This weekend, Peter Jackson’s first installment of The Hobbit is opening in theaters worldwide. It’s sure to be a huge box-office draw. Truth be told, I’ll probably be going to see it myself. I respect what Jackson did with the LOTR trilogy even though it had some significant flaws, and I expect some good performances from Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Richard Armitage as Thorin, and of course the returning Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis (Gandalf and Gollum).
Having said that, I’ve been thinking about what’s happened to Middle-Earth as its stories have become, essentially, a franchise through these movies. If you look at a Nerd Pinterest you’re sure to see funny LOTR posters and pics rubbing shoulders with Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, and all the comic book franchises. The characters as portrayed in the LOTR movies have inspired numerous fan fics. Frodo and Sam’s friendship has become just another “epic bromance” (please don’t get me started on the ugliness of that word, even though I think it’s supposed to refer to a non-sexual male friendship). And of course, there are the video games, and the hobbit slippers, and the Halloween costumes, and the Pez candies, and…
At a certain point I want to just stop and say “Is this what these stories were meant for?” Because anyone who thinks the original stories (we’re talking about the books now, folks) deserve to be on the same plane as Harry Potter, Star Trek/Wars, or the Avengers doesn’t understand great literature when he sees it. Not only are the Lord of the Rings easily the greatest fantasy novels of all time, they’re some of the best novels of all time, period. They’re high caliber literature. Any student of great books needs to read them several times over.
The movies, while decent in their own way and a loving homage to the books, simply don’t cut it by comparison. They’re merely good. The books were great. Unfortunately, the young people of our generation would rather spend nine hours watching a movie trilogy than a couple months reading a book trilogy. Consequently, this generation is growing up with only these pale imitations of Tolkien’s original vision. Some of them don’t even know they’re based on a book. And that’s a sad thing.
Lord of the Rings doesn’t deserve to become just another franchise. These stories deserve more and always have. So for those of you who have kids, or hope to have kids some day, I hope that you will make sure to instil in them a love for greatness. Buy the books and give ‘em to the kiddos when they’re old enough to appreciate them. Educate their taste buds. Don’t raise them to be snobs, just make sure they understand the difference between fool’s gold and the real thing. Even if the rest of the world doesn’t get it, make sure someone still does.