I have not seen the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Some of my family and friends have seen it. So imagine my surprise when they turn to me and say, “You are a historian, so answer my question.”
Uh, Oh. Here it comes. I know what they are going to ask because while I have not seen the movie I do read magazines and newspapers and The Wall Street Journal even showed it online.
“What question is that?” I asked.
One family members starts. “Okay. Bilbo Baggins’ Uncle left him the ring and the home. Is that the Uncle’s bathrobe that Bilbo wears in the movie? And where would the Middle-Earth have gotten china as in a china teapot and china plates?”
Now, how would I know that? I have never seen the movie nor read the Hobbit books. I did see Lord of the Rings, but do not recall that movie explaining anything more than the ring and the home.
My silence brought forth more comments. “Come on historian, you should know these answers.”
Just because I am a historian does not mean that my field is historic textiles.
Recalling The Wall Street Journal article I read, I said, “Did Bilbo’s mother leave him the China?”
Shoulders around me shrugged.
I continued, “I think that is what an article I read stated. Anyway, let’s say that his mother left him the China. As a historian, I would take it that his mother came from a middle upper class or upper class family or worked at one time for a wealthy family.”
“How did you come to that conclusion?” someone asked.
“Well, Bilbo was left a precious gold ring and a home. A gold ring indicates wealth or trust of wealth. Owning a home, such as the one left to Bilbo, that had more finer things than most is a representation of being wealthy. And if the Uncle who left the ring and home was a brother to Bilbo’s mother, then surely she was just as well off as he had been or at least had some finer things.”
“What about the quilted bathrobe?” another person asked. “Where would they have gotten velvet and the other material to make such a nice bathrobe?”
“Where would they have gotten the china?” someone asked.
“History has shown that people and places got finer things through trade,” I explained. “Since I do not know the location of Middle Earth, I do not know who the Hobbits would have traded with.”
“Why don’t they explain these things in the story?” a family member asked.
“Ah, ahhhhhhh,” someone said.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
The person replied. “In his books Tolkien did say where the shire was located. I think he wrote it was located at a crossroads of a couple of major trade routes.”
“That would explain it,” I replied.
Again, “Why don’t they explain these things in the story?”
“Apparently, Tolkien did in the books,” I said. “And perhaps Peter Jackson just assumed that those who watch the movies also read the books.”
“That’s wrong!” someone shouted.
Now, that is the point of this blog. The person who did the writing, of the script in this case, probably assumed most people had read Tolkien’s work.
While it seems that Tolkien explained things in his work, it doesn’t necessarily mean that when it was interpreted that the clarity stayed with the story.
I would argue that it is the job of the person doing the writing to make it clear for the reader and in this case movie watcher, to understand the history and facts of the story.