The Desolation of the Hobbit: Why it should matter (to some of us)
Posted by Brian
Greetings all! It’s good to be back, blogging for LHP, after almost a year’s absence!
With Don giving his belated two-cents worth on the newest Hobbit movie, I thought I might add mine. Its detractors moan and bewail the many, massive changes that have been made and the movie’s defenders moan and sigh (dramatically, I might add) over the fact that there are still people out there who want to moan and bewail it in the first place. Should the changes to the movie matter to us? In my opinion, they should, particularly to anyone who calls him or herself an author.
First, let’s get the nonsense out of the way. Would I say what I am about to say about any and all changes that could be made? Certainly not. It is beyond well-established with all but the most radical Middle Earthers than there will be some changes–perhaps even some we don’t like but grudgingly acknowledge. I do not have an unreachably high standard. (At least, I don’t like to think I do, though those who disagree with me on the movie will undoubtedly disagree with me on that point too.) Next, am I implying that because we might have serious problems with the movie, we should boycott it, ostracize those who see it, and picket Peter Jackson’s mansion in the hopes of saving the third installment? Again, a resounding “no.” I don’t have to change Jackson’s mind (or yours) in order to have my own justifiable opinion. Further, I can watch and enjoy the movie for what it is while potently stating what it isn’t.
Back on point: As an author (albeit of a very different caliber than Tolkien), I know what I want to happen to my own creations and what I want them to mean to people. I want them to be real, as worlds and as characters. I want to know that my stories matter, first and foremost to the specific people to whom they are written, but also to anyone else who sees them. I know that some people will dislike them, hate them, or belittle them (and that I usually have something to learn from that), but as they go forward I want them to remain my creations. I want them to retain the essential part of themselves that I gave them and, in any reasonable opinion, makes them them. I’m not angry (only a little jealous) when other people who are better than me take the same elements that I’ve worked with and do something more interesting with them. I would mind someone taking my creations and fundamentally altering them into something different to tell someone else’s story.
That is what I’m afraid has happened with Jackson and The Hobbit. While I don’t intend to get into the weeds here since others have already in far greater detail, we’ve passed beyond the point where we have Jackson telling Tolkien’s story to where Jackson is mainly using Tolkien’s creations as crutches for his own. At some point (it’s hard to say where and when) the story ceased to be Tolkien’s and became Jackson’s. It was bad in Lord of the Rings (Faramir, anyone?) but with the last installment of the Hobbit it has become egregiously so, with Bilbo becoming a supporting character in his own story. This bothers me, not because I am a Tolkien fanatic but because I am an author, and I want to extend to Tolkien the same respect I would want to see given to my own work. Frankly, it would seem hypocritical of me to do otherwise.
I think this is also an issue that Christians should consider–though I don’t think it a major spiritual problem by any stretch of the imagination. We are children of the Book, and we worship the Author of the Universe. Through our respect for scripture, we absorb a respect for authorial intent that much of the rest of the world finds confounding. Postmodernists and others deny it exists; we stand firmly by it, in its absolute form in regards to the Bible and through principle to other authors who worship the Author by emulation (however unintentional). How seriously should we take the redefinition of an author’s story to mean something else completely? Where do we draw the line?
All of this of course is made more sad by the fact that it was, overall, an enjoyable movie for what it was. Jackson could have taken his story, made it entirely original, and left his own mark on the world. As it stands, he will be remembered as the man who vulgarized Tolkien.
So–and this is just my humble opinion–enjoy the movie, the visuals, the music, the acting, etc. All the while, keep in mind our respect for the author and judge accordingly when the subject comes up. If perhaps you get the chance to one day write your own book or movie, you’ll think of Jackson and know better how to either give the author the respect he/she is due, or let your own originality shine.