My friend Rose posted the other day about why LeVar Burton is awesome, and that reminded me I’d been meaning to write this post.
I’m sure this is weird coming from me, since I often don’t like adaptations and usually am not excited about them, but reimaginings, adaptations, remakes, sequels, and reiterations are how new myths are created. That’s how myths matter. They create meanings that speak in many ways to multiple people over time. They can be told again and again, so you can learn new things from the same story. It’s okay for it to mean different things to different people, that gives us examples in common to talk about important things.
Let’s talk about Batman for a minute. If anything is a modern myth, it’s Batman. We all know the general idea — he’s a man dressed as a bat, who beats up criminals in Gotham City with the help of Comissioner Gordon, Robin, and the faithful butler Alfred. He does all this because his parents were murdered in front of him when he was a child. We know about his battle with the Joker — at this point an ongoing legend with multiple iterations. We recognize references to the batmobile and the batsymbol, however it looks.
There are a lot of Batman movies, comics, TV shows, novels, toys, games, and who-knows-what, but they’re all Batman. Some of them may represent him better or more accurately, depending on how you see him, and any piece of media will have pros and cons, but at this point, none of these different versions are the “real” Batman. Some of them are “more” real, they relate to an ongoing storyline or to other characters from the DC Comics universe, while some of them are one-shot stories that allow us to explore possibilities. (One example is All Star Batman & Robin, which is famous and/or mocked for many reasons, but I find its portrayal of a sexual Batman to be an interesting contrast to normal/”real” Batman. It basically highlights the fact that Batman, for all his efforts to appear as a “billionaire playboy,” doesn’t care about sex. But maybe that’s a post of its own.)
Wrangling all the versions can be confusing and frustrating, especially when there are versions you don’t like, and I think there are still times when the character is written badly or acts “out of character.” However, having multiple versions is almost vital to our understanding of the character at this point, and in any comic or movie, there’s the potential for a revelation that, “Yes, this is Batman. This is something true about Batman that I never realized before.” That’s the kind of realization I had during The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
It’s the scene after the escape from the goblins and Gollum. The dwarves can’t find Bilbo, and Thorin says, “I’ll tell you what happened. Master Baggins saw his chance and he took it! He’s thought of nothing but his soft bed and his warm hearth since first he stepped out of his door! We will not be seeing our Hobbit again. He is long gone.” Bilbo actually had decided to leave earlier, and Thorin knew it, but Bilbo reappears. Thorin demands to know why he came back, and Bilbo says, “Look, I know you doubt me, I know you always have. And you’re right, I often think of Bag End. I miss my books. And my armchair. And my garden. See, that’s where I belong. That’s home. And that’s why I came back, because you don’t have one. A home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back, if I can.”
I’d never realized it before, but that’s something true about Bilbo and his relationship with the dwarves and the whole story, and it makes me love him. He loves his home, and he can realize that other people might love theirs too. He can see something of himself in others and take a stand for that, even though he’s not a warrior or a fighter. I think that would be a beautiful dynamic anywhere, not just in this one movie, but I never thought about it like that. Another thing I really liked was how Thorin is so royal, so princely. He’s going to get his frickin’ kingdom back, not taking a walk on a nice afternoon. I’d forgotten he was a prince, can you believe that? This movie reminded me.
I didn’t mention anything from Desolation of Smaug, because I haven’t seen it yet! Obviously it’s very popular, but many of my friends don’t like the kinds of changes that were made for this movie series, so I just wanted to get this post out of my system before I see it. I’m looking forward to seeing it and hope the good stuff will continue. I really feel that The Hobbit was a huge classic already, but reimaginings like this are necessary for it to be elevated to the status of “myth.”
Have you ever noticed something in an adaptation that you hadn’t realized before? What was it, and why was it important?
Hobbit quotes came from this fan transcript: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WSLu9yYZZk55wi4PgZ904qC2eaHMw-e3jhpGjNGWJMs/edit?hl=en&forcehl=1&pli=1