Saturday, November 27, 2010

Giving Thanks For "The Hobbit"

The Rankin/Bass adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit first aired today thirty-three years ago, on November 27, 1977, four days after Thanksgiving. It's hard to believe that an entire generation has passed since then, that there are grown-ups today who can't remember a time when it wasn't around. I remember I had only heard about Middle-Earth four years earlier, but even that short time had got me yearning for any adaptation of the material. The excitement had been building since I first heard it announced and was eager for any scrap of news; there were articles in TV guide and in our Weekly Readers; there was even a float dedicated to it in a Thanksgiving Day parade. Finally on the evening the family was gathered in a darkened room, and to the strains of an enchanting melody we heard John Huston as the voice of Gandalf begin, "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit..."

There were cuts to the story and some disappointing designs (like the elves), but on the whole it was a great adaptation. I liked the fact that except for the song "The Greatest Adventure" all the songs were taken from Tolkien's original poetry. In those pre-VCR days the closest we could get to a copy of the show was a long-playing set of records with a booklet; a deluxe edition of The Hobbit with illustrations from the show was soon added. Many a night we would lay down to the sound track set up to play, and drift off to the unfolding of Bilbo's wanderings. We listened to it so much that we could recite it all straight through, and even today a stray phrase can start my brother and me quoting at length.

Nowadays of course in the wake of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films a big budget adventure movie of The Hobbit is in the works, and you will hear people now and then deploring the quaintness and childishness of the Rankin/Bass show. But The Hobbit is a children's book, perhaps one of the greatest children's books ever, and I hope that in the fever of making a "sequel" to Jackson's films that is not completely forgotten. Rankin/Bass did a good job with that.


John said...

I was listening to the goblin songs just yesterday as I had burned them to a CD before we went on a road trip. Weird- I had no idea of the anniversary! I was wondering how they were going to approach the songs in the new version-are they going to be faithful to Tolkien or ditch them for the "darker" atmosphere so in vogue?

Monkey At A Typewriter said...

I used to have the long playing record, as well. Ah,those were the days! Many story cuts, yes, and a decidely McBethian ending, with over half the company perishing in the Battle of Five Armies, a 70's sort of 60's hangover.