Rewriting Tolkien

There are allowances to be made for adaptations. One cannot translate a story from one medium to another with absolute fidelity, and sometimes changes are necessary. Some changes even improve how the story is expressed in the new form. I easily accepted most of the changes made for Peter Jackson’s original “Lord of the Rings” films because the tone and overall theme matched well with the books, and for the most part the plot, characters and places seemed like themselves. There were, of course, a few things that bothered me, but they did not overpower what I felt was right about the films.

Then came the first Hobbit movie. The beginning thrilled me. It seemed to have its own flavor, and one that meshed well with the book on which it was based. As the movie progressed, however, it moved farther and farther away from the source material, not only in plot, but in feel. Some changes I could forgive as easily as I did with LotR, but the gestalt was disappointing.

Today, I watched the trailer for The Desolation of Smaug. Before I say more, take the time to watch it yourself.

It is beautiful, and it resembles Tolkien’s The Hobbit as much as I resemble a pumpkin. I know I take Tolkien too seriously, but his writing is one of my greatest literary pleasures, and I was hoping to have the joy of a good adaptation of Bilbo’s story on top of what I feel was a good adaptation of Lord of the Rings.

It is time, now, to lay that hope to rest. “Lay her i’ the earth: And from her fair and unpolluted flesh May violets spring!” -Hamlet, Act V scene 1

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About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

22 responses to “Rewriting Tolkien

  • Brenton Dickieson

    It’s funny, I was going to blog this fall (after I see the 2nd film), about “Translating Tolkien.” You beat me to the punch.
    But do you think it is more like rewriting or more like translating? The word “interpretation” doesn’t help much. Just watch me do interpretive dance and you’ll never use the term again!

    • jubilare

      I didn’t intend to write this post, but after seeing the trailer, I had to get some of this off my chest. Normally I would reserve judgement until I have seen the film, but this is so unrecognizable that I can’t see how the film can resemble the book and still produce a trailer like this.

      “Interpretation” seems softer to me than “Translation.” That’s why I tend to use the former when talking about transferring a story from one form to another. Film adaptation seems less like trying to convey meaning word for word, and more about creating a similar theme and atmosphere in a completely different medium. To he honest, though, I didn’t think much about the wording of this post.
      Rewriting is more invasive and has a different intent. What this trailer says to me is “We don’t think Tolkien did a good job with this story, so we are going to take it in the direction we think it ought to go.” It also says “the original story was too homey, we want to film an epic.” Obviously, I am not amused… :|

      • Brenton Dickieson

        I’ve kind of given up and started to enjoy the bomb–and Peter Jackson’s interpretations! It makes life more fun!

        • jubilare

          I would be able to do that, but I have limits to how far someone can mess with Tolkien before I see red. It’s a character flaw, I know. The thing is, I’m not with most of the “purists” in my verdict on the LotR movies. I know where and how much it deviated from the source material, but it didn’t matter (save in a couple of instances) to me because the overall themes and the atmosphere of the films seemed right. I could let everything else go and enjoy. If I could change one thing from LotR, it would be Denethor.

          With the Hobbit, if I could change one thing I wouldn’t even know where to start. The theme and the atmosphere are both wrong already. My goal between now and December is to rearrange my expectations so that I can see the movie (which I will, I’m not horrified enough to be able to stay away) and enjoy it. I will try my best to forget that it is supposed to be based on anything Tolkien. ;)

          • Brenton Dickieson

            I’m sort of there too. I spent a few months being offended at the Trailer of the Hobbit, then got over it, saw the movie, and enjoyed it.
            Who said it first? IT’S A FAIRY TALE, NOT AN EPIC! The movie is too bright, too serious, too adventurous, and uncertain of its goal. I do like an epic, and will like the Hobbit as an epic. But it isn’t Tolkien’s little fairy tale.

          • jubilare

            No, indeed. The Hobbit is a Hobbit’s story, unlike Lord of the Rings which is a story of Middle Earth. Now I am feeling nostalgic. I need to find an audiobook copy of The Hobbit so I can listen to it while I do housework. :)

  • Mary

    I’ve come to realize that to wholly enjoy these movies I have to separate the two: there is Tolkien’s Tolkien and there is Jackson’s Tolkien. They merge at some points but they are very different in tone and style. I also think Jackson is too hung up on the idea of The Hobbit as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, which it is only in the smallest possible way. So Jackson is clearly trying to create an epic worthy if its successor. I don’t think the addition of the White Council material and the Necromancer really helps either.

    • jubilare

      I could forgive the White Council brouhaha if they had made even the attempt to capture the right tone for the rest of the film. Instead, as you say, they tried to make it an epic and in doing so have created a Frankensteinian thing from scraps of the LotR films and shadows of the characters and plot from The Hobbit.
      I want to separate the new Hobbit films from the book so that I can enjoy them, but that doesn’t comfort the sad little girl part of me that wants an actual adaptation of The Hobbit that is good. It seems that such a thing isn’t going to come any time soon. Maybe by the time Christmas comes around I will have learned to let it go.

  • Rob

    Let’s face it. The Hobbit was never meant to be a film trilogy.

  • Colleen

    I love you and your love of Tolkien.

  • Stephanie Orges

    ‘What this trailer says to me is “We don’t think Tolkien did a good job with this story, so we are going to take it in the direction we think it ought to go.”‘

    Exactly! I felt the same way about the first movie, and about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Both of these stories would have translated brilliantly to film as-is. I don’t understand the producers’ need to muck about with it. It’s even harder to make sense of why they did so well with LOTR and Wardrobe, but have gone so far downhill.

    The Hobbit for me felt simultaneously too epic and too childish. The story pursued drama over adventure and slapstick humor over…over…I don’t know, cozy wit?

    What really bothers me is not so much that they didn’t show the fans what we wanted to see. It’s what non-fans will think. “THIS is what they rave about? It’s cute, I guess, but it’s just not for me. Take the time to read the book? No thanks.”

    THAT fills me with great sadness.

    • jubilare

      Cozy wit is a good description for Tolkien’s tone in The Hobbit, I think.
      *sighs* yeah… I wouldn’t want to read the book represented by these films, and if someone did, they might dislike the real story because it was so unlike what they expected. Poor Bilbo. His tale deserves so much better than these Hollywood shenanigans.

  • L. Palmer

    My latest blog post was about this trailer.
    I love the book the Hobbit, and have read it several times myself. It would make a good, fun, light adventure. Part of the problem in adding an epicness to it that the original text lacks is that the goal of the dwarves is restoration of their homeland and wealth. It is not about the fate of the entire world. And then the adventures they do get into are drawn out and watered down by the desire to show every detail of this shiny version, and then add an even bigger action set piece.

    • jubilare

      Yes, exactly. I think, with Lord of the Rings, Jackson and his team got the point of the story. I think they’re floundering, lost, with The Hobbit because they are trying to milk it too much. It’s like trying to include so many shinies in decorating for Christmas that the tree is getting lost. :P

  • palecorbie

    I maintain that Sparkly Soviet Gandalf dwells in a far, far superior adaptation to this mess.

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