The Hobbit Book … Versions 1, 2, and 3

Hey, the first of the three Peter Jackson movies, “The Hobbit,” comes out in a few months (December 14, 2012). Isn’t it time you brushed up on the story before the movie? You don’t want to be one of those slack fans whose knowledge is only from the movies do you?

To fully understand where Peter Jackson will likely draw his movies from, you have to know the whole Hobbit story (more than is in the book).

Few people realize that the Hobbit as published in 1937 was a slightly different version than the 1951 edition (which is the one almost everyone reads). Why did Tolkien make some changes and what were they? Also, there is a sort of “expanded idea” of the story from the Hobbit that is not exactly another book. Where does it exist?

Read on after the jump to find out . . . Continue reading

The Hobbit Movies . . . Speculations and Facts

Note: I was just at DragonCon this Labor Day 2012 weekend and here is a top-of-my-head list of facts and speculations. I will note which are speculations.

  • There will be three movies to be released December 2012, December 2013, and July 2014.
  • All three will be called “The Hobbit” but will have different subtitles.
  • December 14, 2012, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
  • December 13, 2013, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
  • July 18, 2014, The Hobbit: There and Back Again.
  • How can you get three movies out of The Hobbit, a much shorter book than LOTR? Speculation (high probability based on known facts as well as the names of some characters and cast members): there will be a lot of backstory, things from the appendix to LOTR, probably the war between the Orcs and Dwarves, the history of dwarves, and much more.
  • Thus, the three Hobbit movies will not be simply the story of Bilbo’s adventure which Tolkien told as a story to be read to children.
  • Speculation: it will be darker that the book and much more LOTR-ish.
  • It will feature Radagast the Brown. (Yes!! And Sylvester McCoy will play him).
  • Sylvester McCoy will ride a sled drawn by huge jackrabbits through Mirkwood. (fact).
  • The movie will be 3D only and will play at 48 frames per second. This will be a new experience for movie-goers. The visuals will look more realistic than films have in the longstanding 24 frames per second standard. Those who saw the 10-minute trailer at Cinema-con said it took a minute or two to get used to the more high-def look, but it was stunning once viewers became accustomed to it.
  • Smaug (pronounced Smowg, not Smog) is (speculation) going to be one of the most spectacular villains of film history and (speculation) the history of dragons in Middle-earth (creatures of Melkor, aka Morgoth, the true Dark Lord who makes Sauron look small).
  • Gandalf’s motivation in the book for helping the dwarves gain back the Lonely Mountain seems to be in hopes of defeating Smaug, as the wizard fears what would happen if the Necromancer (whom he knows to be Sauron) allied with Smaug (there would be no hope for Middle-earth).
  • Lots more could be said, about Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his role, Thranduil the Elvenking (Lee Pace), and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, a character created for the movie), and more.

Blogging Tolkien . . . Notes to Myself

Okay, so I blog successfully in other areas of interest. Yet here I have not posted anything for eighteen months. What happened?

These are definitely notes to myself (who reads a blog that has been silent for eighteen months?).

So, starting now, my plan is to blog about:

  • Things I heard at the 2012 DragonCon about the upcoming three Hobbit movies.
  • The Hobbit, some background, changes from 1937 to 1951, dragons and Smaug, goblins and orcs, necromancers and wizards, character issues, poems and songs, etc.
  • Books about the Hobbit (such as the excellent commentary, Exploring the Hobbit, by Corey Olsen and, The Annotated Hobbit, by Douglas A. Anderson).
  • News about the Hobbit movies.
  • Lord of the Rings (LOTR), which I had started to write musings about chapter by chapter already.
  • The Silmarillion and the history of Middle-Earth.
  • Other Hobbit and LOTR movies.
  • Perhaps things learned and experiences had if I am able to get involved with Tolkien fans in my city (Atlanta).

So, I (and perhaps 2 other people) will come back to these “notes to myself” for ideas. Meanwhile, happy one or two readers out there, there are tales to be told and songs to be heard.

Book 1, Ch 9: At the Sign of the Prancing Pony

Even good hobbits are taken in by evil’s duplicity.

Frodo intends, of course, to stop Pippin from revealing the crowded bar too much information. He jumps on a table and makes a speech. But the evil things that happen often spring from good motives.

Once on the table he finds quite unaccountably the desire . . . to slip it [the Ring] on and vanish out of the silly situation.

How do good hobbits end up serving the purpose of evil? It happens through the intersection of evil and weaknesses which evil can exploit: It seemed to him, somehow, as if the suggestion came to him from outside, from someone or something in the room.

After a song and a fall from the table Frodo vanishes. Feeling foolish afterward, he tries to figure out how it happened: He could only suppose that he had been handling it in his pocket while he sang, and that somehow it had slipped on when he stuck out his hand with a jerk to save his fall.

By contrast, Strider is wise. He knows how to keep weaknesses far from the manipulating hand of evil. It is not just good intent that hobbits need, but wisdom as well, wisdom about evil and many other things.

Book 1, Ch 8: Fog on the Barrow Downs

Small mistakes lead to life and death situations.

Near the end of chapter 7, Bombadil advised them: Don’t you go a-meddling with old stone. They were to pass quickly through the Barrow Downs on the green grass passing the downs by on the West Side.

They followed Bombadil’s plan, but their mistake was a small one: they went down into a hollow circle. In the midst of it stood a single stone, standing tall under the sun above, and at this hour casting no shadow. It was shapeless and yet significant; like a landmark, or a guarding finger, or more like a warning . . . so they set their backs against the east side of the stone.

At noon the stone casts no shadow. In the full light it looks harmless. But this old stone will make them wait for a darker hour: They woke suddenly and uncomfortably from a sleep they never meant to take. The standing stone was cold, and it cast a long pale shadow that stretched eastward over them.

Now it is near dark and a fog is rolling in. A cold grey shadow sprang up in the East behind . . . They felt as if a trap was closing about them.

And, fooled by the one stone that stood apart from the others, seemingly harmless, they find themselves separated in the dark and are soon prisoners of the Barrow Wights. Temptation comes in harmless guises.

If Bombadil had not saved them, the Quest would have ended before it started.

Book 1, Ch 7: In the House of Tom Bombadil

Most of what we know about Tom Bombadil comes in chapter 7 plus another rather clear hint about providence and the role of the divine in Middle Earth.

Bombadil is the Eldest, alive before the first acorn or the first rain. He walks his territory like a shepherd, leaping on hilltops, wading streams, always singing. Into his house none of the fearsome forces round about can come. His love for the River Daughter is complete, and when he has an errand to show her love, nothing can stop him.

He has watched and outlived all history, seeing kingdoms rise and fall. The stories can make him sad, so he is not indifferent. He reverences life. He saw the Hobbits come and the Elves depart for the West and everything since the dawn of time from his territory in Middle Earth. He does not leave the boundaries of his realm.

He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless — before the Dark Lord came from outside. This refers to Morgoth (Melkor) in the First Age.

While in Bombadil’s house, Frodo has a dream and later will understand that he saw Gandalf, trapped on the pinnacle of Orthanc, being rescued by the Great Eagle Lord. Perhaps the dream of Frodo back in chapter 5 was also of a specific event, though I could not solve that riddle.

Tom Bombadil’s storytelling leaves us with another reference to a plan or a will beyond the world exerting influence in the events of Middle Earth: Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it. It was no plan of mine.

Book 1, Ch 6: The Old Forest

The action is a bit slow to start in LOTR, which is no doubt why Peter Jackson left a good deal of these beginning parts out of the movie. In today’s book market, I’d guess that if LOTR was an unknown quantity, many people would read a bit of the beginning while standing at the bookshelf and then put it down. Not interesting enough at the start.

So far, much of the interest of the book has been in the sense it creates here of a deep background, a story behind the story so rich you’d slog through paragraphs describing the trees and hills besides the road.

With that said, I remembered from my previous six readings that the Old Forest chapter began to create in my mind a sense of the darkness that can be in the world. It is a creepy chapter. A modern editor might criticize it for overdoing the repetition. The trees feel heavy. The air is thick. The trails seem to move. The close branches are oppressive. It is hard to breathe in this air. The path should have been here. Oh, there it is.

Of course, the forest, which we learn in the next chapter is under the sway of Old Man Willow, draws them inexorably to the Withywindle and to sleep at the roots of Old Man Willow’s base.

But the chapter can be forgiven not only for being effective in spite of some overkill, but also because it introduces Tom Bombadil. In my opinion, the omission of Bombadil from the LOTR movies was the worst decision Jackson made. And that’s not just because I’d like to see which actress they’d have chosen to play Goldberry.

Tom Bombadil is a mystery, a mysterious force. A number of puzzling questions about him will arise in the next chapter. For now we simply learn about his appearance, that his power takes the form of songs, and that he is married to the River Daughter (a water-sprite).

The forest is not, as one might have guessed Tolkien would portray it, benevolent. The spirits of trees, we will find, are susceptible to pride, hatred, and evil just as other creatures. But the Master of the wood is a purely good little man, bigger than a Hobbit, smaller than the Big People, with a red face, yellow boots, a blue coat, and a brown beard.

Book 1, Ch 5: A Conspiracy Unmasked

This chapter raises a few questions which I will be interested to look for answers to later.

As the four hobbits look back over the Brandywine, to the other ferry stage, they see a figure: it looked like a dark black bundle left behind. Not too much later, Merry takes it as evidence that the Black Riders are real: I should think you were making it all up if I had not seen that black shape on the landing-stage.

But the shape couldn’t be a Nazgul, could it? I’m thinking Gollum.

The next mystery is about Farmer Maggot, or as Merry calls him Old Maggot. Merry knows him well: A lot goes on behind his round face that does not come out in his talk. I’ve heard that he used to go into the Old Forest at one time, and he has the reputation of knowing a good many strange things.

Does Farmer Maggot know Tom Bombadil?

But the third mystery of the chapter is the greatest of them all. Frodo’s dream has some very specific images in it that evoke possibilities: . . . it was not leaves, but the sound of the Sea far-off; a sound he had never heard in waking life, though it had often troubled his dreams. And then the scene changes and he is in the open: . . . he saw before him a tall white tower, standing alone on a high ridge. A great desire came over him to climb the tower and see the Sea.

Is this a tower at the Grey Havens? Is it the Palantir in the Tower Hills? Is it coming from the Undying Lands? (I doubt the last one).

Book 1, Ch 4: A Shortcut to Mushrooms

Chapter 4 is much simpler and less revealing of the deeper mysteries of Middle Earth. Still, the drama is beginning to pick up as the revelations decrease. This is a flight from terror into terror.

The company of three awakens after their wild, forest party with Elves (and Elven liquor makes you sleep well, but leaves you clear-headed, it seems). Frodo hadn’t thought about it, but Sam had his own conversation with the Elves. They know a lot about what Frodo is up to and they tall Sam, Don’t you leave him!. Sam, the ever loyal servant and sidekick is appalled at the idea, “Leave him! I never mean to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with.”

Sam is able to see a bit into the road ahead, I have something to do before the end. Is this something the Elves did for him, something magical?

The scenes with the Black Riders give a proper hint of terror without being too specific. The Nazgul can wail and there are words in their cries.

Frodo has been terrified of Farmer Maggot since childhood, but the fearsome farmer is just the friend the companions need (and we find out a bit more in the next chapter). Thanks to the good farmer, the company is safely delivered to Merry.

But Frodo is disconcerted by the farmer’s shrewd insight into the possible cause of their danger. How does this farmer see so much?

Book 1, Ch 3: Three is Company

I hope I won’t be looked down on for discussing so early in the book things like the ultimate identity of Elves. But chapter three is unusually memorable to me from my first reading as an adolescent because I’d never felt magic before like I did in the scenes with Gildor and the High Elves.

Chapter three is a bit slow in the beginning. Of course, in the recent movie, the drama is heightened and the Black Rider scenes are given a greater role.

But the magic does come and the slow start of the narrative is rewarded when the fear of death is expelled by clear singing voices, pure and untainted by evil. The voices cause even a Nazgul, a Black Rider, to depart.

Elves are not just any beings and Gildor is not just any Elf. Of the house of Finarphir, and through him Finrod Felagund, Gildor and his kin Glorfindel are among the noblest Elves in Middle Earth.

The breakthrough into true magic is near the end of the chapter. The party of three is invited to walk with the Elves, a high honor, but only because Gildor hears of the Black Riders and perceives that they are seeking Frodo. Sam is already smitten with Elves, but Pippin too finds the merriment with Elves in the wood, trouble all forgotten, to be beyond any experience he has had before. Sam remembers it, even after all the adventures and perils, as one of the chief events of his life.

The fire and singing are in a green wood, in a wide space like a hall, roofed by the boughs of trees. The fruit and bread and drink of the Elves is sweeter than any they have had. The singing is other-wordly, filled with the light upon the elf-faces, and the sound of voices so various and so beautiful..

Gildor speaks with a wisdom that makes me wonder if Tolkien didn’t have in mind the Proverbs and wisdom tradition of Israel. Elves seldom give unguarded advice, says Gildor, since all courses may run ill. And wisdom knows that one course and its opposite may each work in different circumstances or not work at all. Wise sayings dispensed by dullards are as dangerous as brambles in the hand of a drunk. The wise know time and chance happen to us all.

At the end, as soon as Gildor is done talking with Frodo, a deep sleep falls on him. Is this Gildor’s doing? Is it part of what he means by power for good?

Those who get through all the mythology and consider the identity of higher beings in Tolkien’s world know that Elves are not angelic beings, though they seem so to hobbits and men. What might we say Elves are? I will have to keep seeking out their identity. The road goes ever on.