Lynnette Porter is the author of Unsung Heroes of The Lord of the Rings: From the Page to the Screen and other books about popular culture, including Unlocking the Meaning of Lost: An Unauthorized Guide. She contributed essays to Lembas for the Soul and a chapter in the forthcoming book, How We Became Middle-Earth. She is a frequent speaker about film, television, and popular culture at academic conferences such as the Popular Culture Association, Tolkien 2005, and Hawaiian International Conference on the Arts and Humanities, as well as fan events like ORC and ELF . She has been conducting research at the Tolkien archives at Marquette University and will soon return to New Zealand in preparation for writing two Lord of the Rings-related books. asked Lynnette to comment on the recent activity regarding The Hobbit, here is what she had to say:

How would you feel about another director making The Hobbit?

The importance of the choice of the director making The Hobbit depends on your perception of whether Tolkien’s world can be easily captured on film. Many fans of Tolkien’s book weren’t happy with Peter Jackson’s adaptation of LotR and probably wouldn’t be thrilled with his adaptation of The Hobbit. Some people prefer books to films and won’t be completely satisfied with any cinematic adaptation of a beloved book. Others still believe that a book like LotR never will be successfully transferred to film. Whoever ends up filming The Hobbit will run into this problem of adapting a well-loved book for a very different medium.

With that said, I enjoyed Jackson’s vision of Middle-earth and found the LotR films very entertaining. Were they faithful adaptations of my favorite book? Not really—they succeeded in some areas more than others. I still cringe at dwarf-tossing jokes and wish that Legolas hadn’t been quite so much of a special effects darling. Are there moments to which I return year after year, viewing after viewing? Oh, yes—Bilbo’s birthday party, Gandalf’s words of wisdom to Frodo, the loving relationships of the hobbits. The films are among my favorites, but they present a different story than Tolkien wrote. If I had the power to trust The Hobbit to any director, however, I’d choose Peter Jackson. He knows how to make a good film, and if I don’t agree with all his choices as a director, well, no director’s vision will replace the mental images I’ve long carried from Tolkien’s words.

Compared to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit should be an easier story to film, and I’d like to see Peter Jackson’s adaptation. It’s important for one consistent vision of Middle-earth to be completed, and this seems to be the one opportunity for both The Hobbit and LotR to be presented as a uniform work of art. In the future, other directors undoubtedly will film LotR or create Middle-earth on stage (a theatrical version bowed in Toronto in 2006 and will debut in London in 2007). Before Jackson’s LotR gets much older, audiences should be able to see his adaptation of The Hobbit.

I agree with Anne Petty that “franchise” films directed by different artists vary greatly in quality. Although I liked many elements of Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter film, I disliked the lack of continuity in the series. (I also have to mentally separate the Harry Potter books from films, because I find myself critiquing what has been changed in the adaptation process.) The darker vision presented in Cuaron’s film matched the young characters’ increasing maturity but did little to provide a smooth transition from one year at Hogwarts to another. Continuity is especially important for the success of “prequels” like The Hobbit and the rumored second film, and Peter Jackson should be selected to provide that continuity.

The early scenes of the Shire, as Jackson presented them, are lush and inviting; they bring to life the cozy, small-town life I envisioned in the book. Returning to that as well as new cinematic settings is something that I would pay to see…again and again. If The Hobbit is to be filmed, it must be a high-quality, as-faithful-as-possible adaptation. Tolkien fans expect that level of quality—and commitment from the entire creative team involved in the film project. I believe that Peter Jackson is best qualified to provide both.

What do you think about another country standing in for The Shire and Middle-earth?

Again there’s the ongoing controversy whether Middle-earth should be England or New Zealand. I’m biased in this regard: I’ve been smitten with New Zealand for a few years and travel there as often as possible to conduct research or just visit. I loved the variety of geography in LotR and would enjoy seeing more of New Zealand on film.

What I would oppose is a film shot completely in studio. The country may not be as important as the quality of sets and the realistic establishment of setting. The Hobbit needs to be visually stimulating, which requires a successful blend of studio and location shooting. New Zealand could provide both.

Would you want to see another actor play Gandalf?

No! Ian McKellen is “my” Gandalf. Although other actors undoubtedly could do justice to the role, McKellen personified in particular Gandalf the Grey. Seeing him in this role again would help provide continuity between films as well as give us one more chance to see a great actor playing such a beloved character.

What do you think of this rumored “other LOTR prequel” movie?

When I first heard this rumor, I was concerned about the direction the story would take. The success of a second film depends on the director chosen for the project. Although I enjoy Sam Raimi’s films, for example, I don’t think I’d be as eager to see his prequel to LotR, primarily because I suspect that I’d see much more Raimi than Tolkien. Although Peter Jackson took liberties with Tolkien’s LotR, I believe that he tried to incorporate as much of Tolkien’s language and plot as possible. With his experience gained from the LotR adaptations and from his knowledge of Tolkien (and selection of knowledgeable advisors and collaborators), Jackson is much more likely to create a prequel that will make sense within the history of Middle-earth and the series of films.

I often read good fan fiction that expands Tolkien’s Middle-earth, either by creating new characters and storylines or providing gap-fillers from LotR. A well-done prequel could do the same; it wouldn’t be Tolkien’s work, but it could be a realistic expansion of the story based on the Professor’s world. A successful prequel requires knowledgeable writers and a director who respect Tolkien’s work but are creative enough to add more stories to the mythology. If the prequel can be done well, I’d like to see it—I always long for more Middle-earth!

– Lynnette Porter