I’m one of those rare birds who hadn’t read Tolkien’s The Hobbit, during my misspent youth. But after having seen Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy, and LOVING it, I decided to go back and check out the book that started it all. The result I’m sad to say, was less than thrilling.
Look, I get that for many of you, there’s a nostalgic factor when it comes to this novel, and some of you may even have enjoyed it with your very own children. But for me, The Hobbit was a chore to get through, not because it was difficult, but because it was clumsy, and frankly a bit convoluted.
In all honesty, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit does a superior job of telling the story of Bilbo Baggins, far better than the book does. First off, Jackson creates a cohesive story, with tons of tension, and a whole boatload of characters that we are emotionally invested in. On top of all that, he brings the film full circle, ending his Hobbit trilogy where The Lord of the Rings begins —it was sheer brilliance.
The book, on the other hand, lacks an emotional connection to any of its characters; the antagonists are adversaries that I didn’t really love or hate; I just felt indifferent toward them. And it shouldn’t have been this way, considering this is a story that includes a giant dragon, and beastly creatures like the Orks. And as far as Bilbo is concerned, in Tolkien’s tale he is wholly uninteresting. This wonderful protagonist in the movie, is almost lost in the minutia of a book that uses a lot of words, and still doesn’t tell an effective story.
If there is no tension, or nothing to overcome, whether large or small, what you’ve got is a story with no meat, nothing to sink your teeth into. When I was finished with The Hobbit, it left me wanting so much more. In fact, after I turned that final page, all I wanted to do was watch the movies again.
In the film we cared about Bilbo, the dwarves, the people of Lake Town, the elves, and appropriately hated the evil that came amongst them. These characters had depth, and were three dimensional beings who spoke to us. The most disappointing thing for me in the book, was when Thorin died. That loss should’ve been as heartbreaking as it was in the film, but it wasn’t because I never got to know Thorin in any personal way. His death was just the result of the battle —the end. By this point in the book, I just didn’t care any longer. And that’s too bad, because this is a wonderful story, and Peter Jackson was able to flesh it out in a way that made me love it, in spite of the book.
This isn’t a knock on Tolkien as a writer, it’s obvious that dude had some mad skills, but his book is a children’s book; and Jackson’s film is for adults who loved the story as a child. So of course the characterizations in the book would be watered down, the story not as fleshed out, and the reason Peter Jackson’s film wasn’t simply a re-tread of the book.
Now, I know you might think I’m being too hard on this beloved book, and maybe I am, but that’s because my expectations were very high. I heard so many good things about the novel, listened to the gripes and complaints from readers of the book who were furious with Peter Jackson for not making his film exactly like Tolkien’s original story. These were things I didn’t hear from those same folks who read the Lord of the Ring series, and loved those films. So I thought, this book would be the most masterful piece of writing ever, and Jackson just blew it.
Well it isn’t, and he didn’t.
If The Hobbit is one of those books you love, great, because Peter Jackson does as well. But he was able to take his love for the story and make it even better; a rare feat for a film. So you picky Tolkien fans, get over the fact that it didn’t follow the book exactly, that Azog died long before he does in the film, and that there was no specific Tauriel character. Those are minimal changes that in no real definitive way changes the story you loved as a child.
I think as time goes by, people will analyze the Jackson movies more objectively, and will see that The Hobbit films are perfect examples of great movie making.
Go on, watch The Hobbit again, I dare ya. But this time watch without the cloud of nostalgia hanging overhead. Watch them and remember that books bring out the imagination of the reader in a uniquely personal way that movies can’t. No two people will see the same story in the same way.
That’s the beauty of art, it’s subjective. We take it in though our own experiences and filters, and apply our own personal meaning to it. So give Mr. Jackson a break please, he is an obvious lover of the Tolkien story, he simply meshed the author’s vision with his own, and in my opinion the results are masterful.
And that’s how it’s done in the Shire.
~Welcome to a monthly look at the art of creative writing from all kinds of mediums: Books, music, movies, television, and anything else I can think of. If you have any ideas please feel free to offer them in the comments below. I hope you find it helpful as well as entertaining ~AN