On New Year’s Day I went to see the newest version of The Hobbit — the one done in New Zealand. For what it was intended to be, it was very well done. The acting ranged from okay to good — a bit over-ripe here and there. The hobbit, Bilbo, was well played, but with important parts of his story missing, the dwarves more crude than the originals, the elves… disappointing. The costumes, makeup, special effects, and other technical frills were excellent. Overall, the film was more sentimental than Tolkien’s Hobbit and noticeably “dumbed down” from the original version. In place of subtlety and character, we were given violence, noise, blood, and the grotesque — lots and lots of the monstrous and ugly. Amid the loud noise of war and battle, we also had loud music with a beat designed to make our hearts speed up in case we were otherwise made too immune by our cultural conditioning to respond with “enough” anxiety to the horrors (and they were horrors) of the film.
I loved the original Hobbit. It was a metaphor for war-time Britain, filled with the courage and humanity and idealism of the ordinary people of that time. We live in a different time now — the idealism is replaced by cynicism, the courage mostly replaced by greed and despair, and the humanity by a culture whose popular heroes are vampires, bullies, celebrities with nothing to recommend them as role models and much to regret, and the “too big to fail” criminals of a corrupt political and business world. We, too, are at war, but in our time it is a war of the rich against the poor and of big wealthy nations against poor ones. In this world, it makes sense that The Hobbit would be “dumbed down” and filled with blood and gore. It’s what most people are used to. People seem so inured to it that they don’t even notice that it is so excessive. I’ve noticed some people saying they found it boring, and can’t but wonder if they didn’t find enough violence to feed their adrenaline addiction or if — like me — they didn’t find enough character, plot, and humanity.
I’ve read and re-read The Hobbit over the years. It’s a book you can read to older children (or they can read for themselves), but it was not written for children. And, as one gets older and more aware, one can see so much more in it than just a children’s story. We see a developing perception of personal and spiritual growth. There is the evolution of the characters, and there is humor, both dark and light, subtle and plain. It is a spiritual teaching about what it means to be human, what courage and nobility of spirit really are, and how an ordinary person — a mere hobbit — can grow under pressure to be so much more than he might believe he could be. Ordinary people. I love the book for that. Remember, too, in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, it was Bilbo and then Frodo who faced the big and then the final tests, passed them, and brought peace and a time for recovery to the land. It was the ordinary people, the quiet wee folk, and not the kings and nobles, the powerful dwarves, or the magical elves and wizards who brought the peace.
Let me explain, if you please, the reclusive healer of the title — myself. I spent many years out of the States, living quietly (mostly in the countryside of England and Scotland), and working too hard to have time to keep up with contemporary culture. No time for television, barely any for the radio (the BBC), and much too busy working as a healer and counselor to pay attention to any more than the weather reports. When I came back to the States, it was for health reasons. I’d become ill and the illness was exacerbated by the British climate. I was too sick to care or bother with any contemporary culture, ignoring news and entertainment both. When I got better and happened to see some TV programs, I was horrified. And shocked. I had missed out on the gradual conditioning by media and advertising of the ordinary person (and I’m quite ordinary) to the corruption and violence, the bullying and the grotesqueries of modern society where, among other horrors, a massacre of children in school can be met by a cry for “more guns” and that cry taken as anything other than more insanity. I’m still horrified and shocked by what people daily accept as just business as usual.
The crudely bloody violence, the more subtle violence of bullying and rudeness, and the glorification of selfishness and greed were (and are) just too much for me. So I switched off the TV and never turned it back on. Eventually, I got rid of it. It seemed to me that, if that was what people wanted, that was their business, but I didn’t need or want it. So I lived in the woods and ignored what was going on elsewhere while I worked on regaining my health and earning a minimal livelihood. In the woods — the peaceful, silent woods. And here we arrive at New Year’s Day, 2013, and I see the modern version of The Hobbit. Tolkien must be spinning in his grave.
You know what bothers me the most? It’s that so many people aren’t bothered about it. They either haven’t noticed what’s happening or just don’t care. And … it is not caring that is the root of our society’s ills.
© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.