This past holiday season has inspired more contemplation that writing and I find myself at the beginning of a new year reading and studying short stories, trying to understand their rhythms. For me, a good short story is like an excellent ice-skating performance: kindled anticipation from the first note of the music or sight of the costumes, flashes of amazement at the improbable moves, and endings that carve themselves abruptly into that frozen internal sea.
Yet, I find that short stories are also functioning like matches, casting brief flares into the dark heart of the novel that I'm drafting. Or, at this point, thinking about making notes on prior to drafting. Yeah. It's been that kind of writing season. Ideas are circling, revealing a few scenes, and then flying off. Meanwhile, here I sit, listening to podcasts and scrolling through Facebook and fearing setting pen to paper.
And listening to the Tolkien Professor podcasts and trying to not talk to the Pumpkin King about my disappointment with the latest Hobbit film. When we saw the movie, I was as twitchy as a toddler by the end, sighing and shifting in my seat each time an orc feigned death only to rise again for several additional minutes of battle. Yeah, I know. Named orcs have 50K hit points and get extra ones from each unnamed orc who falls to a war pig or half-dead but brave villager. These ultimate battles have been promised since the first film and everyone is looking forward to them. But they didn't resonate for me the way Galadriel's moment of kick-assery did, nor the way the songs over the end credits hinted at movies that could have been made. So today, while enjoying a sunny drive taking the long way home (it's been grey, cold, and drizzly for several days), I started to think that part of the challenge of the Hobbit films was having to recapitulate (even if you reimagine parts of it) the story.
If I had the chance to make a trilogy of movies based on The Hobbit (at least if that opportunity came, oh, today), I would prefer to pick pieces of the book. These pieces:
1. Dark Webs in the Bright Leaves: This opening movie would be the story of the sylvan elves and their battle with the spiders. Focusing on the conflict between being stewards and the possibility of eternal learning and care versus the necessity of determining what requires fighting and when sacrifice is justified, this initial installment could have plenty of music (Elves--not just bleach and eyebrows) and conflict. Flashbacks to previous dragon battles? A demonstration of the way that we ignore danger because it's just far enough away to be someone else's problem? Do gated communities work as safeguards? The end would hint at the growing darkness and maybe include a rumor of dwarves. This could establish the deep history of the world (what else are the elves but the visible manifestation of the deep natural history) but also set up the idea of changes and at the same time the rot of long-dead empires or ideas contaminating the present/future.
2. A Brief Kingdom: This movie would take place in The Lonely Mountain in between the death of the dragon and the (spoiler alert?) death of Thorin and would focus entirely on Thorin. Flashbacks might give some backstory, but the interaction of the dwarves could establish a good deal of their character and Thorin would get an entire movie to enact his accession, fall, and redemption, with the benefit of introducing Bilbo, who will be the focus of the last movie.
3. The Road and the Tale: This final movie would take place entirely on Bilbo's return to the shire, as he explains to various companions (Gandalf? Various elves? A passing ranger?) what has happened and we begin to see how the story that we've experienced from various viewpoints becomes the story of a particular hobbit whose family will become so important to the upcoming LOTR trilogy. I love the idea of watching a story becoming myth as Bilbo continues to refine what he will remember from the adventures.
Breaking the story free from the book and plunging deeper into certain pieces struck me as a way to wind through the story without just repeating it. To give one a chance to both honor the source material and demonstrate that stories change every time they are retold.
It is manifestly a good thing that I will never get the opportunity to recreate a trilogy.