Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fear of Hobbits

A most turbulent weekend I have had, though it has nearly all been spent chained to my desk: it is of the turbulence of words that I speak. Yesterday, I read The Tower of Beowulf for a good deal of the day, interrupted by fifty pages from The Book of Margery Kempe and the watching of the 1977 animated The Hobbit. This morning, I read the last twenty-four pages of The Book of Margery Kempe, following with some extra material for and the first third of the text of Peter Pan, then the last section of The Tower of Beowulf. After taking a break just now, I will return to read as much of Dracula as I can--I have only read seventy pages of it, but need to have it finished by Tuesday. Having so many intersecting stories is very emotionally draining--I don't know how English Lit. majors aren't any stranger than we already are.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I was spurred on by that 1977 movie to put into words what are my fears or concerns about the upcoming two-part version of The Hobbit by Peter Jackson.

You see, I have never had an over-abundant love for The Hobbit; it is in The Lord of the Rings that my true liking lies, and so I have never spent as much time in the pages of The Hobbit. But this semester, I read the annotated version of the book (for the same class that I watched the movie, of course). That was an absolutely great experience, highly recommended for Tolkien admirers. The brief study of this book also made me appreciate certain elements in it, like its heavy Anglo-Saxon inspiration. Now my concerns about the movie are still there, but perhaps different than before.

Before, I was filled with opposing things. The Hobbit has a definite "children's story feel" at most times, and I had trouble seeing this translate onscreen. I worried to see just a water-down Lord of the Rings landscape that didn't stand well as much on its own. But then I also thought that maybe an adaptation that drifted from the book would also drift from what I found less interesting in the book. Maybe, in other words, if it was not so much like the book, I would like the movie more.

I also had (and still have) concern over the two movie thing. There is such a trend of Part 1/Part 2's going on right now. The first installment of them with Deathly Hallows showed to me what can be problematic in this splitting. The first movie of that pair felt, to me, like it was lacking something; the second was mostly just one big finale. That doesn't mean they were terrible; it just means that their stand-alone, withstanding-time, rewatchability value changes. I have become convinced that the similar splitting of Breaking Dawn will not be the best thing, either.

I'd like to say the same for The Hobbit. HOWEVER, I have finally noticed that there is a definite change in tone halfway through this book. . . this will perhaps lend itself to the two-part format. But still, how will that work? Will we have a slight "children's story feel" Part 1 and a hearkening to The Lord of the Rings Part 2? Will the movies be very different or simply continuations of each other?

The Hobbit is, after all, probably very hard to adapt, as most good children's stories tend to be, in fact. There are so many balances to get right. I admit that I shuddered during most of the 1977 movie. Bilbo's eyes were disturbingly too large, the wood elves looked like some strange cross between apes and bugs (not to mention the king's constantly changing accent), and the music all sounded like the same seventies lilt, despite the setting. I say with a sigh (and I may have to force myself to remember this later) that whatever I end up thinking about it, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit should be the best adaptation so far. At least it should do justice to the original, treat it with some respect and understanding.

But the more appreciation I gain for the original book, the more I fear that it can never appear onscreen in quite the same way that it does on page.

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