Born of Hope, produced by Actors at Work Productions (AWP), is the story of Arathorn II (Christopher Dane), his love for Gilraen (Beth Aynsley), his campaign to lead the Dúnedain to victory over the Orcs of Sauron, and the hope to come: Aragorn, the son of Arathorn, the heir of Elendil. The storyline is drawn from Appendix A at the end of The Return of the King where Ivorwen (portrayed by Philippa Hammond), the mother of Gilraen, answers her husband’s objections to the union of his daughter with Arathorn, saying, “If these two wed now, hope may be born for our people; but if they delay, it will not come while this age lasts.”
Born of Hope was filmed in the UK, largely in the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village in Suffolk, the Epping Forest in Essex, Snowdonia National Park, and Derwentwater. Director/producer Kate Madison (who also has a supporting role as Elgarain) began her film project in 2006, though most of the filming and projection began in summer 2008, at a total cost of £25,000, much of which came out of Madison’s own pocket. Viewers can see the film for free at www.BornofHope.com (where donations can be given), in segments at YouTube.com, or DailyMotion.com.
In contrast to the The Hunt for Gollum (Independent Online Cinema, 2009), which was also produced by fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, Born of Hope is not a dramatization of a fragment from The Lord of the Rings that was left out of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, but Madison’s borrows from a tale within Tokien’s larger Middle-earth legendarium— particularly the Appendix that many readers skip—and from The Silmarillion and the references to the fate of the Ring of Barahir (not to be confused with the One Ring). Similar to Gollum, Born of Hope sprawls beyond its source within the Tolkien mythology, spawning a cast of new characters and including the shadows of the larger story: war in Middle-earth, the rising of Sauron, and the hope to come.
In the early invention process, the major difficulty for Madison must have been how to stretch her source materials—a few narrative paragraphs—into a lengthy feature. Similar to The Hunt for Gollum, it is easy to infer that it was here that the shadows of not only Peter Jackson (2001, 2002, 2003) but of the earlier animated films by Rankin/Bass Productions (1977, 1980) and Ralph Bakshi (1978) began to interpose themselves onto Madison’s film. According to novelist and critic Umberto Eco, most film directors return to familiar patterns when it comes to solving creative problems. For instance, in Eco’s discussion of Casablanca (1942), which, because production was so rushed, the writers were “Forced to improvise a plot, the authors mixed a little of everything, and everything they chose came from a repertoire that had stood the test of time” (465).
Several elements from Born of Hope are borrowed from Peter Jackson. For example, the appearance and costuming of actor Christopher Dane bears a close resemblance to Viggo Mortensen’s as Jackson’s Aragorn, not to mention Dane’s euphoniously unpretentious elocution when speaking as Arathorn. And of course, the moody Wagnerian music and the further exploration of Tolkien’s elvish languages provide much familiarity.
How can this be possible? Nineteenth century French philosopher, Henri Bergson, claimed that many comedic situations are caused by the complementary forces of tension and elasticity: “If these two forces are lacking in the body to any considerable extent, we have sickness and infirmity and accidents of every kind. If they are lacking in the mind, we find every degree of mental deficiency, every variety of insanity. Finally, if they are lacking in the character, we have cases of the gravest inadaptability to social life, which are the sources of misery and at times the causes of crime” (Bergson, II para 8).
Rather than the demoniacal Supermen of Middle-earth, we are meant to see Sauron’s peons as lacking the elasticity that makes them complete, which makes them nonhuman, and the subjects of ridicule, punishment, and defeat, even if at times the heroes of Middle-earth are forced to fear them. Madison captures this better than Jackson, and perhaps she takes her cue here not only from Tolkien, but from Rankin/Bass who portray the trolls, goblins, and orcs in this way to a much more obvious extent.
However, even with some innovations, Born of Hope still dwells in Peter Jackson’s looming shadow. However, undoubtedly this has helped to make the film more amenable to the Lord of the Rings film fans. The reason for this is because, as Eco claims, we instantly are affected by a “vague feeling of a déjà vu,” which is a pleasure most of us seek in choosing to experience a film.
In conclusion, I am reminded about the popular tale of the Zen master, the one who continues to say, “We’ll see” whenever the whole village is excited by the recent good luck or misfortune of the community.
I wonder if the conscious or unconscious adaptation to Jackson, in both Born of Hope and The Hunt for Gollum, is the best direction for the nascent popular culture movement that is thriving within the Tolkien intelligentsia? Also, do these borrowings and adaptations have the opposite effect than is intended? Take what Tolkien says in his essay “On Fairy Stories”:
What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful “subcreator.” He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is “true”: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken: the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside (Tolkien, 132).
To put Tolkien’s words in another way, a literary text must (to paraphrase Aristotle in Rhetoric) persuade the reader to decide to accept this Secondary World as (at least momentarily) true. The author can only succeed, Tolkien and Aristotle imply, if the author can anticipate the expectations of the audience.
For a film, this is harder work because the job of the author is to provide words (ones that create vivid landscapes, engaging characters, stirring conflicts) that persuade the reader to be a partner in the creation of this world. A director such as Madison, however, has the added burden of recreating this Secondary World, as opposed to the author who uses words and language to convince the reader to create it him or herself. This task through film, I argue, it nearly impossible, especially with The Lord of the Rings because the expectations are so high.
Does Madison’s Born of Hope fulfill the expectations of her audience? That depends: for the Tolkien film fans, absolutely; for the Tolkien readers, I’m not as sure. But what seems to be happening is that as Tolkien is further elevated into the ranks of the literary immortals (such as Shakespeare, who has the largest dual literary and popular following), there is a polite divide between the literary followers and popular admirers concerning what is most important in Tolkien’s fiction and what the author’s work means.
I do not mean to suggest armed camps or animosity. While Tolkien “film fans” might also enjoy the books, and vice versa, in the end what separates them is not necessarily their seriousness, knowledgeableness, or enthusiasm for Professor Tolkien, or the artistic creations that have spawned from it, but what these groups want out of his work.
In a sense, I feel my own heart divided against itself. The “film fan” part of me loves Born of Hope, just as I might relish an event hosted by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) or a Medieval Times production. The love triangle between Arathorn, Gilraen, and his friend and Ranger, Elgarain—all of whom possess intense longings, yet remain duteously restrained—is moving, and the depictions of normal life in Middle-earth are convincing.
However, the Tolkien reader in me worries about the reductive element that film can have on Tolkien’s larger literary scheme. Part of me is unsure if these narratives should be juxtaposed too closely with the pleasurable banality of an SCA or Medieval Times outing. Also, Tolkien, with his multifarious talents for narrative, description, philosophy, and epistemology, all within a story, seems to be eclipsed by Peter Jackson in favor of more swordfights and special effects. Is this the drift we want?
It is this part of me that has difficulty entering the Secondary World, because I am tempted to remember weekend entertainment rather than the mysteries of wizards and Middle-earth?
Is there any solution? Is a reconciliation possible? “We’ll see,” says the Zen master. However, I believe this is a dialogue that is worth the time. Jackson’s shadow is unavoidable, but discussing it is the beginning of new innovations in Tolkien film adaptations that might be promising.
In the meantime, we should all watch Born of Hope, and thank Kate Madison for furthering Professor Tolkien with another adaptation of his work.
Bergson, Henri. Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic. 16 October 2009. http://www.authorama.com/laughter-3.html
Eco, Umberto. “Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage.” Modern Criticism and Theory. Ed. David Lodge and Nigel Wood. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
Tolkien, J.R.R. “On Fairy Stories.” The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.
Chad Chisholm is the author of several articles and books on a variety of topics, including literary criticism, pedagogy, local history, film, and comedic studies. Chisholm teaches first-year writing at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he is also pursuing his doctoral degree in English. He lives near Fort Worth with his wife Emily and daughter Gracie.
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