“THE GOATMILK DEBATES” will be an ongoing series featuring two debaters tackling an interesting or controversial question in a unique, irreverant manner.
Each debater makes their opening argument. They can elect to post a rebuttal.
The winner will be decided by the online audience and judged according to the strength of their argument.
The motion: “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is Superior to The Star Wars Movies”
For the motion: Willow Wilson
Against the motion: Omer M. Mozaffar. Click here to read his opening argument defending Star Wars.
FOR THE MOTION: WILLOW WILSON’S OPENING ARGUMENT
A Myth Cyle for the Ages vs. A Fad for Ten Minutes
I am not even sure why we are having this debate. Seriously, the title says it all. Everything that follows will be a waste of your time, because the superiority of Tolkien’s masterwork will be obvious to anyone with two brain cells to rub together. The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy of books that inspired an entire genre of fantasy literature, spawning tributes from every medium of culture–pop music, radio plays, comic books, Oscar-winning films–plus a considerable body of academic work. Star Wars, on the other hand, is the entertaining but addled brainchild of a man whose head is steadily being devoured by his neck, and who ditched his serviceable Tao-inspired space opera for clumsy pseudo-scientific doggerel as soon as he slipped the leash of his poor producers. Episode I would have the audience believe the universe is controlled not by an unseen and grandiose First Cause, but by little green protozoa swimming around in your blood.
To which I say, no thank you.
Lord of the Rings was the product of one man’s belief that literary escapism could be more than simple entertainment; that in a time when Europe was reeling from the aftershocks of two world wars, a story about elves and hobbits could help restore a people’s faith in their history and religion. An adult convert to Catholicism, Tolkien was one of the 20th century’s foremost Christian apologists. He, along with his close friend author CS Lewis, pioneered the idea that the teachings of religion could be communicated without any direct reference to holy texts–could, indeed, be demonstrated through invented worlds that bore little resemblance to Earth. Today this is a form of allegory we take for granted, but in the mid-twentieth century, when both The Lord of the Rings and Lewis’s Narnia chronicles were written, it was a very new idea. The form of the modern novel was itself only about two hundred and fifty years old, and the suggestion that a fantasy novel could be used to tell great ethical and religious truths bordered on heretical.
Lucas himself therefore owes Tolkien a great ideological debt. The only reason film audiences of 1977 were prepared to look for deeper meaning in a space opera was because they had been primed on Lord of the Rings, which enjoyed a huge resurgence in the early 70s, when erstwhile hippies discovered through Tolkien that you could talk about war, resistance and hope using fantasy metaphors. (This is perhaps Tolkien’s grossest, though unknowing, failure: his works were responsible for a great deal of hideous wizard-and-dragon van art.) The pop music and general culture of the 70s, which Lucas would have been soaking up while spinning tales of long ago and far, far away in his head, were deeply influenced by Tolkien’s work; Lord of the Rings references crop up in the lyrics of bands from Led Zeppelin to Styx to Bo Hansson. Buttons proclaiming “Frodo Lives!” were a popular countercultural accoutrement during this same period. If, like Lucas, you were slumming it in the art ghettos of northern California, The Lord of the Rings would have been unavoidable.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Lucas deserves kudos for building on the message-bearing escapism of Tolkien’s opus. Star Wars–even the shambling latter-day installments–is fun to watch, and was certainly ground-breaking when it first appeared. I still think the intricate model spaceships shot against a blue screen are more compelling than a lot of the CGI stuff you see nowadays. (Which is why I was so surprised that Lucas went with blatantly computer-generated, stereotypically flying-saucer-like ships in Episodes I II and III. Never mind that Sir Alec Guinness was so disgusted by his over-the-top dialogue that he forced Lucas and Co to write him out of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Never mind the Jar Jar Binks fiasco, the worst acting of Natalie Portman’s career, and the fact that Mark Hamill’s film days were over as soon as the lights went up. Star Wars was a valiant effort to break new ground in cinematography and science fiction, and it succeeded admirably.
However, have you seen Life Day? The Star Wars Christmas Special guest starring Bea Arthur? No? That’s because George Lucas tried to have every copy destroyed back when he first realized people were actually going to take his story seriously. But thanks to Youtube, the sad, sad nadir of this franchise is still available for your viewing pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXcb7VPw59s and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzXKySxPFCI
You’re welcome. Frodo Lives.
CLICK HERE TO READ OMER MOZAFFAR’S OPENING ARGUMENT DEFENDING “STAR WARS”
G. Willow Wilson is the author of The Butterfly Mosque (Amazon Link), a memoir of Islam and life in Egypt; as well as the award-winning comic book series AIR.