Several years ago, when I learned that Peter Jackson was helming a screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, I found myself scribbling out a plan (not quite an outline) how I would handle the challenging process of producing a prequel to a successful film trilogy, knowing that the book had been written long before the author had even imagined the story behind that trilogy.
That is, in Tolkien’s imagination, The Hobbit came first.
For many filmgoers, however, the Lord of the Rings would be their first taste of the Beowulf scholar’s fantastic realm.
Tolkien himself provides the key. In the short narrative, “The Quest for Erebor” published by his son Christopher in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, he reports of an exchange that took place in Minas Tirith shortly after the coronation of King Elessar. Some members of the fellowship had asked Gandalf how he had come to ask Bilbo to join the thirteen dwarfs in their quest to recover their treasure — and their long-lost mountain home — from the dragon Smaug (i.e. the quest that takes place in the movie released today).
That is where I would begin it, with the members of the fellowship sitting around in a house (or a pub?) in the restored capital of Gondor, asking Gandalf that very question. We would fade from his telling not to the first scene in the book (i.e., The Hobbit), with the wizard approaching the hobbit at his home, but to the scene presented in that tale, with him encountering Thorin just outside the village of Bree.
Thorin would show some reluctance to including the hobbit, perhaps familiar with Bilbo’s very bourgeois and bland father. Durin’s heir would eventually defer to the Maia whom Manwë himself had dispatched to Middle-earth.
Even as he accepts the wizard’s choice, the dwarf leader would often find himself at odds with Bilbo. The film would present the two as almost opposites, with a tension between them similar to that we often see in cop movies with such pairings.
Now that I have outlined how I would have adopted the classic book, I am prepared to see the movie. I’ve tried not to watch the previews, but have seen in at least one an image of Cate Blanchett reprising her role as Galadriel, so it seems Jackson has made some changes, given that this daughter of Finarfin does not appear in The Hobbit. Nor in fact do any women.
I wish I could go into this without expectations, but having been a Tolkien geek for the better part of my life, I cannot alas.