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The first trailer for the last Hobbit film has been released, which signals the re-commencement of The Battle of the Five (or more) Opinions of The Hobbit Films. Here in the Rabbit Room we are passionate about our books, our films, and our books made into films. When it comes to Peter Jackson’s second foray into Middle-earth, I know there are strong opinions on both sides. All of this brought to my mind the idea of adaptation, and how we think about that.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to teach The Hobbit to high school students. One week I had them watch the two films, and then we discussed the films vs. the books. In my own search for material, I stumbled across a very helpful discussion of adaptation, and how we think about book-to-film adaptation, by Tolkien scholar Corey Olsen. He deals with the buildup to The Desolation of Smaug, but also spends a bit of time discussing general principles of adaptation. The lecture is pretty long at 2 1/2 hours, but well worth your time if you’d really like to listen.
Olsen’s lecture, and the reemerging discussion with the release of the last Hobbit trailer, has brought some questions to mind that I thought I might share here, and spark some discussion on adaptation in general:
1. How much responsibility does a filmmaker have to adhering strictly to a text vs. creating their own vision of a text? Is an author’s opinion and vision of their own work the final authority? Consider that when you read a story, how you imagine the characters and environment may be very different than how the author does. Does this make you wrong?
2. Is it possible for a filmmaker to improve upon a book in some ways?
3. Is it possible to love both a book and a film adaptation of the book, even if they are significantly different, without betraying a sense of “loyalty” to the original story?
4. How do we navigate the gap between two very different mediums, which require two very different storytelling styles, in a knowledgeable way?
Let’s have a good, respectful discussion. Duels are only allowed over whether Galadriel is the fairest of them all.
Chris currently teaches writing and literature to community college students in Massachusetts. He is the author of six books of poetry, and can probably be found reading a book, drinking chai, and wearing flannel. In 2018 he and his wife Jen co-founded The Poetry Pub, an online community for poets. He enjoys walking in the woods, hanging out in coffee shops, and poking around used bookstores.