« Bertolt Brecht: Questions by a workman who reads | Main | Nineteen Old Poems. Wading into the river »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Kilibob from Madang

I sympathize with Christopher Tolkien. The Fantasy genre has become a monster, feeding off the carcass of JRR Tolkien's books and now it appears, off the carcass of the films.

Most of what passes for Epic Fantasy these days is little more than JRRT's stuff, slightly warmed over and slightly stirred. Frgawdsake, why can't people show a bit more originality? And read some of the original materials themselves? At least the Grimm Bros and the like? And of course the Shahnama and the highly important stories of Kilibob and Manup and Maui and Hine Nui te Po and Tawhaki and Pele and Taaroa ...


Well, I have to say that the "Tolkien Estate" reminds me how the power of money can overtake the common sense. The writer himself sold the rights for a VERY handsome price. Now his descendants want more money for what he wrote. Nothing is new.

Christopher Tolkien refused to meet Peter Jackson, really? Not a wise move for those who are ready to run to the court just to put the "copyright"-thing on everything that could POSSIBLY bring a profit. Aside of the fact that it's simply rude to behave this way towards the man who had contributed HUGELY into the popularization of the books and who led A LOT of people worldwide to read the books - esp. those who never even heard about Tolkien before the LOTR movies hit the screen. I read the books after I saw LOTR movies. And if I really liked TWOTR, I can honestly say about The Hobbit: there are A LOT of books for the kids that are written better and in a more interesting, stronger way than this exact book. There is no way to satisfy everyone's tastes and expectations but Jackson did a good job by making LOTR movies. I think he will handle The Hobbit too.
The sentence "Philosophical Impact Reduced to Nothing" is rather ridiculous. Overall, those "sufferings"/"sad observations" about "the chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and the commercialization," "the movies eviscerated...» etc. look very hypocritical.
It's seems to me that its' not J.R.R. Tolkien but the "Tolkien Estate" became a monster itself. - A greedy and blind monster. One thing they don't understand: if they will "copyright everything" the big part of the audience can move its interest to the less defensive areas. My question is: could be J.R.R. Tolkien happy about this? I highly doubt it.


J.R.R. Tolkien didn't really want his books made into movies, and he sold the movie rights for a pittance, £100,000, *not* a "VERY handsome price", in 1968 when he was an old man. It's unfair to assume the family is venal in their objections to the movies. They could have made far more money by cooperating with the film producers, if money was their goal. Christopher Tolkien was an Anglo-Saxon scholar and his father's literary executor, and the books are his life's work. Of course he is going to have a very different attitude from people who never read the books till after they saw the movies.

If you wrote a book that was made into films grossing $6 billion after you died, wouldn't you want your children to get a fair share of that?


"The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has gone too far for me...There is only one solution for me: turning my head away."

That's a right proper elvish sentiment, Mr. Frodo.


Please read: the King's return from many orc and trawl.As you know, the orcs have self reproducing creatures.We also have goblinsler in the caves, cave trawl.Evil may happen again, and so a new Tolkien work.Please consider this ...

German translator

Amazing article Well the poems in the History of Middle Earth were long, but cry out for that kind of treatment from Christopher.

Ross Smith

Sedulia, many thanks for making this available. As a translator myself, I appreciate the effort involved. As a Tolkien specialist, I'm grateful for the opportunity to hear the comments of Tolkien's favourite son on the merchandising monster that the Jackson films have spawned. It's curious that Christopher should choose Le Monde to break his habitual silence - perhaps he no longer trusts any of the English-speaking media.
Best wishes, Ross Smith

John Creesey

I understand this post is pretty old, but this is my first time seeing it. I've read Tolkiens' work repeatedly since I was a teenager. I was more upset with the cartoon movies that were made, and I still liked even them on a base level. Peter Jackson didn't screw it up that bad. Furthermore, the world is lucky that Joel Schumacher or John Woo didn't direct the three movies. Considering every movie ever made that was "adapted" from a classic book has been cannibalized, I'd say Peter Jackson stayed 75% true to canon (doesn't sound impressive, but think about how long the story is). Yeah, I found myself several times during each film thinking: "What? That never happened!". Luckily, I thought the base story was intact, missing parts that would obviously make each movie five hours long. I guess what was important to me, was the ongoing history that was unveiled throughout the story. I would love to see the "Silmarillion" done 100% to the letter (though I don't believe it would ever happen). Christopher, I respect you keeping the Torch of your Father's classic work alive; and Peter, I respect you for trying to deliver Tolkiens' work as true to form as you could (I know you wished it to be more precise).

Marcel Bülles

Most people don't realise that the film and merchandise rights don't really go anywhere but to people who make loads of money with them - for what purpose?

Quite a substantial amount of money the Tolkien Estate has to forcibly get from those merchandise right holders goes into the Tolkien Trust, a foundation working in the UK that hands it out to charitable causes.


The interview was given in French for obvious reasons - in translation it would be used and abused in the English-speaking media against the Tolkien Estate's justified attempt at protecting the literary heritage. Unfortunately, this translation has proven them right, again.

The direct quotes have not been translated wrongly but as with any translation with a sligth slant in meaning and therefore are open to misinterpretation.

In the original text Christopher Tolkien comes off very well in explaining the shortcomings of the Jacksonian fallout; this does not seem to be the case with this translation.

There is no doubt that there has been renewed interest in Tolkien due to the film trilogies and for that I am grateful as a fan but it is laughable to consider the most successful author of the 20th century (with more than a 100 million copies of both Hobbit and LotR sold by 1997 ;)) in need of advertisement - that is a logical fallacy the marketing departments of the film companies involved have made cinema-goers believe.

When Jackson has come and gone people will still read the books.


@ Ross, Thank you. @ John, I read The Lord of the Rings at age 12 and fell in love. I wrote to Tolkien himself then and he wrote back a couple of times. I bet I was one of the few 12-year-olds to read The Hobbit and recognize the dwarfs' names from the Icelandic Eddas....

@Marcel, What, exactly, are you criticizing? It sounds as if you think the article should just have been left alone in its pristine French.

Marcel Bülles

Dear Sedulia,

thank you very much for accepting my comment into your blog.

No, I wouldn't want this article to remain in its "pristine French"; I belong to a group of translators who had translated this article directly after its publication but as there are at least three copyright holders involved we had officially asked for permission which was, of course, not granted, for the reasons I outlined above - that by a translation misunderstandings would arise. And that has happened.

Although your translation is in many places not wrong it unfortunately portrays Christopher Tolkien and the other persons quoted in this article as rather "snobbish" - the number of negative responses to your translation is proof enough of this.

This is not true, though, to the original French text where the Tolkien Estate and its work over the last few decades is being shown in a very favourable light; understandably, as you would imagine Christopher after at least two decades of public silence (his last major public appearance has been the 1992 conference in Oxford) not to accept the publication of an interview which would not be able to show the intricacies and obstacles of the Tolkien literary heritage due to the Jacksonian merchandising deluge.

Particularly the last paragraph with the longer quote by Christopher Tolkien himself is off the mark and prone to make people believe that he is, excuse my French, a snobbish English old fart who is miffed at not making billions out of his father's heritage - which considering the history of his work in the last 40 years is indeed laughable. This is not about money but the protection of the integrity of a most influential literary heritage being distorted beyond the point of no recognition.

That should have been made clear in your translation and that has not happened. It would have been better to add an explanatory note to the translation inviting the readers to actually have a look at the facts involved - the readership of "Le Monde" is obviously expected to read between the lines and that is something which really is difficult to explain in a simple one-to-one translation.


@Marcel, that's interesting and makes me see your point of view a bit more. But I still don't see that my translation makes anyone view Christopher Tolkien as a "snobbish old fart" -- I certainly didn't get that out of the interview and I think that the translation does not convey that at all, except to (the many) people determined to see Peter Jackson as the hero of the story because the movies were their path into the books.

I have been a Tolkien reader since I was a child, and I also love old English poetry, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Middle English, the Viking sagas and the Nibelungenlied, languages, etymology, and even Welsh. I loved those things even before I read Tolkien. Christopher Tolkien, too, loves those things. Not many people do, actually, and I feel a kinship with him because of it. I'm afraid I don't agree with you that my translation is in some way tilted toward making Christopher Tolkien look bad. Are you a native English speaker? I very much doubt it. I'm sorry, but saying the translation is "in many places not wrong" implies that everywhere else it IS wrong. As a translator yourself, you will understand why I am not happy with that remark.

You also assert that a French Le Monde reader is capable of reading between the lines of the interview, but that a benighted English reader needs an explanation to understand it. Did you mean to be insulting to English speakers? The fact that the commenters do not all admire Christopher Tolkien has nothing to do with the quality of the translation. Readers make up their own minds. What, exactly, are you objecting to? Give an example of your better translation.

I do link to the Le Monde article. Anyone who reads French can judge for themselves whether this translation is on the mark. I didn't ask for permission because Le Monde might have said no, and I knew there would be a lot of interest in an English version.

But no one has asked me to take this down, either.

Marcel Bülles

Dear Sedulia,

thank you again for accepting my comment.

I should maybe clarify my last comment on a few points. First of all I'd like to say that I am very happy to see you taking an interest in these wonderful pieces of literature you mentioned above - which as you may imagine have been of great importance and interest to me, too. Tolkien has this particular quality of making readers interesting in reading more and other books - I came to most of this via his writings.

And secondly, reading that you have indeed received an answer by the Professor really makes me jealous :) I was born in 1972 so I found it quite difficult to make myself understandable at the time and writing was out of the question so no hope for me there.

My rather stilted way of writing English including a rather large number of subordinate clauses might give me away as a native German speaker. I have lived in Scotland and the US and I generally visit England once a year but yes, indeed, my English is not that of a native speaker.

I am not trying to insinuate that any native English speaker would have any trouble at all in understanding your translation, not at all. However, the quality of Raphaëlle Rerolle's French is such that especially with a longer piece (and in such a prominent place such as 'Le Monde') you would have to be very knowledgeable to understand the 'fine print' she puts inbetween the lines - and transferring this in an appreciative manner into English is a truly challenging task. This is one of the main reasons why Christopher gave an interview in French, not English; otherwise he could have simply gone for the TLS.

Now, as much as I would love to offer suggestions of how any translation of this article might have been improved (and this is most certainly the envy of a translator speaking here who was not allowed to offer this translation to the public) I cannot do this - 'Le Monde' has said no and all other relevant parties have said no, either. The only reason why this translation is still online is because nobody has bothered to make you take it down.

As a freelance translator I am very well aware of any copyright issues involved in this and will most definitely not put my foot in something the copyright holders would not approve of.

It is quite disappointing for me at this point to kind of 'leave the discussion' but you are right in asking for a comparison - that would necessarily offer more options for talk about. Unfortunately, that is something I can't do.

Let me just say that I am in no way an admirer of Christopher Tolkien who has just barged in your blog to tell everyone out there what a great guy he is - and that your translation is completely wrong; that is not the case.

However, when I read the original French text I can do nothing but sympathise with his position and with your translation I feel inclinced to put him down as a guy only out for the money. To me, your very precise and eloquent wordings in this translation very much arrive at that aim - but then again, I may still misinterpret it as I am not a native speaker.


Thank you so very much for translating this article! I have to agree with Christopher Tolkien 100%; the ethos of his father's works is missing from the films almost entirely. I was greatly saddened and highly disappointed by various changes made to characters and circumstances within the films and have a very ambivalent regard for them. I love the visuals and the care taken with all of the props, sets, locations and such and the acting was superlative, as was the music; but I was nearly physically sickened watching certain scenes and have to walk out of the theater or hit the 'next' button on my DVD player. I'm rather glad that the Professor did not live to see these films, as I'm afraid that he would have been horrified about a number of things, which would have taken away from the enchantment of the good things in the film for him.

Friends I have met through Tolkien fandom are meeting to see the first of "The Hobbit" movies and I have to admit that I am far more ambivalent about joining them after reading this article. I will still go and probably enjoy most aspects of the film (especially the music, the props/sets/costumes, the cinematography and the acting), but I am also fairly sure that there will be changes and additions that will make me both cringe and grind my teeth in impotent anger. In fact, I think I'll take my mouth guard for sleeping with me, as I'd hate to break a tooth.

Please pardon errors/typos, this was written under the influence of pain medication.


My mind is always blown when I read so many "faithful Tolkien readers" saying they enjoyed, and even loved the movies. This is a thing my mind simply cannot comprehend.

Thankfully, the one and only man whose opinion actually matters always comforts me in my position. Thank you, Christopher Tolkien.

This article sums up my thoughts about the whole thing:



I agree with some of what Christopher Tolkien says. But he has always come across as an uptight, bitter and uptight dreary man. He needs to look at the bigger picture and realise how much happiness that his fathers work has brought to millions of people around the world.

His superiority complex and bitterness has consumed him much like the ring, cutting his nose off to spite his face.

Its ironic that the body of the work has clearly become a burden for him just like the ring.

Agreed the movies may not be the most accurate parallel of the books. But im pretty sure if JRR Tolkien watched the movies he would be incredibly proud and amazed and speechless having the ability to see creation on screen. With technology is the way it is today im sure it would blow his mind.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Search Translations


Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter