Just in time for holiday gathering bickering over what movies to see, the first installment of the new Hobbit film trilogy opened everywhere late at night on Thursday, so strap on your Gandalf beard:
For Peter Jackson’s take on The Hobbit, his freedom to sprawl the narrative over three films also gives him the freedom to indulge in the same tricks and tics that gummed up the works so direly in Return of the King. Meaning: a whole server farm’s worth of animated orcs to keep goosing the action along whenever it threatens to flag, and a script too often shorn of the source material grandeur or playfulness. The unfortunate thing is that Tolkien’s book didn’t need any goosing along. He knocked out that brisk, rollicking read as a bedtime tale to read to his children; only later did it become the genesis of his entire Middle-earth mythos…
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is playing everywhere right now in a multitude of formats. It’s advisable to skip theaters showing it at the 48 fps (frames per second) speed, as it makes too much of the action look sped-up and cartoonish.
My full review is at Short Ends & Leader.
You can see the trailer here:
Several years before hobbits were a gleam in J. R. R. Tolkien’s eye, he was deeply involved in another massive literary undertaking: The Oxford English Dictionary. Tolkien worked on the OED staff from 1919 to 1920, concentrating primarily on words in the “W” section. (The image of the tweedy young scholar beavering away at his obscure assignments at the dawn of the Jazz Age calls to mind an Oxbridge version of Ball of Fire; only sans Barbara Stanwyck.)
According to Peter Gilliver of the OED, Tolkien was put on to certain words — like walnut, walrus, and wampum — particularly because of their difficult etymologies:
Other words, such as waistcoat, wake (noun), wan, and want, posed rather different challenges. Teasing out fine distinctions of meaning is a key part of a lexicographer’s job, as is the selection of words to convey precisely the connotations, as well as the simple meaning, of a word: Tolkien evidently took great pains over both. He relished the task of distinguishing the different garments denoted at different times by waistcoat (as he later grew to relish the garment itself) … His biggest challenge, however, must surely have been want, one of the commonest of all verbs, which eventually required nearly thirty separately defined senses and subsenses.
Many years later, an editor at the OED who had been a student of Tolkien’s wrote asking for his opinion on the definition of a new word gaining popularity: hobbit. Tolkien happily obliged. Mithril and orc are now also ensconced in the dictionary as well.