16 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Departure

Tolkien's “The Hobbit” recounts the travels of Bilbo Baggins after Gandalf gets him an unexpected gig as burglar for a troop of dwarves. Bilbo's thirteen companions intend to take back the dwarvish kingdom of Erebor and are lead by Thorin Oakenshield, the heir to the throne.

In contrast to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which recounts the war that ended the world's third age, “The Hobbit” is a travel narrative. It explains larger events as the main character encounters them, but because Bilbo's journey took place before the gathering darkness had taken full shape, the reader sees Middle Earth through a more whimsical lens.

On this point Peter Jackson's new film echoes the book. And the film does other things well too. The landscape, visual effects, and design are what you'd expect from Jackson. The music soars.

Tolkien's Bilbo earns the respect of the dwarves gradually, almost accidentally, because he possesses a hobbit's stealthiness and because he sees opportunities the dwarves overlook. But when he does heroic things, he does them for practical reasons.

In “The Lord of the Rings,” Frodo and Sam don't make it to Mount Doom because they're brave, though they are capable of bravery. They succeed because they're small and insignificant...because they're hobbits. Indeed, the hobbit preference for a quiet life, good earth, good food, and pipe weed makes them less easily corrupted by the ring.

But Jackson's Bilbo shows greater sympathy for cause and king. So much so that Gandalf's line about ordinary people holding back evil sounds almost off pitch. We shall see whether Bilbo recovers himself in the next two movies. 

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