Saturday, July 21, 2012

Musings on Tolkien: The Hobbit Movie and How I Would Do It

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies are excellent, and it seemed like only a matter of time before he directed a movie version of The Hobbit.  However, there are some problems with the source material that make it difficult to just jump right into The Hobbit with the same vim and verve as the Lord of the Rings movies.  For one, the books are very different.  The Hobbit is a children's book; a faerie story with a light-hearted tone, plenty of humor, and songs that help carry the plot.  (You could even argue that The Hobbit is a musical in book form.)  The Lord of the Rings by contrast, is a much more serious and darker book with a more adult audience in mind and is considered the first modern fantasy novel.  By going back and doing The Hobbit second as a prequel, the difference in tone and content between the books causes a serious problem.  If Peter Jackson goes with the epic qualities of his Lord of the Rings movies, it can come across as a betrayal of the source material.  However, if he treats The Hobbit like the children's book it is, he'll end up with a movie that is out of step with the ones he's already made.  And that doesn't even take into account how Tolkien's concept of the One Ring changed: in The Hobbit it's just Bilbo's magic ring while in The Lord of the Rings it's the most powerful instrument of evil in Middle Earth.  These are problems that Peter Jackson is going to have to work out and I'm sure he'll do a fine job.  But this is how I would tackle the problem.


Sam Gamgee settles down in his armchair to smoke his evening pipe.  His children crowd around him.

ELANOR: Daddy!  Tell us a story!

SAM: Would you like to hear the story about how Mister Frodo and I journeyed to Mordor to destroy the Ring?

ROSE: You always tell us that one!

GOLDILOCKS: Tell us a different story!

SAM: Well, have I ever told you the story of how Old Mister Bilbo went on an adventure and found the Ring?

HAMFAST: No you haven't.

DAISY: Tell us that one, Daddy!

Sam picks up a large red book and opens it to the first pages.

SAM: (reading) In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit...



Bilbo Baggins sits on the front porch of Bag End, blowing smoke rings.

This opening scene serves multiple purposes.  It ties The Hobbit in with The Lord of the Rings, establishing this as a prequel.  But since it is framed as Sam telling the story to his kids, it allows for The Hobbit to be more of a children's movie.  The book takes a very pro-Bilbo stance, treating the Thorin and Company as a bumbling band of misfits.  If Sam were narrating the movie, it would only make sense for him to build up Bilbo as one of the most famousest of hobbits and the only one with any real amount of common sense.  The narrator of The Hobbit has several good lines and making Sam the narrator would help get those lines into the movie.  And it could also provide a means to address some of the inconsistencies between the books as the children could interrupt Sam's story on several occasions, much like Fred Savage does in The Princess Bride.  Sam could then provide an explanation for the differences, he could essentially say, "Shut up.  I'm telling a story," or he could even say, "That's how Mister Bilbo wrote it and so that's how I'm telling it," which would be a sly way of shoving the blame back on Tolkien.  And I think Tolkien would approve of this approach because he was obsessed with framing narratives.  Of course I would have to restrain myself from inserting a scene right after the "Tra-la-la-lally" song in which one of the kids asks, "Is this a singing book?"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Top 5 First Lines

It's been a while since I've done a top 5 list, so I decided to dust it off and give it another go.  These are my five favorite opening lines from the books and short stories that I've read.  I've probably forgotten something brilliant from Dr. Seuss or another semi-forgotten children's author, but these are the five that came most readily to mind.  In chronological order:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The Bible

Marley was dead: to begin with.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

William Shakespeare, later known as the Beard of Avon, was born in 1564, on April 21, 22, or 23, and all his life kept people guessing.
Twisted Tales from Shakespeare by Richard Armour

Feel free to psychoanalyze me in the comments section for what my choices say about my deepest fears or other nonsense.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Musings on Tolkien: Mingling

Most of the time in Tolkien's works, the Free Peoples of Middle Earth keep to themselves.  Elves hang out with Elves, Men with Men, and Dwarves ignoring as much of the rest of the world as possible.  But every so often there are instances of different people groups mingling with each other, and this is always a Good Thing.

Gondolin was the greatest of the cities of the Elves.  One of the marks of its greatness was that in was inhabited by both Noldor and Sindar.  And when Hurin and Huor, and later Tuor, came to Gondolin, they were treated as valuable members of the community, even though they were Men.  At the Gates of Moria, Gandalf wistfully recalls a happier time when the Elves of Hollin were in close friendship with the Dwarves of Moria.  At the beginning of the Hobbit it tells of a time when the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the Men of Dale lived in close friendship before Smaug laid waste to the countryside.  And by the end of the book, that friendship has been reformed with the added close allies of the Elves of Mirkwood.

All the great love stories of Middle Earth are romances between the races: Thingol and Melian, Beren and Luthien, Tuor and Idril, Aragorn and Arwen.  And one of the great relationships of The Lord of the Rings is the friendship between Gimli and Legolas.

But the best example of mingling is embodied in the Silmarils.  The Trees of Valinor were among the greatest of the works of the Ainur, and Yavanna's masterpiece.  But they were at their most beautiful when the golden light of Laurelin and the silver light of Telpirion mingled.  Feanor, the greatest craftsman of the Elves, captured the mingled light of the trees in his Silmarils, the greatest work of craftsmanship by the Elves.  After Beren recovers one of the Silmarils and delivers it to Thingol, Thingol takes the Silmaril and has it set inside the Nauglamir, the Necklace of the Dwarves, the greatest work of Dwarven craftsmanship.  So we have the greatest of the works of the Ainur encased in the greatest of the works of the Elves, encased in the greatest of the works of the Dwarves.  And it is possibly even more beautiful when worn by Luthien, the daughter of an Elf and an Ainu, married to a Man.  And when that exact Silmaril is delivered to Valinor which sets off a chain reaction that ends with the final destruction of Morgoth, it is delivered by Earendil, the son of Tuor and Idril, and his wife Elwing, the granddaughter of Beren and Luthien.