The Hobbit - How Jackson lacks the subtlety of Tolkien...

I went to see "The Hobbit" a couple weeks ago. I will admit that I found the movie enjoyable, as movies go. I am not bothered by 'slow' movies or 'long' movies. I was fully expecting a greater amount of whimsy and humor than has the movies of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and so, I was not put off, as it were, by the absurd behavior of the dwarves.

I am quite familiar and fond of the book, and to a large degree, I was disappointed by certain changes that were made to the story. I have even taken a full semester's college course on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, which focused on three books, namely "The Silmarillion," "The Hobbit," and "The Lord of the Rings."

My opinion of Tolkien's works is founded on this study of these three works, which can be read in one of three orders, I think, properly. The chronological order, which follows the history of Middle Earth, is the easiest of the three to grasp the 'entire' story. The order in which the works was published allows the reader to follow a certain development of story telling and helps one to understand the author better. The order in which the stories developed is really identical with the chronological order for the most part.

Speaking of the 'entire' story (the history of Middle Earth) Tolkien says, "I did not know as I began ["the Hobbit"] that it belonged. But it proved to be the discovery of the completion of the whole..." (taken from the Preface to The Silmarillion, pp. xii-xii).

Early in life, Tolkien developed a love for languages and with them a love for faerie-story and myth. He began creating his own languages. His languages needed people to speak them and the people needed a history, which is in short where the works come from. Many of the stories were developed early in Tolkien's life, but did not find their way to paper until later in life. So, "The Silmarillion" is the culmination of a lifetime's thought and writing, but nevertheless, is the earliest in the chronological order and the order of development.

Tolkien describes his work as "mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine." "The Silmarillion" describes the earliest Fall, and from it comes Mortality. The later works are more focused on Mortality and the Machine though having instances of individual 'falls,' in particular the Lord of the Rings.

"The Hobbit" then should be understood according to this motif. Therefore, we can ask ourselves these sorts of questions: What is Bilbo's Fall? What is Bilbo's experience and view of his own mortality? How does Bilbo respond to his mortality? Is his response one of Art or Machine/Magic?

It is difficult to develop a reasonable judgment of the first installment of the movie series without seeing how subtle changes play out in the end. Maybe some ideas will be compensated for or supplemented with other ideas.

Regardless of how it plays out, changes to the written story always do some harm to the author's intention. It is inevitable that anyone who has read the book will be a little disappointed here or there. So, my judgment of the movie is rooted in certain aspects of the main themes of Tolkien's works being omitted.

For example, early in the story Bilbo encounters Gandalf. Disturbed from his comfort, but minding his manners, Bilbo dismisses Gandalf with a "good-morning" and an invitation to tea. The invitation to tea is Bilbo's way of inviting Gandalf into his own world while at the same time rejecting Gandalf's invitation for Bilbo to become a part of his. This dynamic is missing from the movie, but the scene is still there.

After Gandalf takes advantage of this invitation and sends nine dwarves ahead of him, and arrives with the final four, which includes Thorin the leader of their company, Gandalf presents Bilbo to the dwarves as their burglar. Bilbo is horrified at the thought and proceeds to shirk from acceding to such a title. A great conflict arises in Bilbo, who is half Baggins and half Took. The Baggins side of him desires comfort but the Took side desires to adventure and make the most of life.

Eventually, during this meal, the Baggins side loses and by way of obstinance Bilbo regrettably makes himself part of the company, even if not full-willingly. The next morning he is surprised to find that the house is empty and much to the delight of the Baggins in him, which ultimately wins. Bilbo's desire for comfort, which lies as parallel to Smaug's desire for treasure, wins. Bilbo will not seek them out, and this is the first and most important 'Fall' that Bilbo experiences, for it ultimately leads to a greater development of his character.

Just then, Gandalf arrives and his words fluster Bilbo to the point of him leaving to join the company with nothing, no cloak, hood, nor handkerchief. It is by Gandalf's instigation alone that Bilbo joins the company on its journey. This subtle but complex drama is left out of Peter Jackson's film. Instead it is replaced by a conflict between Bilbo's Baggins side and Took side, with the Took side ultimately winning.

Unfortunately, this is a moral victory for Bilbo, which ultimately takes away from any sort of character development that could be possible. The dynamic in Tolkien's version is one that often parallels our experience of grace; when we allow God into our lives, even by rejecting His invitation to enter into His life, we open ourselves enough for God to do great things with us. In the end, we give an inch and God takes a mile, and we return home a different person.

These literary devices of Tolkien are so analogical to life that they border often times on allegorical readings, which was never Tolkien's intent. Rather, his myths are meant to imitate life in such a way as to lend itself to a multitude of readings. My criticism of Jackson's movie, as enjoyable as it is to watch, is that it ultimately takes away from some of the most beautifully subtle moments of Tolkien's story.

I will, however, withhold my full judgment until the story is told in its entirety. And might I add, I am quite pleased to see that the story of the Necromancer is being drawn out. It is a wonderful connection between "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings."

1 comment:

  1. Abram, great blog post! I believe I was in that class with you. I understand why Peter Jackson did what he did. It puts The Hobbit in the same genre as the Lord of the Rings and gives the story continuity for the unfortunately large contingent of the population that have never read the books. I enjoyed the movie because I have always tended to look for the chronological story in Tolkien's works. I enjoy looking up the character's ancestry for example and looking up the development of the different races of Middle Earth. I was actually most disappointed when certain Middle Earth histories or character portrayals were incorrect or poorly developed. Radagast is a prime example of this. As is the relationship between Gandalf and Galandriel. However, I would agree completely that it really did an injustice to the story that Tolkien originally told.