Some of you may recall recent news about an AI researching, writing and publishing an academic paper. Now researchers at County Durham College of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fine Arts have set their pet AI, GEBen, to work writing novels. GEBen has spent the past two years analysing the works of numerous writers and recently began experimenting with various creative exercises. At the moment, it is engaged in rewriting well-known novels in the styles of other authors.
GEBen’s initial attempts at this were pretty clumsy. For example, working in the style of Charles Dickens, it rewrote the entire Harry Potter series as a fantasy take on Oliver Twist, with Dumbledore in the role of Fagan and Voldemort as Bill Sykes. It makes for a odd read, to say the least, though that’s nothing in comparison with its Jane Austen version of Fifty Shades of Grey.
GEBen has, however, improved greatly in the past year. So much so, in fact, that I will be publishing reviews of several of its creations. Though many of the books fall flat, a few really shine. More interesting, however, is the strange point of view—the altered frequencies of light and splintered spectra of emotion—that emerge from the creative mind of a machine. I hope you find this as fascinating as I do.
The first review in this series is:
J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, written in the style of H.P. Lovecraft.
It should come as no surprise that this is not the Tolkien your parents grew up with. Imagine the Shire as late-colonial Massachusetts, orcs as the monstrous result of an ancient, Native American curse and Gandalf not as a kindly wizard but, rather, as a creepy old man who turns out to be Frodo’s great-great-grandfather, uses unspeakable, eldritch magicks to stay alive and tries to manipulate Frodo into releasing Sauron, instead of destroying him. And in true Lovecraftian manner, by the time the hobbits reach the elven hold of Arkham (where Elrond waits with his own sinister plan), half of them are dead and the other half have been driven insane by the Nameless Horrors hunting them.
I’ll won’t give away any more of the story. Suffice to say that, were I once again a naïve teenager, I would love this series. It is, in many respects, truly awesome. The problem, however, is that Lovecraft’s voice augments the racism, patriarchy and authoritarianism that hide just below the surface of Tolkien’s work. I admit I was enthralled as Frodo and Sam fought off Shelob in the sewers of Boston, yet I was simultaneously appalled at the barely-concealed racist description of Shelob, as well as Frodo’s treatment of Sam when he tried to take the ring after Frodo had been poisoned. (Spoiler alert: Frodo believes in that old addage, “spare the rod, spoil the servant”, and Sam learns his place.)
There’s nothing new about finding racism in Lovecraft and Tolkien and there are numerous resources available if you want to explore that topic. What I find fascinating, however, is GEBen’s ability to offend my moral sensibilities while simultaneously delighting me with a great story. This is, of course, something that many artists do. Or try to do. But GEBen does a far better job of it than any other writer I’ve ever read. I actually feel guilty, yet want to read more.
It is as if GEBen has learned how to manipulate human psychology far more effectively than any human author. Some might say that’s scary. I say it makes for a damn good read!
I’ll review more of GEBen’s rewrites of classic novels in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one last spoiler for the Lovecraft version of LotR. If you are a fan of Tom Bombadil, then hoooboy, are you in for a shock! That is a twist that, like poor Meriadoc, you will never see coming.