Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


"The Hobbit" cartoon: what's wrong with it?

[Editor's Note: this was originally published in 2005 before I even got started on the LOTR project. I thought that since I was in the midst of blogging The Hobbit - From Book To Script in anticipation of the coming Peter Jackson films that I would move this to the newest section]

I mentioned in my last post that I was not thrilled with the Rankin/Bass one-hour cartoon version of "The Hobbit". This was not always the case.

When I was about ten years old this was my only exposure to Tolkien. It was cheesy, yes. The animation was crap, agreed. But what else was there? In fact, up until Peter Jackson's films, the template for Gandalf that was seared onto my brain was John Huston's voice and the badly animated wizard that appeared in this film.

A couple of years later, an illustrated version of the book - it was probably Houghlin-Mifflin - was published and I bought it. The pictures were taken right from this awful version. But it helped me visualize the world of Middle-Earth and better appreciate the story.

But looking back, I have many criticisms. First and foremost, are the elves. These buggers look like pixies from the worst fairy tales you've ever seen and King Thranduil was voiced by Otto Preminger. Seeing the king of the wood-elves and hearing a bad German accent does not jibe with anything Tolkien had intended in writing this story.

Then there was the strange sight of goblins singing show-tunes as they dragged their drawf prisoners down under the Misty Mountains (and later under the trees with the wargs). Ugh.

I must admit, I refer to the tunes in this movie when I come to the poetry in the book. "O Tra-la-la-lally, down here in the valley" and "Far over the Misty Mountains cold..." and all that. It comes in handy as I read it to my son. But even a nine-year old can tell when the melodies are almost identical from song to song.

But perhaps the worst image that stuck in my mind and screwed up my imagination reading the book is the way they presented Gollum. Gollum (aka Smeagol) was supposed to have been a Hobbit once. But they present him as this slimy little frog-man that is more annoying than anything else. Voiced by some German weirdo named Brother Theodore, Gollum seemed as inhuman as he could possibly be portrayed. It was this presentation of the character that undermined by appreciation of the story arc of Gollum presented in "The Lord of the Rings". I mean, I couldn't understand why Bilbo didn't just beat the snot out of this little wretch. After all he was only a frog-thing.

Back to Gandalf for a moment. I always thought that John Huston's voice was the end-all be-all of the Tolkien's wizard. Of all the character portrayals of the Jackson films, Gandalf was the one I was most skeptical about. But happily I can say that Ian McKellan's Gandalf is absolutely THE standard by which any performance has to be judged. If they ever film "The Hobbit", they must use McKellan as the old wizard or the whole project will fall apart.

Anyway, I suppose if you've read the books and seen the movies, watching this version isn't all that bad. But I'm doing my damnedest to keep this version away from my kids until they have seen the Jackson version. Although it's tough, my goal is to hold off each of my sons until they're at least twelve. Any sooner might just fill their heads with enough terrible images to give them nightmares for years to come.

UPDATE: After five years I finally decided to get around to working on the Hobbit, which started with this post


Reading Tolkien aloud...

For the past week or so, I have been reading "The Hobbit" to my 9-year old. It's something I've wanted to do for a while but until now he hasn't really had the patience for it. I made an attempt last year but didn't even get through the first chapter. I chalked it up to his restlessness at that time in the evening before bed.

Well, as of now I'm about seven or eight chapters into it, and I have to say it has been somewhat of a chore. Reading it quietly to oneself is much different experience than not only reading it aloud but trying to make it entertaining. It's hard enough to keep track of all the different voices to use, but to make matters worse Tolkien's style is very long-winded. You can imagine the state of my throat after reading "Riddles in the Dark", doing my best Andy Serkis-style Gollum voice.

I actually found myself getting out of breath as I finished each sentence. Again, reading through in your mind is one thing, reciting those long winding passages takes some real effort.

Interestingly enough, Tolkien wrote "The Hobbit" specifically in a style of a narrator, often interjecting commentary and making the occasional aside to the reader here and there within the story. And he was known to have read the book to his children many times over. My hat's off to the old Don. But perhaps being a professor of languages he was considerably more comfortable with this especially verbose - and often repetitive - material.

My son, Ryan, is certainly interested. Unfortunately, he has seen the Rankin-Bass animated version which I'm not terribly fond of. But it was long ago enough where he can use his own imagination as he listens. And Alan Lee's illustrations are beautifully presented in my edition.

As we continue to plod along at a chapter per night (most nights, anyway) before I start I always have him review with me the names of all thirteen dwarves. Balin and Dwalin, Oin and Gloin, Bifur Bofur and Bombur, Fili and Kili, Dori Nori and Ori and Thorin. He's getting better and it's became a great source of pride to him to be able to name them unaided. He's almost there.

Also, after every chapter, we track the journey of Bilbo, Thorin & Co. on a map drawn by John Howe specifically for "The Maps of Middle Earth". As of this point, the fourteen adventures have just taken leave of Gandalf (who has pressing business with the White Council on the topic of the Necromancer at Dol Goldur - who ultimately turns out to be Sauron). They're about to enter the dark and dangerous Mirkwood.

Here there be spiders!


Tolkien Books

The following is a list of books and resources by and about J.R.R. Tolkien. While there are many more than are listed here, those listed here I have read and recommend.

The Works:

The "Making of" Books (edited by Christopher Tolkien):


Literary Criticism:




What's you're definition of a "tolkien geek"?It's pretty broad. Basically, I consider a tolkien geek to be any fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's work. To qualifty, however, you have to have read "The Lord of the Rings" at least once and are overcome by a strange desire to read it again...and again. There is a whole other group of fans that calls themselves "ringers". But I think that's one step beyond "geek".

How long have you been a Tolkien fan?I have been a fan of JRR Tolkien most of my life. It started off small, watching the Rankin-Bass cartoon version of "The Hobbit" at early age and then reading the book. When I first read "The Lord of the Rings", I think I expected it to be more of the type of story, but was dismayed to find how utterly complex the it was. I probably could have told you very little of it after I'd finished.

In college, I tried again. And while I found myself impatiently skipping over some of the best of Tolkien's writing, I became a lot more interested in the story and vowed to read it again sometime. By 1994, I sat down and carefully read through "The Lord of the Rings" once again. And that time, something really clicked. I couldn't put it down. Of course, the difficulty associated with reading Tolkien aloud is a whole other can of worms.

What do you think of the movies?In 2000, I found out about the Peter Jackson films that were in production and very skeptical that the work could be successfully translated as a movie. Boy was I wrong. I LOVED them. In anticipation of the release of each installment I had a chance to fall in love with the books all over again. Don't get me wrong, though. They're not perfect. I have my share of criticisms. But I would say that they definitely exceeded my expectations. One area that particularly impressed me about Jackson's work was his casting decisions. My first love, however, is the original work.

You mean you read the books over and over again?In 2001, I learned that Christopher Lee - Peter Jackson's Saruman - was such a fan that he read the books every year for most of his later life. I decided it was worthwhile to do the same as I found each trip back into Middle-Earth, while not new, was an experience I enjoyed repeating.

Since then, I have earmarked Labor Day weekend at the beginning of September as my annual launch-point for starting the books again. I follow a leisurely pace, savoring every word, over the course of two to three months. At this point, I usually finish up shortly after Halloween (every other year I re-read the Appendices as well). Autumn is my favorite season and it has become something of a tradition for me. My wife thinks I'm completely out of my mind for it.

So why start a "Tolkien" blog?A couple of years ago, I decided to blog my thoughts and impressions after each chapter for my own personal record. Originally, I did this a way of developing a deeper appreciation for the work. What resulted serves fairly well as a "Cliff's Notes" kind of primer as well as a study of how the story developed, using many original and secondary source documents. If these ramblings provide anyone else with some insight or amusement, all the better. But my primary goal had been to actually jot down what I was thinking as I read, often noting observations that I never made before. Having the films as a visual companion to the written works also provided some stuff to blog about.

Who are these posts mostly written for?
Primarily, myself. But if I were to narrow down a group of folks that they're most aimed at I would say casual fans who enjoyed the films and have either never read the books or have read them sometime in the past and - in either case - are looking for a resource to help them better appreciate the story.

I've just stumbled onto this site. If I want to follow along as I read the books, where should I start?
Go to the Introduction of Fellowship of the Ring. Each post has a link at the bottom to navigate to the next one. Or you can find a listing of the posts for each book, by chapter, in the right sidebar. The posts make a nice companion to the books as you read along, or you can just go though them at your leisure.

Hey, I've been here before and I just read something in one of your posts that looks new. Am I imaging it?
No, you're not. In fact, I recently completed some necessary editing and correcting of my original posts. In some places I have revised and extended my commentary and included some new pictures. Posts retain their original dates and I have indicated at the bottom of each when they were revised. I've tried to be thorough in the revision, however, if any of you aspiring editors out there come across any typos or inaccuracies feel free to bring them to my attention.

You know, I having a nagging question about something in the books that I've never been able to find a satisfactory answer to. Can you help?
Well, I'm by no means an expert on Tolkien, but I own a lot of books by people who are. Plus I know of a lot of web resources. If you'd like to leave a comment on the most appropriate chapter post or email me a question or clarification at, I'll so some research and, if I can't find a suitable answer, I should at least be able to direct you to where you could. Keep in mind that sometimes I opt to skip over some bits of information from the story if I don't think they're especially relevant. I find it's best to keep some things simple for those readers who are not that familiar with the complicated Tolkien universe.

Also, when I get questions I post them in a special sidebar section guessed it "Questions & Answers".

I noticed you wrote something that isn't technically accurate if you consult some of the source material published after Tolkien's death.  I want to clear that up so where is the best place to post my comment?

Really?  You feel so strongly about it that you want to post a public comment to correct it and show everybody how much you know about Tolkien?  That seems awfully OCD when you stop to think about it.

I get comments like this from time to time.  Mostly I ignore them because the purpose of this sight isn't about scholarly research on the legendarium of Middle-Earth and the casual reader couldn't care less.  Sometimes I'll comment on it myself if the mood strikes me.  However, if I misstated something it's probably because in the process of banging out over a hundred posts I didn't have a copy of a particular book handy to double check and just tried to go from memory.

I don't hold myself out as the source of Tolkien knowledge, so I could really do without the attempts at one-upmanship.  If you really want a response from me on a particular subject, just send an email to  Otherwise, don't worry about it.

What will happen to this blog now?Though this site has been a labor of love, it really has taken a lot of my time - something I find myself increasingly lacking. After taking some time off, I decided to blog certain selections from "Unfinished Tales". The work was rewarding but the creative batteries are once again drained.

Now, I'm in the midst of analyzing "The Hobbit" and how the source material will most likely be translated into the new two-film project being currently being undertaken by Peter Jackson. Once that is done, there is nothing left to do but wait and see the final result and how it compared to my guesses. I am open to suggestions, however.

Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy what you find here.

"The road goes ever on and on..."