So I’m watching television and I see the first commercial for the new Denny’s Hobbit Menu, based on the film “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first of the new trilogy. My stomach is immediately knotted and in turmoil as surely as if I’d eaten at said diner.
The first question that should be immediately answered is of course, “would any respectable hobbit eat at Denny’s?” The answer is of course, a resounding “not no but hell no.” Hobbits love food, granted, but it’s good food they love. Fresh food, quality ingredients, well prepared. If a hobbit was to lend his good name to anything culinary, it would have to be a part of the whole food movement – support your local farmer. Fast food, chains and establishments of that ilk are precisely why hobbits prefer to avoid the big people.
Unfortunately, J.R.R. Tolkien cannot come back to this planet and make his feelings known, though it’s a safe bet he’d be horrified at what a small few have done with his creation. After all, if there is a moral to The Hobbit, one could make a very good case that it’s to show the dangers of greed in society.
Within a few hours I’ve seen the Denny’s commercial a number of times, and the outrage doesn’t lessen on repeated viewing. I also catch the Lego Lord of the Rings video game, as well as other Tolkien inspired Lego play sets.
Then came the catalogs with Christmas gifts for young and old. I have to admit, some of the products out there are nicely done, such as those by Weta Workshops. There is some nice jewelry as well, followed by lots of posters, 3D playing cards, film cells, replica props and of course, iPhone cases. How far does the branding go? I wouldn’t be at all surprised for New Zealand to officially change it’s name to Middle Earth any day now.
The Tolkien estate, represented by his daughter, Anne Reuel Tolkien, along with Tolkien’s British publishers, George Allen & Unwin, the publishers who first brought out The Hobbit in 1937 are suing the producers over merchandising rights, particular incensed by an online slot machine. The lawsuit states the situation more eloquently than I ever could, pointing out that “the morally questionable (and decidedly non-literary) world of online and casino gambling” had “outraged Tolkien’s devoted fan base, causing irreparable harm to Tolkien’s legacy and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works”.
His son, Christopher Tolkien goes even further, “They gutted the book, making an action movie for 15-25 year olds. And it seems that The Hobbit will be of the same ilk. Tolkien became…devoured by his popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of the time. The gap widened between the beauty, the seriousness of the work, and what it has become is beyond me. This level of marketing reduces to nothing the aesthetic and philosophical significance of this work.”
How far has the situation grown out of control? Fans of the movie speak out … “They made you even richer so be quiet,” “Wow he sounds bitter. The first movie is better than the book anyway,” “The books are boring,” and my favorite, “the Books aren’t bad, they’re just boring. To me that’s the worst offense that an author can make.”
The films have made the stories infinitely more popular, no question. The question is, has it made it more popular by appealing to people who don’t have the brainpower to understand the books to begin with.
That it cost a fortune to film The Hobbit is beyond dispute. Each book of the Lord of the Rings equalled one film, yet the Hobbit, no longer than any of the other three books is being stretched out to three films. That certainly bumped up the cost. It’s pretty obvious that those who purchased the film and merchandising rights see this as their last chance to monetize their investment, and are trying to wring every last dime from the public.
It’s easy enough to turn off the TV and not be exposed to the advertising, excepting of course the online advertising. If you’re really pissed off, then you should put your money where you mouth is and avoid the cinema when the films are released. That’s less likely though, as it’s probably our last chance to enter the cinematic version of Tolkien’s world, and for better or for worse, they are going to be gorgeous films.
Still, my love for Middle Earth is going to feel a lot like having your best girl turn gutter slut and publicly gang bang half of Hobbiton for the next three years, while you look on, helpless to stop.
For those of us old enough to remember, it’s a long, ugly way from the days when the world of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Hobbit was celebrated with simply a book and your imagination.