Category Archives: movies

Tolkien: Lessons from an Amateur

I simply invented Mordor.

I simply invented Mordor.

I suppose it would come as no great surprise, given the nature of this blog, that I adore the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. Personally, one of the most enlightening  elements of the special features of the Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (now officially the Middle Earth Saga) is hearing the writers of the films discuss the difficulty in translating Tolkien to film. But it isn’t the length or density of Tolkien that troubles the nights and days of Phillipa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson most, but the distinctly unprofessional style of his narratives. Tolkien, after all, was foremost a professor of linguistics who made up fake languages and an alternate universe on the side. In fact, taking a step back to view the scope of what he has written for and about Middle Earth, it verges on monomaniacal madness.

But then there’s the undeniable success of both the books and films to attest to the deep meaning and love that so many people find in Tolkien’s work. So, let’s toss the style sheets and the outlines, the synopses, log-lines, character breakdowns and pitches for a moment. Let’s look at what writers can learn from the greatest amateur of our age.

1) Write something that you, yourself, would like to read. The driving force behind The Inklings, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ group of literary friends, was the lack of modern literature that they found interesting. While Da-da, surrealism and absurdism reigned between the First World War and the Second, naturalism and social-realism seemed to dominate after. But for Tolkien, neither complete rejection of all meaning and the past, nor the hard-bitten acceptance of the post-nuclear world would do. If anything, by reaching into the literary and mythological past, Tolkien strove to re-write (and, thereby, to right) the wrongs of the world as he experienced it. By recasting old heroes and stories in a frame for the modern audience, he strove and found in that fertile ground new meaning and new relevance. It just so happened that in his traumatized times (and ours), he wasn’t alone. The moral for writers being: if you feel the lack, then likely others do as well.

2) The importance of being named. Naming is ancient magic. A name gives form and reality to the formless. Naming a star, a weapon, a space-mission, a child all still hold resonance somewhere deep in our human soul. Names came first for Tolkien, and yet are sometimes problematic. Sauron and Saruman spring to mind as a sticking point, but are they? True, these names are but one of many for these two characters. Like most in Middle Earth, they are known by various names in his various tongues. But while a pro might never have two antagonists with names so close in sound, doesn’t the sound also link them? Those sulfurous S’s and thunderously rolling R’s are evocative of their particular form of evil. Just as the cozy familiarity of Sam, the woodiness of Frodo, and brightness of Merry and Pippin all give us character information before we ever get to know them. Which leads me to…

3) Trust your audience. Not everyone will be enchanted into the dense, footnoted, and appended world of The Lord of the Rings. Like any good myth, Tolkien plops us down in the vaguely familiar world of the Shire before whisking the reader to “the heart of the forest” where, as Joseph Campbell noted, “the journey begins…where it is darkest and there are no paths.” And what holds for the journey of the reader, holds as well for the writer: every story is a journey, an adventure. Tolkien dared to lead us into a world-apart, into territory he himself was still discovering, and his lust for the thrill of discovery draws us with him. Perhaps this world is not for all, but then again, not everyone wants to live in a world of giant CGI robots and Adam Sandler movies either. Like a wise and forbearing Gandalf, Tolkien suffers the reader, gives us sign and sage advice, and leads us with him, and we follow, even to the Fires of Mount Doom (and the appendix on calenders).

4) Little heroes in a great big world. If Superman were never Clark Kent, no one would ever care much about him. Where is the human connection with an indestructible alien? The same holds for the hobbits of the world of Tolkien. We might all admire and wish to be like the heroic men and women, elves (and even dwarves) that populate Middle Earth, but at heart most of us are closer to the hobbit who wishes for nothing more than to sit in his favorite comfy chair by the fire tucking into second breakfast. And here lies the heart of Tolkien. His faith in the essential goodness and decency of common folk to pass through the worst of times may have been forged in the fire and fog of war, and that unwavering faith ultimately forms our bond to the high-flung drama and darkness of his creation. It gives each of us the hope and strength to believe that we too might be able to combat the evils we face in our daily lives, no matter how small we may sometimes feel.

Finally, as writers, Tolkien reminds us that we are the ring-bearers. We must decide. And though it may be a burden that drives us nearly to despair and madness, hopefully we will find along the way a Sam and a Fellowship to keep us on our path and pick us up when we stumble. As for a Gandalf, well, as I said, Professor Tolkien has passed through fire and shadow before us, so that we might know better the way.


The Blood Dharma: Synopsis

By, Jessica Lakis

Genre: Action-Adventure/Period

Logline: THE BLOOD DHARMA weaves an exotic tale of love, betrayal, and revenge set against the terror of the Indian Mutiny against the British.

Synopsis: Rajput warrior IKSANDER is left for dead at the foot of his beloved’s funeral pyre. Saved by a mysterious stranger, and aided by an unlikely band of confederates — he seeks vengeance on those responsible. THE BLOOD DHARMA is part John Ford/Kurosawa yarn and part David Lean period adventure. The main drama and conflict arise from the clash of the worlds of the native rajputs and that of the British East India Company.

Iksander is a military leader from a noble line He lives to serve his lord, THE RAJAH, but his heart belongs to the Rajah’s sister RADHA. His preordained world is torn from him when the fearful Rajah agrees to sacrifice Iksander’s  life for a treaty with an ambitious East India Company agent to ensure his title. With Iksander left for dead, Radha kills herself in grief. An Untouchable and a mysterious man who live in the mountains rescue Iksander from death. Iksander’s life as a dutiful servant is replaced by the desire for revenge. But Iksander’s journey will do more than test his strength; his beliefs, views on duty and caste, and even his selfish quest must all be challenged if he is to achieve vengeance.

JAMES STUART CAMPBELL is an agent of the quasi-military British East India Company. Unlike the nobly born Iksander,  James has relied on his intellect and cunning to rise to his position in life. He is tasked to make favorable trading terms with the Rajah’s opium-rich kingdom or annex it. From his residence, complete with British-style furnishings and rose bushes, capturing the kingdom is a chess game with the reward of advancement and wealth if he wins. His only human care — frighteningly so — is for his niece and ward, YOUNG ALICE, who he calls his “pet.” But Young Alice is seventeen, and as she begins to become aware of life outside her isolated world with her Uncle, grows harder for James to bend to his will — the first crack in shattering his illusion of control.

Framed as NARRATOR/ALICE’s reminiscences to her daughter later in life, Alice is the bridge, the frame, and our access to both worlds. A chance encounter at a train station brings up disturbing questions about her past and experience of the horrific Indian Mutiny against the British. Alice mixes the legend of Iksander with her own first-hand knowledge to weave the stories, the fates of the characters, and their worlds together — a tale of love, betrayal, destiny, and revenge in the lost world of colonial India.


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