Academic journal article Mythlore

From Children's Book to Epic Prequel: Peter Jackson's Transformation of Tolkien's the Hobbit

Academic journal article Mythlore

From Children's Book to Epic Prequel: Peter Jackson's Transformation of Tolkien's the Hobbit

Article excerpt

AFTER MOZART'S DEATH IN 1791, His widow Constanze discovered among his papers a partially completed piece of music he had been composing. She at first persuaded Joseph von Eybler to try to complete the work, and when he failed, Constanze turned to Franz Xaver Sussmayr, Mozart's pupil and sometime assistant. After Sussmayr successfully completed the composition, Constanze arranged for a public benefit performance of the work which we now know as the standard version of Mozart's Requiem (Sadie 139, 164-65). Mozart is not the only artist to leave a work unfinished, only to have it completed, amplified, and even transposed into another medium posthumously. When Modest Mussorgsky's close friend, the architect and painter Viktor Hartmann, died in 1873, a mutual friend arranged a memorial exhibition of 400 of the artist's drawings, watercolors, and stage designs. Visiting the exhibition, Mussorgsky conceived his own tribute in the form of a suite of piano pieces, Pictures at an Exhibition, rendering ten of the artworks on display with a recurring theme, the Promenade, representing the composer walking about the exhibition. After Mussorgsky's death, the rich pictorial quality of these pieces drew the attention of other composers and arrangers. French composer Maurice Ravel's orchestration, first performed in 1923, nearly forty years after Mussorgsky's death, became the standard orchestration of the piano suite (James 101). Ravel's transposition of Mussorgsky's suite from one medium to another involved a number of significant changes, including the enlargement of the more limited scope of the piano with the many instrumental resources of a one-hundred piece symphony orchestra. As Bernard Jacobson suggests, "Ravel uses instrumental timbres to capture the atmosphere of Hartmann's paintings or to evoke the characters they depict" (3). The Promenade links each of the movements like a framing device. While the recurrence of the theme binds the entire composition, Ravel's orchestration gives the work a variety in unity unattainable in piano performance.

The above examples of unfinished works completed by other hands after an artist's death provide a telling analogy both to Tolkien's creative strategies and to the completion and transformation of his works after his death. Tolkien's constantly evolving mythology of Middle-earth caused much of his work to remain unfinished, only to be published posthumously by his son Christopher, much in the way Mozart's Requiem was completed after the composer's death. The Hobbit, first published in 1937, was not exempt from this process. Tolkien himself planned a complete revision of this early novel in order to bring it into line with the later novel, The Lord of the Rings. He finished three chapters of the revision by 1960, only to abandon the project.

In his 2012 film of The Hobbit, director Peter Jackson has made the decision not simply to reproduce the published novel, but instead to carry out Tolkien's unfinished plans by incorporating changes and amplifications that Tolkien both suggested and foresaw, thus bringing a more complete tale to the audience, much like Sussmayr's posthumous completion of Mozart's unfinished Requiem. As Jackson observes, he has attempted something Tolkien had not completed in print. Jackson thus provides a "fresh" vision for "people who will never have seen the full story playing out in chronological order" (qtd. in Sibley 22). In transforming The Hobbit from a children's novel to an adult prequel to The Lord of the Rings, Jackson is therefore continuing a process that Tolkien had already begun. But there is one major difference that differentiates this "completion" both from Mozart's Requiem and from Christopher Tolkien's reworking of Tolkien's unfinished manuscripts after his father's death. These completions did not involve a change in medium. However, much like Mussorgsky, who developed a musical composition based on pictures at an exhibition, Jackson has taken his amplification a step further by not only completing the work, but also by translating the work of art from one medium to another, from children's novel to adult film. …

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