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The Hobbit as Tragedy

The final movie of Peter Jackson's trilogy retells the story of the Hobbit as tragedy, completely changing the character of the book. One star.

I first read the Hobbit when I was in fourth grade -- it was the first real book I ever read. I consumed it. I devoured it. Then I moved on to the Lord of the Rings. Later, I read it aloud to my children. As the years went on, I've read it over and over again.

The Hobbit is fundamentally a children's adventure story. In spite of Bilbo being 50 years old, it's a story about him discovering the wider world beyond his safe and comfortable home -- and discovering his own power to take charge and influence events.

As you read the Lord of the Rings, you retrospectively discover that the Hobbit was a preface to the larger events that happened afterward. The Hobbit itself does not treat with them at all. It's only later that you learn who the Necromancer is and what Gandalf was doing when he left the party just as they entered Mirkwood.

I was initially excited to hear that Jackson was planning to merge those events in to the Hobbit -- to try telling the story of the White Council driving Sauron out from Dol Goldur. But much of what he invented fell flat: Rhadagast the Brown, covered with bird poop, being pulled by rabbits. And that Well of Souls or whatever, where Sauron and the Nazgul were supposed to be imprisoned? Lame.

But this last movie really left me cold. The pacing was terrible. They kill off Smaug before the opening credits. Thorin dies so close to the end of the movie, I felt like I hadn't really gotten over that before I had to walk out of the theater. The very last scenes, showing Bilbo walking into an empty and trashed Bag End and then cutting to Bilbo before his 111st Birthday Party. What a downer.

And that nauseating toady of the Master of Lake Town? Where did that guy come from? Why did that character even have any lines? Ugh. Totally repellent.

For me, perhaps the greatest scene in the book is when, as the battle turns against them, Thorin comes out and rallies the dwarves.

Out leapt the King under the Mountain, and his companions followed him. Hood and cloak were gone; they were in shining armor, and red light leapt their eyes. In the gloom, the great dwarf gleamed like gold in a dying fire. [...] "To me! To me! Elves and Men! To me! O my kinsfolk!" he cried, and his voice shook like a horn in the valley.

The treatment in the movie utterly fails to capture the same feeling.

But so much of the movie is just wrong: Beorn as some kind of bitter former slave, rather than a gruff, but jolly, woodsman. Galadriel as some kind of psycho witch. Rivendell as a creepy land of eternal twilight and autumn, rather than the Last (or First) Homely House.

Perhaps it isn't possible to tell the story of the Hobbit after the Lord of the Rings without seeing it as tragedy. But just a few additional scenes in the end -- as laid out in the book -- might have helped a lot: Yule-tide in the house of Beorn, May in the valley of Rivendell, and the visit of Balin and Gandalf with Bilbo after Bag End is set to rights. Instead you get two cut scenes and don't even get to see Bilbo and Gandalf digging up the treasure from the troll cave.

At least there aren't any more Tolkien books for Peter Jackson to ruin.

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