Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Bad Money Drives Out Good

It is frustrating to search for exact Tolkien quotes, as the movie quotes pop up far more frequently than the book originals. You have to dig down a bit to find what Tolkien wrote two generations ago. I often resort to gabbing my own copies and searching out the words by hand. The lesser commodity value is in wider circulation.

I wondered years ago if the LOTR movies would push out the reading of the books, as they are in a more easily-digestible form. What Peter Jackson produced visually was far superior to anything in my imagination.  (It is a notable weakness of my reading, likely at brain level, that I do not picture things well, and thus have little interest in books with much description. Just give me the general idea, thanks.) Yet he told a different story than Tolkien did. The original was much more focused on the ability of seemingly insignificant actors to do great things, while the movie - following the rules of its own art - had the camera on Aragorn and Gandalf much more. This was a matter of degree, not an entirety, to be sure, yet it does undermine the main point of the original more than a little.

The Lord of the Rings, book version, is no longer part of popular culture. It belongs to another era now, and I suspect most of its reading is rereading. The same is true for Lewis's Narnian chronicles. The few movies have cemented rather than prevented that. All of Lewis's writing now belongs to previous eras, more likely two generations previous than one. That both writers have enjoyed persistence is not quite the same thing, though I suppose one could reasonably claim they remained alive in a popular subculture until recently. Spiritually, a popular subculture is as dangerous as the popular culture or even more, as it has the potential to drag snobbery along with it. But for the more basic definition, "popular" has to track with actual popularity.

Nor is it a valid argument that they remain current because both can be read with profit today, as both authors would assure you with a chuckle. They were both nourished almost entirely on authors long dead and far removed, as invisible to their popular culture as to ours.

I think the same thing has happened with the children's classics with primarily female audiences. Does anyone read Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, or Little House in the Big Woods anymore? Were the movies and TV series a brief rescue or a final shove through the door from the present to the past? In the 1990s I know that such books were still being read, as they showed up in the voting for The Great Stone Face award, given in NH every year for most popular book. (Judy Blume, infuriatingly, won year after year.) In the 2020s they are likely still being bought and given to girls for their birthdays, yet I don't know there are actually many eyes on the page.


james said...

My wife told me that The Secret Garden was still around a decade ago, but heavily edited.

Unknown said...

BTW, most of the books that Google Books has scanned are searchable, e.g.:

You may only get a snipping of a page portion where the quote appears, but I've found that enough for verifying quotes.

For still-in-print stuff this also works on Amazon, clicking "look inside" on the cover image allows text-search of the contents -- but I suspect this may only work for 'prime' members.

Texan99 said...

Amazon "look inside" is good, but often limited to a fraction of the pages. For anything out of copyright, Project Gutenberg and The Internet Archive are very handy.

I never got a single niece or nephew interested in either fantasy or science fiction. I still re-read my old favorites, but didn't do much to assure their continued life in the reading world.

Sam L. said...

I read LOTR, still have the books. I'm overdue to read them, but I'm currently going thru some WWII air combat books.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Sam L - I share a long-standing interest in WWII aviation history. My reading interests are varied but seem to cycle back to that topic in earnest every 6-12 months.

Sam L. said...

Sponge-headed ScienceMan, I was in the missile biz in the AF, and my two assignments were both B-17 Bomb Groups back when. My missile squadron emblems were the bomb squadrons' emblems. Look for the 390BG/570BS and 351BG/509BS emblems. My wife was the PA officer in the 351st; she came upon an old photo of Clark Gable in front of a B-17 (with no printing on the back and no notes/letters in the files). Years later, I found a 6-DVD set on the Air War, and it had one with Clark and the 351st in England. Look up
Air Combat on You Tube. Good thing about missiles, it's underground and nobody's shooting at you.

Deevs said...

I actually just went through the entire Little Women series for the first time this year. I saw a screen adaptation (the Amazon series) for the first time last year and loved it, and that made me want to read the series. The probably funny part about all this is I'm a man in his 30's. Part of the appeal for me was that the March family resembles my sister's family: four girls (and now a youngest boy). Someday I'll buy a nice collection of the Little Women series to put on the bookshelf alongside the Lord of the Rings.

PenGun said...

Just an observation. I have claimed that video games are art, and just the Elder Scrolls has very many people involved in a massive and historically well documented world, that is still evolving.

"Good thing about missiles, it's underground and nobody's shooting at you." When I was younger I had an interest in missiles, and collected anything I could find about them. This was before the internet made me throw all my paper away. If you are talking about Minutemen, as far as I can determine, it was the SS 18 that made them obsolete, because they were going to shoot at you. ;)