Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Book/Film Review - The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and Peter Jackson

The Hobbit or there and back again by J.R.R. Tolkien

(many editions extant)

The third instalment of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy has just been released, and though I haven't yet seen it, the stories I've heard of it, and my view of the first two films, have led me to revisit the book.
All of Jackson's Tolkien films have focused more on the swordplay than the singing, and while they are fine films in themselves, they are not a complete version of Tolkien’s vision. Whole sections of the Lord of the Rings were missing from the film version – Tom Bombadil anyone?

 After seeing the first two instalments of the Hobbit, and remembering my reading of the book decades ago, I felt that Jackson had wilfully mangled the story to create his Hollywood Blockbuster. He has, but not in the way I had thought. While Jackson has merged and muddled some of the action in the Hobbit, his major mangling of the story concerns its focus. The Hobbit films has become a story about Thorin Oakenshield rather than Bilbo Baggins. In the book Bilbo quickly gains the respect of the Dwarves, and in many ways becomes the leader of the expedition, with Thorin only showing glimpses of the heroism he shows in the movie (The whole Azog storyline from the film, which sets Thorin up as the King, is invented by Jackson).

 The mood of the book is ignored by the film: the book was of course initially written for children, but the “little England” feel to the writing and the gentle nature of much of the action is totally lost in the film version.

 Jackson has also been very conscious of setting up these Hobbit films as precursors to the Ring Trilogy – while Bilbo does discover the ring in The Hobbit, Tolkien does little to set up his future book (in fact I think he hadn’t yet considered publishing more about Middle Earth when the Hobbit was written). So Jackson expands on the brief mentions of the Necromancer and Radagast in the novel to help set up the rise of Sauron for The Lord of the Rings.

 Tolkien is not by any stretch of the imagination a great writer – he certainly has imagined a magnificent world, but his writing can be stilted and shallow – at times the reader can see what Tolkien wants to express, but his writing can be clumsy. The film fares better in this regard as there is no need to describe scenery or action, although Jackson has inserted some Hollywood schmaltz, mostly in Gandalf’s lines (viz “true courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.” et. al.). If you’ve done a binge-watch of the movies, it’s worth heading back to the book, as I did, to find a more relaxed, less supercharged version of Middle-Earth.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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