Amy H. Sturgis is a scholar of science fiction and fantasy and Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Belmont University. She is the author of multiple books, book chapters, and articles, and a regular guest speaker at universities and conventions across the U.S. and Canada (including the recent ORC and Gathering of the Fellowship events in 2006). Some of her most recent works include contributions to Tolkien on Film: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (2005), Mythlore (2006), and The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (2006). She is the editor of the first scholarly English edition of Baron de la Motte Fouqué’s epic precursor to Tolkien, The Magic Ring (2006), as well as the forthcoming Past Watchful Dragons: Fantasy and Faith in the World of C.S. Lewis (2007). This year Sturgis was awarded the 2006 Imperishable Flame Award for Tolkien/Inklings Scholarship by Heren Istarion, the Northeast Tolkien Society, and was the Scholar Guest of Honor for the Mythopoeic Society’s annual Mythcon conference. Visit her official website at www.amyhsturgis.com.
TheOneRing.net asked Amy to comment on the recent activity regarding The Hobbit, here is what she had to say: I find the current situation between New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson to be unfortunate, because 1) this turn of events offers disappointment and even bitterness in place of the love and enthusiasm many Ringers feel for Tolkien’s source texts, their adaptations, and the larger Tolkien community, and 2) it also may dissuade future filmmakers with passion, commitment, and vision from pursuing their dreams as Peter Jackson has done, for fear of encountering the same frustrations Jackson has described. In short, it seems bad both for fandom and business for such controversy to repay such success.
My feelings about a film adaptation of The Hobbit are mixed. To be fair, they would have been mixed even with Peter Jackson at the helm. The Hobbit is a very different text – it is a classical work, on the model of Beowulf, as opposed to the medieval Lord of the Rings – and thus it faces unique challenges when making the transition to the medium of film. The urge for Jackson to “fix it,” or try to create a seamless piece of cinematic storytelling consistent with his preexisting film trilogy, might stretch the tale out of all recognizable shape. Moreover, a Jackson Hobbit might add to the general attitude that Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien are definitive, the ultimate and final word on the subject, and I think this is extremely short-sighted. As Tolkien has proven, the true test of great art is that it inspires others to become artists themselves. Jackson was not the first to move Middle-Earth to the silver screen, nor should he be the last. This detracts nothing from Jackson’s recent accomplishments, but only emphasizes Tolkien’s original ones. John Boorman’s Excalibur was hailed as the definitive cinematic interpretation of Arthurian legend in 1981, and yet over half a dozen new Arthurian films have been made in as many years in the 21st century. Hobbits are not Jackson’s any more than the Knights of the Round Table are Boorman’s. Tolkien knew Middle-Earth was big enough for, to use his words, “other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama,” and I am curious about what those others might show us. The same holds true for any “prequel” film that might develop.
I do not deny that it is difficult to envision the Shire existing anywhere but New Zealand, and it is nearly impossible to picture anyone but Sir Ian McKellen portraying Gandalf. The fact I cannot imagine it does not mean that it cannot be done. Fantastic reinterpretations do happen, even when the original interpretations are of the highest order; in the last two years alone, both Christopher Eccleston’s and David Tennant’s outstanding reimaginings of Dr. Who, and Daniel Craig’s excellent recreation of James Bond, prove my point. (Of course, there are unsuccessful examples in recent memory, as well: Michael Gambon is not the “real” Dumbledore.) McKellen’s performance in Jackson’s trilogy is one of four or five that I choose to revisit in my head when I return to the books; one of the others, however, is Sir Ian Holm’s Bilbo Baggins, and I assume that even if we were to see a Hobbit by Jackson sometime in the future, the moment for that casting opportunity has passed. Therefore, even a new Jackson film would fail to be a perfect match – or even a match in the most important way – with the original Jackson trilogy.
Peter Jackson deserves respect and praise for what he has accomplished with his movies, and it appears that he may not be receiving it from those who most benefited from his work. If so, that is deeply regrettable. I hope that those at New Line, when they pursue another filmmaker for The Hobbit, show the foresight to look for someone who will tackle the challenge with at least the same affection and appreciation Jackson showed to the source material. I owe a great deal to Jackson: my Tolkien classes are full thanks to the interest his movies generated. Yet his is not the definitive word on the subject of Tolkien film adaptations. Perhaps someone new will not make the same mistakes Jackson made (and yes, he did make mistakes). Certainly he or she will make brand new ones (and think of the wonderful hours of dissection and debate they will make possible!). The only final word on The Hobbit – or any of Tolkien’s other tales – is Tolkien himself, and since his work opened the door for artistic creation, it should not be locked now.
Most importantly, no matter who directs what when, Tolkien’s words will not change on their pages. The stories will remain.
– Amy H. Sturgis