The Desolation of Tolkien: in Defense of Fan-Fiction

by DoctorGamgee with responses

OSo I went and saw The Hobbit part Deux yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed the movie I saw. It was highly action packed, the interaction of the dread worm (which was exquisite in its execution of everything draconian that one could wish...powerful, graceful, smart, cunning, and wonderfully played by the actor) and the burglar was witty and well played.

The action sequences with the dwarves and the spiders, the battle between them (killing them left and right) and the barrel scenes with their whipping/frothing waterway, constant action between the dwarves, orcs, elves, and CGI was exciting and grabbed the attention of the eyes. Especially loved the place where whimsy won and the dwarves chopped through the logs subsequently to send the orcs into the water ... delightful.

And the gripping scenes of the Dwarves battling the Worm before it turned and headed for Lake Town was visually stunning. One would think that having lived through the dragon attack, Gloin would have known their plot wouldn't have worked...but they gave it a good effort and the time spent on it was rollicking good fun.

G-Minor said he liked it much better than the first one, as it was more action packed and less travelling. For a boy of nine and three-quarters years, that is great praise indeed. PJ has hit his target audience where they live and has scored a home run.

If I have one complaint, it is with the detractors of the movie calling it nothing but "Fan Fic". Not that I disagree with what they are suggesting. You will notice that I have heaped a good deal of praise on the movie, but not discussed the story...mostly because it has absolutely nothing to do with Tolkien's book for which the movie is called "THE HOBBIT" (and thus, the Desolation of Tolkien of which the title of this musing implies). Had the dragon been called Dweezle, the Dwarves been Dashful, Bumpy, Snappy, Beepy, Sleezy, Gropey and Hoc (yes, I have a penchant for Spoonerisms), and the burglar named Bungo, then there would have been no complaints on any level. The whole thing would have been rollicking good fun and no feathers would have been ruffled.

And here is my difficulty: The name implies Tolkien's story being somewhere upon the screen, and Fan Fiction implies a love for the works of the writer and a desire to expand on the world of Middle Earth; this film does not do this--at least not in the way I have watched Fan Fic as it is placed in our Red Book and the Scrapbook be developed, treated and written.

I have not read all of the fic in the Red Book. I have written only 1.5 pieces of fan fiction (I don't have that kind of brain that finds it productive and I need to re-read ROTK so I can finish the last half of the second piece). But from what I have seen, PJ's movies are not akin to what I have witnessed here. I have watched as rodents armed with bows and arrows tell a story which showed far more care for Tolkien's characters that what PJ gave us. I have seen careful, reverent stories fashioned out of the characters whom Tolkien introduced which illumined the characters and themes presented in JRR's works. This is not what PJ has done. He has not given us deeper understanding (even comic takes on it); rather he has used what Tolkien wrote to secure funding for a rollicking holiday film that bears no resemblance to the Professor's work.

So like or hate the film as you see fit. Enjoy, detest or "Meh" your way through it. But please don't refer to this film of PJ's as "Fan Fic" and do a disservice to the work of our writers here who have tried to honor the work of Tolkien. PJ clearly doesn't deserve that sort of honored treatment as he has shown no inkling of honoring Tolkien with this film. Fiction it is: but not Fan Fic.

Thanks for listening.


Response from Yaralindi:

Nicely written, Doc, but I fear I must disagree. Fan fiction takes its roots in the original author's works and can either fill in gaps in a story (why did Gandalf refer to Belladonna Took as remarkable), better explain a particular character or characters (what did the dwarves do between the fall of Erebor and their return to the Lonely Mountain), or even branch out into something else entirely (what would happen if Gandalf and Darth Vader got into a fight).

This latter is called alternative universe (AU) fan fiction. I'm generally not fond of AU stories because the premise usually pulls a character from one set of rules and reality and plops them down into another. For example, since Gandalf has nothing that would stop a light saber, Vader would stick him with it and the story would end. P.J. did not go quite as far as this, but he did take Tolkien's story into another universe where things happened quite differently.

It is not Tolkien's story, but it is based on the professor's world, pretty much follows his rules, uses his characters, expands on what was told in the original works, and appears to be headed in the same general direction. It is simply a retelling of a masterpiece by a master craftsman targeted at a common audience. In short, it is commercialization of a classic with one sole reason for existing - make money for the investors. In this, it appears to be doing quite well.

As many have said, it is not Tolkien but it certainly is Alternative Universe Fan Fiction. It is crass commercialism at its worst, but it is masterfully done and as you said, would be marvelous if the names were changed to protect the innocent.

Response from Varda:

hanks for your post Doc and for defending fanfiction.

I can only say, without any self interest, that you are absolutely, utterly and entirely right.

When I first heard of Tauriel my immediate thought was 'this is like fanfiction - making up a character to add to Tolkien's story' But it is not like true fanfiction at all. True Tolkien devotees, like Vison and the rest of us, were trying to get closer to Tolkien, not go miles from the original books. We wanted what we wrote to be what Tolkien himself predicted - poems, stories and drama to better celebrate his incredible Middle Earth. Tauriel, and all the other inventions to elasticate The Hobbit and let it fit it over as many lucrative blockbusters as possible, is not the result of that kind of celebration.

I enjoyed the Hobbit, and will probably enjoy The Hobbit part deux when I go to see it as a Boxing Day treat next week. I have schooled myself not to feel outrage. And to be honest, I feel a bit ashamed that I have made myself not mind all the changes. I suspect that Frodent, Aramouse and even Marfach would feel let down.

But we have to admit that the films, as films, work; G-Minor correctly observed (is he almost 10???? ) that it is a great romp and hits all the required targets of your average popcorn-munching blockbuster. But no, it is not Tolkien's story. Tolkien's world, his ideas, his Middle Earth. But not his story.

When he made the original trilogy, Peter Jackson sounded a warning note to fans of the books; he said that his aim was to make a successful FILM. He wanted to stay faithful to Tolkien's book, and by and large he managed it, with some glaring exceptions. But he is a film director and his brief was to make a good film, not a mediocre film of a great book. He has made good films with his Hobbit trilogy as well but critically they are a million miles short of the LOTR trilogy and the critics have sniffed out the differences and on this side of the pond critical reviews have not been kind. They have pounced on the very obvious spinning out of the story, and have voiced a feeling that what was the material of one or at most two films has been tugged hard to make three.

If, as seems the case, the audiences enjoy it, what harm? as they say in Cork. The Hobbit ll, like Hobbit l, is an enjoyable romp, and there will be even people who see it and are tempted to pick up the books. But like you Doc I feel a sense that something is not right. 'C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas Tolkien'. And the strange thing is, by moving so far from Tolkien, the films have diminished in critical value, even if not in technical excellence and success.

Just my humble opinion, as always.


Reply from AnnaEstel:

Thank you Doc! I won't go into details (ugh). I will add only this. You could watch the LOTR films, then read the books, and probably be satisfied. Maybe even be drawn to try reading other books. If you pick up The Hobbit after seeing these films, you are likely to be worse than disappointed and never want to read again. I think these films have done books in general a horrible disservice.

Response from MrsPippin-Took:

The problem with movies like this is that The Hobbit I and II too much pretend to be LOTR but that is impossible. LOTR was a complete different story. Yes there were of course the famous names like Bilbo, Gollum, Gandalf and of course some things that were mentioned but still The Hobbit is NOT LOTR. PJ tried too hard to make it the same. From a moviemaker's point of view I can understand he wants to make something that works and will get big views and stuff. But stay at least a bit to the real story. When Tauriel was healing the dwarf I got a deja vu. Where have I seen this before? Yes right it was Arwen (movie version) when she saved Frodo. I forgot if it was Bard or Thorin but one of them said something and that reminded me of Aragorn. Thorin and Bard are NO Aragorn and neither is Tauriel Arwen. Legolas was if I may use that word a bit jerkish. Thranduil reminded me of Lucius Malfoy. So yes I know the feeling.

When I look at it as a movie and leave the idea of the supposed to be Hobbit aside the movie in itself is very, very good. Great effects, great story and absolutely brilliant GCI Dragon. And as a movie itself I tremendously enjoyed it. But don't search for Tolkien. He is nowhere to be found