politicians and media figures routinely attacked by President Donald Trump and his supporters, including most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and the Democratic Socialists of America as a whole, news anchors Joe Scarborough and Chris Hayes from MSNBC, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi …

The fact that most of Hasson’s proposed targets are all defenders of the capitalist system does not diminish the threat presented by Hasson and others like him. Nor does his conviction minimize the danger. Fascistic individuals and networks have been exposed throughout the police and armed forces, both in the US and internationally, and are being deliberately cultivated and encouraged at the highest levels including by President Trump.

Saving northern white rhinos with new technology?

This 5 October 2019 video says about itself:

Planet SOS: New technology can save rare rhino

Scientists are developing a robotic tool which can save one of the world’s rarest creatures.

They say an unprecedented wave of wildlife extinction is underway because of global warming, a loss of habitat and poaching.

They are trying to save some critically-endangered species, including the Northern White Rhino, which has been hunted to obliteration.

The project aims to produce a self-sustaining herd of Northern White Rhinos, first in captivity and then returned to the wild in Africa.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds reports from Escondido city in California.