…and “The Elvenking’s Spice Pastries.”
During the pandemic, we watched MANY of our favorite films. Again. Because that’s what everybody was doing. TV, DVDs, arts and crafts, crying, buying stuff online, avoiding people, avoiding video calling with people… yes, we were busy. Still are, to some extent.
Of course, we watched all of the Peter Jackson films set in Middle-earth. And it STILL made me wonder why we don’t have a PG-rated version of The Hobbit.
What seems like a century ago, I figured I should quickly read The Hobbit before the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 2012, just to refresh my memory of the plot. After seeing the movie, I thought, “why the hell did I bother?” Not that reading The Hobbit is ever a waste of time, but as preparation for the film, it’s completely unnecessary. As readers of J. R. R. Tolkien’s books know, The Hobbit is a 250-page novel geared toward young children. Many probably thought, “why is Peter Jackson turning this quaint story into what might end up being a total of, let’s say, eight or nine hours worth of film, besides the obvious and cynical commercial reasons?” Let’s face it—at most, The Hobbit should be around two and a quarter hours long, maybe two and a half, regardless of how much time we want to spend in cinematic Middle-earth.
I know there are Tolkien purists who detest Jackson’s cinematic versions of The Lord of the Rings; purists might also detest the Hobbit trilogy of films. I’ve known fans who can’t tolerate the omission of the house elf rebellion from the Harry Potter films. I’ve known Jane Austen and Charles Dickens purists who can’t stomach any filmed versions of these particular novels. I once attended a lecture by the eminent Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey who bemoaned the portrayals of Aragorn, Faramir, and Denethor in Jackson’s films. Perhaps I’m more sympathetic to filmmakers and many of the decisions they end up making. I love Tolkien’s books, but I also love Jackson’s films. I treat the two genres, film and text, as two completely separate objects, so I’m not as offended by Jackson’s decisions.
Nevertheless, I don’t love either one unconditionally; both the films and the books have some flaws. After years of reading/viewing, however, even these flaws have taken on a sort of charming quality—you know, the way flaws in a good relationship become more endearing and tolerable. In a bad relationship, flaws only magnify and become annoying.
For me, these flaws, imperfections, annoyances, cringe-worthy episodes—whatever you’d like to call them—don’t bother me much, so I figure my relationships with both Tolkien and Jackson are still strong and nourishing to my soul. Here are a few of my top flaws, not in any sort of order, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. And please remember, my love for both Tolkien and Jackson supersedes any of my pet peeves!
Anyway—I’m sorry, but I have never really been keen on Tom Bombadil. He just bugs me, so I’m fine with the lack of any Bombadil scene in Jackson’s films. Sometimes I skip through Tolkien’s poetry. I’m really not keen on Jackson’s occasional use of winkingly clever anachronisms. The cringe-worthiest one, for me, is Legolas zooming down a ramp at Helm’s Deep as if he is merely a skater boy. There’s more, but this isn’t a dissertation. These are completely personal issues; I’m sure anyone reading this will have their own personal peeves and perhaps think I’m crazy for not loving the happy blue-suited character.
Conversely, Jackson added/extrapolated some beautiful features to the Lord of the Rings films. I always weep when Aragorn interacts with the mortally-wounded Boromir. I love the sweeping visuals of the beacon lighting scene. I like that Éowyn is a warmer character than Tolkien’s depiction. Too bad she is such a lousy cook. Jackson and his exceptionally talented crew got more things right with the films than wrong.
Having recently watched all of The Hobbit films, one can see that Jackson got many things right with these films as well: the invasion of Bilbo’s pantry by the dwarves and the “Riddles in the Dark” scene both stand out particularly. Jackson extrapolated the whole Radagast episode from a mere mention in Tolkien’s text. I happen to love the Radagast scenes, especially the racing rabbits, yet then there are those annoying winking anachronisms with the “tobacco” and the mushrooms. You just want Jackson to stop trying to be so modern and so clever. The Azog episode goes over the top, as does Bilbo going on the attack. I also find myself constantly distracted by the smolderingly handsome face of Richard Armitage (Tolkien stresses that dwarves are ugly). I can easily get over the casting, since Jackson is dealing with a visual medium. However, I think John Rhys-Davies in real life is a handsome gentleman, yet he was not attractive as a dwarf. Maybe you’d disagree with that assessment, if you have a mad crush on Gimli as depicted in the films. Again, these are all just personal opinions and issues, but I have a feeling all of us fans have similar issues.
However—I seriously wondered why Jackson couldn’t, wouldn’t, or shouldn’t consider making a film of The Hobbit that is more literal and linear. An Unexpected Journey is rated PG-13 and probably should be viewed by 12-year-olds. Yet, I was under the impression Tolkien thought of seven-year-olds as The Hobbit’s target audience. Thus, we really need a PG movie.
The actual book of The Hobbit is action-packed and could definitely be turned into a single, tight, little movie. Why not just stick to the book? Here would be my fantasy—use all the same actors and sets, even (especially!) the handsome Mr. Armitage. Omit the Radagast business, even though all those animals would be delightful to see. Tone down the orc stuff and certainly omit Azog—remember, we want a PG rating, something that I could share with my grandson when he’s six or seven, not something I have to put off until he’s 11 or 12. Brighten up the dwarf costumes somewhat, though be careful not to reduce the dwarves to Tolkien’s own rather caricatured portrayal. Dwarf portrayal is obviously a delicate matter (Thorin Oakenshield wearing a sky-blue hood with a long silver tassel, indeed…). The trolls are great, but perhaps they shouldn’t be depicted as peevish and pretentious Top Chef judges (winking anachronism time again…).
And as much as I support women’s rights and as much as I find Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom to be lovely and talented actors, Legolas and Tauriel are superfluous. Could it be that after all three films have been released, someone will simply combine all the true Hobbit scenes into that single, tight, little two and a half hour movie? Would it only be relegated to a YouTube video? That would be unfortunate.
I have a feeling I’ll always love all of the Hobbit films; there are fabulous visuals and the pet peeves have softened with time. Fine—let us have the gigantically expansive three-film Hobbit series. Please. PLEASE. But, couldn’t we also have a succinct and truer version as well?
While I’m on the subject, I still wish Jackson would consider filming these items from Tolkien’s works: Farmer Giles of Ham and Smith of Wooton Major would each make amazing films. How about Roverandom as a G-rated movie? If only Hayao Miyazaki hadn’t retired—couldn’t he have collaborated with Jackson to produce a gorgeous animated film of that story? From The Silmarillion, the story of Lúthien and Beren could be phenomenal and the Tale of Túrin Turambar would be wonderfully tragic to see on film. Imagine the dragons! Oh, how I long to see these five titles on the big screen, or on some streaming network. Maybe those Amazon producers could get around to this stuff? But, only if they were made into five individual films, each between two and two and half hours each. Three hours, tops. Will this ever happen? It’s doubtful that any of the rights are available to the items mentioned above. So, I guess I won’t hold my breath, but it’s fun to fantasize about these other possibilities…
From “The Hobbit”—Elves
Bilbo’s innate resourcefulness rescues them all from the gruesome fate of becoming an arachnid’s entrée. Circumstances lead Bilbo and company into another stressful chapter wherein the dwarves are captured by the Wood-elves. Tolkien’s elves and dwarves generally do not get along, to put it rather mildly (a situation mostly remedied in The Lord of the Rings). Putting on a magical Ring that grants the wearer invisibility seems a smart thing to do when trying to free prisoners, and Bilbo proceeds to do just that. After observing the business of the elves who deal extensively in trading goods by barrels with the nearby town, Bilbo realizes the perfect way to help them all escape is to place each dwarf in an empty barrel and they can all simply float away on the river. All but Bilbo, of course, who has to make do with hanging on to a barrel in the cold water (he catches a miserable cold).
Bilbo and the group of extremely grumpy dwarves finally are freed from their tight little boats—very hungry indeed. “I hope I never smell the smell of apples again!” said Fili. “My tub was full of it. To smell apples everlastingly when you can scarcely move and are cold and sick with hunger is maddening. I could eat anything in the wide world now, for hours on end—but not an apple!” Fili would surely welcome apples in his diet again, especially if they were baked in this elvish dessert.
“The Elvenking’s Spice Pastries”
- 17.3 ounce package puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
- 5-6 ounces dried cherries (other small dried fruits will also work well)
- 2 ounces pecan halves, chopped finely
- 1¼ cups apple, peeled, cored, and chopped into ¼” bits (about 1 large)
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup packed golden brown sugar
- 1 extra large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon mace
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar
Coat 2 regular-size muffin pans with cooking spray or grease lightly. Place one sheet of puff pastry on a cutting board. Cut vertically along the two creases. Cut horizontally into 4 equal sections. Place each piece in a muffin cup, gently pressing to fit while leaving the corners intact.
Preheat oven to 400°. Put 3 or 4 cherries in each cup. Sprinkle nuts evenly in each, then sprinkle apples evenly over all. Place the cream, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, coriander, ginger, mace, and salt in a medium bowl. Use a whisk to combine well. Pour 1 tablespoon into each cup. Sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon sugar. Bake 17-18 minutes, until golden brown. Let stand 10 minutes. Use a sharp knife around the edges to remove from pans. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. Cover and store at room temperature; they are crispy the first day and more like pie on the second day. Makes 24.