For readers of The Hobbit, which became an almost overnight classic following its 1937 debut, the new movie may elicit some puzzlement. Seemingly extraneous flourishes clog up what many remember as a simple fairy tale, and random characters appear at every twist and turn throughout Middle Earth.
Yet those fans who went on to immerse themselves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s wider lore will find inspiration. For the most part, director Peter Jackson does not exercise an extra heaping of artistic license. Rather, Jackson—reportedly something of a nerd himself—borrows from the larger Tolkien literature to create a rich Hobbit tableau.
“Jackson knows the lore pretty well and wanted to bring that larger material in there wherever he could,” said Michael Drout, an English professor at Wheaton College who founded the academic journal Tolkien Studies and edited the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. It’s this so-called textuality—or texts behind texts behind other texts—that lends Tolkien’s work the air of reality, he said, and which Jackson seeks to capture in his films.
Jackson isn’t free to tap into any detail he wants from Tolkien’s wider works, however. “He had a very difficult task in that the movie rights extend only to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings,” said John Rateliff, an independent Tolkien scholar and author of The History of the Hobbit. “He’s well aware that there’s a great deal more material set in that world, but contractually not allowed to use that material in the movies.”