Roads Go Ever Ever On
Something important is ending as we speak; the end of an era of not only entertainment, not just a story, but our invited cinematic access to a deep, rich and vivid world.
I’m talking about Middle Earth. I wouldn’t even necessarily say I’m talking about The Hobbit as a movie, or an adaptation, either. Rather, as the umbrella title given to what has turned out being an adventure deeper into Middle Earth. How is that a bad thing? How is this something people complain about, citing that three movies is a bad idea and that it’s all about the money.
Is it? Really? Was the first trilogy all about the money? Let’s just say if something is all about the money, generally a lesser budget is used, with fewer actors of good stock and talent. This was never all about the money. It was about the time being right to bring this charming little book to the big screen in a way that would be unforgettable. It’s about the passion. The entire team, not least of all Peter Jackson, demonstrates a fervent passion for the folklore Tolkien left us with. Why would we simply leave it sitting there, untouched and unexplored?
We shouldn’t and I’m pleased we didn’t. Well, we – they, the movie makers. The people who created this second foray into the magical and enchanting world Tolkien forged. And it is enchanting and magical and has been one hell of a journey since 2001 when The Fellowship of the Ring first transported us to Middle Earth. That’s a lot of years and though there has been a substantial gap between the end of The Lord of the Rings and the beginning of The Hobbit, it still combines as almost fifteen years of storytelling history.
That’s half of some people’s lives; that’s as long as some people have been reading fantasy. It’s a long time. I think people who can’t look past the lengthy and embellished adaptations are a little blinkered by scepticism. They’re not seeing what these adaptations are really about.
Firstly… So what if there are three films for one tiny, wee book? At least the characters are themselves and everyone at least attempts to follow the bones of the plot, unlike other paltry offerings of the last few years. When movie adaptations such as Divergent and City of Bones have slithered past critical attention, practically without notice for how terrible they were, it’s frustrating that – mainly because people are unfathomably irritated that there isn’t just a single movie – The Hobbit gets go much negative notice.
Furthermore, this modern adaptation of so old a book allows for one important thing: diversity. I’ll argue with anyone, first and foremost, who claims that make believe races are not elements of the diverse. They are not human. They are other. It doesn’t matter if they are fictional, they are still a different race and thus subject to any racism that would befall people of colour in the real world. Don’t tell me that the love between an elf and a dwarf is not diverse. It is. And it should be praised because it teaches that race is no obstacle. This is something that should be taught. Infinitely. Regularly.
Second, I find that inclusion of Legolas was a solid way in which to at least, in part, touch a YA audience with the familiar theme of parental rebellion. This is never a bad theme. Young adults need to be shown that parents cannot control every element of their lives and hearts. It doesn’t matter if Legolas is immortal. He is presented as being the son, the younger adult, in this instance, with his oddly doting yet remote father in the shape of Thranduil. Elves and emotions need to be approached from a slightly different angle than, say, the emotions of mortals, but if taken at face value, this just presents us with the reality of those who have trouble expressing how they feel, which is something that many young adults struggle with. There are several interesting themes within the trilogy as a whole that resonate well with a typical YA audience.
For someone who absolutely grew up in Middle Earth, the depictions of a world that only existed in dreams and imagination has been fantastic. That’s the other thing about this. These films have created a new window for younger readers to find fantasy. The Lord of the Rings is a very long, very imposing book that many younger fantasy fans might not feel able to approach. The films made that part of fantasy history accessible to them. And maybe they will find a path to the books eventually.
The Hobbit is no different. In fact, by virtue of being a far shorter book, targeted for the most part at younger readers, it is a perfect doorway into the fantasy world. It is also an excellent contrast to the grittier representations of fantasy, such as Game of Thrones, which some potential readers might infer is the norm of fantasy literature. It introduces the classic genre of epic fantasy. And this is so important.
A fascinating thing about Tolkien is that his work spans whole generations. There will be elderly people at the cinema, reliving pieces of their own childhoods they thought never to see in such clarity, sitting alongside younger readers such as myself, and even younger, who also grew up with The Hobbit as a part of their childhood.
There are very few worlds that can claim to span so many years, touching and engrossing so many people. Tolkien literally left behind a legacy, one that you can see and feel and touch. But maybe people haven’t stopped to think of the magic that is being brought to life. They’re too busy complaining that Legolas wasn’t in the book or that there was no love story between a dwarf and an elf. Well, consider that Legolas’ inclusion is an excellent way of linking both trilogies together, in a way that younger fans will be able to appreciate. A familiar character that stretches between both stories makes for an accessible way of understanding that The Hobbit is linked to The Lord of the Rings. And what’s the problem with that? The writers embellished, they took Tolkien’s world and let us see more of Middle Earth as a world. A+ for that.
As for the love story? Well, kudos for showing love between two different races, as we’ve already discussed. Three cheers for diversity; haters to the left, please.
If you consider The Hobbit as a direct adaptation, you’re going to be left wanting. But when did an adaptation ever stick entirely to a book? At least the plot endures. At least the characters are solid. Trust me, that’s a feat. I’m still not over the sham that was City of Bones.
The Hobbit is a feast for the senses, candy for the imagination. Seeing the world I grew up with on screen, one final time, was pure emotional magic. It’s not about being an adaptation, it’s not about a tiny wee book. It’s about magic. It’s about a mythology.
Nobody complains if a movie is made of yet another myth or fairy tale. That’s what Middle Earth is now: a mythology. A world rich in magic and story to be explored. There are games and role-playing websites and cosplayers and people who marry with Sindarin wedding vows. A thousand movies could be made of a thousand different stories, the lives of a thousand different characters. And this was just one of them. By presenting us with a long film, the writers were able to show far more character development and depth than the book ever did. The characters and world are examined, explored, and celebrated. How is that a bad thing?
Yes, perhaps with films such as The Deathly Hallows and Catching Fire (let’s not even talk about Breaking Dawn) there is absolutely no need for three or four films. But the difference between these and The Hobbit is so glaringly obvious. None of these books are set in a world that was created as a mythology. Simple. There is no mythology in these other books. There isn’t the same depth.
In addition, because Tolkien was focussed on building a world and driven by his own obsessions for lore and language to form and present his work in the way he did, elements such as character might have been neglected here and there. Certainly not all the characters are fleshed out. You might consider that the films are, in a sense, a partial retelling, a reimagining of the very base broth of The Hobbit. Fairy-tales and myths are given this treatment regularly enough.
You might not enjoy The Hobbit – but make sure it’s for the right reasons. That it wasn’t to your taste or that it didn’t work for you. But not because you’re inexplicably annoyed it exists at all.
It offers so much, gives so much. Imagines and suggests so much. From the fact that one small person, however diminutive, can alter the course of the world quite by accident, and still triumph in the end. The idea that everything is linked by threads of fate that span generations. Love between those taught to hate one another. Loyalty and friendship and redemption.
Most of these things are in the books, but on the big screen they are turned up to eleven. They come to life in a way that Tolkien’s prose held them back from, in a way that Tolkien’s era would never have considered.
There will always be terrible elements about any film franchise. Always. But in this, the final instalment of The Hobbit, as the credits role with beautiful illustrations and you glimpse the legion of people responsible for bringing such a dream to cinema, with Pippin singing “The Last Farewell”, there is emotion and hope and a heartfelt goodbye.
I sincerely hope more films are explored, more of Middle Earth imagined and brought to life. Because why stop here when there’s a wide, wide world out there, ready and waiting and rich and full? Why stop, when the stories are just there, within reach? Why stop, when the road goes ever on and on?