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In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit

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More than 75 years later, with the second instalment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, hitting local cinemas next Friday, 13th December, Euro Media Forum in collaboration with the Department of English Students’ Association (DESA), Eden Cinemas, and Occasions Replica Store gathered a fellowship of Tolkien fans at the KSU Common Room in the University of Malta to discuss the world of Middle-Earth. Although the presentation and discussion tackled several different topics related to Tolkien’s world, the main subject of the discussion was: Does Peter Jackson do justice to J.R.R. Tolkien’s legacy?

‘We had organised an event last year in Valletta about how The Lord of the Rings began,’ said Justin Camilleri, the coordinator of the activity (pictured above). ‘We are following in the same tradition as last year but this time we are focusing on The Hobbit.’ Together with Camilleri, the discussion was led by Luke Caruana, a Tolkien specialist.

The presentation opened with a trailer of the upcoming film. A video of an interview with Simon Tolkien, the grandson of The Hobbit’s author, introduced the subject of book against film. Tolkien believes that his grandfather would not have enjoyed Jackson’s movies because he probably had a clear picture of the world he created which was not in accordance with how Jackson visualised it. Carauna, however, thinks that Tolkien would have been satisfied with Jackson’s adaptation, which clearly showed that he had read the novels well. Jackson, according to Caruana, succeeds in portraying the love of nature which Tolkien tries to reveal in his works. Camilleri, a film researcher, agreed, claiming that Jackson ‘opened a window for the world to New Zealand. New Zealand has become the new film location.’

Caruana said that had he been the one directing the first Hobbit film, he would have added more material from Tolkien’s other novels on Middle-Earth, such as the story of the creation of the dwarves, in order to make it easier for viewers who had not read the books to understand certain parts of the film.

The distinctions between book and film became blurred as the discussion moved from Jackson’s creation to Tolkien’s creation. Caruana said that in the same way that an onion is made up of many layers, so did Tolkien create one mythology by forming different layers with ideas taken from different mythologies and legends from around the world. Caruana uses Gandalf as an example. While the origin of the well-known bearded wizard came from, according to Tolkien himself, a postcard entitled Der Berggeist, Caruana identifies several mythological influences on his character, such as Odin, Moses, and Christ. Caruana then discussed several of Tolkien’s other characters, including Bilbo, Aragorn, and Gollum, in relation to legends or other conventional traits found in them, while showing various video clips from the three Lord of the Rings films.

Moving away from Tolkien’s story, the presenters talked about the impact of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings on popular culture. ‘You can say that J.R.R. Tolkien opened up the frontiers of fantasy,’ said Camilleri. While he believes that ‘film is a catalyst in marketing a book’ because ‘when the film comes out, a person rushes to the bookstore to buy the book so that he is able to make a comparison with the film’, Caruana insists that Tolkien established a cult long before Jackson acquired the rights to create the film adaptations. He made a reference to Led Zeppelin’s songs, some of which have lyrics which were clearly influenced by Tolkien’s novels. He also referred to John Eric Holmes, an author of online games who says that when role-playing games were created, their concept was heavily based on Tolkien’s world, with orcs, elves, dwarves, giants, and even halflings present in many of them. According to Caruana, ‘Tolkien became a landmark’ and all fantasy novels written since are compared to his work. Caruana also mentioned several tourist attractions related to Tolkien, including the Rabbit Room in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, and Perrott’s Folly in Birmingham.

Camilleri and Caruana closed the presentation with a short period for questions from the audience related to Tolkien’s mythology. Following this was a brief quiz on Tolkien’s works. Prizes included film tickets and free bowling games provided by Eden Cinemas, and an authentic replica of Excalibur and a shield, provided by Occasions Replica Store.

The presentation will be followed up by a Lord of the Rings exhibition at the Eden Cinemas between Friday, 13th December and Sunday, 15th December.

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