Book to Movie Monday: The Hobbit

The original version of this meme is from Bring My Books.


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In honor of Hobbit Day tomorrow, I wanted to focus today’s Book to Movie post on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and the film adaptation by Peter Jackson. (I’m going to ignore the 1977 animated version. Trust me, it’s for the best.) Also, several scholars and fans read the character of Bilbo as being asexual, although of course this will never be confirmed (USA Today, Penn State University blog)!

(Hobbit Day, which falls on September 22, celebrates the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, the main characters of Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.)


Book Summary:

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.

When I first heard that Peter Jackson was adapting The Hobbit, I was thrilled. He had done what no other director had managed to do only a decade prior, adapting the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy into three stunning, Oscar-winning movies. I thought I could trust him to adapt one of my favorite childhood books as well.

I am a huge Tolkien fan. Huge. In fact, I temporarily moved to New Zealand and worked on one of the sets, just to be as close to Middle Earth as I could possibly be. But I think a lot of other Tolkien fans would agree with me when I say that the Hobbit movie adaptations were not well done. They were, in fact, rather terrible adaptations.


(Are they terrible movies? Not really. They’re poorly paced, but not awful. But when placed in side-by-side comparison with the book, they definitely fall short.)

The Hobbit book is a children’s novel. At around 300 pages (depending on the edition), it’s a short, light-hearted novel, especially compared to its behemoth big brother, The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson took this average-length novel with it’s rotund, cheerful, middle-aged protagonist, and turned it into a 10+ hour cinematic epic, full of violence and darkness.


There will always be deviations from the book in the transition to the screen; some things just don’t work well in a visual setting. Look, I’m not upset about things like adding Galadriel and the newly-invented character of  Tauriel to the movies. Tolkien wrote a sausage-fest, and this is the 21st century where women dream of going on epic quests just as much as men do. I don’t even really object to Team Hot Dwarves, where certain dwarf actors were prettied up for aesthetic purposes.


(In the book, the dwarves are all portrayed as older, with long beards. They’re definitely not sexy young things like Mr. Turner here.)

What I object to is the loss of what I see as the central themes of the book. The movies cease to be about Bilbo’s courage and strength, or about the mythology that Tolkien so carefully adapted to his fantasy world. It only barely touches on the theme of history repeating itself. Instead, it becomes an action movie. A movie about war and battle and good versus evil, about romance and explosions and impressive CGI effects. It’s a movie about anything that will get more money in the box office.

Jackson made a point of trying to include many of Tolkien’s classic lines, and he captured several of the more comedic scenes perfectly. But he completely missed the point of the book, I think, and he destroyed a childhood classic by turning it into 10 hours of slow-as-molasses plot, with superfluous battles and heaps of darkness and angst.

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