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