I tried to do a single post on the merits of animated Tolkien films, but it got away from me. Instead, to celebrate the release of the first new Hobbit movie on Friday, we are going to do a whole week of Tolkien posts. Participation is encouraged! If you feel inspired to do a Tolkien post this week, let me know and I will link to it here. You may also use my Tolkien Week banner, if you’d like. If you do, just be sure to link back here. And if Tolkien isn’t your thing, never fear—regular blog posts will resume next week.
The Hobbit (1977)
Does anyone remember this film? It’s by Rankin and Bass, who are also responsible for The Last Unicorn and the animated version of The Return of the King (which we’ll get to in a day or two.)
I find this film entirely charming. Go into it with the proper expectations (it is an ANIMATED CHILDREN’S MOVIE) and you will find a beautiful little film that hits at the heart of The Hobbit story. I confess I haven’t actually seen it for a number of years, but one of its most valuable and enchanting elements is the music, performed by folk singer Glenn Yarbrough. I found a youtube playlist of the entire soundtrack, which has only ever been released on LP. Go check it out!
(It should be noted that this playlist goes directly into songs from The Last Unicorn and The Return of the King.)
Almost all of these songs feature Tolkien’s actual lyrics from the books. My father read The Hobbit out loud to my brother and me when I was very, very young—and when he read the book, he sang the songs to the tunes from this movie. For me, the songs on this playlist ARE the songs from the book. This version of Over The Misty Mountains Cold, especially, encapsulates much of the utter magic that the works of Tolkien seemed to me during my childhood. Here’s the track (the Misty Mountains song is preceded by the song the dwarves sing to tease Bilbo as they clean up after their meal): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4TysZL6YiA&list=PLC00BB6EBF33B103C&index=7
Listen to this track all the way through, and you will also encounter John Huston’s voice as Gandalf, reciting directly from the book the story of Smaug and the Lonely Mountain. I have no complaints about Ian McKellan’s Gandalf whatsoever, but the timbre of John Huston’s voice is so rich here, and so transporting.
(As an addendum, I have some reservations about the upcoming Hobbit movie, but the performance of Misty Mountains from the first trailer is one of the things that gives me hope.)
There is also a song on this sountrack that never made it to the movie: Old Fat Spider. It’s a pretty loose adaptation of the song from the books that Bilbo sings at the spiders in Mirkwood, but I find it rather delightful. Something about the pacing; it feels like Yarbrough might be slightly out of breath and running away from spiders as he sings. There is also something very satisfying about the sung lyrics, “Attercop! Oh Attercop!” I always figured the Attercop insult was a bit of nonsense, but trust Tolkien to do better than that: it’s actually from an Old English word for spider, and it still survives in the Yorkshire dialect today: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-att1.htm
All in all, I think this old movie is an excellent adaptation of The Hobbit, and it shouldn’t be completely discounted just because there’s a shiny new film on the loose. Even the song lyrics that don’t come from the book at all, like those of The Greatest Adventure (Track 1), seem to capture the heart of the story; of what it is to be a small person who suddenly discovers he is capable of great things after all.
The greatest adventure is what lies ahead,
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes, are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.