We All know that the ring destroyed the kings of men. We know it haunted Bilbo all those years in the shire. The ring destroyed Boromir and he was never even a ring bearer. We all watched as Frodo waste away under the influence of the one ring. But my question is what has the ring done to Peter Jackson?(Warning – Spoilers to follow. And yes, I know. I’m a grumpy old grognard. It’s worse than you think.) Yeah, I finally saw The Battle of the Five Armies, so I guess now is as good a time as any to share my thoughts on it. I’m not angry really. I’m just disappointed. More than that, I am concerned, very concerned.
I think I read the hobbit around 6th grade or soon thereafter. What I remember of the book was an enjoyable light read. It was the sort of story you read when young and cherish well into adulthood. I could identify with it as a youth because it was the story of a child like character adrift in a world larger in every respect than he was. Bilbo learned to get along in the Hobbit, even to thrive in it, but he never quite got a handle on the larger forces at work in that story, and neither did we as its readers.
It was a fascinating world that Bilbo carried us into. It was a world of myth to be sure, but not just because of the elves and the dragons. It was also a story in which the quest for gold seemed a perfectly sufficient reason to undertake a dangerous adventure, and a world in which orcs and goblins attack, because frankly that’s what they do. It’s a just-so logic that guides The Hobbit, and that is just as any good mythic narrative would have it. a world in which great wars will happen. They will simply happen. No need for political complexities or struggles on which the fate of a whole world will hang. That sort of story will come later, but in the Hobbit, wars happen for simpler reasons, and that is all there is to it.
It is one of the charming features of The Hobbit that Bilbo never quite accepts the logic of that world, at least not its more violent features. His rejection is visceral, childlike. It isn’t a worldly critique of the Draco-gold standard or the perils of Dwarven real-politik. Bilbo just never quite understands the logic of the battle which serves as the focus of this last film, not that I remember anyway. One suspects that there is nothing really to understand; it is simply what these characters were born to do, how Thorin was born to die.
Tolkien does not unleash the complexities of Middle Earth on his readers until the Lord of the Rings. He did rewrite the Hobbit to put it more in sink with the larger work, but even then he let much of the larger scheme rest on the background of The Hobbit. We may even see hints of that larger scheme, even as we continue to see hints of material from the Silmarillion in the Lord of the Rings. But what isn’t explained in both stories is as essential to each as what is explained. We aren’t supposed to get all this, and we are certainly not supposed to get all of it when seeing the whole thing through the eyes of Bilbo. Tolkien understands this. If Jackson ever did understand it, he has almost certainly forgotten it by now.
Watching The Hobbit has been a lot like attending a play with someone who has read he script and wants to make sure we know it, along with everyone in the next three rows. Just as an annoying theater-troll will spout the next lines ahead of the actors, Jackson keeps turning The Hobbit into a chance to tell us about the Lord if the Rings. He simply will not let the Hobbit be the Hobbit. It must instead be a prequel to that later (larger) story.
Focused as he is on the grand scheme of things, Jackson has all but forgotten Bilbo. The epic narrative that Jackson insists on relating has little time for a simple hobbit and little place for a Hobbit’s point of view. Yes Bilbo does many of the same things in this trilogy that he does in the book, but his story is never really allowed to compete with that of Thorin’s quest for power, the rise of the bowman to leadership, the doomed love affair between a Dwarven romeo and his elven Juliette, or for that matter, Gandalf’s efforts to piece together the story of the Necromancer. How could Bilbo possibly compete with all that!
All that Bilbo can do is to play a bit part in a failed bid to avert a war. Yet, the problem isn’t that Bilbo is a minor player in the great scheme of things. Rather it is that this version of The Hobbit has forgotten the importance of bit players. It is too interested in the great heroes to give any real credence to those with humbler ambitions. In that respect, this version of The Hobbit couldn’t have wandered further away from its original source.
This Hobbit is a story that contains a hobbit, but it most certainly is not a story about a hobbit. It is too busy being a story about other things.
So what? If Jackson and his writing team want to tell a different story, there is no particular reason why they shouldn’t do just that. And yet The Hobbit remains unsatisfying (for me at any rate) because it can never really be what Jackson and his team want it to be, which is another Lord of the Rings. The story line simply doesn’t support the tone of an epic narrative; it’s characters have never been quite up to the task. The Dwarves are just a bit too foolish, the elves a bit too vain, and the men too reluctant to be anything at all. These are interesting characters for a story with less ambition than Jackson has brought to the story. For a grand epic, they simply will not do. So, The Hobbit trilogy remains overshadowed and upstaged by the epic narrative which is to follow, the one we’ve already seen, the one against which this story cannot help but pale in comparison.
Yes, Jackson and company can certainly tell us whatever story they like, but I cannot help thinking something a little closer to the original Hobbit would have been more valuable. I find myself wanting to say; we’ve seen this. You did it right the first time. Now show us something new.
But alas! This was not to happen.
For whatever reason, Jackson could not bring himself to let the hobbit be the hobbit, or even to fashion it into something altogether new and creative. So many of his interventions pull the story towards the Lord of the Rings, which is something it simply can never be. Jackson’s heart is set on the Lord if the rings. His mind is bent on it. And it is his master.
The final scenes of the Hobbit are filled with allusions to the coming trilogy, and truth be told, that is to be expected, even relished. Yet each of these references drags on a bit too long. We get the reference to Aragorn, and we get the moment Bilbo replies to a knock on his door, which is actually kind of clever, or at least it would have been if Jackson had been content to let a couple quick lines connect the two stories. But he can’t do that. Jackson has to make sure we get the point, and each of these references seems to carry on well after we get the point.
It seems as though Jackson just cannot let the coming epic go, and the urge to tell us about his precious Lord of the Rings won’t let him settle for a proper allusion, just as it would not let him simply tell us the story of the Hobbit in the first place. It’s as though the Lord of the Rings has hold of his spirit.
It will not let him go!