Call it fate. Call it karma. Call it divine intervention. Guillermo Del Toro’s departure from The Hobbit was poetic justice in motion.
Many reasons have been cited as to why Del Toro stepped away from the Lord of the Rings prequel. MGM’s financial situation was one. Del Toro’s refusal to relocate his family to New Zealand was another.
I declare a new theory: his prejudice came back to bite him in the arse and cost him his dream job.
Please explain? Love to. After all, it is a rare occurrence when the universe takes things into its own hands and rights wrongs with such clarity. In fact, let me revel in it a little more....that’s better!
It all goes back to an interview Del Toro gave in 2008 while promoting Hell Boy 2.
When asked about his being offered the chance to direct The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Del Toro explained that he turned the film down because of its Christian undertones, stating: “My wife and I thought if it would make too much money”.
His answer, of course, is in reference to the Narnia series been penned by C.S. Lewis, famed Christian apologist and lay theologian who wrote the acclaimed Mere Christianity.
Del Toro has a problem with Christians, with himself being a lapsed Catholic turned atheist. How strange, then, that he would devote his undoubted talents and time to adapting the works of famed Roman Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien.
It was Tolkien, after all, who converted Lewis to Christianity, even though he miffed in his failure to induct Lewis into the R.C. club.
Said Tolkien: "Lewis would regress. He would not re-enter Christianity by a new door, but by the old one: at least in the sense that in taking it up again he would also take up again, or reawaken, the prejudices so sedulously planted in childhood and boyhood. He would become again a Northern Ireland protestant."
Del Toro, too, loves to revel in religious talk now and then. “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic,” the gifted filmmaker suffering a theological identity crisis often spouts.
Same words are often uttered by Martin Scorsese, the Italian American filmmaker whose Mean Streets still stands as the cinematic exploration of Catholic redemption and guilt at odds with each another.
Yet Scorsese never succumbed to the levels of anti-Catholicism which Del Toro presented in his Pan’s Labyrinth, although The Last Temptation of Christ detractors will disagree.
Set five years after the Spanish Civil War during the rule of fascist Franquist government, Pan’s Labyrinth focuses on a young girls retreat into a fantasy world of monsters and demons, while her stepfather (a Captain in the army) dishes out sadistic punishment to leftist anarchists who hide in the woods.
One scene at a dinner party hosted by the stepfather features a Catholic priest amongst his guests. When the topic of conversation turns to how they will kill their Communist enemies, the priest assures his guests: “God already saved their souls. What happens to their bodies, well, it hardly matters to him.”
When prompted into the origins of this quote, Del Toro explained: “When I was researching the movie The Devil's Backbone, I found the absolutely horrifying—not only complicity—but participation of the Church in the entire fascist movement in Spain. The words that the priest speaks at the table in Pan's Labyrinth are taken verbatim from a speech a priest used to give to the Republican prisoners in a fascist concentration camp.”
But what he failed to mention was the monumental events which prompted the church to side with the right at that time.
The Red Terror saw 7,000 clergy die during the Spanish Civil War, at the hands of the same leftists who Del Toro makes into heroes in his black and white approach to history.
The following shows the timeline of terror perpetrated towards Catholic clergy:
May 1931: 100 church buildings are burned while fire fighters refuse to extinguish the flames.
1932: 3000 Jesuits expelled. Church buildings burned with impunity in 7 cities.
1934: 33 priests murdered in the Asturias Revolution.
1936: Just a day before July 18, the day the war started, there already have been 17 clergymen murdered.
From July 18 to August 1: 861 clergymen murdered in 2 weeks.
August 1936: 2077 clergymen murdered, more than 70 a day. 10 of them Bishops.
Septembre14: 3400 clergymen murdered during the first stages of the war.
1939: End of the war; a total of 7000 clergymen and 3000 religious people murdered for practicing Catholicism.
Perhaps it is revenge towards his upbringing which fuels Del Toro’s anti-Catholicism. He was raised by his conservative Grandmother, a woman Del Toro described as “like Piper Laurie in Carrie”.
"I've spent the rest of my life recuperating from my first 10 years," Del Toro continued. “It was a brutal time of learning, and I tried to bring the violence I felt -- moral, spiritual, and even physical -- into the movies."
Unfortunately Del Toro also brings with him a big, ugly grudge seen clearly in Pan’s Labyrinth, where despite the realities of the Spanish Civil War, hestill opted to present the Church as a big, scary monster, blindly supporting the fascists and (literally in one scene) trying to eat the kiddies in the form of a scary creation dubbed “The Pale Man”.
"The Pale Man represents the Church for me, you know?” explained Del Toro. “He represents fascism and the Church eating the children when they have a perversely abundant banquet in front of them. There is almost a hunger to eat innocence. A hunger to eat purity."
Just what would Tolkien think of this? Suffice to say, not much.
But with recent events, perhaps Tolkein is looking in after all, with LOTR filmmaker Peter Jackson finally accepting his and negotiating to direct The Hobbit.
With that news, all I can do is look up to the sky, smile, and say “Thank you, Mr. Tolkien”.