(Please note the ‘mostly’ in the title – I’m avoiding obvious spoilers, but it’s best to flee if you don’t want to know anything about the film.)
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way as context for this: First, I’ve been a believer in Middle Earth since I was nine, and began reading The Lord of the Rings because my adored older sister was doing so, and it wouldn’t have occurred to any of the adults in my life to tell me I wasn’t old enough to read them (I skipped The Hobbit entirely at that point), and second, I’m not really that hard to please where story is concerned.
I love Tolkien’s books, (in the ‘read-them-every-year-or-two” way), and I loved Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, (in the “saw-each-film-dozens-of-times-in-the-cinema” way) – not because they were a completely faithful adaptation of the books, but because they got enough of it right that I could accept it as an alternate universe version of the story. (I take the same approach to fanfiction.)
So I was predisposed to love this film. And even so, my own delight in it took me by surprise.
From December 2001, when The Fellowship of the Ring came out, to December, 2004, when the extended edition of The Return of the King arrived on the scene, I largely ‘lived’ in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, viewing, discussing, and anticipating the films. Along the way, I saw them in multiple states, from Wisconsin to Texas, from Indiana to California (I was in LA the weekend ROTK won the Oscars), as well as in England and Scotland. Since most of those viewings were in the company of much-beloved friends I don’t often see now, I don’t just love the films for their own sake, but also because they’re tied to people I love and miss, and an era of my life that’s over.
I knew there would be a lot of crossover from the LOTR trilogy to The Hobbit, and even knew some of what that would entail. I expected the music callbacks, expected to see Elijah Wood at the beginning, with Ian Holm reprising his older Bilbo…and was still moved when they appeared. Ditto later in the film, with other characters from the LOTR films, including one I wasn’t expecting.
I wept when we got to Rivendell, for no reason that I explain beyond remembering how dazzled I was by my first view of it in December, 2001. (I love the Shire, love everywhere Peter Jackson has shown us, but if I could live anywhere, it would be Rivendell.)
But I didn’t just love the film because of the beautiful bridge back to the earlier films, but also on its own merit. I’ve had a thing for Richard Armitage for six or seven years now, but even so, was surprised by how much I loved his Thorin, and I’ve always thought Martin Freeman a great choice to play Bilbo. Story is always about relationships for me, the more awkward and/or difficult and/or tested, the better, and the relationship between the two of them as it develops throughout the story touches me deeply, and I want to see it again. Right now.
One thing that did surprise me was that the film didn’t feel all that different in tone from the other films. I expected it to be lighter, more humorous, as The Hobbit is in comparison to The Lord of the Rings, and, in fact, think I remember seeing comments from Jackson about that being a possible concern with the film, that it wouldn’t be what people were expecting in that sense.
But this is not just The Hobbit, it is also the fuller story of what was going on in Middle Earth during Bilbo’s adventure, which Tolkien laid out for us in the appendices at the end of The Return of the King. So people who want only to see the simple, lighter, children’s tale told in The Hobbit will probably be frustrated while people who love Middle Earth and the full story will hopefully be delighted, at least if they enjoyed Jackson’s earlier stories.
Emotionally, I feel somewhat like a ping-pong ball right now. For the last three days, every time I’ve gone near the news or Twitter, I’ve wound up in tears, my heart breaking at the stories coming out of Connecticut, and I’ve known the same ‘what if’ thoughts and fears shared by all adults who have small, school-aged children in their lives; at the same time, we welcomed a new baby into our family early Saturday morning, a precious little girl who’s blessedly healthy and will no doubt be running things in short order.
I can’t reconcile those emotions of love, joy, grief and terror – I’m probably not intended to – but, was struck by a line in the film where Gandalf notes that we combat evil the best in how we live, with kindness and love in our everyday lives. It’s not a line from the book, but doesn’t seem incompatible with something Tolkien might have said, as both Bilbo and Frodo are ordinary people (er, hobbits) simply being who they are, their acts of mercy towards Gollum ultimately pivotal in the saving of their world.
And that reminder, that what I choose to do today can matter to someone, even if I can not personally do anything to guarantee the safety of first graders going to school, is why I love these films, and why I love the books they’re based on.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” – Gandalf, to Frodo, in The Fellowship of the Ring.