18 January 2014

Books: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)

After putting it off for a while, I re-read J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit. After seeing the first two films from Peter Jackson, and reading many long-time fans criticism of him taking a book that is less than 300 pages and turning it into a trilogy of films, I wanted to see –as I read along- whether the criticism was truthful. 

I very rarely re-read books, but then I first read The Hobbit back in the late 1970’s. And by the time the 1980s had begun I had read The Lord of the Rings and then was reading one fantasy novel after another by authors who were inspired by Tolkien. But the original, the grandfather of all epic fantasy, was one book I only read once. I will admit part of the reason was that Gandalf disappears for such a long time, and I grew bored with Bilbo’s adventure with dwarfs. I sort of just did not want to bother with it again. 

When Jackson’s film adaptations of LOTR came out in 2001, I began to re-read those, but quickly found myself gravitating to other books (and by the early 90s I had read so much fantasy, I was sort of finished with the genre). But I started with The Fellowship of the Ring and not The Hobbit, getting about a 120 pages in before abandoning it. And since then, since The Return of the King came out in 2003, I’ve been tempted to re-read the entire series again, but they always lost out to the other stuff I wanted to read first. 

The idea of re-reading The Hobbit came up again when Jackson was still filming the first movie (which was then, at the time, only to be two films). It was just after Borders closed in September of 2011 that I toyed with the idea of reading The Hobbit again. And for a time, I did start it. But, as always, things got in the way. Part of it was I was looking for work and part of it was I had started to read George R.R. Martins Game of Thrones. As I noted earlier, I had somewhat given up the fantasy genre, so Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series was going to be the first time in a decade I was reading fantasy again (though I was only able to get through the first three books in that series).

As 2011 drifted into 2012, the prospects for me reading The Hobbit grew thin. I still wanted to read the book before the film came out in December of 2012, but that never happened. And I had all of 2013 to read it as well, but again, other works I wanted to read stole me away. Then I saw part two of The Hobbit and then began reading all the comments about what Jackson was doing to the book, how he was expanding it more for money than artistic merit.

Anyways, as I began to re-read the book, I noticed that the first movie –beyond the additional material- actually hews to the plot. Obviously the prologue Bilbo narrates is not in the book per se, but it goes a lot of ways to explaining plot points for the rest of the book. And yes Frodo is not in it as well, and yes, a lot of sequences in the book –like the encounter with the Trolls to name just a few (which happens around page 40 in the novel and takes place an hour into the film) - were expanded, but to be honest, I think it works better. As I read, I realized for the first time that Tolkien was very lite on explaining things (and its obvious as the popularity of the book grew and then the 16 years or so between the 1937 release of The Hobbit and the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, he became aware of some of the short comings within that prequel book and added a ton of material at the end of The Return of The King). And what Jackson expanded seems fairly logical (like actually showing us what Gandalf was up to during his missing times with Bilbo and the dwarfs) and actually makes the film –which eventually- will be seen as one massive one when adding The Lord of the Rings into it, make more sense. 

So the first movie essentially covers the first 111 pages of the novel (in its mass market form, but may be different depending on what format the book it that you have), while the second movie covers the next 110 pages or so. This is where a lot of the second movie deviates from the novel (though, in essence, it does follow it still, except the adventures in the book take scant pages). The whole Lake-town is hugely expanded, with Bard introduced much sooner in the film than the book.  And we are given an expanded view of the elves (along with the obvious inclusion of Legolas and the new character of Tauriel) with the Elvenking –as written in the book- given his full name of Thranduil (which Tolkien confirmed later in other writings). With the added sub-plot of Azog (mentioned briefly in the beginning of the novel and again towards the end) that was introduced in the first film and continued into the second film (which gave the whole barrel escape from the elves a bit more weight) I see where people might have issues with what Jackson is doing. 

But given that the Tolkien Estate was not pleased with LOTR and was not releasing any more work by the late author (The Silmarillion would’ve helped, as it contains the backstory to the earliest events of Middle-Earth that predate The Hobbit, but also contains bridging information between The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring) to any of the studios, what material that Jackson, Warner Bros., New Line Cinema and MGM did have and were not using was going to go to waste. And assuming that it’ll be a generation or more before anyone attempts to remake these films (depending on what film will look like 20 years or so down the line) by Jackson doing it this way you’ll have one tale, essentially, told through six films. And unlike George Lucas and his six Star Wars films, Jackson has made these prequels –despite being made ten years after the first trilogy- so they will weave together more uniformly. Maybe, somewhere down the line, people will always assume The Hobbit came first in the film series because it matches so seamlessly with The Lord of the Rings

So we know that most of the third film will expand the last 75 pages of the book with added material from the appendix’s featured at the end of The Return of the King book. The Battle of the Five Armies, which seemed to end as quickly as it began in the book, will probably be the greatly expanded (and I’ll be interested in seeing how the battle between the folks of Lake-town and Smaug is enhanced), even though I feel it contains an deus ex machina ending.

No comments: