The Hobbit: Like butter
scraped over too much bread

The Hobbit: Like butter scraped over too much bread

“Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”

So said Bilbo to Gandalf in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, when he was relating the ennui which accompanies a life lived too long.

The same might be said of Peter Jackson’s first instalment of The Hobbit, which at 2 hours 45 minutes, is a film that goes too long.

I will reserve judgement on the wisdom of dividing a short children’s novel into a three part movie epic, but I can say with certainty that the editors should have been more stringent with this instalment. The first part of the movie, set in Bilbo’s hobbit hole, is interminable. A scene involving trolls would benefit from heavier editing. But perhaps most tellingly, in the middle of a stunning action sequence involving a goblin horde, I found time to step back from the story and marvel at the cinematography. That shouldn’t happen in an action sequence. It was too long.

My complaints, however, are limited to the pacing of the narrative. In other respects, Jackson improves upon Tolkien’s plot. To any movie goer familiar with the original novel, it quickly becomes evident that Jackson never intended to simply adapt The Hobbit to the screen. Instead he uses the novel as a vehicle to create a prequel equal in scope to The Lord of the Rings.

Purists will complain about non-canonical characters and altered details. To which I can only respond: don’t watch this movie with Tolkien’s novel in mind. Watch it with Jackson’s trilogy in mind.

Having said that, the greatest part of Jackson’s movie is faithful to Tolkien’s book. Gollum steals every scene he is in, but even he cannot detract from the critical moment which is a hinge not only to The Hobbit, but also to The Lord of the Rings. The film’s depiction of Bilbo’s “pity, mixed with horror” conveys everything Tolkien describes:

He was desperate. He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped.

Many decades later, Frodo suggested it was a pity that Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum when he had the chance. Gandalf demurs:

Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began the ownership of the Ring so. With pity . . .

. . Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends . . . the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least.

It has been suggested that the reframing of The Hobbit into an epic prequel has obscured Tolkien’s moral tale about hobbits and humility and the “small everyday deeds of ordinary folk.” I don’t think so. In fact, it could be argued that Jackson makes this theme much more explicit than does Tolkien – not inappropriately, given a different medium and a different audience.

To conclude, I think it can be said that although Jackson’s film is not very faithful to the pace and tone of Tolkien’s book, Jackson is faithful to Tolkien’s vision. If only it wasn’t half an hour too long, I would call this an outstanding movie. As it is, The Hobbit is overwrought but very good.

O Night Divine

My favourite carol is the Cantique de Noël, sung here very beautifully by Josh Groban.

A friend in fact alerted me this, with an apology for the “cheesiness” of the video. I’ve never seen The Nativity Story, from which the footage is taken, but it doesn’t strike me as cheesy at all. I love it. I’m afraid when it comes to Christmas, at least, I become something of an aesthete, after the example of Sebastian Flyte:

“I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?”

“Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”

“But, my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”

“Can’t I?”

“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”

“But I do. That’s how I believe.”

Whatever of that, enjoy the clip. Merry Christmas!

H/T Maryse.

Where’s the charity?

Where’s the charity?

Melbourne’s Age, in typically mischievous fashion, has headlined an inflammatory article, Pearson snubbed as newspaper names horse as Sportswoman of the Year. Lest the headline leaves you in any doubt, here are the opening lines:

Sally Pearson – London Olympic gold medallist and golden girl of Australian sport – has been pipped at the post for Sportswoman of the Year by a racehorse by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

Sportswriters Phil Rothfield and Darren Hadland named Black Caviar as the best female athlete this year as part of their annual top 50 moments of the year column.

In fairness to The Age, the controversy began on Twitter. Footy commentator Tom Harley tweeted it’s “plain offensive to all the inspirational sportswomen of Australia.” Other tweeters joined in. “Stupid and offensive.” “Utterly embarrassing.” “A new low.” “Sexism and misogyny are endemic in Oz.”

The article at the heart of the controversy starts this way:

SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR

How can you go past Michael Clarke? Not even Bradman managed four double centuries in a single year. His 329 against India at the SCG was incredible. Well played, Pup.

SPORTSWOMAN OF THE YEAR

Black Caviar. The mighty mare took on the Poms on their own turf and still beat them. Let’s see Frankel do that. That’s right, they were too afraid to bring him here.

THE GOLDEN MOMENT

Sally Pearson

Sally Pearson winning the 100m hurdles in London. The Olympics weren’t our best, but Sally did the country proud.

“Pearson snubbed”? I’m sorry, but I can’t maintain the rage. Getting offended by this requires conscious effort.

I always though getting offended was a gut reaction. An offensive statement or behaviour strikes at our core, and elicits an involuntary and instantaneous reaction. I find it hard to believe that is happening here. Not only because the subject matter is inane, but also — and more importantly — because there’s no evidence the authors intended to offend women or snub Sally Pearson. Readers need to choose one of several interpretations before they can be offended.

Earlier in the week, the Pope published an article in the Financial Times:

When Christians refuse to bow down before the false gods proposed today, it is not because of an antiquated world-view. Rather, it is because they are free from the constraints of ideology and inspired by such a noble vision of human destiny that they cannot collude with anything that undermines it.

The “constraints of ideology” narrow a person’s perspective. Abstract ideas can blind a person to other persons. That blindness can license us to be cruel to other persons, because it’s ideas, not relationships, which become the primary motivator.

A rejection of ideology doesn’t necessitate a rejection of ideas. I can accept and understand a feminist critique of the Daily Telegraph column. I can sympathise with this comment:

If Black Caviar was a male we would be talking about a horse, not an athlete. This is typical of the ongoing lack of respect for sportswomen by all the media. I have been watching the sports pages for years and there is rarely more than one article (sometimes less than one per week!) and mostly of tennis players or even the girlfriend of male athletes. It really is appalling.

That sort of comment is reasonable. It is morally serious. Its claims can be investigated. But the righteous indignation which Twitter has broadcast, and The Age inflamed, is something else. It’s the fruit, I think, of “the constraints of ideology.”

The drums of tolerance and diversity beat incessantly. But what about charity? What about always attributing the best possible interpretation to the other person’s words, and presuming good faith?

It reminds me of a Facebook meme I saw recently:

How to start a nasty and personal flame war on the Internet:

1. Express your opinion about something.

2. Wait.

Youth ministry: the basics

Last Friday night was a night of contrast and comparison. On the one hand, in the old school adjacent to the church, the Hamilton Catholic Youth Group held its Christmas breakup, which included a dance party:

The girls tended to favour this. The boys spent more time playing corridor cricket!

The girls favoured this. The boys preferred corridor cricket!

Meanwhile, in the church hall, the Southern Grampians Old Time Dancers held their own Christmas breakup:

This was more of a mixed event.

This was more of a mixed event.

The juxtaposition of these events reminded me of an excellent article I came across last month. It contrasts the good ole days — “back when Wally Cleaver was wearing a jacket and tie to join other boys and girls at a party, for playing records and eating ice cream and dancing” — with the present day: “the epileptic jerks of disconnected ‘partners’ on a strobe-lit stage, all conversation made impossible by noise from hell.”

But the article is not as pessimistic as you might think. In fact, it’s a constructive analysis of the deficiencies of contemporary culture and what we can do about it.

Where are all the Catholic Youth Organizations?  They used to sponsor basketball games, for both the players and the people who’d be in the stands cheering them.  Where are the socials?  Where are the bowling nights, the picnics?  Where can our young people go to have innocent fun, not just alongside the other sex, but specifically for mingling with them, meeting them, flirting with them, searching for one of them to love?  Where are we nudging them gently along toward marriage and the sweetness of that life?

These are not extras.  They are of the essence.  I’m deeply interested in theology, but most people aren’t.  The “theology” they drink in comes from Mass, from prayer, and from—note this well!—the natural life of people in the Church . . .

. . Not everybody can speak learnedly about church architecture.  Not everybody wants to hear about that.  Not everybody can speak learnedly about grace and free will.  Not everybody wants to hear about that.  But everybody can learn to sing, everybody can learn to dance, everybody can watch a good movie, everybody likes a picnic, or a hike, or a trip to the beach, or a goofy time at the bowling alley, or a softball game, or an ice cream social, or coffee and tea and doughnuts.

Read it all: Catholics, Awake! Marriage Doesn’t Just Happen!

Life, Knowledge and Love

Not long now until The Hobbit premieres on Australian screens. I’ve already got my ticket. Have you?

I did concede, in a recent conversation with another Tolkien fan, that The Hobbit is light weight fare compared to The Lord of the Rings. In the latter, Frodo saves the world. In the former, Bilbo steals some gold from a dragon. Chalk and cheese.

Still, I imagine Peter Jackson has indulged in artistic license, and somehow upped the ante of Bilbo’s quest. Here’s the latest trailer.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has had access to the spectacle for five days already. I know several people living in Europe who have already seen it, and judging from their Facebook reviews, it’s better than the critics suggest.

One such friend is Alice Mount, who is maintaining a blog while she’s working and living in France. She blogged about The Hobbit — sort of, if you appreciate that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were friends and fellow Inklings.

Life, Knowledge and Love is a blog about everything and nothing, written by an intelligent and thoughtful young Catholic woman. I recommend it.