The Hobbit: Book to Film Comparison (Part 1)
By Lewis Hurst.
This will be the first in a series of articles examining the changes and additions director Peter Jackson has made to JRR Tolkien’s text over the course of adapting The Hobbit.
NOTE: Contains full spoilers for the first two movies.
When Peter Jackson announced his intention to stretch his adaptation of The Hobbit to three films instead of the original two, I was nervous. Was there going to be enough material in the slim line novel to support three movies? Jackson reassured us that material would be pulled from the Return Of The King appendices to support the three film split… and then some stuff he made up.
Out of the two Hobbit films so far, the first; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is the one that seems to have pulled the short straw in terms of content. Covering material from only the first six chapters of Tolkien’s novel, this required a lot of padding and extra content to justify the runtime.
The first bit of extra padding is an extended prologue sequence with an older Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood). They discuss Bilbo’s upcoming 111th birthday party which ends with Frodo going off to meet Gandalf (Ian McKellen) in East Farthing Woods, which is where we meet them in Lord of the Rings. Some book fans found this entire sequence unnecessary. However, I find that it makes some nice continuity with the Lord of the Rings films for viewers unfamiliar with The Hobbit, instead of overwhelming viewers with new characters they have Frodo and Bilbo to ease the transition. Plus, if we return to this framing device at the conclusion of the third film, it could bring the franchise full circle and provide a bittersweet ending to the series. Perhaps if we witness an older Bilbo departing Rivendell with Gandalf and Elrond in their journey to the Grey Havens?
Several new additions have been made to the plot. The first is the Necromancer subplot, mentioned in the original novel but occurring off-screen. In the book, Gandalf disappears and leaves the group shortly before they enter Mirkwood to deal with some “Business”. This was mainly an attempt by Tolkien to force Bilbo and the Dwarves to take on a more heroic role and not rely on Gandalf to save them. At the end of the book, Gandalf reveals that his business was driving the Necromancer from his fortress of Dol Guldur.
The film does something that Jackson has done before in his Tolkien adaptations; it condenses timelines in order to make the story more immediate. In Tolkien’s lore, the sickness upon the Greenwood that slowly transforms it into Mirkwood occurs several hundred years before The Hobbit takes place, while the film condenses this and makes it happen much later and much faster. In the film, we see Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy), who does not appear in the novel, discovering the sickness and learning that there is a Necromancer in Dol Guldur. Radagast faces off with an evil spirit, which eagle eyed viewers will note is the Witch King from Lord of the Rings, and finds a Morgul Blade. Radagast gives the blade to Gandalf who then shows it to Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) to convince them of the dark forces at work. This of course means another change to the main story.
In the book, Gandalf does not remain behind in Rivendell and instead accompanies the company over the mountains and when the Goblins attack, Gandalf fights them off but is separated from the group. He then makes a grand entrance much like he does in the film. In The Desolation of Smaug, Gandalf leaves the company on the borders of Mirkwood to investigate the growing evil. He makes a visit to the High Fells and ventures into dark tombs which we learn are where the Men of the North imprisoned the Ringwraiths after defeating them in battle.
This is a complete fabrication by Jackson. The Ringwraiths were never imprisoned, it is around this time that they attack the Gondor fortress of Minas Ithil and turn it into the dark tower of Minas Morgul. As explained in Tolkien’s text, the leader of the Nazgul; The Witch King of Angmar, cannot be slain or be defeated by the hand of any living man, which raises questions as to how the Men of the North were able to restrain the Witch King long enough to entomb him in the High Fells. Radagast mentions Dark Spells being used to seal the tombs so hopefully Jackson will expand on this in the extended edition of The Desolation of Smaug. Gandalf then ventures into the fortress of Dol Guldur and makes the startling discovery that the Necromancer is in fact the Dark Lord Sauron, who is slowly regaining his strength and power. Sauron then battles Gandalf and holds him prisoner in the fortress. This is a slight expansion on the text. In the text, Gandalf makes his discovery and then high tails it out of there to warn the White Council. Now, I’m enjoying the Necromancer subplot. The way it develops in The Desolation of Smaug makes the diversions in An Unexpected Journey worth it. Of course, the way it concludes in the third Hobbit film, There And Back Again, will prove if the addition of the subplot was needed or if it was just nothing more than time padding.
Speaking of Radagast, the wily wizard is another of Jackson’s additions to the story. Radagast himself only appears once in Lord of the Rings. He talks to Gandalf for a bit and that’s it. So it’s nice to see Radagast actually show some character and get some screen time. I honestly can’t understand Tolkien fans who complain about Jackson’s interpretation of Radagast as Tolkien never lingers on him long enough for a definitive character to emerge, thus he is a very blank slate that Jackson was able to work from, and he actually created a very funny and interesting character from it. From what we know of Radagast, he spends a lot of his time in the forest of Mirkwood spending time with the kind animals and plants that live there. Radagast as he appears in The Hobbit films certainly feels like someone who hasn’t had a lot of human contact over the years, due to the fact that he seems quite addled in the mind and it seems prefers to avoid contact with others. Radagast is portrayed as being quite innocent to the darkness of Middle-Earth which ties him in strongly to the main theme of Tolkien’s work, which is the innocence in the world being lost.
The expansion of the plot also required a new antagonist for the story. In the book, the antagonist is Smaug but he does not appear until later on in the novel, requiring a new antagonist to drive the first movie and much of the second. Jackson then fell back to Tolkien’s text and resurrected a character who is long dead: Azog the Defiler. In the book, Azog is mentioned only once as the Orc who killed Thorin’s grandfather Thror long ago. In Tolkien’s lore, Azog was killed by Thorin’s second cousin Dain many years ago, but in a bit of rewriting, that battle instead saw Thorin taking on Azog, chopping off his left arm and having Azog survive the battle. Azog then hunts the Company throughout the films. This is a major departure from Tolkien’s text. In the book, there is no Orc hunters. It seems that Azog has replaced Bolg as the main Orc antagonist. Bolg, in the lore, is Azog’s son but in The Desolation of Smaug, Bolg is introduced but no mention of this relationship is there. Perhaps Jackson has changed things around and made Bolg a trusted lieutenant instead of his son? But then why do Azog and Bolg look so similar? Perhaps some mention of their relationship will be in There and Back Again or The Desolation Of Smaug Extended Edition? Azog’s addition also seems to serve the purpose of developing Thorin as a character, giving Thorin a driving for vengeance against the pale orc.
Next: Changes to the story of The Hobbit itself.