Saturday, January 19, 2013

David Round: The Hobbit - and Chris Trotter

You are a very fine person, Mr Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!’
  ‘Thank goodness!’ said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.
                                                           ~ The final lines of The Hobbit, by J.R.R.Tolkien

I have always been very fond of the hobbit. Oh, hello, you bright furry little fellow, you pop over here! No, not that, you naughty little chap! Stop it! No, but I have been; and actually, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that we have gone overboard about the first instalment of Sir Peter Jackson’s film version. Without, I admit, seeing into the hearts of all those who waited for hours in the streets of central Wellington, I can certainly imagine other reasons besides mere star-worship why we might be willing to cheer the film enthusiastically. It was filmed right here in our own still beautiful country. (Are you old enough to remember Cinerama, and the immense thrill and pride we experienced as we saw This is New Zealand, that New Zealand Film Unit film of rivers and bush and then the mighty Southern Alps rise before us, to Sibelius’s Karelia Suite?) The costumes, the prosthetics, the filming, the editing, the computer stuff, the whole creation ~ mostly done here. Its director is a New Zealander, whose name, like that of his country, is by now as well-known as that of any other giant of the film industry. It is the film version of a wonderful and rightly-popular book. It is good, surely, that we are still literate enough to appreciate a new version of a favourite book? And (speaking, of course, after the event) I must say that, as a Hobbit aficionado, I, at any rate, thought it a jolly good film.

  Indeed, I would go so far as to say that in certain respects the film was actually better than the book ~ or at least, lest we quibble there, it was richer than the book in many ways. The book could be generally labelled as falling into the fairy-tale category, and fairy tales have an elemental simplicity and straightforwardness about them. From the beginning we know how the story will end. There will be adventures, but the dragon will be slain and the treasure won, and Bilbo Baggins will return home safely. The film, while certainly still telling the same tale, not only makes the dangers much bigger and more real, but also makes the characters into real people with their own individual background and intelligence, motivations and desires. In a fairy story all the characters are types ~ the dwarf, the hobbit, the goblin, the elf. Whether Dwarf I or Dwarf VII, Goblin A or Goblin X says or does something really doesn’t matter. Dwarves are all like this. Goblins are all like that….Which dwarf will kill the goblin? Doesn’t matter. Pick a dwarf, any dwarf…And so to see the story on film, where every single dwarf, for example, is different in character, history, family connections, skills and ambitions and motivations, makes the whole story not only richer but also much less predictable, because the characters are no longer types, but individuals, who behave differently because of who they are.           

  Nevertheless, our enthusiasm for the film has been the subject of a certain amount of sneering from the Left. The thoughtful intellectual division of the People’s Friends can always be relied upon to deplore the tastes of the very people they allegedly represent. In this particular case the sneering is not just because the populace, as the great Gibbon might label them, can sometimes display sad evidence of shallow intellectual life in their star-struck enthusiasm for Hollywood’s plastic razzmatazz. (This charge, alas, must from time to time be accepted as proven. Home comforts and the movies, the modern equivalent of ‘bread and circuses’, can distract us from more important things ~ although they are not actually crimes, and popular entertainment may well propound wise precepts of good citizenship and moral life. As indeed does The Hobbit.)  But no ~ the charge is not just one of bewitchment by the big screen. The common people, by their fascination for the Middle Earth films, stand accused by their self-appointed intellectual leaders of intellectual and moral cowardice and failure. Chris Trotter, for example, for whom I generally have a great deal of respect, has complained that the film gives ‘Pakeha New Zealanders…reference points that owe nothing to their country’s indigenous culture’.  Middle Earth ‘is a more comfortable fit for dwellers in a West beset with economic, political and cultural challenges….’ New Zealanders ‘desire…cultural reassurance and comfort’ in a general atmosphere ‘desperate to escape the daunting challenges of multiculturalism and austerity’.

   Now this is not just unfair but actually nonsensical. For a start, of course, Maoridom is not our ‘indigenous’ culture. Nor is it the culture of most of us at all. It is merely that of a slightly earlier wave of immigrants, and ones who, judging by the remarks now being made by plenty of their spokespeople, don’t want anyone else to have anything to do with their ‘culture’ unless they crawl for permission and pay through the nose for the privilege.

  Second, Chris implies that any local work of art fails unless a ‘reference point’ refers to Maori culture. Well I’m sorry, I simply can’t agree. Where did that rule come from? I thought we were all supposed to be in favour of diversity, and be free to rejoice in our chosen culture, whatever that might be. Since when has it been compulsory for everything to have a bit of Maori in it? Are we no longer part of Western civilisation? But according to Chris, it seems that to rejoice in any culture other than the Maori is to be discouraged and, probably, eventually forbidden. 

 And then we are condemned for desiring ‘cultural reassurance and comfort’ in the age of multiculturalism and austerity. Reassurance and comfort! Not unreasonable requests, are they? A little bit of reassurance in increasingly tumultuous and uncertain times? Diversity, and common humanity, surely allow such comforts as the reaffirmation of our own culture and identity? Is that a crime?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies;
Some pious drops the closing eye requires.
Even from the tomb the voice of Nature cries;
Even in her ashes live their wonted fires.

But no! It’s a grim world out there, and Chris’s complaint reveals again that ‘multiculturalism’ is no such thing, for our own culture has no place in that agenda. Multiculturalism means the surrender and destruction of our own culture ~ The Hobbit, for example ~ and its replacement by everyone else’s. As far as you and I are concerned, gentle reader, ‘diversity’ means our destruction.

  The Left has long disliked the entire Middle Earth project. Even when a student in the 1970s I recall reading in some literary journal a polemic, thinly disguised as a learned article, which concluded by complaining that Tolkien’s imagery of light and darkness as signs of good and evil (an age-old imagery, of course) was now nonsensical and discredited in the age of electricity. An affection for Middle Earth, for its heroes, both great and humble, and the heroisms and patient virtues of its story is all so…….feudal. So atavistic.  In the age of a beneficent all-powerful state which brings peace and safety and all good things in its train without the need for individual effort or sacrifice, Tolkien’s old-fashioned virtues are not just irrelevant, but actually subversive.

  And so, not surprisingly, I see something immensely healthy about our fascination for Middle Earth. Chris complains that the films have ‘opened a long-locked door to the colonisers’ cultural storehouse’. Opened? The door has never been locked, nor even closed. I cannot imagine why Chris should think it ever has been. When did we cut ourselves off from our European inheritance? There are, in any case, many worse models for our future than Chris’s ‘bucolic version of mediaeval England’ which is Tolkien’s Shire. In fact, I suggest that there are few better. We New Zealanders know that we are, as R.A.K. Mason wrote, reversing Horace, ‘doomed to raise up no monuments to outlast brass’. Other nations may be Gondor or Rohan, or, for that matter, Mordor; other peoples may be elves, dwarves, wizards, fine men or bestial orcs and goblins. We know our own measure. All the bragging rhetoric about punching above our weight and being a world class centre of excellence cannot fool us.  We are ~ or still dream of being ~ the hobbits ~ a small agricultural people, merry and healthy, living happily in our own quiet green place. The hobbits of the Shire were not intellectual. They had no imperial pretensions, but were glad to live obscurely and unnoticed while great powers made war elsewhere. They had no elaborate social structures, no social ills requiring politicians and bureaucrats to labour ceaselessly and irritatingly on their behalf. No racial tensions, no big issues with multiculturalism. Cheerful drunkenness was not unknown, and they even smoked tobacco ~ one special strain of which, as I seem to recall, went by the name of ‘weed’! Their agriculture appears to have been entirely sustainable and their environment very healthy. In fact, the Shire is, mutatis mutandis, just about our national ideal; it is a vision which most New Zealanders of all racial ancestries would be happy to subscribe to. So why do otherwise pretty sensible people consider it to be so bad?

  Is it because it comes from Britain, the ancestral homeland of most of us? That is part of the problem, but not the root. If The Hobbit’s political message had been different Chris and his fellows would not have worried about its overseas provenance. No, the root of the problem is that the political message is ~ O unspeakable horror ~ conservative. You and I may think that the Shire of the hobbits would be a good place to live; but the left obviously disagrees. I am not sure why. The Shire is a placid, stable, cheerful society. Land and agriculture appear to be the only sources of wealth to speak of. There is no heavy industry, no mining, no wage slaves…There are humbler and slightly grander folks, but there is nothing like the gap between rich and poor we see in our societies now. Even the humblest hobbits seem to live lives of modest and jovial comfort. There is no state education, yet despite that the hobbits grow up to live useful and rewarding lives. It is long since war touched the Shire, and there is no regular army, but the hobbits will take up arms when necessary to defend themselves, and fight doughtily, sturdy little fellows that they are. They are a determinedly practical and sensible race, fond of their dinners, and inclined towards lives of very bourgeois attitudes and tastes. There is social cohesion, and a very strong sense of community. There would have to be, for there is no social welfare ~ there does not need to be ~ and indeed little government to speak of beyond general assemblies of the community. In both the Shire and the realms of other races, ancient hierarchies of nobility and rank, and traditional divisions of labour between the sexes, continue to operate unquestioned as the best way of doing things. We might label this ‘conservative’ ~ by the same token this instinctive and organic self-government of a community could almost be labelled anarchist. But whatever the label, it sounds like a good place to live. What is the problem?

 There is, moreover, an understanding that in a Middle Earth full of strange and frightening others ~ men, dwarves, elves, goblins and orcs ~ all hobbits must stick together if the Shire is to survive. It never occurs to anyone, in fact, that multiculturalism is even possible, let alone positively desirable. If our politically correct masters were in charge in the Shire, though, we would doubtless be inviting the goblins and orcs in.  We would have a goblin and orc resettlement policy. Orc and goblin culture would have to be respected by law. Anti-discrimination commissioners would busy themselves ensuring that orc and goblin rights were fully respected. There would be special programmes of assistance for orcs and goblins. They are vile, and treat their young badly ~ just as well they breed so prolifically! ~ but with plenty of tolerance and money (from hobbit taxation) a difference might be made…

  If our present politically-correct masters were in charge, the Shire would have politicians, parliaments and laws, government, bureaucracy, factories, trade unions, industrial pollution, taxation, and compulsory schooling. Most of these things are largely unavoidable in a society as large and complex as our own, and most of them might well fall into the category of ‘good servants but bad masters’. The left, nevertheless, looks upon these things not as necessary evils but as actually positively desirable in themselves. This betrays a most unpleasant hunger for power and interference for its own sake. It is a pity that the land of the hobbits is only a fairy tale; and it is deeply revealing that it can be condemned as a desirable place to inhabit. We are entitled to ask ~ what is wrong with the Shire? And where would the left like us to be living?      


Trina said...

"We are ~ or still dream of being ~ the hobbits ~ a small agricultural people, merry and healthy, living happily in our own quiet green place."

Wow, you could not have described 'this' New Zealanders dream more accurately, and then I read on, and you did!

I am pleased you understand this dream, and are able to articulate it so beautifully, David.

It is a beautiful dream isn't it . . . (sigh)

Alan D said...

Wow, David... what a rebuke . Trotter exposed for the zealous irrational idealogue he is. Touche !

Anonymous said...

David asked: "Where would the Left like us to be living?"

Rhetorical question thought it is, I think I can answer that:


Where all life is under their sway ... forever ... and where the whole earth bows to their dictates ... forever.

A well-known political leader once said: “I want everyone to keep the property he has acquired for himself according to the principle: benefit to the community precedes benefit to the individual. But the state should retain supervision and each property owner should consider himself appointed by the state. It is his duty not to use his property against the interests of others among his own people. This is the crucial matter. The [state] will always retain its right to control the owners of property.”

Subsitute “Third Reich” for “state” in the square brackets, and the words are those of Adolf Hitler.

I don’t see Trotter and his leftist mates having too many problems with the sentiments expressed, though for obvious reasons they'd prefer not to be associated with the speaker.

Leftists, with their contempt for private property rights and core belief that the state decides what our rights are, are way closer to Adolf Hitler philosophically than they would care to admit.

Barry said...

The first problem with The Hobbit movie is the taxpayer part-funding!

jh said...

The destruction of Hobbiton isn't just the fault of the left; it is the result of an unholy alliance between the left and the global citizen who profits from unfettered inflows of cashed up migrants and buyers of realestate.

Anonymous said...

Yes we must reference Maori culture into everything - from car races started with a haka to this on a few days ago:

"The pou, called Navigator of the Heavens, was made of totara from the West Coast, which he was confident would withstand the rigors of Antarctica's harsh environment, despite it developing several cracks since its arrival on the frozen continent.

Key said the pou was a ''very meaningful addition'' to the base.

''Scott Base has a place in the hearts and minds of New Zealanders even if they haven't visited here. Maori culture is enshrined in who we are as New Zealanders and to have this representation here is a lovely touch.''

Two woven tukutuku panels were also unveiled, a project headed by Ngai Tahu master weaver Ranui Ngarimu, kaiawhina to Sir Mark.

One panel symbolised Maori ancestors interwoven with New Zealanders who had died in Antarctica, including the 257 passengers and crew killed in the 1979 Mt Erebus plane crash."

There you have it, even long-past activities that had no specific Maori input must now be referenced with/by Maori culture. I wonder if they asked family members if they'd like their loved ones commemorated with a very Maori-specific carving?

Barry said...

John Key is so dishonest that he said there is such a thing as Maori culture. What a liar he is!

jh said...

See "What Diversity Dividend?" (by Spoonley) on Public Address.....
They can't seem to distiguish the difference between a society based on colonisation by Britain and white supremicy.

Anonymous said...

The Left are happy to live under the Money Tree as long as it is planted and tended by the rest of us.....