“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable palpitating, and even more gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.” (61)
Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth is rich with a mythology of ancient times long forgotten in the age of men. The epic struggle of good over evil depicted in the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy is potent not merely because of Frodo and Samwise’s journey through Mordor to destroy the ring or due to the grueling battles at Healm’s Deep and the Minis Tirith that eventually raise Aragorn to the seat of kingship. There is definitely good story telling depicted in the weight of the moral struggle carried by Frodo and the courage and bravado championed by Aragorn and his contemporaries, but what makes the Lord of the Rings so potent is the mythological back-story referenced throughout the tale. All that occurs is important because it is part of a greater history. Aragorn didn’t just come out of nowhere to rise to the throne, he is the chief of the Dunedain, descendants of the race of Numenor a noble people of the North that long vanished in the struggles with Sauron. And Sauron didn’t just arise as the latest incarnation of evil, he has taken many forms as the dark lord of Middle-Earth, and he wasn’t the first, that would be Melkor, who could be likened to a fallen angel in the mythology of Middle-Earth. Throughout the Lord of Rings there is allusion to the history buried within the history, and in so doing Tolkien created a fantastical tale with a believable reality because of the depth of history that is the basis for the action that takes place in trilogy’s tale.
I begin my review of the Hobbit with a prolonged reference to the epic tale of the Lord of the Rings to elaborate that in contrast to the richness and depth of the Lord of Rings the Hobbit is a fairly simple tale. Where the Lord of the Rings is a filled with great courage and valor of astounding proportions, the Hobbit is simple and charming. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Hobbit, it is a book that I cherish with nostalgia for my childhood days, and is one of the first books I truly loved for its ability to transport me through the power of language into a fantasy world filled with goblins in the Misty Mountains, giant spiders in Mirkwood Forest, and of course the greed of the sleeping dragon Smaug living in the Lonely Mountain. I’m also a great fan of the Peter Jackson adaptions of the Lord of the Rings and in anticipation of the the upcoming Hobbit movie(s) I had placed a re-reading of the Hobbit on my to-do list before the release of the first film this winter. However, knowing the simple forward progression of the plot, I have had doubts about the necessity to expand the Hobbit from one movie to two, and my doubts have been further compounded with the news that the movie will now be expanded from two to three movies. My original thoughts were that this was merely a money grab at the studio’s direction in order to collect more money at the box office and a lame attempt to satisfy the Hollywood trend to unnecessarily make every blockbuster into a trilogy. I have felt alone in my skepticism, with many of my friends celebrating the opportunity to watch not one but three movies bearing the title of The Hobbit.
To better understand the excitement about the movies I thought it best to revisit the original to re-familiarize myself with the tale of how the ring of power came to Frodo through Bilbo. In my most recent reading of the Hobbit I was reminded of the adolescent joy I carry for this book. Tolkien is a master of scenery and be it a description of the caverns of the Misty Mountains or the dark overgrowth of Mirkwood Forest, the descriptive language is simple and concise in its ability to transfer the reader to realm of the wild and natural world of Middle Earth. And although it lacks the epic proportion of Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit is not without suspense as Bilbo Baggins and his 13 dwarf companions find themselves in trouble after trouble with trolls, Orcs, wolves, spiders, forest elves, and the dragon Smaug. Ultimately in each of there troubles, the hobbit and his dwarf friends live through many narrow escapes through Bilbo’s cunning and use of the ring. Actually, it is quite surprising that other than a battle with orcs in the Misty Mountains. the dwarfs prove that they are quite useless in this journey, getting captured more than once and it is often Bilbo who saves the day.
In my reading I found that there was much that I had forgotten from the tale, such as the odd visit with the Bear-man shape-shifter Beorn and how easily and quickly Smaug is defeated by the Bard of the lake people. I suspect that like Tom Bombadil in the Lord of the Rings, Beorn may be omitted from the movie and the Smaug battle will become much more elaborate on the screen than it appeared on the page. Prior to my re-reading I did recall that the Hobbit is a book full of singing and upon this reading I had fun noticing that no one is immune to the Tolkien’s penchant for expressing themselves through song, causing me to wonder how Jackson is going to depict the Orcs singing after they capture the dwarfs (if he does). There is also a lot of depiction of talking animals, including wolves, eagles, finches, and even the dragon Smaug. I am curious how Jackson will depict the loquaciousness of the animal characters in the Hobbit because talking animals in a live action film runs the risk of coming off overly silly.
Although the Hobbit is a simple tale that lacks the rich back-story present in the Lord of the Rings, the character of Gandalf provides the link that will give Jackson the ability to stretch out the tale into a trilogy. In my re-reading of the Hobbit I was joyed to see that Gandalf’s actions provide an allusion to Tolkien’s larger intentions in the Lord of the Rings. Gandalf travels with Bilbo and the 13 dwarfs for only part of their tale, but he leaves them at the edge of the Mirkwood forest because he “has some pressing business away south,” (147) and later we learn as Bilbo overhears Gandalf conversing with Elrond that “Gandalf had been to a great council of the white wizards, masters of lore and magic; and that they had at last driven the Necromancer from his dark hold in the South of Mirkwood” (310). Of course the Necromancer is Sauron, and Jackson will certainly expand these interactions on the screen. However, in the book these brief allusions are all we hear of Gandalf’s adventures in the text of the Hobbit, for the Hobbit is of course Bilbo’s tale and not Gandalf’s tale. Tolkien of course had plenty in mind when he made these allusions and his stories in the appendices of the Lord of the Rings as well as the Similarillian provide the back-story that will allow Jackson to expand a simple tale into an epic trilogy. The Hobbit the movie may well be a reincarnation of the book and I doubt that it will have all of the charm and light-hearted humor that I cherish in the written work. Whatever comes of the movie, my re-reading has reminded me of what a lovely story the Hobbit is, one that is meant to be cherished for generations to come in my household.