Mangling A Myth, Ctd

Readers sound off on the latest installment of The Lord of the Rings, picked apart by critics here:

Allow me to summarize: Peter Jackson 2013 = George Lucas 1999 (the year The Phantom Menace debuted). The only thing missing from the Hobbit films is a clearer analogue to JarJar Binks.


I figured out why the adaptation of The Hobbit has left such a bad taste in my mouth from the moment I learned that it would be expanded to a three-part epic. Put simply, The Lord of the Rings was Peter Jackson’s masterful homage to J.R.R. Tolkien and his works. The Hobbit is Peter Jackson’s masterful homage to Peter Jackson.


This can all be boiled down to a single word: Greed. Jackson is taking a single, not particularly long book and turning it into three movies because he can make three times as much money that way.  He HAS to change stuff, a lot of stuff, to stretch it out that much.  There simply isn’t enough material in the book to make three movies.  Even the stuff he is pulling from the LOTR appendixes to try to cover his money-grubbing ass was in the appendixes and not in a revised edition of The Hobbit for a reason – Tolkien thought they detracted from the tightness of the story of the Hobbit and/or distracted from the message he was trying to convey.

Another is much less critical:

This past fall, my son and I read The Hobbit out loud over about a month as our bedtime story. This past weekend, I took him and three of his friends to see latest installment of The Hobbit for his birthday. None of the other three children had read it prior and now they are ALL reading it with their parents. That seems like a big win to me.

Several Tolkien fans scrutinize the film versions at length:

As someone who knows the entire story of LOTR about as well as any “layman”, I have always understood that any attempt to visualize the series is not going to be verbatim, and I can accept that because moviemaking is simply a different way of telling a story. I recognize that Warner Brothers is more in the business of making money than making movies, so I understand why Legolas has such a huge presence in a film based on a book he was never mentioned in, after three films where his status was raised from being one of the Fellowship to a super-soldier capable of singlehandedly slaying an oliphaunt.

Some variations of the story I didn’t mind: no one would ever dare to film the chapters that include Tom Bombadil, for example. And I thought giving Arwen a larger role in LOTR was a good thing, she’s barely mentioned in the trilogy and only says a few lines near the end. You need to go to the appendices to get more background on her. Mostly I disliked making Gimli little more than comic relief in terms of characters. And if they want to make a movie where young girls can masturbate to Legolas, just cast him as the lead in a romantic action film and be done with it.

But as a moviegoer looking at the films as films and disregarding the casual disregard for the actual story, I think all five of the films (and yes I’ve seen them all, but once only – like watching a car crash) have been just awful. Far too long with far too much reliance on effects for the sake of effects, particularly all that damn slo-mo fighting. In Desolation of Smaug, the long, drawn out battle as the dwarves ride down the river towards Esgaroth was extremely annoying, never mind that no such event took place in the book. I kept saying to myself “Christ, get to the town already!” Frankly, Rankin-Bass did a better version of the story.

A scene from that version is above. Another reader:

Jackson’s Fellowship of the Rings trilogy was spectacular as filmmaking and wholly missed Tolkien’s point from the books. Tolkien starts and ends his story with small unassuming hobbits – gardeners with woolly feet – who till the earth they live in and are quite afraid of anything non-Shire. They are not supposed to be heroes, unlike Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, etc. But it is to the hobbits Tolkien assigns the hero’s quest – leaving their homes, facing obstacles seemingly beyond their measure, enduring hardships, and then returning. And it is the last part, the return, that Jackson misses entirely, and thus misses Tolkien’s point. When the hobbits arrive home, their home too has been ravaged. The outside world has reached in and destroyed their previously inviolable, safe and secluded part of the world. They must take what they have learned and fix their own homes, their own community, their own land. They have to drive out Sauroman and his henchmen. Jackson eschews (or simply misses) this and instead focuses on the parallel story line of Aragorn, essentially finishing up the movie with his coronation. Tolkien drives his point home by slowly peeling off the members of the fellowship as the hobbits return home, until they are alone, just the four. And then the razing of the shire ensues. Tolkien is reminding us that we need to “tend our own gardens” too.

As an aside, I was heartened, thinking that Jackson had understood this point, when during the Galadriel’s mirror scene Jackson depicts the Shire being burned down. I thought at the time he would then finish the trilogy both in keeping with Tolkien’s writing, and more importantly, with his meaning. He of course didn’t. The hobbits come home and all is well except Frodo has to look winsomely off a ship as a he sails away into a gossamer sunset and the other hobbits return home to the imperturbable Shire. Crapity crap crap. Jackson’s trilogy has no moral compass, only a series of arduous tasks demanding incredible endurance. (Did I mention I liked it as a movie though?)


Well of course Jackson’s approach to the Hobbit mangles it! All you need to do to understand why that’s so is read it with the eyes of an adult. Immediately it’s very apparent that The Hobbit was specifically written as a fairy tale, a myth specifically written for children. What Tolkien really wanted to publish was parts of what his son ultimately collected and published in his late father’s name as The Silmarillion, but no publishing house would consider the idea when he proposed it because no one had ever published such a work before and so there was no way to know if there was a market for such a book. One publisher was willing to publish a children’s story if he’d write one, so he reluctantly did so and named it “The Hobbit”. If I recall correctly, it had a sufficiently successful reception for the publisher to ask him to write a sequel. Tolkien began the sequel truly as a follow-up children’s story to The Hobbit, but as he went along the story that came out of his fingers became less and less a children’s story, and more and more a part of his beloved Silmarillion. That’s why the first third to a half of The Fellowship of the Ring clearly reads as “a children’s story”, but after that it reads more like a saga.

Where Jackson goes wrong in honoring Tolkien’s work is he’s taking that children’s story and treating it as though it was every bit as much of a saga as The Lord of the Rings. (If he has any sense he won’t ever try to make a movie of The Silmarillion! It’s just too much for a movie. You could easily make several different, unconnected movies from its material.)

One more:

I won’t wade into the debate directly, but anyone who thinks Tolkien’s original Hobbit required additions in order to become great drama really should listen to Nicol Williamson’s 1974 audio version (click on “VBR ZIP” to download all the MP3 files in one fell swoop – and be patient, it takes a few minutes.) The recording doesn’t want for excitement; it doesn’t add anything, and in fact takes a great deal away, necessary to limit the recording to four hours’ length; but it retains all the subtle shadings of the characters, and the story’s essential emotional heart, which is the feeling of being small and scared in a big, scary world – and facing those fears. That’s something Jackson never, ever gives a thought to.

Plus, take it from experience, this is the best road-trip story for kids: it guarantees four hours of rapt silence in the back seat … though parents will be surprised to find themselves hanging on every word, too.