UBC English Professor Siân Echard talks all things Tolkien as The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug set to hit theatres Dec. 13
More than seven decades after it was first published, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit has been transformed for the big screen by Hollywood heavyweight Peter Jackson, the same director who turned Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy into an Oscar-winning box office sensation.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which had a budget of more than $500 million, is the second instalment of a three-part series and is set to hit theatres on Dec 13. UBC English professor Siân Echard, talks about The Hobbit, its origins and the fantasy world of Tolkien.
How well does the novel translate onto the big screen?
A lot of people will say that Peter Jackson’s films get the mode wrong. The argument there is that the grandiose elements of the first movie are inappropriate for a children’s book, and that they’re not present in the novel. That’s not quite right. Near the very end of The Hobbit, the novel’s tone shifts and it starts to sound like The Lord of the Rings. You could say that Peter Jackson has retroactively applied that tone from the last bit of the book to the film adaptation.
How does Jackson’s film treatment differ from the novel?
A lot of what Jackson does with the story is finding the Hollywood appeal. Legolas, who does not appear in the book version of The Hobbit, appears in the movies and is also given a love interest. A lot of the changes that have been made are shifting the story from one genre to another. Even if Tolkien were alive and didn’t like the films, that would not necessarily mean they were bad movies. Stephen King, for example, isn’t fond of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, but that’s a great movie.
Why has Tolkien’s work had such long-lasting appeal?
We’re drawn to these stories because they focus on an everyman – a small, ordinary figure – who turns out to be central in the struggle between good and evil; it’s not the great powers who determine the future of a world teetering on the brink, but someone we can identify with. The story is formulaic, but formulas often work because they’re comforting.