I grew up on fantastic fiction. Even before a kid named Scott regaled the tales of The Lord of the Rings to me on our trips down Elgeyo Marakwet, I remember things like a nicely illustrated version of Hans Christian Anderson’s stories and a predilection to tales read by The Superscope Story Teller.

It may have been a blind choice on my end but I remember stumbling upon a character named Drizzt Do’Urden and the world of Faerun in books by R.A. Salvatore in college. I loved Salvatore’s stories so much I read everything of his I could get my hands on. Even as a slow reader, it wouldn’t be long before I was slowing down for the last chapter, trying to make the adventure last as long as possible.

A few months ago I ran across a podcast interview[1] of Salvatore and made a shocking discovery: all these years I had the pronunciation of his signature character Drizzt wrong. Salvatore, with his true Bostonian lilt, sounds like he says “Dritts.” In my mind and with friends, I had always said “Driz-it.” It was a little jarring since my relationship with those books has spanned the last 20 years.

I would hope that Salvatore would not care as much. In the creative continuum his piece was done – to create a story and build the foundation from which a person’s imagination could complete the picture. This continuum exists in everything that we as humans try to understand[2]. In the parts of our lives where we consume artistic expression we experience it in the movie scene that cuts off, the action between cells in a comic book, or the dramatic pause in a song where your head keeps bobbing.

It’s this continuum of creative production and consumption[3] that was kindled in those early years of fiction; whether I was imagining Hans Christian Anderson’s mermaids or experiencing dread as I tried to conjure a mental picture of Medusa. It carried me forward to Salvatore’s dark elf and the other tales of might, magic, and adventure quest so intertwined with my formative years. Imagination of this kind was a wonderful and intoxicating thing.

It is the loss of this imagination that I have begun to lament with the success of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films; that world which had assembled itself in my head is now much more concrete as a sensory experience. It’s become increasingly difficult to imagine characters without their portrayals and respective actors. Middle Earth has become, for the most part, an ode to the physical geography of New Zealand[4].

Perhaps the biggest departure from my viewings of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is the experience of putting on the One Ring. In my mind this was a sinister thing and yet as described by Tolkien prior to Frodo’s journey, it seemed a benign and even pleasurable experience of invisibility.

My point in all this is not to bash the films which to date I have loved and watched repeatedly. And I want to go beyond the book snob’s snide comment that films are always inferior. There have been many elements of interpretation from the film that have helped me understand the books more and Peter Jackson has been masterful, along with the cast and crew, at bringing Middle Earth to life. What I do want to pinpoint is how there is a loss of freedom with the imagination when something is done as well – how you lose the words could sound themselves out in your head any way that you liked, how it was you who remained in charge of the creative and artistic direction of a story that transferred from the pages of a book into your head.

There is no doubt that I will see and enjoy all of the films that make up The Hobbit film trilogy. I’m the target market, I’m a fan. As my imagination is filled I will notice more and forget a little. It’s the tradeoff of seeing and enjoying the film version of a book that’s been a part of my life.

[1] Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy is probably the best fantastic fiction podcast I’ve run into online.

[2] I’m always fascinated by how our imagination completes our religious belief. As a Christian, I find it interesting to look at renaissance artwork of Biblical events to see how outlandish or frozen in time this can be. For example, Bruegel’s Christ Carrying the Cross.

[3] I wanted to focus on imagination as an individual experience but when stories are circulated and popular enough, there is something of a collective imagination. One of Peter Jackson’s successes was tapping into the collective imagination that already existed for Tolkien’s stories and using popular Tolkien inspired artwork for keyframes in the film. Alan Le’s The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook is a great book on this creative process that drove the film.

[4] New Zealand has woven itself so closely to Tolkien’s world that now a large amount of tourism comes from people like me who want to experience it as Middle Earth. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad since it probably has merits of its own without being a fantasy kingdom but if someone gave me a chance to go, I’d be there.