Excuse me, but I need to nerd/geek/dork/whatever out here for a minute because: They are making not one, not two, but three movies for The Hobbit. They finally released the sub-titles this past week causing a flurry of speculation as to how exactly the story is going to enfold. It’s like Durin’s Day for Tolkien nerds, with secrets like Lee Pace as Thranduil being released, looking pretty and elf-y. The first trailer that debuted months ago still gives me goosebumps during the dwarf song. There are the amazingly perfect gestures of Martin Freeman as Bilbo to consider. I’ve got some time to analyze Galadriel’s knowing smile and Gandalf’s concern before the first hits theaters and I’m pretty ecstatic to be able to write that.
Why is it all such an epic big deal? Well, for me, it’s because I thought LOTR was the end of it and I considered myself lucky and grateful to have gotten such wonderful adaptations of works I love so much in my lifetime. I was content with having not only theatrical releases but extended, everything and the Moria-sink, versions. I saw the Huorns eat the orcs after The Battle of Helms Deep. I saw the Gray Havens. Cate Blanchett was Galadriel and she was perfect. I have like 12 hours of awesome Middle Earthing to watch whenever I want. How could I ask for more?
Yet, we’re getting a lot more. Not one, not two, but three installments of dwarf-y, hobbit-y, dragon-y, goodness. Some people have wondered if there’s enough story to do a satisfying trilogy. I would argue an emphatic, YES. Even though The Hobbit is a more straightforward, “simple” heroes quest, with far less world detail and historical density, it’s not really a “lite” read. Especially when you consider it within the greater story of LOTR, which it foreshadows, and further consider some of the events that take place off-page, that are helpfully included in appendices in LOTR. The fact that they’re actively putting it within that context, in my opinion, roots the story in the world more solidly, grounding it within a framework of larger and more profound consequences.
Depending on when you read The Hobbit and how you interpreted it, I can understand the belief that it’s a “kids” story and doesn’t need a darker adaptation. As grownups it’s easy to view the less sophisticated writing style, especially when compared to the sweeping and layered complexity that is LOTR, and see something “for children.” If you’re looking at it through the nostalgic lens of childhood, or the assumption that it is child-ish, we can sometimes overlook the fantasy/horror elements that The Hobbit does in fact contain.
First of all, a group of trolls nearly eats all the dwarves in the first third. The goblins (or basically smaller orcs) in the mountains capture and chain up the dwarves, hurt them, threaten them and definitely want to kill them. Gollum, it is implied, has eaten goblins before, and he absolutely tries to brain Bilbo when he figures out he found his ring and tricked him with a non-riddle. After they get out, those same creatures set fire to the trees our heroes hide up, nearly becoming kebabs for goblins if not for the eagles. Then there’s Mirkwood with the giant spiders who poison the dwarves so they can, let’s face it, drain their blood. Then the elves lock them all up in dungeons. And that’s all BEFORE the giant dragon who decimates Esgaroth, The Battle of Five Armies, and the sad yet noble death of a redeemed main character. I’m just not sure you can call that sort of story “lite” toned, exactly.
Granted, there’s plenty of humor. I remember laughing every single time I read the exchange between Bilbo and Gandalf about who/what Beorn is, because Bilbo’s response is just so completely ludicrous, involving the word “coneys” and his bizarre belief that skin-changers are somehow like furriers. And Bilbo running around invisible with a cold during the barrel ride to Laketown and freaking people out with his “spirit” sneezes and bread stealing? Comedy gold. He has quite a bit in common with Pippin in the pratfall department, really. So, like any good drama, there’s levity to break it all up.
However, that just brings us back to the darker themes and story points, like Thorin Oakenshield’s entire history and his character arc which gets pretty obsessive and dangerous because of the Arkenstone. They only narrowly avoid dwarves vs. elves because the goblins come sweeping down from the mountains and that’s an enemy everyone can agree on because they’re pretty gross. There’s also some interesting specieism going on with Thranduil,king of Mirkwood, which hints at the larger problems in Middle Earth with the “good” guys being way too divided. And! If you’re an attentive reader, at least, you start to gather that Gandalf may have been kind of manipulating events here, especially in the hindsight you gain from information in LOTR that tells you how important it was to deal with Smaug. Plus I, for one, have always wanted to know what happened with the Necromancer while Gandalf was away, so I’m not sorry to have it added in. Basically, there’s plenty of story to go around.
Beyond all that, there’s also the issue that adapting the The Hobbit today, after LOTR has been made, means you can’t dial the story back to a time when this connection didn’t exist so concretely in pop culture consciousness. That’s just how it is. If you want to view The Hobbit as entirely separate, okay. You can do that. Don’t go see the films, read the book as a one-off, and it won’t be a problem for you. The films can’t actually undermine anything about your personal story interpretation. But there is no way Jackson could be expected to ignore the over-arching context after LOTR and it would be kind of absurd to try. Personally, I’m all for bringing these things together and getting our collective epic on.
At this point my obsessive love of all things Middle Earth should be pretty obvious. I could talk/write/post about it forever. I’ve loved this world since I was little and it’s informed my overall adoration of stories and storytelling a great deal. I appreciate detailed world building because of Tolkien, and one of the things Jackson has done best is realize that world with respect and consideration in a visual medium. That alone would make me a fan, but he also actively went beyond the superficial and made sure it all “feels” authentic and real.