EVER SINCE JRR Tolkien published The Hobbit, it’s spawned generations of enthusiatic fans.
None, perhaps, are more enthusiastic than film director Sir Peter Jackson, who follows up his popular Lord of the Rings trilogy with a new trio of movies based on their progenitor, The Hobbit, the first of which opens this week. Curious, we went hunting for more information about the author, his novel, and the upcoming film.
1 The JRR in the author’s name stands for John Ronald Reuel.
2 The Hobbit was published in September 1937 by Allen & Unwin. The original print run of 1,500 copies sold out by December. When the manuscript arrived, George Allen gave his ten-year-old son a shilling to write a reader’s report that would help determine whether he should publish it. It turned out to be a brilliant investment.
3 Tolkien heavily revised The Hobbit, especially the scenes between Bilbo and Gollum, to make the story work better with its successor, The Lord of the Rings. These changes were reflected in the second edition, published in 1951 in the US and the UK.
4 There isn’t a single female character in The Hobbit, and the only woman mentioned by name is Bilbo’s mother, Belladonna Took. Fili and Kili are the sons of Thorin’s sister, but you’ll have to go to one of the family trees in The Lord of the Rings (of which there are many) to find out that she was called “Dis” – making her the only lady Dwarf mentioned anywhere in Tolkien’s writings.
5 During Tolkien’s time as a professor of Anglo-Saxon philology and literature at Oxford, one of his students was poet WH Auden, who supported the The Lord of the Rings, contradicting detractors who insisted it had no literary merit. In his 1954 New York Times review of Fellowship of the Ring, Auden wrote: “The Hobbit is one of the best children’s stories of this century.”
6 Tolkien also taught Kingsley Amis, who found him “incoherent and often inaudible”. And Philip Larkin, who said: “What gets me down is being expected to admire the bloody stuff!” Larkin was referring to Beowulf at the time.
7 Tolkien’s close friend, Narnia author CS Lewis, was an early test-audience, listening to chapters as they were finished. Lewis, a medievalist himself, was a member of Tolkien’s Icelandic Club (circa 1926-30 or 31). Members drank beer and read Icelandic sagas aloud. Tolkien and Lewis were also members of The Inklings, a group of famous writers that included Dorothy Sayers.
8 He was a familiar sight racketing around Oxford on an ancient bike – which he traded for a Daimler when royalties rolled in.
9 Tolkien once said: “My stories seem to germinate like a snowflake around a piece of dust.” He denied that they were written for children: “That’s all sob stuff. No, of course, I didn’t… The Hobbit was written in what I should now regard as bad style, as if one were talking to children. There’s nothing my children loathed more. They taught me a lesson. Anything that in any way marked out The Hobbit as for children instead of just for people, they disliked-instinctively. I did too, now that I think about it. All this ‘I won’t tell you any more, you think about it’ stuff. Oh no, they loathe it; it’s awful. Children aren’t a class. They are merely human beings at different stages of maturity. All of them have a human intelligence which even at its lowest is a pretty wonderful thing, and the entire world in front of them. It remains to be seen if they rise above that.”
10 In Tolkien’s first draft, Gandalf the wizard was called Bladorthin. Even more confusingly, Dwarf-leader Thorin was going to be called Gandalf.
11 Only three wizards ever appear in Tolkien’s stories – Gandalf “the grey”; Saruman “the white” and Radagast “the brown”. Radagast doesn’t actually appear in The Hobbit, but Beorn the shape-changer mentions that he has met him.
12 In a rare interview with Le Monde, conducted in July 2012, Tolkien’s son Christopher, now 87, said he didn’t recognise his father’s work in the commercially successful films. “They eviscerated [LoTR] by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25, and it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film. Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time. The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialisation has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.”
13 He also revealed that because his father lacked the funds to pay a secretary, “I was the one who typed and drew the maps after he did the sketches.” Stationed at a South African air base in 1943, Christopher received weekly letters from his father, detailing his progress with LoTR. “I was a fighter pilot. When I landed, I would read a chapter.”
14 In 1969 Tolkien sold movie rights, plus rights to tie-in products, for The Hobbit and LoTR to United Artists for £100,000.
15 Sir Peter Jackson fought long and hard to cast Martin Freeman as Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. When he heard the actor had signed on as Dr Watson in the BBC’s Sherlock, he panicked. “I was having sleepless nights. We were probably six weeks away from the beginning of the shoot, and we hadn’t settled on anyone else, and I was torturing myself by watching Sherlock on an iPad at four o’clock in the morning.”
16 Freeman was the only person Jackson wanted for the role, having admired his work in The Office, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy.
17 Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the dwarves, has a distinguished acting CV, but may be best remembered as the man who married Geraldine The Vicar of Dibley. He was also a regular in Spooks. In 2011, Armitage told Total Film magazine, “The Hobbit was one of those books that got me into reading. It fired up my imagination. That’s why I became an actor.”
18 The Great Goblin is voiced by Barry Humphries, who said, “I was able to bring a healthy Australian vulgarity to my role.” Referring to the style of animation used to create his character, he said: “I always thought motion capture was something you did when taking a specimen to a doctor.”
19 The 3D film is available for screening in 24 frames per second and in 48 frames per second, though fewer cinemas have the capability to show the latter version. Director Peter Jackson says: “As a filmmaker I have a responsibility to look at the technology that’s available to us now, and to think of ways in which that technology can be used to enhance the cinema going experience.” Forty-eight frames provide enhanced clarity, he explains, helping make the experience more magical and spectacular.
20 Well, not for everyone, if you believe the rumours. Early screenings of the High Frame Rate – HFR – 3D version reportedly caused nausea and headaches. One viewer said, “You have to hold your stomach down and let your eyes pop at first to adjust. This is not for wimps.” Another likened the experience to having motion sickness. Warner Brothers denies reports that the film causes nausea.
21 Cate Blanchett, who plays Galadriel (who’s actually not in the novel), brought her eight and ten year old sons along during the eight days that she was on set filming. At a press conference, she said she’d definitely bring them to see the final film. “I think The Hobbit is the heart that drives The Lord of the Rings, so there’s an incredible good humour and buoyancy and masterful storytelling.”
22 Though Jackson prefers filming at his own Stone Street studios, The Hobbit was nearly made in the UK – until the New Zealand government stepped in with financial incentives to keep him at home.
23 Glamorous Lost alumnus Evangeline Lilly turned up at The Hobbit première in Wellington, New Zealand, on 28 November, despite the fact that her character, Tauriel, a Silvan Elf in Mirkwood – she’s another character not in the original – doesn’t appear on screen until The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, comes out next year.
24 The author’s great grandson, Royd, did attend the première, and described the film as “stunningly amazing.” He also had a small part in LoTR, as a Gondorian ranger, and has taken part in Air New Zealand’s Middle Earth-themed safety video. When not walking the red carpet, he lives, he says, “ a completely normal life” in Wales. “The Hobbit was read to me when I was a kid. I’m a fan, and often re-read the book, as it’s so detailed and vivid – you get absorbed into it.”
25 Just four weeks before production began Jackson asked Andy Serkis if, in addition to reprising his role as Gollum, he’d serve as second unit director. The very first scene Serkis shot featured his own character. “We shot it like a chamber piece… from beginning to end, which is a 12, 13 minute scene, a number of times, which is pretty unusual.”
26 Rick Findlater, make-up and hair supervisor, says that in 18 months the production went through roughly 20 litres of glue and 450 miles of Yak hair.
27 They used so much gold paint creating the dragon Smaug’s lair, that they exhausted supplies in Australasia and had to send to Germany for more.
28 Former Being Human heart-throb Aidan Turner plays the dwarf Kili – just one of the reason that the phrase “hot dwarfs” has entered our lexicon.
29 Martin Freeman had to shave his legs to make it less uncomfortable getting Bilbo’s prosthetic feet on and off.
30 James Nesbit decorated his trailer with pictures of the Northern Irish seaside, where he’s from, and a photograph of his racehorse, Riverside Theatre. There’s a picture of his kids, too.
• The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of a trilogy based on The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien, premières in the UK this Thursday. Further instalments are set for release in 2013 and 2014.
• With special thanks to Andrew Rilstone, whose book Do Balrogs Have Wings? (and Other Pressing Questions), is available at www.amazon.co.uk/Balrogs-Have-Wings-Andrew-Rilstone. Or go to www.andrewrilstone.com/p/buy-my-stuff.html