Rule #34 for Elves

Arwen Evenstar by Anna Kulisz

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was striking in the mid-1990s when the first book debuted because it combined the epic aspect which suffused J. R. R. Tolkien’s work with a gritty realism in regards to sex and violence more appropriate for HBO. So it was entirely unsurprising that Martin’s vision has translated reasonably well to HBO. 

This wouldn’t work as well with other epic series’ from the era. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time was certainly epic, but its characters were the sort entirely comprehensible to a twelve-year-old boy.

Now that Amazon has confirmed that the new Tolkien series is going to be based around the early life of Aragorn, some are highlighting what they see as a likely problem with the new series:

While Game of Thrones is often held up as grittier and more cynical than Lord of the Rings – often by people who see the latter as a simplistic, morally two-tone tale of good vs. evil – the biggest difference, when it comes down to it, is the titties (and the characters’ filthy fucking mouths). Lord of the Rings is darker than it’s often given credit for.

There is something about the mood and ambiance of Tolkien’s work which Peter Jackson captured in his first three films. This, despite the fact that the exterior scenes in lush and green New Zealand did not properly reflect the ancient decay of the landscape of the fallen civilization to which Aragorn and his companions were the heirs to.

George R. R. Martin begins A Game of Thrones in a brutal manner. Additionally, the perverted sex is frontloaded. HBO really didn’t have to do much to sensationalize the material that Martin gave them. In fact, I’ve stated many times that some characters, such as Ramsay Bolton, were cleaned up quite a bit for the small screen. Not only is the actor who plays Bolton more handsome than the character described in the book, but he’s less depraved and cruel in comparison to the one Martin sketches out.

But as highlighted in the write-up above, and suggested in my title, I think an epic television show based on the world of Tolkien will stumble in how to depict sex and romantic feelings. A scene where Arwen Evenstar is getting railed by Aragorn from behind would seem a bit out of character. And, the way Tolkien writes about them, I’m pretty sure that his elves did not have anuses, so the real kinky stuff is off the table.

But if the show neglects sex altogether, I suspect many adult watchers will perceive it as a juvenile. In three films it was reasonable that due to time constraints the characters were depicted in a relatively chaste manner. But over five episodic seasons?

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17 thoughts on “Rule #34 for Elves

  1. “… I’m pretty sure that his elves did not have anuses…”
    I literally laughed out loud reading that! Unfortunately I was waiting to talk to my daughter’s kindergarten teacher so it was a bit awkward.

    It’ll be difficult to get the right feeling for the series ;I agree with you that overt “gritty” sex scenes would clash with Tolkien.

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  2. Tolkien was a devout Christian and writing in the 1940s, with an idea to create classic mythologies for Britain, and with all the sensibilities that comes with. GRR Martin was a product of the bawdy, sweaty and crude basement dwelling “fantasy” writers of the following decades. Whatever Amazon decides to do, it will have nothing to do with Tolkien, and as you say, more to do with the G.O.T blueprint they are likely trying to feebly copy in their purely american, 2018, secular corporate sensibility.

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  3. Must everything be about sex?

    Arwen and Aragorn loved each other – in a deeply Christian way.

    I’ve taught my children over the years that all forms of love, be it paternal, fraternal, filial, romantic, etc., have one thing in common – sacrifice, that is to say, giving without expecting anything in return.

    It’s a very sad commentary on today’s culture that the depiction of this kind of love – real love – without titillation would be considered juvenile.

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  4. They could play the angle of “to show how pure and chaste Aragorn and Arwen are, we contrast it with all the WIKIIIT stuff everyone else does!!!1!”. Rohirrim as Dothraki in armor. Trips to the deep East or South. Incredibly beautiful elves. No need to get Arwen dirty.

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  5. “But if the show neglects sex altogether, I suspect many adult watchers will perceive it as a juvenile.”

    I don’t know. Sex in Western fantasy feels forced and puerile, and in Martin’s books it usually seemed like he was just trying to be edgy (and occasionally grimdark). I don’t think most sci-fi and fantasy authors have the experience or know-how to escape their delusions and fetishes and write something palatable, let alone erotic.

    If the material is truly well written, jamming in sex is unnecessary. Tolkien’s books have never needed it before to create millions of fanatical lifelong devotees.

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  6. The main problems with creating any series based on LOTR are author competency and moral understanding. Tolkien was first an accomplished academic who specialized in Germanic/Nordic mythology and languages. He was an accomplished linguist and is largely responsible for “Beowulf” entering the English canon. His excellent translation made it accessible to moderns. So, he brought a depth of knowledge to “The Hobbit,” LOTR and other writings that no other writer has had, and likely no new writer ever will have.

    Tolkien also was a practicing, believing Roman Catholic when that was somewhat discountenanced in England, and when Catholicism had a serious theology and made serious demands on its believers. That Catholic sensibility perfuses the whole of Tolkien’s writings. Martin’s obsession with sexual perversion and gratuitous graphic violence really raised doubts about his personal behavior and his basic morality. The gross (and it is gross) inferiority of Martin’s work compared to Tolkien’s is obvious.

    There is also the fact of Tolkien’s military service. He was at the infamous Battle of the Somme in 1916 and contracted some sort of illness. He served behind the lines. He lost two close friends in the Great War, and the war experience deeply influenced his writings. Virtually none of the modern writers, and certainly not GRR Martin, have had any similar experience with real violence and real courage.

    All of these factors make it very unlikely that any modern “Aragorn” will have anything like the qualities and excellence of LOTR.

    It might be noted that Tolkien has entered the Canon of English Literature, something Martin and Jordan and their kind have no hope of doing. Ken Follett might. I have read all of those writers, and I am a fan of “Game of Thrones” and “Vikings,” but I don’t rank any of them anywhere near Tolkien and his achievement.

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  7. I think Adventures of Young Aragorn points to seeking a different demographic than GOT, less young adults than school-aged boys and their fathers. They chose a familiar character to attract the existing fans. They can try a different direction in subsequent seasons if this isn’t working.

    One of the articles about Aragorn that I read stated that Guillermo del Toro’s treatment of the Hobbit was rejected by the Estate. I had not read that before (and it is not mentioned on del Toro’s wikipedia page), but very disappointing if true. The Hobbit needed a different treatment than the LOTR. If the Estate has as much control here, I assume the Amazon stories will remain PG-13.

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  8. bob sykes beat me to it — as much as I enjoy the titties in GoT, they would be utterly (udderly?) out of place in Tolkien’s deeply (although cryptically) Christian universe. I do hope Bezos can avoid the temptation, but we’ll see. Done right this could be really fun. Done wrong it could be worse than The Hobbit. Much worse…

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  9. i think the key is: will they reflect tolkien’s ethos? if they do it will seem plausible. but they remove it it won’t work too well.

    re: martin and the perversion. one thing that is important to note is that it’s not just that he’s a perv. it’s that he consciously wanted to bring some ‘realism’ that reflects the medieval period before the ‘reformation of morals.’ he probably takes it too far, but the real middle ages was much more about sinners than saints, even if they were sincere believers in salvation.

    in 2000 on an online chat i asked martin about being influenced by bernard cornwell’s ‘warlord chronicles’, and he admits that he enjoyed that series a great deal. i think that tells you a lot about the atmosphere martin wanted to create.

    aSoIaF can be thought of more as historical fiction t han epic fantasy in many ways, and historical fiction tends to be grittier since it’s grounded in the foibles of real people and events.

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  10. But if the show neglects sex altogether, I suspect many adult watchers will perceive it as a juvenile.

    They’ll call it “family-friendly”. That and only PG-13 level violence is probably a virtue in Amazon’s books with this adaptation, because it means it can reach a much larger audience (including people with preteen and adolescent children).

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  11. Elves are a noble race and do not poo, so an elf has no anus. This is covered in one of the appendices in LOTR. Or maybe it was in Book of Lost Tales. Probably in one of the song bits that everyone skips over.

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  12. if elves don’t poop, where do they get night soil for their gardens? probably means they have to have trade relations with their mannish neighbors.

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  13. Perhaps that’s why they accepted Aragorn into their midst. For those in whom the blood of Númenor still courses, their poo has the fragrance of the fruit of the trees brought to Númenor by the Eldar of the Undying Lands. That the Númenóreans began to think their poo smelled better than everyone elses, even that of the Valinor, was ultimately their undoing, but was not without basis.

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  14. 1) Elves are like Men, and conceivably have the same GI setup we do, since Tokien described the two races as anatomically similar. Nonetheless, they are not described as “needing” to eat, sleep, and therefore “go” like humans. Unfinished tales describes the Elves using food and drink to “refresh” themselves, not so much for nourishment.

    2) On the sex side it makes no sense with Elves and Dunedain, since Tolkien expressly states that these are “higher” groups that are given to art and learning. To that end, they can be so engrossed in something that they seem to have far less libido than we do, hence their dwindling numbers. Dwarf men also seem to be so easily engrossed in mining, metallurgy, and warfare that they too will ignore. All these groups are basically going extinct.

    It is the “lesser” groups, middle-men like the Rohirrim, that “multiply exceedingly” and continue to our age. I am sure that, despite Tolkien’s views, the GRR Martin component would not be out of place amongst Beornings, Dunlendings, Northmen, or Rohirrim. For the Dunedain, Elves, and Dwarves, on the other hand, it is strongly implied that sex just doesn’t have the same hold on them.

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  15. This wouldn’t work as well with other epic series’ from the era.

    Maybe from anglophone countries. Sapkowski’s saga (1994) was gritty, dirty and brutal, full of sex and whatsnot, though maybe not AS brutal as GRRM.

    And if we will get lucky (that is, if netflix witcher series based on the short series will be succesful) we will see the Saga too.

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