Monday, January 21, 2013

No Matter Which Hobbit It Is, It's Still Tolkien's Hobbit

A little more than a week ago, I read the Huffington Post article, "Dislike Peter Jackson's The Hobbit? Then You Don't Know Tolkien" by Seth Abramson. I agree with Abramson, but I also don't think he fully appreciates the history behind The Hobbit, as we know it today. If he did, I don't think he'd have as much trouble with the Tolkien philistine critics out there.

It took Abramson's article for me to reach this conclusion. Like him and many others out there, I think Peter Jackson could have cut a bit and emphasized different aspects of the film to make a more enjoyable viewing experience. I won't get too deep into the actual film or its narrative, though. I had fun watching it and don't have strong enough feelings to criticize the film itself.

I won't get all that deep into the technological aspects of the frame speed, 3D vs 2D or anything like that. I saw the 24 frames per second (fps) in 3D version. It looked fine with only one or two things that took me out of the action and drama but nothing that stands out too much. I haven't seen any of it in 48 fps. I'm curious to do so some day, though, just to see what all the fuss is about.

Something else has struck my interest more than these two aspects: the arguments over Jackson's loyalty to the original books. Many people have criticized him for stretching it out to three films when the source material is one book (a lot of that argument seems to revolve around Jackson and/or the film company being greedy and cynical). They also argue that The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, was a simple, fun adventure romp, not some kind of epic quest to save the world. Where would the material come from to fill all that extra time?

Abramson and others, on the other hand, point out that these critics who just want a simple adventure romp have it wrong. They fail to know or understand that Tolkien left behind plenty of source material in the appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. I read the appendices once, maybe twice, and some other pieces of work that had tons of information about larger events and people that happened concurrently and led up to The War of the Ring.

In my view, both sides of have it right. I see only one part where both sides are wrong: saying that the other side is wrong, they don't understand and that there is a right or wrong answer. I take this approach because at one time or another, Tolkien had imagined The Hobbit in so many different ways on his own, as a standalone story, as something of a prelude to The Lord of the Rings and as probably everything else inbetween.

Tolkien originally came up with The Hobbit as a way to entertain his children or his children or grandchildren (I think he notes this point as in introduction to an edition of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again). Even the first edition published didn't have the One Ring in it. It was just a magical ring of invisibility. Also, Gollum willingly bet it in the game of riddles.

I haven't read the older editions. I don't have any further details of changes from earlier editions to more current ones. Nonetheless, it still stands: the earlier editions of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again was a standalone, not a planned prequel to the Lord of the Rings.

Later, down the road, though, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again did become a prequel. Tolkien kept updating new editions as they got released to make the stories consistent. As mentioned before, he also wrote material that he put in the appendices at the end of The Return of the King.

Tokien had also written a story called "The Quest of Erebor". Based on the link, Tolkien originally wanted to include it in the appendices of The Return of the King. He ended up not putting it in, though, to save space. This story fills the gaps in how Gandalf and Thorin put together their scheme, why they included Bilbo and other such topics not addressed in The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.

Peter Jackson just conflates all these different sources into a series of movies. The people criticizing Jackson for creating new plot points or anything like that just to fill time don't have the most solid ground to stand on. From my understanding, Jackson does do it a little by giving the orcs in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a motivation rather than just random encounters met by the dwarves. I haven't read The Hobbit, or There and Back Again in awhile, but my instincts tell me that characters with motivations lead to a more absorbing story rather than not.

Abramson makes a valid point that these "haters" probably don't know Tolkien. I think he misses the point, though, that the movie the "haters" wanted would have been just as valid of a movie of The Hobbit: There and Back Again as the one Peter Jackson has and will make. Simply put: every version that a faction argues is the real version is a real version. Tolkien wrote most, if not all, the source material that Jackson is pulling from.

I, personally, enjoy that an argument such as this one can be made. Part of me wishes that the copyright had expired and anyone who wants could take and retool the story without needing any special rights or permissions. Tolkien had done a fun job of creating something of an artificial verbal history of Middle Earth as he had come up with new stories and worked to make them all consistent with each other, altering and developing the canon to make it richer each and every time.

Will the stories of Middle Earth become legend and myth for future civilizations as our current one falls or fades away? Will Middle Earth be like the myths we tell of Greek gods and goddesses, Persian gods and goddesses, Gilgamesh and Enkidu and all the rest of the stories that we have from our ancient history? I wish I had a time machine or the ability to observe some future time to see if this potentiality becomes actuality.

Just imagine the stories that would come about through errors in translation! Imagine all the different stories that could be developed for futue generations through the innovations of non-Tolkien writers! It would make an interesting sight to see, that's for sure.


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