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Tag Archives: J.R.R. Tolkien

Peter Jackson’s first prequel to his sweeping epic Lord of the Rings film trilogy premiered last week. Thanks to some forethought, my friends and I were able to attend a midnight release here in Colorado.

The Hobbit has been one of my favorite books since before I could read. When I was a child, my father would read the book to my siblings and me, and we would pretend that we too had been swept away into grand adventures in Middle Earth. Naturally, like many other fans, I was curious as to how Jackson would be able to adapt one shorter book into a film trilogy. I was not disappointed. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is but the first film that will present the beginning of the story we saw concluded in The Return of the King in 2003.

Now this adaptation covers the first portion of The Hobbit, but it expands upon it, including bits from Tolkien’s extensive body of work. Characters and events from The Silmarillion and the other tales from Middle Earth are brought into play for the film, adding a considerable depth that is expected of Jackson’s adaptations (for example, the love story between Aragorn and Arwen in the LOTR film trilogy is told in an appendix at the end of The Return of the King in the books).

The Hobbit opens with the incredible Sir Ian Holm reprising his role as Bilbo Baggins as he is preparing for his 111th birthday, as shown in The Fellowship of the Ring. He begins to reminisce about how things came to be, and we are soon transported sixty years back in time. Martin Freeman (best known as John Watson from the BBC’s Sherlock) portrays a younger Bilbo, and magnificently captures all of the mannerisms first portrayed by Holm back in 2001. Bilbo is quite content to stay at home until a chance encounter with Gandalf (again played  by Sir Ian McKellen) brings a host of dwarves to his door.

What do you mean we "all look alike"?

What do you mean we “all look alike”?

The dwarves (Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, Ori, Balin, and Dwalin) promptly and hilariously make themselves at home at Bilbo’s, much to the hobbit’s bewilderment, but answers quickly appear with Gandalf’s return and the arrival of the dwarves’ leader, Thorin Oakenshield. It seems that years ago, Thorin’s ancestors were driven from their home in Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, by the arrival of a terrible dragon known as Smaug. Now they seek to return to Erebor, kill the dragon, and claim his treasure hoard, all with Bilbo’s help (as the scent of hobbit would be unknown to Smaug, unlike the smell of dwarf, elf, or man).

The next morning, Bilbo finds that the dwarves have gone on their way, and he quickly rushes off to join them, realizing that is his chance to experience a true adventure. He is soon swept up in a journey that takes him from the Shire to Rivendell to Goblintown and beyond. Bilbo slowly transforms from quiet homebody to burgeoning adventurer.

As is expected of a Peter Jackson film, the visuals are simply breathtaking. Going back to Middle Earth feels like going home. The score is just as entrancing, aided by lyrics from Tolkien himself. Despite the expansion from the texts, the film never felt too long. The casting was perfect, with the dwarves being highly individual (my initial fear, as there are thirteen of them). The plot is well balanced, establishing moments that we know will be coming, such as the inevitable confrontation with Smaug. The shining moment of the entire film, however, is the riddle contest, in which Bilbo first encounters Gollum and finds the ring which sets so much in motion. Gollum is again played (motion capture and voice) by Andy Serkis, and he’s more real than ever before.

And so, to make a long story short (too late), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a great beginning to another powerhouse trilogy. I can’t wait for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2013, but until then, I’ll be sure to see part one at least two more times. Don’t just take my word for it. See it for yourself.

This one’s kind of a complicated subject, and was inspired by the latest Penny Arcade comic. How many of you feel that what you do as a writer actually counts as art?

I say yes. I know that some people would disagree with me.  However, I feel that a well written story or poem, regardless of the formal training  behind it, can be just as beautiful as some works of art, and far more impressive than others. I’ve read some pieces that, while incredibly well-written, strongly structured, and clearly organized, did absolutely nothing for me in terms of evoking an emotional response, and I’d consider them almost trash. Are those stories art? Much like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder (along with antimagic, disintegrate, etc., but I digress).

I know that my feelings on certain pieces change based on my age, my own life experiences, and my state of mind when I am reading it. Therefore, there are some books that I pick up on a regular basis. My love for Tolkien remains undiminished throughout the years, no matter how many times I’ve read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Other authors, I attempted to read in junior high or high school, and were totally dismissed at the time. Later on, particularly thanks to my degree, I would read them again, and I found that my tastes had changed. For example, let’s take Willa Cather. When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher taught Cather as a standard in his curriculum because she was his favorite author, and had lived where he had lived. That year, I attempted to read Death Comes for the Archbishop. I found it painful and dull, and questioned the relevance of Cather’s work.

Four years later, now a third-year English major (in part thanks to the influence of said English teacher), I read Willa Cather again, this time tackling The Professor’s House. With far more reading experience under my belt, I dove headlong into the book, and I finally found myself enjoying Cather’s prose. This time, I was fascinated by her characters, and eventually took it upon myself to revisit Death Comes for the Archbishop. Now that I was more accustomed to her writing, I realized that I really liked Cather, and was happy to add her to my list of favorite authors. I went through a nearly identical process when I first encountered Stephen King. Granted, I started with Desperation. Also granted, I was in fifth grade. Still, King’s writing style didn’t appeal to me. A couple of years later, however, I picked up The Green Mile, having seen the film version. It was, I guess, a more mild story, but it allowed me to adapt my mind to King’s writing form and characterization. Now I find myself hard-pressed to find King books that I’ve not read.

Based on my first impressions of both of these authors, I wouldn’t have called either of them artists. Skilled at their craft, yes, but neither Cather nor King would have kept my attention long enough for me to care. For whatever reason, I decided to give them another look, and that’s when I found the art. Now I feel that I’m able to see it far more often. In my own work, I’m trying to find the balance between craft and art. There’s only so far that formal training and technical approaches can take you. If you’re not putting feeling into what you’re writing, then you might as well quit now.