This October, France 2 (French Broadcasting Channel) has been replaying the extended version of Peter Jackson’s trilogy The Hobbit. Released in 2012, starring Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen, it is the film adaptation of the eponym novel by J.R.R. Tolkien.
2020 has been a difficult year for the film industry and for film lovers. The announcements of new curfews and lockdowns in Europe mean even fewer theatrical releases. With movie selections diminishing, and the need for fiction becoming greater than ever, audiences naturally turn to classics.
Finding comfort during uncertain times
On one hand, you have people who love watching the same movie over and over, like excited kids demanding the same Disney film be replayed for the fiftieth time. They know every line and every song, but they just can’t “Let it Go”. On the other hand, some understandably, find it unbearable and get no fun in watching a movie they have already seen. « What’s the point if you already know what happens »?
Children often request the same bedtime story. It allows them to experience the thrill of adventure without being too scared. They already know the main character will defeat the monster in the end, and that’s comforting. Does it mean it is childish of people to enjoy watching the same movies over and over or have they simply done a better job at keeping in touch with their inner child?
“The sublimely beautiful and the grotesque”: Halloween in Middle-Earth
To Tolkien fans, who have read the books and seen the movies several times, watching The Hobbit Extended Version sounds like a walk in the park. However, the three hours and twenty minutes of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, featuring dwarves hiking across Middle-Earth, might prove too much for some.
83 years after its first publication, what makes The Hobbit (and The Lord of the Rings’ universe in general) so enjoyable? Beyond the timeless adventures of Bilbo Baggins, director Peter Jackson’s vision has given life to a world of astonishing beauty. Cate Blanchett, who plays Galadriel in both trilogies, words it perfectly:
“He’s (Peter Jackson) got such an extraordinary sense of the sublimely beautiful and the grotesque”.
There is a comforting quality about his work. The autumnal colour palette of the Shire and Rivendell contrast with the cold mountains and dark forests. The overall result, evokes the familiar warmth and chills of October and somehow echoes the wholesome spookiness of Halloween. If people are not convinced, they should check out Cosplayer Rachel Masky’s YouTube channel to understand how Hobbits fit in the Halloween aesthetic.
The Hobbit: mindless escapism?
The length and scale of these epic quests are overwhelming. Count over 64 hours of reading (for The Hobbit and the three LOTR novels) or, if one is short on time, a total of 21 hours of film (for The Hobbit Trilogy extended version and The Lord of the Rings trilogy extended version). That’s quite big chunk of time to dedicate to imaginary creatures going after an imaginary ring, to save an imaginary world. Shouldn’t this time be spent on saving our world instead? Or on the contrary, since things are so dreadful these days, don’t people deserve a break from reality? Is it really a such waste of time, to immerse oneself in fiction, if they come back to reality, inspired and stronger?
Tolkien has confirmed LOTR was not an allegory of WWII. However, it remains a classic tale of Good versus Evil. Although, unlike classic hero stories, where the hero and the villain are opposite equals, in the Middle-Earth stories, the heroes are small and insignificant. They must face, against all odds, an omnipresent, omniscient and powerful evil. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Galadriel asks Gandalf “Why the Halfling”?
His answer is heartbreaking:
“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”
Fiction as weapon against Evil
LOTR and The Hobbit resonate with sensitive people. Those overwhelmed by the horrors and violence in the world. Like Hobbits, they only seek the simple pleasures of life.
“That means good food, a warm hearth, and all the comforts of home”.
But how can one enjoy these lovely things when sickness and war are plaguing the world outside?
Beyond fiction being comforting, it provides the « small » people with the courage to fight. LOTR and Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring, is a reminder that even the smallest positive actions can make a difference and change the world for the better. It inspires readers and viewers to find the strength in their hearts, to keep doing what is right.
Bilbo tells Frodo:
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
All adventures begin with one step, even if that step is as small as watching The Hobbit for the fiftieth time.
Fantasy as a means to save civilization
With the pandemic, people have turned to dystopian literature “en masse”. The sales of classic novels, such as Stephen King’s The Stand, George Orwell’s 1984 or The Plague by Albert Camus, have exploded during the lockdown. Readers have been searching for answers and solutions to the challenges we are currently facing. People who dislike fantasy argue that it is stories for children. They consider the genre to be « fairy tales » for immature adults who refuse to grow up. However, fairy tales have always had a civilizing role. Beyond entertaining children, they provide us with a moral guideline. They teach us, early on in our lives, how to behave in times of crisis. Within the comforting safety of an imaginary world, we can rehearse what we will do; until the time to face insurmountable obstacles presents itself in real life.
In these scary, uncertain times, people need fiction and fantasy more than ever. It gives them a break from the round-the-clock news broadcasts, fueling their anxieties; but also prepares people for the coming months. In times of fear and violence, their instincts tell them to enharden themselves. The Hobbit reminds people to remain gentle folks and to show compassion despite the difficulties they might encounter. It teaches readers that:
“True courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.”