The novelist Umberto Eco was an early adopter in the great debate about authenticity. After a trip around California, constantly being urged to look at strange three-dimensional versions of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper - all hyped as 'better than the real thing' - he wrote an essay called 'Travels in hyper-reality'.
Since then, the world of hyper-reality is all around us. It is in the catwalk models we are supposed to look like, the doctored photographs on the front of magazines, and especially in the cinema.
I have just been to see Peter Jackson's film The Hobbit, which is a little long - though the dragon is rather fabulous - but the portrayal of the Shire, home of Bilbo Baggins, has definitely been given the hyper-real treatment. The colours are altered to make it more lush than real. They is something sugary about it that sticks in the mouth.
Perhaps it is contradictory of me to demand that the portrayal of something as mystical and fantastical as The Hobbit should be real, but I am not so sure. The Shire was rooted in Englishness, and intended to be, and there was a hint of idealised Englishness about it. Yet it was very down-to-earth kind of Englishness, not the kind you expect to be shot through some schmaltzy green tinged lens.
Also, we have to take into account Tolkien's own views on authenticity:
"The notion that motor cars are more 'alive' than, say, centaurs or dragons is curious... for my part I cannot convince myself that the roof of Bletchley Station is more 'real' than the clouds and as an artefect I find it less inspiring than the legendary dome of heaven."
But none of this suggests that everything Tolkien wrote needs to be served up to us as a caricature of itself. I find I can''t believe it that way.
Hauling ironstone towards Corby in 1968
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