Rescuing The Hobbit

Back in February 2019 our family began making a video series on The Hobbit. The aim was to rescue the story imagined in the late 1920s, composed 1930-33, and published in September 1937; a story unseen since 1952, when the riddle-game with Gollum was recast to remake The Hobbit a childish prologue to The Lord of the Rings.

Fun to make, our early episodes prove unsatisfactory steps in a series.

Problems arose from our initial conditions of production: (i)  zero camera, audio, or video-editing skills; (ii) I saw the series as a means of solving a delicate theoretical problem about the magic ring – so we set out unable to even draw a map on video, my children following a blind-folded cobbler.

With episodes 4, 5, and 6 I resolved the meanings I had been seeking, which (late in the day) lent clarity and precision to the central idea. Only in these last three episodes do we really begin to draw the key visual sequences of The Hobbit.

I suspect now that the third act of episode 6, on the magic ring, was bound to fail: it was too much to hope to develop the visual language of the magic ring all in one episode – we should have stepped in to visual sequences already developed over five earlier episodes (all conceived as preparation for the final revelation of the magic ring).

All six episodes are flawed. For example, it is only with episode 4 that I finally understood what Tolkien was doing with J.S. Mill’s reading of the Arabian Nights, so related themes in earlier episodes (e.g. patterer marks in episode 1) are not presented in relation to this solution. Episode 2, ‘What are hobbits?’, did not even reach the second half of the intended material – John Buchan’s generation of Gollum’s family in a story inspired by Rhys’ theory of aboriginal mound-dwellers. As a result, episode 5 on Gollum, our  great summer production, only provides one of two required keys (it gives us the nameless man and the nameless self, but not the aboriginal dimension of the riddle-game).

My co-producers rightly blame my lack of foresight back in February. We all wish to escape the mess of this series by stepping to a second, on the sequel. But we cannot read the sequel before we can picture the original. All six videos need pruning, development, and mixing up before we begin to harvest the requisite pictures. Hence, the reinvention of Tolkien TV of November 2019: this original series is assigned to archival status and, as we make series 2, ‘Ghost sequel,’ we also remix this archive to generate ‘Magic ring,’ a series that really does rescue The Hobbit.