In a few days I will be joining the no doubt millions of others in going to see the first movie instalment of The Hobbit. Along with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, these films have been some of the most popular ever made. But that’s not to forget the books that inspired them – the work of Tolkien is still much loved, with the Lord of the Rings being the third best-selling novel ever written, and it frequently tops best loved novel lists.
So why is it so popular? I’m sure that many writers and publishers have asked themselves that very question more than once in the hope of replicating its phenomenal success. I think it has to do, in part, with the idea that Tolkien almost invented a new genre of writing – an ordinary man finds he has an extraordinary power, gets caught up in a series of extraordinary events, is helped by a band of friends who are all a little bit different, to fulfil a prophecy in an ultimate fight between good and evil. Other best-selling books, movies, video games and of course role playing games of a later generation didn’t happen by accident – from the flurry of fantasy novels published after The Lord of the Rings in the 1960’s, to Star Wars, Harry Potter, Eragon… they all follow the same path. The success of the original has, then, been somewhat replicated, but are these others as good?
Tolkien’s books also have a richness that readers hope to find when they pick up a novel, but that isn’t always there (or worse, it tries to be there but just clearly isn’t). In the stories about Middle Earth, the reader can search for as many or as few meanings as they like, with themes ranging from friendship and good vs. evil to war, mythology, industrialisation, magic, and the flaws of man.
With so many books having been sold, it seems that those who love these stories loved the books long before the films were made, and will love them long after. But that doesn’t mean the films aren’t loved as well. I will have to wait and see if The Hobbit lives up to expectations.