Worldbuilding: what now for ‘The Hobbit’?

Peter Jackson held the wrap-up party for The Hobbit the other week. Principal shooting’s finished for both movies, and the first will be released at the end of this year. I have to say that despite the buzz in Wellington about stars in our midst, I never saw any. Except Billy Connolly, who turned up briefly on the other side of a hotel foyer.

I didn’t rush over and say ‘Oooh, you’re Billy Connolly’. He knows that. And Kiwis don’t do that sort of thing anyway. Personally I can’t wait for the movies. And yet – and yet, somehow, I get the feeling these won’t be kids’ movies. I’m not the only one to wonder how Jackson managed to turn a 240-page childrens’ book into two epic movies which, if they are typical Jackson length, will probably top 180 minutes each. One of the ways, I suspect, has been to cover plot lines incidental to the book. In the original story, Gandalf left Bilbo and the dwarves at the entrance to Mirkwood and rode off south to deal with the Necromancer.

This was a plot device, irrelevant to the main story of itself – the purpose was to strip the dwarves of their protector and allow Bilbo to grow as a character. But there are mile-wide hints – including the fact that Sir Christopher Lee has reprised his role as Saruman – that this has been filmed. We’ll see. That, coupled with the clips released as teasers, makes me wonder – has Jackson made a dark version. An adult version. One that is of the same tone as The Lord of the Rings? And is that spoiling things?

The Hobbit itself was very skilfully crafted childrens book. Tolkien absolutely nailed the tone of the narrator, the plot, even the illustrations. And yet there is some evidence in his letters that he was not happy – it could have had a darker and more serious tone, more in line with the other stories he was writing about his mythos. He also – initially – saw it as a one-off, a dead end.

His publishers, Allen and Unwin, prodded him into writing a sequel. That eventually turned into The Lord of the Rings, a very different book. Later, Tolkien produced a back-story and supplementary material to go around the tale of The Hobbit, some of it published in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings. In effect, he built a world around The Hobbit post-fact, integrating it better with the darker plot of The Lord of the Rings; the Necromancer was Sauron, the enemy of old. He also made amendments to later editions of The Hobbit – especially the Gollum riddle game – to better fit his later vision of The Ring.

So it would, I think, be quite possible to make The Hobbit as a darker film without moving far from Tolkien’s eventual writings, ideas and intentions.

What do you think?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

***Update – 16 July 2012: Jackson hints at Comic Con, San Diego, that The Hobbit might be turned into 3 movies, not 2. To me, that’s pushing it even given the above. Thoughts?***

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