The new biographical movie Tolkien (2019), about the life of the world-famous writer and academic J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), could not count on the approval of the descendants of Tolkien. Medievist and Tolkien enthusiast Dr Frank Brandsma (Medieval Culture) and media scientist Dr Dan Hassler-Forest (Media and Performance Studies) are not too delighted either, looking at the trailer. We spoke with them about the new movie, and the life and work of Tolkien.
The problem with biographical movies
Hassler-Forest is worried that the movie cannot avoid the pitfalls of many biographical films: “The trailer suggests that the movie - like almost all biopics - is a completely uncritical tribute to a beloved public figure. Only those elements that fit into a pre-chewed story are served in bite-sized chunks. In this way, the existing image that fans have of a celebrity is fully confirmed.
Life and work
According to reviews, a direct link is made between the life of Tolkien and his work, in which, for example, the dragon Smaug symbolizes Tolkien's trauma as a soldier in the First World War. Brandsma does not approve this way of interpreting a story. On the contrary, he teaches students not to 'read biographically'.
The world of The Lord of the Rings
Why is Tolkien still as popular as ever? According to Hasler-Forest, his legacy is immeasurably large: "He was a master architect of narrative worlds, and laid the main foundation for what we now call ‘world-building’- something you see in almost every aspect of contemporary popular culture."
Within the academic world, the influence of Tolkien's work cannot be underestimated, Brandsma states: "His scientific work, such as that about Beowulf, has been so leading and important that we still talk about it in lectures. And The Lord of the Rings is called the most important book of the twentieth century in many lists and articles."