And the Jackson saga goes on and on… Here is the trailer for “the defining chapter of the Middle-earth saga” (so they say):
Of course, the internet goes kind of crazy when anything like that is released. Half of the web is boiling with frenzy over how cute Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lily are and how the writer is dying to see the film.
The other half is seething with anger over how awful these films are, “nothing like the books,” Tolkien would roll over in his grave, etc., etc. Witness this quote from a Huffington Post article:
The spirit of the book has been almost entirely lost and replaced by a movie that looks as if it was made to spin off theme park rides and videogame derivatives rather than to tell the story as written in the beloved children’s classic. Unlike The Lord of the Rings film trilogy that largely succeeded in maintaining the spirit and details of the books, The Hobbit departs so far from the text that is has little to nothing to do with the original.
A colleague of mine (whom I respect very much) posted on facebook: “I think there were three, maybe four, moments in that preview that may have resembled scenes in Tolkien’s book. Maybe.”
JRRT’s son Christopher hates the movies. Hates them. In an interview with Le Monde, he said:
Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time. The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.
That is a lot of negativism!
What both groups seem to miss is the nature of Peter Jackson’s LOTR and Hobbit films as ADAPTATION. The first group, the drunken-fangirl posse, appears not to consider the the source texts and their complex relationship to the films. The second seems not to consider the film’s complex relationship to the source texts.
We should take two steps before evaluating the Hobbit films (or any other page-to-screen adaptations):
1) We should think about the nature of adaptation itself. How is it done? What does it do to both the original and the derived product? What inevitable changes occur in the process? To do this, I recommend reading A Theory of Adaptation by Linda Hutcheon. Think about what can be done in writing that cannot be done in a movie. Think about what can be done in a movie that cannot be done on the page.
2) We should be more aware of the vital history of adaptation. Ponder this for a moment: almost all the great “classic” works of European literature are adaptations. (If you click here, you’ll get an excellent lecture about The Hobbit and adaptation by Dr. Corey Olsen.) Virgil riffed off of Homer. Dante riffed off of Virgil. Chaucer adapted Boccaccio. Shakespeare adapted Boccaccio. Shakespeare adapted Chaucer. Shakespeare adapted Geoffrey of Monmouth. Shakespeare adapted Plutarch’s Lives, and Saxo Grammaticus, and Edmund Spenser and …. Tom Stoppard adapted Shakespeare. And so on.
Think about the Arthurian legends, those endlessly adapted and adapting tales. There is no source, and they just keep conforming themselves to the new times and places in which they are told.
And then let’s think about Charles Williams.
Charles Williams was an excellent adapter. Outlines of Romantic Theology and The Figure of Beatrice adapt one of Dante’s central ideas. A Myth of Shakespeare is some pretty hard-core fan-fiction, including huge chunks of texts quoted straight from the plays. Heroes and Kings adapts tales of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and of Lilith.
And then, of course, there’s the Arthurian material. From 1912 until his death in 1945, Williams mashed up Arthurian characters, plot elements, themes, and symbols in glorious proliferation. Starting with the Arthurian Commonplace Book and ending with the great final volumes of poetry, Taliessin Through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars, CW read, studied, imitated, modified, appropriated, and lived into the Matter of Britain until he gave his family and friends mythic names and tried to make everyone around him act out the story in their daily lives.
Then he met C. S. Lewis, who then dropped Merlin into his Ransom cycle (under CW’s influence), and J.R.R. Tolkien, who gave up ever finishing his Fall of Arthur (probably under CW’s poetic eight). Tolkien went on to write The Lord of the Rings instead, with its significant elements of chivalry and sacramental quest.
And then Peter Jackson came along and continued the endless project. The Hobbit films are only today’s episode in the never-ending [Arthurian] story. Enjoy them, analyze them, critique them, but above all: read Tolkien.