Last year I wrote to Simon Tolkien and the J.R.R Tolkien estate with a suggestion, strictly resisted, to write a prequel to The Lord of The Rings, about those terrible, glorious figures The Nazgul, the nine riders, called The Lair of The Nine. It began to get my blood flowing and that ‘Edgar Wallace’ hot feeling at the top of my head, to be wasted in the ether of ‘nos’. But then The Lord of the Rings was for me one of those seminal books, a cross over between the world of children’s books and great adult literature, that is often so vitally expressed by fantasy fiction, ranging from writers like Tolkien to Bulgakov.
It was Frodo’s frantic flight to Riverdale, chased by the blood curdling nine, and the intervention of magic and the racing river, that was so consuming to me at twelve, I think I read the novel three times. The narrative power, scope and mythological complexity of that book is astounding and natural inspiration for Peter Jackson’s great trilogy of movies, now loved the world over, especially by Hollywood accountants. Of course, it was far more than just ordinary fantasy or storytelling to the likes of Tolkien, who, with writers like CS Lewis, with his deeply Christian themes in those doorways to other world Narnia books, formed the Oxford club ‘The Inklings’. For all The Lord of The Rings’ obvious echo of contemporary events, like the rise of the Nazis, the Second World War and the coming of chaos, the fear of ‘shirey’ England’s uprooting, pitted against Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring of Power, the tyranny that threatens all, Tolkien’s inklings are about real psychic worlds too, inside and out, perhaps concepts of ‘gods’ like Jungian archetypes, and the vital tensions between the imaginative realm and ‘reality’.
But there was that other book, a far younger and gentler novel, a ‘Wind in the Willows’ breath of inspiration and harbinger to The Lord of The Rings, preparing Tolkien to be a far deeper author, The Hobbit. It is already putting fur on folk’s feet and starting to see it curl around the toes to hear that Jackson’s take will also be three films. The Tolkien estate may go on about respecting the integrity of Tolkien’s vision and mythology but they and Jackson are still prey to the temptations of money, mass media and merchandising. MMM…
Can a charming frolic like The Hobbit really sustain three films, even if Jackson does draw on obscure books like The Silmarillion? Such works are what should be kept in the backroom to Tolkien’s genius as a story teller, the Bagginsssssy equivalent of learning Klingon to Trekkies. There is much in The Hobbit, from all those dwarves, to the spidery horrors of Mirkwood, to Barrels Out of Bond and Smaug’s jewel encrusted belly and deathy hot breath. Proving of course a dragon really lies under everything. But it still needs the lightness of a younger work, a more innocent one, and battles and sword fights will not make up for it, while three films may stretch the spider’s web to breaking point. Even The Lord of The Rings films at times voided some of the depth and richness of the novels for me, though its architecture was sustained by the shere scope of such a work, that took seven years to write. Conversely The Hobbit is not epic in sweep, but a rather simple story of journey and return, and far more comfortable, like Bilbo himself and Bag End.
But if to me, though I loved them, the Jackson films rather hashed a very essential element to Tolkien’s core inspiration as writer, the earth, a pagan voice and above all those slow to decide trees, The Ents, fighting against an instinctive fear of mechanisation and the twentieth century, it is an absolute crime that and The Hobbit both void another magic element in Tolkien’s vision, in those deep roots of nature magic, the almost all-powerful Tom Bombadil. Indeed some power that could defeat any darkness, so itself a repeating symbol of needed hope. Like Shakespeare’s fairies they are characters hard to incarnate beyond the writer’s voice, but do not need much and are one of the natural springs to creative genius an author inserts to hint at where it is all coming from in the first place. Still, keep reminding us all that a film is not a book, a very different experience, and there’s lots of wonder and fun to look forward to.