No, Peter Jackson is not doing a George Lucas

I’ve read a couple of reviews arguing that Jackson is making the same mistake in the Hobbit that Lucas did in the Star Wars prequels — filling in details that the original only hinted at (“the Senate has been dissolved”, “the Clone Wars”, etc.) with concretised versions that aren’t as interesting as what we independently imagined. But in the case of Tolkien the exact opposite is the case, and the “back story” is actually the primary story that the well-known parts were made up to sit on top of and, if you like, act as an advertisement for. By foregrounding these, Jackson is arguably being more true to Tolkien’s original vision than J. R. R. was himself in writing The Hobbit.

12 responses to “No, Peter Jackson is not doing a George Lucas

  1. True and stuff. Although, Tolkien himself did, at one point, make some sort of subtle re-write to part of the Hobbit after he had decided/considered/realized that the ring of invisibility that Bilbo “acquired” from Gollum could/should be more than just some ordinary invisibility ring. (as if any ring that could grant the wearer invisibility could ever be ordinary)

  2. Correct. Bilbo even retcons this himself in LotR, explaining that he told the earlier version of the story because he was a little ashamed of how he truly came by the ring. For much, much more on different versions of The Hobbit, see Andrew Rilstone’s review/discussion of both Children of Hurin and John Rateliff History of The Hobbit (skip down to the first mention of Rateliff’s name).

  3. I found it really interesting to find out that the Gollum scene from The Hobbit , which is in my opinion the best scene both in the book and in the movie, was actually rewritten afterwards.

  4. “(…)*more*” true to Tolkien’s original vision than JRR was himself in writing the Hobbit”. Hm, you *could* argue that but I think it would be somewhat unwise if just for the fact that The Hobbit was not originally meant to be linked to the larger epic that became The Lord of the Rings because, of course, Tolkien hadn’t envisioned LOTR as existing at that point. Therefore it is, I think, unfair to say that Jackson is being more true to a “vision” that didn’t exist in that way when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, although of course I may be wrong! Obviously, after Lord of the Rings came into being Tolkein made a few adjustments to The Hobbit so there was more of a fit with LOTR and the wider middle-Earth mythology but arguably that was the (sensible) imposition of his *later* vision onto his original Hobbit-y fairytale one.
    I do think that those critics who seek to indict the Kiwi Shorts-wearer of Lucassian hubris have more than half a point; loath though I am to defend Jackson (as he has now successfully navigated his way right up my nose) it’s understandable that he’d want to emphasize the ties to LOTR and dramatize some of the backstory that Tolkien either merely hinted at or detailed elsewhere yet his methods tend toward the heavy-handed and, yes, hubristic. He seems to lean toward the space-filling in my opinion while the more Jacksonian (not to forget Walsh, Boyens and Del Toro) additions are somewhat clodhopping. I really don’t think you can dismiss those accusations out of turn as they do point out the unnecessary bloat of Jackson’s LotR prequel Hobbit trilogy compared to Tolkien’s simpler and more satisfying children’s tale. This isn’t to totally dismiss Jackson-Hobbit but it is to point to its flaws from my blurry point of view. Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year!

  5. Is Children of Hurin a good read? ie: Theres little snips of it in the Silmarillion or Lost Tales or otherwise in the JRRT mythology, but CoH was written by his son relatively recently. I tend to be leery of Christophers works.. maybe I’m just holding a chip on my shoulder, but he’s not the writer his father was :O

  6. For that matter.. wasn’t The Silmarillion the ‘greater work’ which JRRT had aspired to build? And he died before he had completed it? (I need to acquire and read the entire History Of sequence.. but was Silmarillion many times rewritten and the final bits chopped together and published, or was significant parts of it written by Christopher?) Either way.. quite a shame that the main work of love JRRT had was never released to his satisfaction :/

  7. (I retract some of the statements above .. I see that CoH is actually mostly (?) JRRT’s original work, and the bit in Silmarillion is jus CT’s shortened version to try and be Quenta like; how curious. So what is the bit in Lost Tales? .. one must be quite a JRRT student to really follow it all :)

  8. Jeff, the compositional history of all Tolkien’s work is very complicated. The “new” book The Children of Hurin is essentially identical with the Narn i Hin Hurin section of Unfinished Tales (which is almost entirely JRRT). Christopher’s role in bring in CoH to publication was to rewrite some of the terser sections into a form that more closely matched the bulk of the text. The reason this was necessary is that JRRT left behind many fragments of many versions of many tales. All of Turin’s story exists in a precis form, and it is this that was included in The Silmarillion; only about 80% of it existed also in the longer more novelistic form that was reproduced in the Narn; In Unfinished Tales, Christopher did not attempt the bridging, but just inserted footnotes telling the reader to go and read the relevant sections of the Turin section of Sil. To my ear, the joins in Children of Hurin are seamless: I know which section are JRR and which are Christopher only because I have read the other published forms of the tale.

    And yes, The Silmarillion was indeed the ‘greater work’ which JRRT had aspired to build — or at least a very small part of it. It’s clear that he had in his head a fantastically detailed history of the First Age, and large parts of the Second and Third Age. And it’s clear from surviving manuscripts that he started writing parts of it down literally in trenches of World War I, and was still doing so as he died. Many sections exist in numerous different forms (prose, annal, epic poem, etc.), many of them fragmentary, most of them in multiple versions that contradict each other. It’s clear that what prevented JRRT from completing Sil in his lifetime was not that he didn’t have time to write the material, but that he couldn’t or wouldn’t curate it and distill it down into an actual book that Mortal Men would be able to make sense of. This is the task that Christopher achieved — in a partial way, but still brilliantly — with the original publication of The Silmarillion; and it’s what he’s also been doing ever since with Unfinished Tales, Children of Hurin, the monumental History series and more. My sense is that he deserves a great deal of credit for doing this with such a sympathetic hand, balancing the conflicting requirements of careful scholarship with immersive storytelling.

    … all of which is to say that, yes, Children of Hurin is indeed a good read, and that Christopher as well as JRRT deserves some credit for that. But there’s nowhere near as much of it as there is of the Silmarillion or indeed Lost Tales — I believe its publication was pretty explicitly intended as a gateway to those books, and I recommend it as an excellent next step after LotR.

    Hope this helps.

  9. Hal, this complicated compositional history of all the Middle-earth material is why I am cautious about casually saying that this or this in the films goes against what Tolkien wrote. Even in the case of The Hobbit and LotR, what’s been handed down to us is really only a snapshot of how JRRT’s constantly-evolving manuscripts were at a particular time. We talk casually about The Hobbit being “a simple children’s book”, but the truth is that in the first draft we find Gandalf saying of The Necromancer, “anyway, his castle stands no more and he is fled to a darker place: Beren and Tinuviel broke his power” — an explicit reference to First Age material that would not be published until after JRRT’s death. And at the time of his death he was working on (among other things) a 3rd edition that would further harmonise The Hobbit with LotR.

    So my feeling is that any material the film draws from Tolkien’s own relevant writing (such as, for example, the meeting of the White Council) is fair game. JRRT had to make an essentially editorial rather than authorial decision as to which selection of material to include, in what form and in what order, for each of his “books”. Christopher has done the same in creating the subsequent “books”, which in a sense are even more arbitrary in where their boundaries fall. And Jackson is carrying on that tradition by drawing on all the Hobbit-related material in Tolkien’s writings. Since it’s always the job of a film adaptation to, well, adapt the source material, it’s hardly fair to criticise Jackson for doing so.

    Understand: this is very far from saying that I approve of all Jackson’s choices. I’m on record as loathing the transformation of Faramir into a Boromir clone, and Frodo and Sam’s journey to Osgiliath. I posted here just the other day on how grotesquely inappropriate the presentation of Galadriel’s “instead of a Dark Lord” speech is. Jackson’s treatment of The Paths of the Dead was merely a pile of cliches. What I am saying is that I don’t think it’s fair or reasonable to judge Jackson’s films by the standard of fidelity to the published text when the published text is more of a sample of Tolkien’s writings than a written-in-stone final statement.

  10. Oh, I do not mean to diminish Christophers work (or the enormity of his task; really, decided to study with your father and then take upobn yourself his entire body of notes and turn it to something viewable.. good lord. Its like going through the CVS log for the entire linux kernel :) Still, ever since I was a kid for some reason it left a bad taste in my mouth, some of the changes he did. But of course really, he seems to have taken a decent hand to it, both under his fathers tutlage and with careful consideration.

    (And I really love the first chapters of the Sil .. the creation of Ea and so forth. Quite beautiful.)

    So the Sil was really just a condensed study guide (“Cliffs Notes”) to the larger legendarium which is really only in JRRT’s head, and in a million notes in what must be a packed study or in his university archive.

    Where is the main body of the work, outside of the Sil/LotR/H? Is that Unfinished Tales/etc (and History of Middle Earth) + CoH then? History Of is multiple versions of the same tales, and very detailed notes and so forth.. but the contents within and described by History Of, is that _really_ what JRRT was working towards? ie: H to break in, started Sil, then worked on LotR as a ‘sequal’ to H for the publishers and to make a few bucks, then worked on his legendarium and distilled eventually into Sil as a window onto the latrger work, which is now mostly available in __History of__?

    (that which wasn’t lost upon his death I mean, which sounds like most of it. So many ideas, not enough time to jot them down :)

    Still, I am glad he wasn’t alive to have read the reviews of Sil when it first launched; maybe what, 50% or more of them utterly panned it as too dense and unreadable and so on, since it wasn’t at all like LotR/H.

  11. It’s maybe not too far wrong to characterise the published Silmarilion material as Cliffs Notes to the full version. The two important differences are (A) that these Cliffs Notes were written by the original work’s author, and (B) the original work never actually existed — at least not in written-down form. That “main body of work” is what Christopher has been labouring to make available to the world in a comprehensible form in the History series and other books.

    Reviewers who panned Sil for not being like Lord of the Rings obviously never read the Appendices. It is these that that Sil is a prequel to, not the main part of the book.

    As to order of composition: I don’t think it’s really right to think in terms of the Silmarillion ever having been actually composed. It’s closer to the truth to think of JRRT’s entirely life having been spent constructing numerous alternative versions of tales spanning many millennia of the history of Arda. Twice during this process he was motivated to write specific, coherent and more-or-less self-contained stories that make up parts of that whole hill of beans: those are of course the books called The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and together they constitute maybe somewhere between a quarter and a tenth of all the narrative material that was in JRRT’s head. The book that we call The Silmarillion is a fairly random selection from the rest, picked out not necessarily because the tales therein were the most important, but because they were the most complete.

  12. BTW., “enormity” does not mean “great size”, but “great wickedness”. So unless you really think Christopher should not have published any of JRRT’s material posthumously, I don’t think you should refer to “the enormity of his task”!

    On the other hand, I love your git-log analogy!

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