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February 13, 2012

Rankin/Bass's Adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's _The Hobbit_

Image Source: http://paulhastings.me/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Hobbit-from-Rankin-Bass.jpg

The Hobbit. Dirs. Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. Perf. Orson Bean, John Huston, et al. Rankin/Bass, 1977. DVD.

This film from Rankin-Bass is available on YouTube in six parts. Just like our texts, we will refer to this animation, an adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (1937), frequently in class. It may be that you will choose to write a paper on this work before the course is finished.

Posted by lhobbs at February 13, 2012 12:29 PM

Readers' Comments:

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
20 February 2012

To Seek our Pale Enchanted Gold: A Transactional Approach to The Hobbit

Though critics might consider Reader-Response Criticism’s usefulness waning, a few interesting insights can still be uncovered if one simply looks in the right places. By analyzing Louise M. Rosenblatt’s transaction theory in application to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, something of interest comes to light pertaining to the transaction between the text and of the reader. In order for this exercise to hold any relevance, however, a certain multifaceted glimpse at Tolkien’s story must be included. Instead of relying on one adaptation of the source material, this essay will take into account three versions of the same work to play with the notion of whether these versions are actually similar at all.

In her seminar “Towards a Transactional Theory of Reading,” Louise M. Rosenblatt holds the position that the meaning of a work is produced when the reader works in unison with the text. Ultimately, both players contribute to the shaping of the product: “Thus the ‘meaning’ of any element in the system of signs in the text is conditioned not only by its verbal context, but also by the context provided by the reader’s past experience and present expectations and purpose” (Rosenblatt 42-43). This interaction—the reader and the text acting upon each other—provides significance and meaning to the series of symbols on the page; the work, then, emerges from this significance. Because no individual shares either an identical history or present expectations, it follows that any work constructed vis-à-vis the transaction between reader and text will be uniquely individual and will never be reproduced. Rosenblatt follows this line of reasoning by stating that “the coming together of a particular text and a particular reader creates the possibility of a unique process, a unique work” (Rosenblatt 43). This creates a unique situation for the reader. He is reading a wholly distinctive work that he will never again be able to encounter. Indeed, the next time he attempts such an interaction with the text his past experiences will have been enhanced and his intentions will have been altered.

The reader’s contribution to the transaction between reader and text seems as straight forward as it is crucial. Understanding how a reader’s past experience and present intent shapes the creation of the work in which he is engaged is the subject of much interesting analysis; however, the text’s contribution to the transaction, opposed to that of the reader’s contribution, will be the main point of interest here. This contribution is especially salient in its application to J. R. R. Tolkien’s original material and its subsequent adaptations.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a masterpiece of the fantasy genre that has been appreciated by generations of young readers. The work exists in a myriad of mediums, and each adaptation lends itself to differing interpretations. The song “Over the Misty Mountains Cold” will be utilized here to exemplify the textual differentiations between adaptations with the goal of uncovering the text’s transactional contribution. Within the initial scenes of the animated version of The Hobbit by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, the first few lines of the song “Over the Misty Mountains Cold” can be heard in an effective and interesting way. The narrator uses several random lines from the song to build the plot and progress the story. Thorin Oakenshield and his gang of dwarves are seated at Bilbo’s table, recruiting him as a burglar for their impending adventure. The narrator relays the back story to the audience using the lyrical rhyme of the song. For the sake of brevity, the animation chose several choice lines instead of including the lyric in its entirety. At the narration’s climax, Thorin and the other dwarves begin singing in unison: “We must away, ere break of day, / To win our harps and gold from him” (Rankin/Bass). For this adaptation, the song is used to provide backlog and hint at future adventurous endeavors; however, the interpretation of the song has an aspect of the whimsical. The ominous nature of the song is practically nonexistent, and the way in which it is sung does not carry with it a serious undertone. The way in which the animated adaptation handles the song is drastically different from the audio book version narrated by Rob Inglis.

Rob Inglis’ version of “Over the Misty Mountains Cold” is definitely more serious in tone than its Rankin/Bass counterpart. It carries with it the full weight of the message being relayed. Additionally, the audio book is unabridged, and therefore the song is presented in its entirety as no lyric is excluded. Inglis’ dry, unwavering voice conveys a somber intensity that is heightened by his baritone vocals. The original source material presents the most reader intensive transaction with the text. The reader lifts the text from the pages of the novel, and meaning and significance are in place vis-à-vis the reader’s intentions. Whereas the other two mediums force the reader to experience the song in a predetermined way, the novel allows the reader more play with his interpretation.

Though the reader interacts alternately with the text in each medium, it is the text’s interaction that is worth noting here. In each case the text contributes something different to the transaction, and thus the meaning contained within the transaction will be different each time. The animated version of the text encompasses the greatest possibility to contribute a whimsical nature to the text, and this section of the novel can definitely be read in that way. The audio book, however, does seem to champion a more sincere and layered experience. In the case of the novel, the text and the reader have the most interaction, for there is less outside influence obstructing the transaction from taking place. In the case of each version, the text posits drastically different systems of symbols for the reader to interpret, and these systems are present in spite of the shared source material. Though the story is the same, the produced work will be different via the system of symbols formed by the text. In this way, the transaction between reader and text will produce entirely different works regardless of the common narrative.

Works Cited
Bass, Jules, & Rankin, Jr., Arthur, dirs. The Hobbit. Rankin/Bass Productions, 1977. Film
Rosenblatt, Louise M. “Towards a Transactional Theory of Reading.” Journal of Literacy Research 1.1 (1969): 31-49. Sage Journals. Web. 20 February 2012.

Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at February 20, 2012 09:28 PM

Diego Pestana
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
March 2, 2012
The Hobbit's Journey: Bilbo Baggins' Separation
One aspect of Joseph Campbell's idea of a Hero's Journey, as illustrated in Christopher Vogler's take on The Hero with a Thousand Faces, that is easily adaptable to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, notably in Rinkin/Bass's film adaptation, is the idea of “Separation.” According to Vogler, “Separation” is the first stage in the Hero's Journey. During the separation phase, the hero is first shown in his ordinary world that is habitual to him. This is to place emphasis on the extraordinary nature of his journey, or, as Volger writes, if we are to see the hero “out of his customary element, you first have to create a contrast by showing him in his mundane ordinary world.” After the hero is depicted in his ordinary world, there is a “Call to Adventure.” Here, the hero is confronted with some type of challenge that requires action on his part. And at first, the hero is reluctant to accept that challenge. This stage is appropriately called the “Refusal of the Call.” There is then some kind of intervention, either supernatural or by another character, which leads the hero into “Crossing the Threshold” and beginning his journey. All of these stages of separation are illustrated in Rankin/Bass's The Hobbit.
In the beginning of the film, Bilbo Baggins, the hero, is first shown in his home of Hobbiton in the Shire. Bilbo is shown living comfortably in his home, enjoying the relaxing atmosphere. The narrator remarks of Bilbo's home saying that, “It was a Hobbit hole. And that means comfort.” This illustration fits the idea of showing the hero in his ordinary world as a means to emphasize the contrasting extraordinariness of the journey he is about to embark on. Shortly thereafter, Bilbo is confronted by Gandalf who is seeking his help as a burglar. This is the “Call to Adventure” segment of the separation. In fact, Gandalf even asks Bilbo, “You do not wish to share a grand adventure?” And, as per Volger's illustration of Campbell's idea, Bilbo initially refuses remarking, “We Hobbits are quiet folk. Adventures make one late for dinner.” This illustrates the idea of the hero's “Refusal of the Call.” However, Bilbo eventually changes his mind because of intervention on the part of a mentor and the supernatural. Gandalf does his best to convince Bilbo to accept the wonders of an adventure, but it is the supernatural feeling Bilbo receives from hearing the dwarves sing that ultimately convinces him to go, and thus “Cross the Threshold.” Through this analysis, Campbell's “Separation” stage of the Hero's Journey, as restated by Volger, is easily seen in Rankin/Bass's The Hobbit.

Works Cited
“The Hobbit.” Dir. Jules Bass, and Arthur Rankin, Jr. Web.
Vogler, Christopher. “A Practical Guide to Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” 1985. Memo. 2 March 2012.

Posted by: Diego Pestana at March 2, 2012 02:08 AM

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