I learned a few years ago that two movies would follow the Lord of the Rings trilogy. One would be an adaptation of The Hobbit, which is so exciting as to set my nerdly demeanor all atwitter. To see Bilbo in his prime; to see Smaug meet his end; to see the Dwarves and their Thief steal into the heart of Erebor, the Loney Mountain; to see the Battle of Five Armies… Such a treat seems almost excessive, after how wonderfully true and moving the LotR movies were. But it is not the forthcoming Hobbit movie that moved me to write this post.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already heard. Another movie will be released the year after The Hobbit. This one will concern itself with events that took place in the sixty years between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It will track the actions of certain (not yet specified) characters from LotR, to bridge the gap between the two. In other words, it will be making stuff up.
Tolkien wrote very little about those sixty years. Some was set down in the Appendices to LotR, such as the attempt by the Dwarves of Erebor to retake Moria, and some was hinted at in both The Hobbit and LotR, such as the White Council’s actions against Sauron in Mirkwood, Gollum’s imprisonment in Thranduil’s caves, and Aragorn’s fighting alongside the men of Gondor under a false name. The essential point, however, is that these are all short snatches of story or simply vague hints. Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, and everyone else behind the project will be cobbling these snatches together, along with their own fabrications, into a narrative for the film. They’re going to retcon Tolkien.
Penny Arcade linked to a transcript of a chat session between fans and Peter Jackson, the producer of the two films, and Guillermo del Toro, the director. Both are obscenely talented people, and i have no doubt they will bring all their expertise to bear on this product. I’m just concerned about what this means for Tolkien’s legacy. On the one hand, he is one of the greatest authors of all time. He constructed an entire world, one with a history that lives and breathes, that can be pored over with just as much fascination as the histories of the peoples who live and who have lived in our own world. It should be near instinctual to wish to protect that creation, to ensure that no one else trivializes Tolkien’s vision by inventing new stories for time-honored characters. On the other, Tolkien created a full and vibrant world, and perhaps it would not be so harmful if people of great talent explored that world in ways that the original author did not think to.
I am on the fence. I will remain there, happily containing my fanboyish malcontent, until the film comes out. Rest assured that if it falls short of my expectations, I will be online within moments, registering my disgust throughout the world.