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Today I have a post that combines my interests in both Tolkien and pedagogy.

In one of my English courses, Studies in Medievalism: Tolkien and Myth-making, I ask students to read the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and some of the medieval literature that influenced him. We also consider later adaptations of Tolkien’s fiction in various media. As part of this cultural study of contemporary fandom and myth-making, students have the option of producing their own adaptation of Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories, accompanied by a researched analysis that relates their project to critical discussions of adaptation, fandom, medievalism, and Tolkien’s fiction.

In the January 2014 semester, my student Shelby MacGregor produced a series of photographs illustrating scenes from an imagined dystopian Lord of the Rings movie, set sometime in the near future. The analysis that she wrote to accompany these pictures discussed Tolkien’s representation of nature and technology compared to Peter Jackson’s film versions and considered some of the problems of adaptation.

Below, you will find some of Shelby’s photographs along with her descriptions. (All photos copyright Shelby MacGregor).

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Photos and Descriptions by Shelby MacGregor

This project aimed to present scenes in a post-modern adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It was heavily inspired by Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the trilogy, and also by the science fiction films of Ridley Scott.

Frodo, who must install a virus in the Super Computer

Frodo, who must install a virus in the Super Computer

View larger version of Frodo (2 Mb)

Moving the story to somewhere in our future instead of somewhere in our past would require different weapons and technologies from the original. The Ring became a computer chip, and instead of throwing the Ring into a volcano, it became a virus that would be installed into the Super Computer that was controlling industry and therefore destroying the world.

Mordor. By Shelby MacGregor

Mordor

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Frodo and Sam play a large role in this imagined film, as they are charged with installing the virus in the Super Computer. They are dressed in more natural clothes to connect to the natural lifestyles of the people in the Shire and to contrast the natural world with industry in a visual and striking way. Mordor appears as a power plant, with Frodo daunted by the size and destruction found in the modern world.

The Black Gate is closed

The Black Gate is closed.

View larger version of The Black Gate (5 Mb)

Each character is styled differently to reflect the regions of Tolkien’s Middle-earth that they come from. Lady Eowyn is the closest to Jackson’s representation of her. It is assumed that the people of Rohan accept less technology than the rest of Middle-earth, preferring to tend to their horses.

Eowyn by Shelby MacGregor

Eowyn

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Boromir and Aragorn are in modern dress but use medieval weaponry, not because they resist technology but because it has become a symbol of the enemy.

Boromir's Death by Shelby MacGregor

Boromir’s Death

View larger version of Boromir’s Death (4 Mb)

This project allowed me to work with adaptation theory, photography, editing, and costume design, as I made or styled every item that the characters are wearing. I was aiming to make film scenes come to life that are instantly recognizable as The Lord of the Rings, while also staying away from simply remaking Jackson’s film scenes. It was an interesting and challenging project, and I am glad that I got the opportunity to try something creative.

— Shelby MacGregor