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In Defense of Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy: A closer look at the adaptations that have divided fans around the globe

In Defense of Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy:
A closer look at the adaptations that have divided fans around the globe
by John Evans

Peter Jackson

When Tolkien published The Hobbit during the thirties, he had no clue where his writings would take him. Even when his children’s book became a world classic, his heart predominantly thrived in the older, more linguistic works that comprised the history of Middle Earth. By creating The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was compelled to bring his children’s book adventure-story into the larger drama roughly outlined in The Silmarillion. While this only served to deepen The Hobbit’s importance it also entailed a considerable amount of revision. Bilbo’s interaction with Gollum had to be altered, and Tolkien actually attempted to write an alternative version of the entire book before his friends convinced him not to. Unfinished Tales and the Appendices offer even more context for Bilbo’s adventure. Therefore, is it any wonder why Jackson took so many liberties as he did? For an audience used to the grand scale of The Lord of the Rings he had to sacrifice some of the published Hobbit’s simplicity to convey the context for Thorin’s quest and the larger ramifications it entails. Certainly some of Radagast’s hysterics and Azog’s overbearing wrath could have been trimmed down in places. But one has to look at the movies from Jackson’s perspective. He had to appease both readers and film-fans alike. When The Fellowship of the Ring hit theaters, nobody knew how audiences would react. The Lord of the Rings film trilogy certainly preserved more of Tolkien’s poetic language and iconic themes. The Hobbit often takes a different approach in bringing Tolkien’s masterpiece to the screen.

Jackson is now releasing these films to a much wider audience of film fans as well as avid readers. For better or for worse, people’s attention spans are growing more and more limited. A population that would sit through a three hour epic ten years ago has given way to a whole new generation of individuals hooked on short video clips available on the internet. Therefore, to hold viewers’ interest, Jackson is compelled to use action to mold the framework of Tolkien’s story. Instead of the Dwarves bumbling about for pages before reaching The Last Homely House, he inserts Azog to pursue them. Similarly in The Desolation of Smaug, the Dwarves escape from Thranduil’s halls is adapted into a skirmish in which Kili is wounded with a “Morgul Arrow.” On the surface these deviations from the source materiel seem rather pointless and distracting. Gandalf doesn’t need to literally battle Sauron. The audience already knows the enemy is returning. By revealing the enemy in person, some of the dark mystery is lost. The Black Arrow didn’t need to be a giant lance, and Bard could have been fleshed out a little more. But the audience has the luxury of pointing out the errors after the film is made whereas Jackson is left with the monumental task of taking one of the most beloved books in literary history to the big-screen.


Many other directors could have made things far worse. All the Dwarves have a personality. We finally saw the moment in which Bilbo’s sword, Sting, earns its fateful name. We were able to descend into the cavernous depths of The Lonely Mountain and hear the dragon’s voice. If it wasn’t for Jackson, none of these precious moments would have been possible. If it wasn’t for Jackson, fans would still be left only with the cartoon to complain about. At the end of the day I can only speak for myself and I am sure there are millions who would disagree with me. But I’d rather have these beautiful movies on my shelf than wonder what could have been if they were made. As these films have been fortunately created, I believe fans should approach them with an open heart and an open mind. Jackson’s work may not be The Hobbit we all know and love, but it is certainly a magnificent adaptation nonetheless.

About the Author:
John Evans is an avid student of Medieval Literature and the writings of J.R.R Tolkien. He is a member of Doctor Cory Olsen’s Silmarillion Seminar and has been a proud supporter of Legendarium and the Mythgard institute. Along with these interests, he is the founder of the folk rock band Wrecked Haven, an amateur political theorist, and life-long writer of prose and poetry.

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  1. Jason Alan - PHATE

    Beautifully put John. I agree with the vast majority of what you’re saying. The biggest point being that Tolkien himself, by the time The Lord of the Rings came out, would have interpreted the Hobbit even more differently than he ended up doing, in such a way to tie it closer together with Rings. I’m fine with Jackson more obviously planting the seeds of Sauron’s ascension in the movies, too, and thought the scenes at Rivendell were beautiful, as well as giving a glimpse of what was to come. It was interesting that a “weaker” Gandalf took the signs more seriously than his noble counterparts, elvish or otherwise. There’s some deviations that leave me head scratching, some story decisions in the movies that I felt might have been unnecessary, (I thought it would have been neat to see Aragorn wielding the broken sword from the beginning, but I suppose I understand the dramatic decision to give it to him in the return of the king) but overall, in the grand scheme of things, we’re very lucky to have gotten these movies made, and for them to so richly capture the sights, sounds, and general atmosphere of Tolkien’s work. For my part, I just enjoy the heck out of em….

  2. Agreed. Despite my inner voice crying out “why?” as to many things that were altered and added to make this into a trilogy, I was still there at the midnight showing on Thursday. I still wandered home at 325am. I would rather have them on the big screen than have nothing to see at all. I was furious to see Legolas in the previews…but, the parts and action scenes he was in were worth every second. Elvish/Dwarvish romance….ugh…but I suppose out on set, for months and years…umm..anything can happen? Still worth the humor and fun of the story…anyway you cut it.


  3. I agree with this article. I have my quibbles with certain aspects of the films but all in all I trusted Peter Jackson from the beginning to deliver and he did. I love Jackson’s interpretations of Tolkien’s work. It’s a great way for non-Tolkien fans to understand the man’s work and connect with his stories. All we had before were cheesy, animated films that only served to damage Tolkien’s reputation as a writer in the eyes of the uninitiated, in my opinion. I know people who saw parts of those films and thought something was seriously wrong with me for liking his books.

    Now that some of these same people have seen Peter Jackson’s films, they finally get it. Peter Jackson has done what most other directors could not and did not want to do – make this work accessible to many. For those that want real Tolkien – there are always the books and nothing replaces those.

    • Jason Alan - PHATE

      Did anyone notice, though, the similarities in Jackson’s Fellowship to the Ralph Bakshi 80-81 version?? I swear the scene when Frodo first sees a dark rider outside of the Shire, it’s nearly identical to the one in the cartoon version, eerily so. There were a couple other shots I thought, man, that’s directly from Ralph’s version! Ha, I’m not accusing Jackson of “stealing” scenes, he had all the firepower to make his anyway he wanted and did a tremendous job, but there’s a couple scenes that look exaaaaactly the same…

  4. The Bakshi movie was fun. I loved it at the time. It never caught on because I would guess in between the time he optioned it and got started and the time it hit theatres, the hippy zeitgeist of the early 70s had given way to disco and Reagan and nobody wanted myth and legend. The mainstreaming of fantasy with DnD changed all that and people eat up Tolkien now- and not just the history and RPG people.

  5. I agree wholly with this article. I loved the movies dearly, for all their faults. It was such a joy to see my favorite characters brought to flesh through Peter Jackson’s vision. Smaug was the most beautiful CGI creature I have ever witnessed in a movie. And although there were many things the film could have done without (the ridiculous romance between Kili and Tauriel comes to mind), I will take these films any day over the cartoon. For many years, I waited with bated breath for these movies to be made, fearing that they would never come to the silver screen as the director’s chair bounced between Jackson and Del Toro. I’m glad it was Jackson who finished it. He gave the story his heart and soul, and I appreciate everything he and the entire Hobbit crew gave us.

  6. Here’s what I think, and know I haven’t seen the newest Hobbit film yet.

    Adaptations are one thing. The Hobbit, in my mind, has not been a good adaptation from the get go. It’s not because PJ changes things. It’s not because there are characters and other parts that are drastically different than the books. The reason why I have not enjoyed The Hobbit like I did the original three movies is simply: they don’t feel Tolkienian.

    The Lord of the Rings movies all have changes to the story. Faramir’s decision to take Frodo and Sam almost to his father is a major change from the story. Faramir was one of the few who *never* desired the Ring, and yet they changed his story to essentially become “Boromir 2.” In the end, Faramir’s character does what his character in the movie did — let Frodo go. The change didn’t alter or change the course of the overall story. It didn’t influence the story more than just fleshing out movie #2. All of the changes made didn’t make the movie *feel* different and they kept true to the spirit of the books. The Hobbit has not done this.

    In The Hobbit, the titular character feels almost secondary to everything else. This is a book about Bilbo’s journey, yet he almost feels like a background character. The changes made to the story seem to influence the outcome of certain events. I don’t care about the love scenes or the fact the Dwarves look pretty much like nothing Tolkien described them as; my gripe has always been that this doesn’t feel like the adventure story we all grew up reading. The changes to the mood and feel will influence those who decide to read the story after watching the movie to be turned off from Tolkien’s original work, because they are NOTHING alike. With The Lord of the Rings, when I read the books after seeing the movie, I could see the changes, but I felt as though the spirit of the book was there. Changes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. If the movie was made verbatim to the book, it likely wouldn’t be any good. But to create whole themes, scenes and, yes I’ll say it, characters that aren’t present in the books and then give that character a story altering role, you make the adaptation of the story less viable.

    The Hobbit films by themselves are great movies. They are not the adaptations everyone is pegging them to be, however. And as a result, a new generation of Tolkien fans might suffer in the end.