75 reasons: Verlyn Flieger
I would like people to read The Hobbit before viewing the forthcoming film presentations by Peter Jackson for several reasons. If they have already read The Hobbit I would like them read it again to refresh their memories before being overwhelmed by costumes and special effects and the performances of actors. Tolkien’s book has been beloved as a children’s book for over seventy years, and deserves to be appreciated for what it is before being seen in the context of something it is not—a film adaptation which will of necessity impose its own standards on Tolkien’s story. I think readers deserve the opportunity to form their own versions of the story’s scenes and characters and its special effects, to create out of Tolkien’s word-pictures their own Hobbit in their own imaginations before being subjected to the visually more powerful but less resonanced impact of film. I would like people to trust themselves to be readers with the imagination to appreciate Tolkien and his world on their own terms, not Peter Jackson’s.
Much of The Hobbit’s appeal lies in its tone, its word-choice, the attitude of the narrator toward his story that jumps out so vividly from the page. I would like readers to hear Tolkien’s voice, an essential part of the book’s appeal. I would like them to share his jokes and hear his voice speaking directly to them and appreciate his ironies.
Much of the book’s appeal also lies in the inner workings of Bilbo’s mind. Readers need to hear his thoughts, share his unspoken longing for tea and comfort. Readers need to share his dreams, long or short, but most especially his dream after rescue by the Eagles, searching for something he has lost, though he doesn’t know what it is. Readrs will know; it is his old self, lost forever in the new Bilbo who emerges from his “adventure” with his skin whole but his memories forever changed. I would like them to know Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins before they meet Peter Jackson’s and Martin Freeman’s.
And, to be honest, I would like them to prefer Tolkien’s.
Verlyn Flieger, Professor Emerita in the English Department of the University of Maryland, is the author of four books on Tolkien, Splintered Light, A Question of Time, Interrupted Music, and Green Suns and Faërie, published in February of this year. She edited the Extended Edition of Tolkien’s short story Smith of Wootton Major and with Douglas A. Anderson edited the Expanded edition of his essay On Fairy-Stories. With Carl Hostetter she edited Tolkien’s Legendarium, a collection of essays on The History of Middle-earth. She is the author of two fantasy novels, Pig Tale and The Inn at Corbiew Caww, and an Arthurian novella, Avilion.