Saturday, July 23, 2011


December 14, 2012. Another Christmas season is coming, and with it, another star in the Lord of the Rings movie franchise-two movies, actually: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There and Back Again are currently filming back-to-back in "The Home of Middle Earth", New Zealand.Seventeen months of waiting after a ten-year LOTR drought? Better be worth it!

The Hobbit should be required reading for sixth grade or first year high school. Or for the busy executive or fulltime mom who's willing to take on the lighter side of the behemoth that is the LOTR trilogy.It reads pretty much like a typical boyhood adventure, complete with hundreds of close calls, a treasure hunt, and a really nasty dragon. I actually read this after I finished The Return of the King, and my loyalty to and admiration for J.R.R. Tolkien has been cemented forever since then. The Two Towers made me proud to be an English major in U.P., having written one of my most grueling final papers (for modern British literature) ever. I started to appreciate the depths and breadths of the world's epics, and before long, no professor had to require me to wolf down The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Back then, eons before Cate Blanchett's (as Galadriel) beautiful narrative intro to The Fellowhip of the Ring, the trilogy plus The Hobbit created an organic tapestry for me--a world that's out of this world, yet deeply rooted in this world: the politics, religion, psychology, philosophy, science of it all, timeless and bountiful, were there in Tolkien's manifold imagination. As a flashlight reader, I kept these nuggets close to my heart, moving on to The Sandman series in the mid-90's, until Peter Jackson came along and brazenly shot the three films. The anticipation nearly killed me. The antipathy towards Liv Tyler (sigh, as Arwen) grew and grew, and so did my movie memorabilia. Those were crazy years indeed.

But teaching the novels in high school wasn't a crazy idea at all. Thanks to the movies, mass market paperbacks were all over the bookstores, and my third and fourth year high school students then were reading  The Two Towers and The Return of the King, and writing really splendid essays on them. The entries on my students' thematic worksheets were such a joy to read, and our discussions were alternately hilarious and thought-provoking. I took care to focus on chapters that were not featured in the movies, like The Houses of Healing, where Eowyn and Farmir find each other and nurse each other's broken hearts, and The Scouring of the Shire, where the four hobbits--sans the mighty Elves and Men--defeat the evil forces that have taken root in their homeland The Shire. My students were telling me how proud they were to be annotating the movies to their friends and family, knowing what they knew beyond the movies. They have also come to realize that most everything in pop culture (read: Harry Potter) borrows from  the quest archetype and the heroic tradition. Every other adventure tale after the 50's pretty much echoes The Lord of the Rings, for better or for worse.

The Hobbit films should be promising. Some of the old gang will be reprising their roles (Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, among others), but it is the new crop of actors that interests me: Thorin Oakenshield, that brave, beloved dwarf leader will be played by Gerard Butlerish Richard Armitage (see pic on the right, also see the Captain America movie, where I think he plays a Nazi)), and Thranduil, Legolas' father will be played by Lee Pace of Pushing Daisies fame (he will also be in the Breaking Dawn film as roguish vampire Garrett). Smaug the CGI dragon will be voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, the suave villain from Atonement. Lost's Evangeline Lilly is an elf here, and I hope she doesn't glide and whisper like Liv Tyler. What should be interesting to all is Bilbo's epic first encounter with Gollum, and the riddles that led to the ring ending up in Bilbo's pocket.Plus, the merry band of dwarfs that came knocking on Bilbo Baggins' door are featured in the early poster versions. These little guys are poised to make a fashion statement!

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." Tolkien first wrote that line in the middle of checking his students' test papers. Me? In the middle of my administrative paperwork, I'll be blogging about this ongoing journey. That's a promise.

LOTR around the net:

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