Hobbitmania!

Here’s my take on The Hobbit trilogy, or Why I Don’t Actually Care Whether Or Not Peter Jackson Is Manipulating Me For My Money.

I’ll admit I was rather cynical when news first dropped that The Hobbit would be in two parts. Ever since HP7, it seems every studio is realizing they can exploit fans into spending more money without getting better movies in return. And, though I may love Tolkien, The Hobbit isn’t quite as long or complex as would justify two films. Then the cast list appeared, and I began to realize this adaptation might not just be The Hobbit. Otherwise, what are people like Galadriel and Saruman doing in it?

Now that it’s been confirmed that The Hobbit is becoming a trilogy, it’s also clear what else Jackson et al. are using as sources, namely appendices from LOTR. Some people are complaining that this somehow devalues The Hobbit as a work on its own, others are just too mad about the existence of a third movie to really say much else.

But you know what I say? Bring on the trilogy. Yes, I’m skeptical of the idea that Jackson et al. just thought they needed more time to tell the story, that money didn’t even sort of cross their minds. But honestly, I don’t even exactly know what that story is, other than that it’s based partly on The Hobbit and partly on LOTR appendices. So I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here, especially because Peter Jackson is like Christopher Nolan in that he’s completely incapable of making a movie that’s shorter than two and a half hours. So it’s possible he really does think he doesn’t have enough time.

You know what else? Three movies gives me three opportunities to dress up like a dork at a midnight showing with BatCat here. And it gives me three opportunities to see Aidan Turner’s beautiful face (even covered in dwarf beard) on the big screen. It gives me one movie to be really excited about, each year for the next three years.

So maybe I’m just being an easily-duped Tolkien fan, and maybe those aren’t good enough reasons for me not to care, but I’m completely indifferent to what Jackson et al’s reasons are for making The Hobbit into a trilogy. I just want good movies. And if the Peter Jackson team delivers with The Hobbit like they did with LOTR, I’ll be more than happy to spend my money on all three movies.

-Joanna

The Relevance of Tolkien

With the release of the first official trailer for The Hobbit, the nerd and cinema worlds are once again abuzz with Tolkien-related hype. For those of you who haven’t seen the trailer:

It looks like it’s going to be everything I could hope for and more. I’m so excited that I wish they had a specific release date so that I could start planning my December 2012 accordingly. Because a year just isn’t enough time to prepare.

As a fantasy fan, it can sometimes be difficult to reconcile amazing, classic fantasy with the desire for strong female characters. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, fantasy, even classic fantasy, often portrays women as evil, sluts, or both. The subject of women in Tolkien is a little tough, or at least not as simple as I’d like. In The Hobbit there are zero female characters. That’s a pretty low blow, sure, but nothing we twenty-first century people can’t handle; we might actually be more confused as to why Bilbo doesn’t bag some babe at the end. I’m going to make a broad statement I not-so-secretly hate that I feel I have to make: sometimes I’d prefer there not be women in literature and movies, rather than have to deal with a misogynistic or just plain ignorant portrayal of women. This fact contradicts all I feel about inclusion, women, and the fantasy world, but sometimes it’s just easier that way.

In this adaptation of The Hobbit, there are two women on the cast list: Galadriel and Tauriel, a Mirkwood elf invented by Peter Jackson. Interestingly, it appears that Galadriel will play a decently-sized part in the films, despite her absence from the source material. From what I gather, the presence of characters not in the book relates to an attempt to frame The Hobbit in the larger context of its relation to LOTR and the War of the Ring, without being a prequel. I, despite my previous statement about exclusion, can appreciate Jackson’s decisions to add or increase the importance of female characters in his Tolkien adaptations. While sticking in two female characters hardly constitutes a breakdown of traditional gender ideas in modern fantasy, even that little bit helps. It shows that someone is thinking that women should be present in fantasy, that it’s not a stretch to try to be inclusive, even when it means parting a bit from the source material.

We also have no concrete reason to believe that Tolkien didn’t like women, and didn’t want them invading his books. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are basically only three women: Arwen, Eowyn, and Galadriel. In the books, Arwen,┬áthe idealized woman in the classical tradition who is more of a goddess than a person, barely exists until Aragorn is set to marry her. People cite Arwen’s strength as lying in her willingness to sacrifice her immortality. These ideas are both obviously problematic. Yet in the context of LOTR, I’d prefer the female lover to be otherworldly, untouchable, and making sacrifices for those she loves, rather than wearing hip-high slits in her skirts and cleavage-squeezing bodices, while not thinking much of anything. While chivalry is dead for good reason, there is a respect in the former view of women that the latter lacks. It shows the reverence with which Tolkien saw women and their love, especially in light of the fact that amongst the elves, women and men were seen as equals, according to the Laws and Customs of the Eldar, published in Morgoth’s Ring.

As for Galadriel, she occupies a strange, gender-neutral place that I can’t really disapprove of. While she is beautiful, it is a distant beauty. In the films, she is portrayed as wise and revered; everyone respects Galadriel. While she is not going on blade-wielding adventures, she is hardly a weak character.

With Eowyn, Shield-Maiden of Rohan, Tolkien could have done what C.S. Lewis liked to do: give girls daggers they are told not to use, with Father Christmas making the admonition that “battles are ugly when women fight.” Though Tolkien wasn’t exactly a destroyer of traditional gender roles, Peter Jackson also wasn’t exaggerating Eowyn’s importance and badassery in the film adaptations.

Sure, at first Eowyn is scared, confronting Angmar. Anyone would be. But then, after her declaration to the Witch-King that she is no man and the ripping off of her helm, this happens:

Indeed, Eowyn’s reply to the Witch-King that, “I am no man” is one of the most empowering statements from a female character that I can think of, regardless of genre. She doesn’t slay Angmar in spite of being female, or because her femaleness wasn’t important right then, but essentially because she is female. Sure, she has some help from Merry, who stabs Angmar in the knee, but even he isn’t exactly a man. He’s a hobbit, a little halfling equally unfit for battle by the standards of the time and place. Besides, it’s not Merry’s wound that kills the Witch-King, but Eowyn’s. The fact that they work together is doubly empowering, proving that to Tolkien you don’t have to be a big, strong tough-guy to kick ass. I would even go so far as to say the moment is more dramatic in the book than in the movie; the movie doesn’t show the Witch-King realizing, oh man I’m about to die, the way that it should. In fact, it should look a little more like Matt Stewart‘s interpretation of the scene:

(Actually, all fantasy art should look like this.)

I suppose I should ask the question of whether having one female badass, who resists the orders of everyone around her not to fight, compensates for the fact that she is just one woman. I would say yes. Characters like Eowyn set the example for women and writers, male and female, to appreciate the sheer awesomeness that all women have within them. It may sound trite, but in a way, all women are Eowyn. And if more people recognized that all women have the capacity to whip off their helms and stab the Witch-King in the face, the world would be that much better.

-Joanna