Commodified FantasyDecember 12, 2014

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" will be showing in theatres. This is the final installment in Peter Jackson's trilogy, an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" (1937). There was disappointment when "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", the first in the trilogy, came out. Jackson, who won an Academy Award for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" ten years ago, stretched out a storyline that was good enough for one film. But he was making a Hollywood picture.

Fans of the novel mused how the big-screen adaptation would turn out if it was Guillermo del Toro behind the camera instead. He was attached to the project, with Jackson as producer, but something came up. Not a few were disheartened after they saw his dark-fantasy films. (Who could forget "Pan's Labyrinth"?) It didn't matter.

Don't underestimate a hobbit

"The Lord of the Rings" may be epical in scope, which would leave "The Hobbit" as anything but that. The premise is relatively simple, but read again.

Tolkien based the hobbits from his experience with the people in the English countryside. This may surprise some readers, but it wasn't hard to imagine. The Shire seemed unalterable. As the tales of King Arthur would attest, readers cherish the old stories for their changelessness. The author loved their simplicity.

"I took the idea of the hobbits from the village people and children. They rather despised me because my mother liked me to be pretty. I went about with long hair and a Little Lord Fauntleroy costume. The hobbits are just what I should like to have been but never was - an entirely unmilitary people who always came up to scratch in a clinch," he said.

Bilbo Baggins, the titular character, didn't foresee the life-changing meeting. Gandalf, the gray wizard, paid him a visit. Dwarves crashed into his house. They have a plan, involving the hobbit. Heroism was the book's main theme. The dwarves doubting Gandalf's judgment of Bilbo, as he was timid. But he changed during the journey, showing there was something inside that diminutive body. It wasn't outsmarting Gollum, which most were familiar with. Not one student would quip, "To go to college without Tolkien is like going without sneakers." (It's silly to think that it means the book must be included in the reading list.)

"The Hobbit" also explored the different races who lived in Middle Earth. After the huge success of Jackson's films, the great tale of heroes and their adventure was stereotyped and reduced to toys. They were advertised, sold, broken, and junked. Commodified fantasy would be trivialised, depriving these stories of their intellectual and ethical complexity. But Tolkien wouldn't mind if he were alive. The films gained new readers.

Perhaps the moral lesson of this novel is how travelling can bond people of different backgrounds. Bilbo is a better man at the end of his journey.

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