Tolkien, The Hobbit and ‘Epic Backstory’

I just caught up with the new trailer for the second installment in Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy of The Hobbit…and of course, as a lifelong Quenya-speaking Middle Earth lover, gave it several viewings. The Desolation of Smaug picks up the story after the escape (via eagle couriers) of Bilbo and Thorin’s dwarf band from the orcs of Moria, and will see them take the perilous pathways of Mirkwood, fall foul of an elf king, and reach the Lonely Mountain, where they will seek to reclaim their old home and horde from the clutches of the dragon, Smaug.

At least, that is what happened in the book of The Hobbit. Jackson, however, to the delight of Tolkien fans, has expanded the original children’s book into an epic story with more of the ‘scope’ of Lord of the Rings. This has meant pulling in a lot of backstory that was implicit (or hinted at), but never centre stage in the novel. The deeper battle behind the dwarfs’ quest to retake Erebor from the dragon is suddenly in view and will, I presume, become clearer in this second film. This battle involves the wizards, the remnant of the High Elves in Middle Earth (Galadriel and Elrond), and their growing awareness of a ‘dark presence’ in Dol Guldur, the old (and thought to be deserted) fortress of Sauron on the borders of Mirkwood.

Without going into spoilers, from The Silmarillion, we know the elves have ‘history’ with Dol Guldur. For instance, Galadriel’s brother Finrod Felagund perished in combat with Sauron there, defending a human man. A very important human in Tolkien’s saga, but that is another story…

I’ve heard varied reactions to the new trailer, from delighted anticipation (counting down to release day on Dec 13) to mutters of ‘elfcentric’, ‘this isn’t like the book’ and ‘why didn’t he make The Silmarillion if he wants to do an ‘elf pic’?’

Personally, I’m happy to see the ‘story behind the story’ come into the foreground; it is deep and rich, and does turn this movie trilogy into a prequel for the Lord of the Rings, in terms of scale. I would also dearly love to see Jackson  turn his hand to some of the tales in The Silmarillion, especially the story of Beren and Luthien, which is at the heart of Tolkien’s story-world. Not only that, no strong female characters would have to be invented (as I see in the trailer for Desolation), because Luthien is a true embodiment of the ‘heroic feminine’, who takes on Sauron’s master for the sake of love. Jackson has made mention of this tale once or twice, so I live in hope!

Until then, here’s the trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. See what you think!

The Hobbit, Peter Jackson, movie poster.

The Hobbit, Peter Jackson, movie poster.

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6 thoughts on “Tolkien, The Hobbit and ‘Epic Backstory’

  1. I am delighted that the producers are putting in the backstory too. It gives it the depth of LoTR but without changing the story. I love The Hobbit as a kid’s book, but I am enjoying the retelling at an adult level too.

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  2. I agree with your sentiments… I only wish it had been possible to make multiple movies out of the main installments of the series. So much of Tolkien’s content was (necessarily) cut out to create quality films.

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    • Hello C.B., yes, I agree! As a dedicated fan of all the lovely, quirky bits in the story, like Tom Bombadil, Old Man Willow, and all things elvish, it would have been very nice to see those touches in there.

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