Anne Petty is a recognized Tolkien scholar and specialist in Mythology and Finnish folkore. She is the author of a dark fantasy novel, three books of literary criticism, and many essays on writing, literary analysis, and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. She is also a published poet, with poems, articles, and photos appearing in arts and lifestyle magazines. Anne is a frequent speaker at literary conferences such as the Florida Gulf Coast Writers and Storytellers Conference, the Florida First Coast Writers’ Conference, Seven Hills Writers Conference, and Florida Literary Arts Coalition. Visit asked Anne to comment on the recent activity regarding The Hobbit, she was more than happy to oblige!

Would I prefer that Peter Jackson direct a film version of The Hobbit? Generally, yes, mostly because I’d like to see a continuity of the visual imagery and sense of place that Jackson established in the three Lord of the Rings films. I thought the way Jackon’s Middle-earth looked and moved and sounded was breathtaking. It was also amazingly close to the way my imagination saw many of these places and events when I began reading the books so many years ago. For example, the film moment when the Rohirrim emerge onto the field of battle with Théoden’s rousing battle cry ringing over the hills, still brings tears to my eyes. I think it would be unpleasantly jarring to see a very different depiction of Middle-earth at this point. Bringing back the entire New Zealand crew who so artfully brought Middle-earth to life would be a plus, in my opinion.

A case in point is the third Harry Potter film directed by Alfonso Cuarón. In that film, the familiar setting for Hogwarts was replaced by an incredibly precipitous landscape, especially the approach and immediate surroundings of Hagrid’s hut, and the interior for the school we thought we knew so well emerged in highly disorienting camera angles with ”House of Usher” look and feel. The effect was so distracting that I found it hard to lose myself in the flow of events on the screen. The casual costuming and general direction of the children constituted somewhat of a culture shock as well. Cuarón’s film is certainly as competent as any of the others in the series, but his vision of Hogwarts was so radically different that I had trouble relating to the characters as part of the established Potter universe.

I would also hate to think that someone other than Ian McKellen would be cast as Gandalf. I greatly enjoyed his nuanced portrayal of our favorite wizard and feel that anyone else’s performance (however competent it might be) would suffer by being constantly compared to McKellen’s gold standard. For example again, as others have pointed out, Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore suffers by comparison with Richard Harris’ portrayal. I might also mention that an unfortunate result of all the lengthy dithering over the Hobbit film rights is that Ian Holm is probably now too old to play Bilbo, even with the wonders of movie makeup, which is a considerable loss for the film.

If Jackson directs, I assume the same scriptwriters (Jackson, Boyens, Walsh) would be included on the project. This is the least positive element for me. I had serious issues with the way Jackson and his scriptwriters altered Tolkien’s carefully wrought storyline. When you unravel a major thread, such as Faramir, many of the plot’s other underpinnings come loose as well, resulting in skewed character motivations (Aragorn, anyone?). So, I have trepidations about this same trio adapting The Hobbit into a screenplay. There is a significant difference, however, that might make this a non-issue, and that is that The Hobbit is largely episodic with a single straight-ahead storyline. Also, the material does not have the gravitas of The Lord of the Rings until Thorin and company reach the Lonely Mountain. I feel that a large part of the problem with Jackson’s LOTR adaptation was that the screenwriters simply lost control of Tolkien’s complex storyline and every attempt to simplify it or reduce it only made things worse as they went along. This probably wouldn’t be the case with The Hobbit. It’s also possible that the frequent flattening of Tolkien’s majestic prose into cringe-worthy banal movie dialogue wouldn’t be as out of place in the lighter material of The Hobbit. It’s also possible (maybe even probable) that different scriptwriters working for a different direct would do much worse.

So, with considerable caveats, I’d prefer to see Jackson & Company take on The Hobbit.

– Anne Petty