I have been comparing and contrasting the book and movies of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit a lot lately. I have watched the movies before I read the novel, believing that reading the book first would ruin the movies for me. And boy, I was right. Don’t get me wrong, the movies were really entertaining and I really enjoyed them. However, the mood of the movies is really different than the book. I believe that one song from “An Unexpected Journey” sums up the whole adaptation process of the book.
When I mentioned a song from the first movie, probably “The Misty Mountains Cold” came to your mind. It was pretty iconic as it is the main theme of the first film, having appeared in the trailer. In the books, it is one of the various songs dwarves sing-however it is the crown jewel. In the book, the song is 10 stanzas long and written in iambic tetrameter. So we can say that it is very conventional, both content and form-wise. This song invokes an image of the Misty Mountains; it describes the lives of dwarves back in the day and the general topography of the forest area. Although it is not that old, as in the last line of the last stanza goes “to win our harps and gold from him.” This him here is clearly Smaug. And for those who know nothing about what had taken place, like Bilbo himself, it is a very nice way to tell the reader. As up until that point in the novel, they have been really odd and secretive (arriving one by one, unannounced) and Bilbo feels confused and irritated. [Well to be fair, dwarves had eaten everything he has and has not offered, I’d be pretty furious too.]But when they start singing, “something Tookish woke up inside him” and that’s how Bilbo decides to join their journey. Normally hobbits are not very adventurous rather creatures of routine, but they invoke an image of the mountains in Bilbo and move his kind little heart, he cannot resist. The thing here is that the song is accompanied by instruments the dwarves carry: Fili and Kili on fiddles; Dori, Nori and Ori on flutes; Bombur on drum; Bifur and Bofur on clarinets; Dwalin and Balin on viols, and finally Thorin with his golden harp. So this creates a “sweet” sound, according to Bilbo at least. What I imagined here was a very uplifting, upbeat, heroic song. Just like how it is in “The Company Theme.” That adds to the hope and confidence the dwarves feel and foreshadows their heroism along the way and in the Battle of Five Armies.
The first movie is all about establishing the importance of the Misty Mountains and how dwarves were displaced. The main focus is obviously on the gold-dwarves are all about the money. So rather than showing how greedy the dwarves really are, the movies dramatise their past. Whereas in the book, they get to trust and like Bilbo throughout the journey, but still they are whiny, greedy and generally ill-mannered. So this shift from their greed to their suffering shows itself in the lyrics of the song. The song is two stanzas long, and apart from a small change is taken directly from the book, but given the title “Misty Mountains,” which the book version lacked.
Far over the Misty Mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To find our long forgotten gold
The pines were roaring on the hight
The winds were moaning in the night
There the fire was red it flaming spread
The trees like torches blazed with light
The only different thing here is “to find our long forgotten gold.” In the book, that first stanza is repeated with a variation in the last line. The two variations are: “to seek the pale enchanted gold” and “to claim our long forgotten gold.” Enchanted and claim are keys words here. They point to the fascination of dwarves with gold and their greediness. The real reason behind why Thorin Oakenshield wants his home back is not because he is homesick, but because of all the gold on which Smaug sleeps. Also pale and enchanted remind me of the Arkenstone.
“Claim”ing also refer to his greed as well; just before the Battle of Five Armies, Bard and Co try to negotiate with Thorin, claiming a part of the treasure for themselves. Yet again Thorin rejects, and rather than sharing it he’d remain stuck in the mountain. But in the movie version the verb find lightens this. Finding implies a search, yes, but it also means that they don’t know where it is or that they are not truly after it. The song is not accompanied by instruments, Richard Armitage sings it solo. The scene is pretty dark, the dark has fallen and they all sit around the fireplace. With a elegy like tone and baritone of Armitage added to the cozy darkness, the song metamorphoses into a song of longing and suffering.
Whilst the book has a lighter tone in general and things happen rapidly one after the other, I felt more peaceful reading it. Narrator’s language is witty and funny, and although it is action pack we don’t get to see the gruesome parts. So I’d say it can pass as a children’s book. However, the movies have more fighting and action scenes, additional characters and events. It was more of a trendy Avengers-esque movie. I think I will speak for all of us who I say that introducing a love between a dwarf and an elf was such a cheesy, Hollywood-like move. They didn’t have to have three movies for god’s sake. When I first read The Hobbit I was surprised at the flow of events, very rapid with no unnecessary characters. Yes the movies were darker and turned the tone a tad more serious. They were nice to watch at the movie theatre with 3D, but if you haven’t read the book be sure to do so. It is much more enjoyable than the money grubbing, dwarfish excuse of a prequel. If you’d ask me, I would have to say that the movie adaptation is an unsuccessful one. I would like to quote Linda Hutcheon on this:
Perhaps one way to think about unsuccessful adaptations is not in terms of infidelity to a prior text, but in terms of a lack of the creativity and skill to make the text one’s own and thus autonomous.