The beautiful thing about literature is that the way the characters and environments look, the tone, the mood are all at the discretion of the reader. So when a book is adapted into film often directors receive grief because they didn’t do it “right”. The biggest book-film adaptation of the moment is of course Peter Jackson‘s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, an adaptation of J.R.R.Tolkein’s 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. So how true was Jackson’s interpretation of one of the most iconic fantasy novels of all time?
For those of you who have not read The Hobbit I urge you to do so. Equally, for those of you who have not seen The Hobbit I urge you to do so. Both are extremely satisfying, engaging and wonderous. But when you compare the two together there are some glaring differences, and some very pleasing similarities. Of course, the plot of The Hobbit follows that of the book and by the time the film ends fans of the book, like myself, ought to be pretty pleased with Jackson’s effort. The casting of new characters such as Thorin Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage, and Bilbo Baggins played by Martin Freeman are believable while the return of actors like Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood (all reprising their roles) adds a nice element of chronology to the film for those only familiar with the Lord of the Rings films. Furthermore, the adaptation of the songs from the novel (of which there are many), notably Over the Misty Mountains cold, is an appreciated nod to the novel.
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However Jackson’s adaptation is not a total copy of the film- for better and for worse. Starting with the positives, the Necromancer and Radagast the Brown plot line that is hardly mentioned in the novel becomes a substantial part of the film. In the novel Gandalf disappears to deal with this mysterious Necromancer but that is all that is revealed. It is clear from the film that the Necromancer is going to feature greatly in the coming sequels. One of the most obvious differences between the two is the inclusion of Azog “The Pale Orc”. Azog does not appear whatsoever in the novel and so it does raise the question why Jackson felt it necessary to include him. The novel revolves heavily around the bitter rivalry between the Goblins and the Dwarves. The film meanwhile ties The War of the Dwarves and Orcs (which features in The Lord of the Rings Appendix A and History of Middle-earth Volume XII) to the story of The Hobbit. While the fight scenes between Dwarves and Orcs are impressive and Azog looks truly terrifying he is not a particularly believable character, looking more like an extra from a Gears of War cutscene.
Ultimately, Jackson’s interpretation is accurate (so far) in terms of chronology and features some of the more charming aspects that made Tolkein’s novel such a classic. We will just have to wait and see how he continues to flesh out the story of the Necromancer as well as the vendetta between Thorin and Azog.