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Prof. Michael Ward: ‘Tolkien’ Film Ignores Author’s Faith and Motives

Michael Ward: “This handsome, earnest, yet overstuffed and poorly paced film . . . ignores Tolkien’s devout Christian faith.”
| Apr 30, 2019 | No comments |

Professor Michael Ward teaches apologetics at Houston Baptist University and is a Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford. He’s also the author of Planet Narnia and many other works about C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

And, just today, he reviewed the upcoming Tolkien, the biopic-ish film that releases May 10 in the U. S.1

Ward is not a fan:

This handsome, earnest, yet overstuffed and poorly paced film deviates frequently from the historical record. Most seriously, it ignores Tolkien’s devout Christian faith: there is no indication that he served Mass daily as a boy or ever even entered a Catholic church. . . .

But departures from reality are inevitable in dramatisations, and enumerating them can quickly devolve into captiousness. What’s more relevant is whether the artistic licence results in a successful story. . . . [Nevertheless, in this film] incidents come thick and fast, but are strangely uninvolving. Screenwriters David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford present various possible motives for Tolkien’s behaviour, but it’s unclear what animates him. . . .

I never felt I knew what this Tolkien really wanted. To honour his late mother? Escape poverty? Belong to a club? Marry Edith? Invent languages? Write mythic fantasy?

It sounds like the screenwriters did not persuasively replace Tolkien’s driving motives (such as his faith and strong belief in creative “subcreation”) with something else. Even an alternative view could have worked. This could strain credulity, even in-movie, but you could try to show Tolkien’s motivation based in simple attempt to make his own mythology based in the grand tradition of literary myth.

Well, I might see the film, but with home release only. And I’ll certainly be lowering my expectations.

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor of a nonfiction book about parenting and popular culture (title TBA), to release spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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