Hollywood! Adapt This: The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien

by     Posted 1 year, 98 days ago

jrr-tolkien-slice

During last weekend’s D23 (a fan celebration of all things Disney), new footage was unveiled for the studio’s upcoming film, Saving Mr. Banks.  The movie tells the story of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his decades-long pursuit of the rights to the Mary Poppins books, written by P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson).  While it remains to be seen just how true to life the movie will be, it got me thinking about another famous author and the fact that most people know more about his works (and their adaptations) than the man himself.  While Peter Jackson has his hands full with The Hobbit movies over the next couple of years, it’s time we get a look at the man behind the fountain pen.  Hit the jump for more.  Hollywood!  Adapt this: the life of J.R.R. Tolkien.

j.r.r. tolkienWhat It’s About:

While obviously a biopic on Tolkien would encompass his life’s story, the real challenge for the screenwriter is to pick and chose those formative moments in his life on which to focus.  In doing just the slightest bit of research, it’s also obvious that Tolkien has a rich, if a bit sad, early life which certainly had an impact on his later writings.  Born John Ronald Reuel Tolkien in 1892 in South Africa, Tolkien lost his father to rheumatic fever when he was four.  The family’s resulting move to England provided a young Tolkien with new lands to explore, places that would inspire his fictional settings.  When Tolkien was only 12, he lost his mother to acute diabetes.  The “orphan” is a protagonist that comes up again and again in popular literature, but it’s not so often that we see a prominent author rise from such inauspicious beginnings.

Early life aside, there’s the fact that Tolkien was involved in both world wars; the first, actively so, and the second, recruited as a codebreaker.  Not only did these experiences acquaint Tolkien with the unenviable familiarity with the loss of friends and family and the machines of war, it also granted him a better understanding of the common man and the brotherhood formed between soldiers.

Of course, no biopic of a scholar such as Tolkien would be complete without delving into his rich educational experience, but there’s also an important aspect of his life that was learned wholly outside the classroom: the courtship, marriage and life-long relationship with his wife, Edith.

How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?

A couple of years ago, there were hints that a Tolkien biopic was in the works.  The film would be an adaptation of Steve Hillard’s “Mirkwood: A Novel about JRR Tolkien”, a fictionalized account of the author.  The author and his project ran into substantial resistance from the Tolkien estate, so that project is likely scrubbed.  However, it would be nice to see a fresh take on the author’s life, perhaps inspired by this authorized bio from Humphrey Carpenter.  A straight up biopic on Tolkien would be sure to interest his devoted fans, but for someone so imaginative in his career, perhaps a more creative take on his life’s story would be more appropriate.  Personally, I’d like to see his imagination come to life on screen at the moments of his inspiration, so we can truly see the world as he did, whether it be during his research into Beowulf, his denigration of the Nazis during World War II, or watching his wife dance in a flowering meadow, which inspired the meeting of Beren and Lúthien.  It’s an impossible thing to see something exactly as another does, but in the right hands, this creative vision could come close.

jrr-tolkien-pipeThe Final Word:

P.L. Travers had substantial doubts about Disney’s ability to accurately portray her character on screen and was apparently none too pleased with the result, refusing any future adaptation rights for her books (except for an intentionally non-American produced stage production in her later years).  Although we’ll never know what J.R.R. Tolkien would have thought of either of Peter Jackson’s film trilogies, it would be nice to get to know the man himself.  His stories are read and beloved the world over, but there has yet to be a companion film that tells the story of the author himself.  It’s time Tolkien the man was celebrated as much as Tolkien the creator of Middle-Earth and all its varied inhabitants.

Be sure to let us know who you think would make a good Tolkien in the comments below. (Perhaps Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch?)  And get caught up on our previous Hollywood! Adapt This articles here.  Tune in again next week when we tackle another overlooked adaptation!




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  • Futur3Fo3

    Make it happen…then obtain the rights to Silmarillion and do a cable series out of it.

    • Grayden

      This. If it’s ever going to be adapted, films are NOT the way. Too bloody big in scale, geography, and time frame to effectively do in a trilogy.

    • Grayden

      This. If it’s ever going to be adapted, films are NOT the way. Too bloody big in scale, geography, and time frame to effectively do in a trilogy.

  • Futur3Fo3

    Make it happen…then obtain the rights to Silmarillion and do a cable series out of it.

  • jk

    Best suggestion ever!

  • pinkincide

    Whoa, an “Adapt This:” that doesn’t suck for once? Hungry Hungry Hippos wasn’t available or something?

  • pinkincide

    Whoa, an “Adapt This:” that doesn’t suck for once? Hungry Hungry Hippos wasn’t available or something?

  • Jeff

    It would be perfect if Peter Jackson did this. Plus he’s interested in the First World War.

    • Person

      Yeah Tolkien’s life might actually be perfect for a 3 1/2-hour theatrical movie that then gets a four-hour DVD cut!

      • Spooks

        Shut up, idiot.

      • Yoren

        Your a cunt Spooks do the world a favor and get off the internet.

      • Yoren

        Your a cunt Spooks do the world a favor and get off the internet.

  • Jeff

    It would be perfect if Peter Jackson did this. Plus he’s interested in the First World War.

  • Mirko Billi

    The parallel between Travers and Tolkien is interesting.

  • Bucktown

    When I was an intern at a Hollywood production company some years ago, I was assigned a script based on the life and friendship of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. It was a great script but never really drummed up much interest. Really loved reading it though.

  • tim

    Something in the vein of Finding Neverland which as you may remember was a semi-biographical film about playwright J. M. Barrie and his relationship with a family who inspired him to create Peter Pan. Great story and a wonderful movie. Anything with Tolkien in it would be a must see.

  • IMPYEMU

    I think Tolkien was a very interesting man and an absolutely amazing author.
    That being said, Biopics are some of the most boring fucking movies ever made. There twice as boring when they’re about people like authors and filmmakers and playwrights. I don’t understand how people can find entertainment value in watching a man become inspired and then sit down to write at a typewriter or a computer, etc.

    • Spooks

      What about Tolkien’s action-packed life in the Somme, where he invented languages by night in his shell-shocked tent, and killed Germans by day?

    • pinkincide

      You won’t say it’s boring when he’s FIGHTING THAT BALROG! Geez, do some research.

    • pinkincide

      You won’t say it’s boring when he’s FIGHTING THAT BALROG! Geez, do some research.

  • Spooks

    Oh heck yeah!!!!!

  • Spooks

    Also, I NEED to see The Silmarillion. Miniseries, big-bidget. Game of Thrones style. Big all star cast. Produced by Peter Jackson, who also directs the first episode. Howard Shore composes the theme. Weta Workshop and Digital do the production design and graphics.

    One season for the elves. One for Beren and Luthien. One for Turin and Hurin.

    I will be in Heaven!

    • http://tarek-to-verso.over-blog.com/ tarek

      I am already pre ordering the blu-rayset if this comes true…

  • Milena

    When I read this article Tom Hiddleston immediately came to my mind. In War Hose he reminded me extremely of the young Tolkien in uniform. I was amused to see you had the same idea.

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