by Lee Cross
It’s been 80 years since The Hobbit was first published.
How do you follow a statement like that; truthfully, I don’t know, and it could be argued that every pure fantasy writer has spent the last eight decades trying to follow in the legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary book (just a quick FYI: for me The Hobbit is part of the longer story known collectively as The Lord of the Rings).
I could write reams about how The Hobbit’s influence can still be felt, about the superb homages and in-references that I’ve come across, at those times when I have my Fant-Sci head on; and if Jeannie (who puts this site and my ramblings together) was to let me off the leash here, I could turn the air blue talking about horrifying rips offs
(There’s one particular series, by Terry Brooks, that infuriates me. I could not be paid to read, the sword of… whatever the flip it was, again)
Of course, now the world is a vastly different place to when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit; extreme right-wing politics is the order of day, Europe is a fractured and troubled place, and the world appears to be on the brink of a global war…
Erm, well, ok – so, all that stuff is the same BUT cinema has changed a lot.
When The Hobbit was first published, could the readers of that time ever have imagined a day when it would come to be made into a movie? or three of them for that matter; with a combined production budget of €675 million dollars, and apparent box office takings of nearly 3 billion (I’ve just taken those number of Wikipedia, so who knows whether they are accurate – the only answer that truly matters is, “a lot”).
And that question isn’t just me spit-balling, I’m genuinely interested; I come from a family that didn’t read obsessively, and my own Grandparents would never have read any Tolkien: could the 95 year-old book worms have ever imagined a time when their dreams would have been on the big screen? (please email / tweet me here, if you ever had those conversations – I’d truly love to hear)
I don’t like the movies personally, but I can’t deny that they are visually spectacular, and have added something to the legend of J.R.R – taking it to audiences that would never have chosen to read the source material. If even 1% of those viewers picked up the novel, and fell in love with it, then I can forgive Legolas running around with a sword like a mad thing (I can’t forgive Peter Jackson however).
In my heart of hearts though, I wish that the wider story of the war of the ring was still ours, we the readers of the world, a secret we shared by word of mouth and from hand to hand; with the knowledge of what Bilbo has in his pockets, being a hard-earned rite of passage and badge of honour, one you could display only in closed session, to let your fellows know you were part of a very special club.
Eighty years has passed in the blink of a flaming eye, soon it will be a hundred, then two, and three, four and five; by which time I will have long departed into whatever truly passes for the west.
In all these times to come though, I can’t ever imagine a time when the writings of Mr Tolkien aren’t the gold standard to which all other fantasy novels are measured.