Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Down the Hobbit Hole

“In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”

The first sentence of a novel that would throw a literary professor into fame and riches, while igniting the fascination of millions. The Hobbit, a prequel to the epic The Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien, was a beginning but also a continuation of Tolkien’s imagination and creative ideas about a world that would eventually become known as Middle-Earth. In more recent years the story that started it all for Tolkien’s fame was brought to life by Peter Jackson, reigniting fascination for Elves, dwarves and the world of Middle -Earth. The movies that tell Bilbo’s story have gotten some flak for not sticking directly to the script of the beloved children’s novel. However, I would like to share why the directors and producers remained true to Tolkien’s work, and even included information that was from other sources of Tolkien’s vision of Middle-Earth.

Tolkien in the English army
Tolkien did not sit down and imagine a world with hobbits and wizards and High Elves right away. In the beginning, there was language. Tolkien loved languages, learning both modern and ancient ones, even creating languages with his cousins. He incorporated this in his own creation of the various languages found in Middle-Earth. It even reveals how Tolkien came to the decision to use the name Middle-Earth, which was the Old English poetic word for the earth. It was the place for fights between good evil, a prominent theme within The Lord of the Rings. Just like we discussed in class, within creativity there is an element of the incorporation of past experiences that formed concepts when we were younger. With his studies of numerous languages and his history of creating languages, he found what had worked before and used the premises of existing languages to make new languages for his characters.
What is important about The Hobbit is that, despite it being his first published work, this was not Tolkien’s first time in Middle-Earth. After his death, Tolkien’s son Christopher gathered the stories he had written when he was in the war and after it. This was The Silmarillion, and it gave him the basis for the Elves, but not Middle-Earth yet. Instead, Tolkien first wrote stories about various characters that would populate his other works that were never published, The Book of the Lost Tales.
These stories were birthed in the trenches of World War II, where Tolkien served as a soldier after completing his education at Oxford. They were meant to be a creation story that was culturally English, but Tolkien abandoned it. He also wrote a short story about ancient Elves, and this would be the start of The Silmarillion. I would like to point out, that though there may not be a paradigm shift with Tolkien’s work, there is something to it being unique and appropriate. He was a middle ‘c’ creative with his writings. There are those in the fantasy community that would credit him with a rejuvenation of the genre and bringing back the way of seeing the Elves as brutal, elegant warriors instead of the little sprites and troublemakers in other literature in his time and label him as big ‘c’ creative. It depends on how you see literature and the fantasy genre.

Beorn in the Hobbit film
As a professor, Tolkien often wrote essays on various literature of the past, like Beowulf. These writings would influence his own characters, such as Beorn, a character in the Hobbit that could shift into the form of a large bear. He also wrote about the English language and would compare it to other languages or look at ancient words that had survived from pre-conquest days. He was a storyteller for his young children as well, constantly crating new stories to tell them. One day, these two worlds came together to birth The Hobbit when Tolkien was grading tests from one of his classes. According to him, he had been grading papers when he saw one student had left an entire page in the booklet empty. It was there that he began with the famous line about a hobbit hole. He expanded on this sentence, wanting to know more about this hobbit and its various conditions. That little sentence intrinsically motivated him to write a novel that would go on to inspire millions. Tolkien wrote to find out more about this creature, this Hobbit, and to see what kind of hole did he lives in, what was that hole like, and from there The Hobbit was born.

With writing The Hobbit, Tolkien did use elements from The Silmarillion, but much of it was cut from the final edition. He had originally planned on publishing The Silmarillion after The Hobbit, but had not been successful in appealing to the publisher with it. It was after this that he went on to write The Lord of the Rings. While his creation stories from The Book of Lost Tales never made it into his published works, it is significant to note that are hints to this original mythos found throughout The Hobbit. These elements could be found in the movies, where the director and producers drew on information found in The Silmarillion, as well as the appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings, that helped to give better context to certain characters and actions. So do not ever think that you are too old for adventures, simply because you did not receive a Hogwarts letter, or you did not find a hologram meant for Obi-Wan. After all, Bilbo did not start his adventure until he was 50 years old.



1 comment:

  1. I think J. R. R. Tolkien is one of my favorite authors ever. My father made me read the Hobbit and the entire Lord of the Rings series when I was in elementary school and I would in turn force him to watch all of the (extended) Lord of the Rings with me (almost 12 hours of awesome). I even had my own ring!

    I've researched Tolkien's life before to see if I could understand his inspiration, but I did not know how in depth he was about the way he named Middle-Earth or other features of this masterpiece of a book. It goes to show that development in a huge aspect of any art piece.

    It's also interesting to think of how Tolkien's work may have influenced artists today - there are different kinds of elves in Harry Potter, perhaps JK Rowling enjoyed the Hobbits in Tolkien's piece? And just recently MTV produced the Shanara Chronicles and while watching the series and reading the books, I was reminded quite a lot of Tolkien's world.


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