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Old 09-12-2015, 11:04 AM   #1
littlemanpoet
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The Hobbit Play - Authorized by Tolkien

Last night I saw "The Hobbit" as a play. The title page said that it was Authorized by J.R.R. Tolkien.

It did include:
  • the Dwarves at Bag End
  • The Trolls
  • Fight with Goblins in the Mountains
  • Riddles in the Dark
  • Mirkwood travels
  • Elf party & following imprisonment
  • Key in the hole at the Lonely Mountain
  • Bilbo and Smaug's dialogue
  • Elves and Dwarves contending for the treasure
  • Gandalf sometimes present sometimes absent
  • the death of Smaug
  • Bilbo goes home with treasure & newfound wisdom ... and the Ring

It did not include:
  • Rivendel
  • Elrond
  • Beorn
  • Laketown
  • Bard and his arrow
  • The Battle of Five Armies
  • The Arkenstone
  • The death of Thorin

What struck me as odd was:
  • the Dwarves knew about the ring in Mirkwood already
  • The Elves and Dwarves contended at the door to the Lonely Mountain and forged an agreement there to split the treasure justly
  • Thorin kills Smaug with an Elven sword given to him by the Queen of the Elves

Well, it left me cold. It is known that Tolkien's opinion of stage productions of literary works was not high. Yet he authorized this version.

I suppose you have to see it to really appreciate the differences. And, I suppose, that if there's going to be a play, on a stage, with really limited props and stage effects, you can't have a battle and you can't have a dragon flying. And you don't have time to do justice to all of the nuances in the book. Was this the best that could be done for a play? Probably. Worth seeing? Not sure. The characterization was actually quite good, Bombur practically stole the show.

There is, however, one thing that grates on my nerves. The actor who played Gollum too, the Andy Serkas template and swallowed all his words so you couldn't understand much at all. Very disappointing.

Last edited by littlemanpoet; 09-12-2015 at 07:59 PM.
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Old 09-13-2015, 01:05 PM   #2
jallanite
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I recall reading a discussion of Patricia Gray’s dramatic adaptation in 1968 of The Hobbit years ago in a fanzine. The author of the review, like you, had a very lacklustre opinion of the play but noted that the replacement of the Elven King by an Elven Queen may have been inspired by a wish to expand the possible female roles in what was a children’s play to be presumably mainly presented by school children.

That Tolkien himself authorized the play means nothing, save that Patricia Gray had made financial arrangements with Tolkien and Allen & Unwin which were sufficient to compensate for any qualms that Tolkien may have had. Of course a published play based on a copyright work must have permission of the copyright owner of the original work to be published legally.

I presume similarly that Tolkien ‘authorized’ the dramatization of The Lord of the Rings on BBC radio, but Letter 175 in Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien shows he found the results distasteful. The same goes for various translations of The Hobbit into various languages, some of which he later expressed his distaste for.

Those who wish may view a complete version of this play on the web beginning with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8c0Bp3h_Ds.

In the year before authorizing Patricia Gray’s play Tolkien had also authorized a musical version of The Hobbit scripted by Humphrey Carpenter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humphrey_Carpenter) and presented at New College School in Oxford. See http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/The_H..._adaptation%29, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ld15z, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adapta...s_and_musicals. See also http://www.operanorth.co.uk/blogs/i-gandalf, http://www.cornishguardian.co.uk/Hob...ail/story.html, and a modern production described at http://www.theaterforkids.net/press_hobbit_camera.htm.
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Old 09-13-2015, 04:29 PM   #3
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Missing plot elements? Curious casting? Dialogue not found in the books? Notable changes to well-known novel scenes? PJ could have gone this route if all he wanted was to "re-interpret" the books.

I like in the first part where Gandalf gets an inch from Bilbo's face and stares.
I at least get a sense of fun from this. It obviously doesn't take itself remotely seriously, which, considering other "adaptations", works as a plus.
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Old 09-13-2015, 06:27 PM   #4
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The play I saw was, in fact, dramatized by Patricia Gray.

The notion that this increased the number of roles for females did occur to me. However, I think that of the 13 dwarves, 10 were played by actresses. They were duly packed up in many layers of dwarvish garb and thick eyebrows and plastic foreheads and beards, so it worked.

It was actually pretty entertaining on the whole, but there was just the one major error in this version: supposedly the dwarves know nothing about the Ring, and when faced with capture by the Elves, Thorin says, "Bilbo, put on your Ring" ... that I don't actually know about. Ooooops.
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Old 09-20-2015, 08:58 PM   #5
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I find that, as so often, Hammond and Scull have interesting comments about both these Hobbit plays. In their The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion & Guide: Reader’s Guide, page 9, they comment:
The scripts of a dramatization by Patricia Gray and of a musical by Allan Jay Friedman, David Rogers, and Ruth Perry were published in 1968 and 1972 respectively by the Dramatic Publishing Company of Chicago, ‘authorized by Professor J. R. R. Tolkien’. This imprimatur, however, was given only as part of a compromise between the publisher and George Allen & Unwin, at a time when the validity of the copyright of the first edition of The Hobbit in the United States, and therefore the ability to control or prevent dramatic adaptations, was seriously in question (see * Ace Books controversy, and further in the present entry.) In fact Tolkien disliked at least the version by Gray and still less that he had little or no say in the matter. Through * Rayner Unwin he requested changes where the adapter had departed from the text without (as he felt) any dramatic necessity. Although the Dramatic Publishing Company held that they knew best what was needed for an effective stage play, they agreed to some of Tolkien’s requests, and Unwin felt that these ‘repaired a lot of the worst excesses and infelicities’ (letter to Tolkien, 19 June 1968, Tolkien-George Allen & Unwin archive, HarperCollins). On 20 June Unwin wrote to H. N. Swanson, the American agent for Allen & Unwin, that ‘neither Professor Tolkien nor I are concerned about the process of dramatization so long as it is a dramatization of the book in question and that intrusions from elsewhere conform to the spirit and style of the original’. Tolkien further agreed that ‘the publication is with his authorization . . . [but] he would not wish it to be said that the dramatization had his approval’ (George Allen & Unwin archive, University of Reading).
So much for what Tolkien’s authorization actually meant.
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Old 09-21-2015, 04:51 AM   #6
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Thanks for the clarification, Jallanite.
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