The Hobbit: An Unexpected Success

So… It’s been a minute since I’ve posted on here, huh? I use the word minute figuratively, of course, because it has in fact been months. And I would simply say, “I won’t mention it if you don’t mention it,” if I didn’t know you better. Let’s not kid ourselves, after all. We both know that you wouldn’t be able to resist bringing up the time I went months without posting on the blog. You just can’t help yourself, can you?

Well, whatever. I’ll let bygones be bygones. Being the bigger person here. Plus, you knew what you were in for when you read the About page. I made no promises of constancy, consistency, or anything vaguely resembling blog activity when I set out on this venture. All I promised you was a handful of rambling, focus-less posts. And boy, are you in luck today!

Because I’d like to talk about a movie I saw recently. And if you’ve read this blog at all, and know what kind of fiction I read and write, you can probably guess what movie I saw.

That’s right: Jack Reacher.

Kidding, kidding. It was The Hobbit, of course, and my reaction to the film is actually a lot more positive than it sounds. Ready?

I am less disappointed than I expected to be.

Now, like I mentioned above, that doesn’t sound like high praise. But let me explain. You see, The Hobbit is one of my all-time favorite stories. I haven’t read it through in a while now, and it’s not one of those books that have on a constant reread cycle. But I count it as the first book that truly left its mark on me. In Elementary school, I was a quick and gifted reader, but I didn’t really love books. They told me that I read at the level of a college freshman when I was in fourth grade, and despite how proud I was of that esteem, I didn’t take full advantage. I could comprehend books just fine, but I only read when I had to. The Hobbit changed that for me.

I picked it up after hearing about the upcoming Lord of the Rings movies. Even then, I was the type of kid who had to start at the beginning to feel that I’d gotten the most out of anything (I still do this with bands, TV shows, and book series today). So my mom bought me The Hobbit, which I was determined to read before getting into The Lord of the Rings proper. My copy had beautiful, detailed illustrations, and I was grabbed immediately by Tolkien’s vivid, grandfatherly style of storytelling. And I still look back on that book with more than just fondness, because it’s a style of storytelling that isn’t often seen in fiction anymore. It’s not every author who can write a story and instantly transport the reader to a warm oversized chair by a fire with the first words. But The Hobbit has that power.

So you can understand why it was with some considerable trepidation that I approached Peter Jackson’s film adaptation, especially with all the negative things I’d heard already. I had heard that it was bloated and unnecessarily drawn out (the adaptation was initially announced to be one film, and then two, and then a ridiculous three). I had heard that it was filled with obvious CGI and corny 3D gimmicks. And, of course, I had heard that it was a totally unneeded attempt to cash in on the success of the first three Lord of the Rings films. I was feeling a familiar, Phantom-Menace-esque lump in my throat at the thought. And, to cap it all off, Patrick Rothfuss, whose writing I love and who has led me to many other great books and films in the past through his blog, publicly stated that he would not be seeing the movie because of these factors.

So, again, I was not expecting much. But I think those low expectations saved the experience for me. In the end, strange as it sounds, I was pleasantly surprised to be unexpectedly un-disappointed. I’d spent so much time before the film bracing myself for absolute garbage that, when the time finally came to plonk myself down in the theater, I was able to have a really good time with the film.

I’ll break it down, briefly.

Being the geek that I am, I was particularly susceptible to all the random bits of nostalgia-inducing fan service throughout the movie. When the tale began with Tolkien’s immortal lines, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”–well, when I heard those first words I immediately broke out into a smile. And the original story is that dear to me that not even my powerful inner cynic could prevent Peter Jackson from playing on my nostalgic impulses. There were plenty of little inside lines like that designed to capitalize on the fond remembrances of the initiated.

Still, it’s that same geek mentality that made me more likely to cringe at all the silly Hollywood guff, and guff there was in spades. Jackson’s ridiculously lengthy action sequences are a prime example. It was also jarring to see scenes from The Lord of the Rings repeated almost exactly in this film (Gandalf, I’m talking about you and your ever-present friend, the moth–and his ever-present friends, the giant eagles, for that matter). But I suppose it ended up cancelling out in the end, and I found myself able to look past the silliness of some moments (a sled pulled by rabbits? Really?) and appreciate the thing as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t perfect. Does this adaptation need to be three films long? Hell no. Did the first installment need to be almost three hours long? Absolutely not. Does it promise to measure up to the quality of the Lord of the Rings movies? Not by a long shot. But was it an enjoyable film? With all its flaws, I am still compelled to answer that question with a resounding yes. It was plenty fun, it had all the little moments and jokes from the books that you could want, and it looked pretty damn good (provided that you don’t see it in 3D).

And, fellow geeks, let’s be honest with ourselves. No one’s going to sully classic books like The Hobbit. No one has the power to do that. No matter who adapts it or how, Tolkien’s book will always be a wonderful, vintage bit of fairy-tale storytelling, always untouched by time. So just enjoy this popcorn-munching affair for what it is, and return home to your pipe, blazing hearth, well-stocked larder, and well-worn copy of the original book, knowing in your heart that Peter Jackson’s Hobbit could have been much, much worse.

I mean, at least Legolas wasn’t in this one.

 

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Guy Gavriel Kay

I just recently read Under Heaven,  a spectacular book written by this guy right here.

That smug bastard. Look at him. What’s that? Why do I sound bitter, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

Under Heaven was amazing. I was mezmerized by this book. The prose, the characters, the world. It was the perfect blend of the real and the fantastic. It was a damn fine book. And it was very close to the kinds of books I’d like to write. It’s history, really. Heavily inspired by history, anyway. Kay is even more unabashed about his unrelenting borrowing of real-world fact than most. He totally understands what he’s doing in his books, and he has damn good reason for it. He writes what I want to write, albeit with a bit less snark and general rudeness.

A little about the book then.

Under Heaven is a fantasy based on the Tang period in China. In particular Kay was heavily influenced by the poetry of the time, and it shows in his writing. Not only does his book contain a fictionalized representation of the great Tang poet Li Bai, but his words and world are heavily inspired by the poetry of that same man. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Li Bai’s poetry was the initial impetus for the writing of this book.

Kay does a lot of really cool things with his writing. He has no qualms about switching to omniscient mid-chapter, even stepping out of the time period of the story and analyzing the events of his plot from the viewpoint of his world’s future fictional historians and antiquarians. His characters are well crafted, though they seem to be more vehicles for the time period than truly inspiring personalities. Still, that’s alright in a book like this, in which much of the wonder and enjoyment is derived from the fantastic world that the characters inhabit. Kay even messes around with tense, writing his male characters in the usual third person limited past tense, and his female characters in a sometimes-omniscient third present tense, so that the actions in the female chapters have both a sense of immediacy, and a strange sense of distance. Very cool stuff that you don’t typically see in a fantasy novel.

So basically, Kay is making me look bad. Pathetic, even. This clever son of a bitch even talks about his reasons for writing historically-inspired fiction, and they’re good ones. I’ll link you now to an essay written by Mr. Kay: Home and Away. Follow that link, and read the words contained therein. Do you see? Do you see now, gentle readers? Guy Gavriel Kay writes in that essay the same things that I’ve written about on this blog, but better. This essay of his? This is how I discovered that Kay is not only a man after my own heart, but also a man I am destined to destroy. In fact, disregard my previous request: don’t read the essay on the other side of that link. Just read my thing about fantasy again and pretend that it–you know, sounds better.

I do, however, have one complaint about Under Heaven, a complaint which I shall cherish, it having prevented the creation of a near-perfect fantasy novel that would have forever dashed my hopes of creating anything of even comparable quality. It seems at times that Under Heaven, as well as Kay’s other books, perhaps take a little too much from one period and region of history. They end up feeling like direct copies of actual historical events. I’d prefer a little more of a grab-bag approach to using history in a fantastic setting. That is to say, you can evoke a period of history and realistic events/cultures/characters without borrowing exact details and merely changing some names. This isn’t to say that Kay’s approach to fantasy is incorrect, but perhaps the Martins and Abercrombies of the world are a bit more creative with the content of their fictional worlds.

Alright, that’s all for now. More updates on my first draft in a short while.

Peace.