“The Lord of the Gaps”: How Tolkien’s mastery of a literary technique would make ten Hobbit films possible – and they still wouldn’t be enough


A Tolkien fan for twenty-five years (and more to come...) Founding chairman of the German Tolkien Society, Co-Founder of Ring*Con, Co-Founder of the ITF, host, presenter and fantasy expert

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1310456260 Troels Forchhammer

    Hmm – no discussion as yet 😉

    Yes and no, and ‘it depends’ is, I would say, a fair summary of my reactions.

    I certainly agree that Tolkien was a master of the literary technique of hinting at an untold story; in The Lord of the Rings this is particularly because he had actually told most of these stories, but he even does it in the Silmarillion when he had not written the underlying tale at any length, and also there he does it very effectively, so his use of the technique doesn’t necessarily rely on there being an actual tale.

    I have never been particularly interested in Tolkienian fan fiction, but I would guess that much fan fiction set in Middle-earth utilizes these gaps as their dramatic setting.

    You mention some of the gaps with respect to The Hobbit that could be filled out (though I should say that filling out some back-story on Bilbo would be exceedingly dull – Bilbo’s first fifty years must have been boring for the neighbours to know what he would answer to any given question without having to ask him), and I am sure that more could be found if we wanted to (the history of Mirkwood: from Greenwood the Great to Mirkwood), to any reservations would have to be with regards to actually filling out these gaps in a film version of the book.

    Here I would expect that one’s answer would depend very much on one’s approach to the films. You have, in ‘Why the ‘film purists’ and the ‘book purists’ will never understand each other – on how (not) to appreciate Peter Jackson’s work’ (http://www.thetolkienist.com/2012/09/27/why-the-film-purists-and-the-book-purists-will-never-understand-each-other-on-how-not-to-appreciate-peter-jacksons-work/) identified three approaches (what we might call ‘pure’ approaches – I do not believe that these approaches are whollo incommensurate, but rather think that most of us come to the films with some sort of mix, though usually one of the perspectives will be dominant) and other approaches can probably be identified (e.g. both film critics and Tolkien enthusiasts have different perspectives on their pet topic), and I think that one’s approach to the films in general will probably also determine one’s view on this ‘filling the gaps’.

    For my own part, my problems with Mr Jackon’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy were not related to any such fillings or additions, but rather to the, in my view quite excessive and dramatic, changes in the metaphysics of Tolkien’s story, so I don’t really mind any gap-filling – they have to step quite seriously out of the metaphysics of the story in order to tear me out of my role as a simple entertainment-craving cinema-goer :-)

    So, that is where my ‘it depends’ and my possible ‘no’ come from: it depends on how we approach both Tolkien’s story and the films, and some approaches will surely result in a vehement rejection of any additions to Tolkien’s story, even to fill out the gaps that Tolkien left in the story.