The Hobbit movie poster featuring a stern-faced warrior-like Bilbo Baggins

This movie poster features a Bilbo Baggins looking far tougher than I ever pictured him in the book.

While watching the new Hobbit movie, I couldn’t help but wonder what the grandfather of the fantasy genre would think of the adaptation of his 1937 novel.

What would he think of the special effects that made the exotic environs of Middle-earth leap off the 3D screen? What would he make of the big stars impersonating the now-classic characters Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, and Lady Galadriel?

Would he be honored by the new life Hollywood has breathed into his mystical world, or would he be put off by the overwrought choreography of each brutal battle scene, the bastardization of his epic through streamlined storylines and themes, and the oh-so-frequent slow-motion “hero shots” requisite of every 21st century action movie?

The quandary of characters outliving their creators reared its ugly head again this week when, after more than twenty years since the release of book one, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga came to a conclusion with a book that bears an additional author’s name. In this instance, the late Mr. Jordan had tasked his wife to find someone to finish his fifteen-book series, knowing his end was near. Brandon Sanderson answered the call.

If fans had to choose between a newcomer’s finishing the work and not getting an ending at all, I’m fairly certain they’d opt for the former.

It reminds me of how, after the accident that nearly claimed Stephen King’s life, he jumped back into his off-and-on Dark Tower series, vowing to complete it before the Reaper took another swipe at him. If King had been killed by that car back in 1999, readers would never know the fate of Roland and his ka-tet.

What about good ol’ J.R.R.? When movie-makers come a-calling, authors typically don’t retain a lot of creative control. Then again, J.K. Rowling made the Harry Potter movies the way she wanted, so perhaps, had he still been alive, the first high fantasist wouldn’t have completely cut the cord either.

But would Mr. Tolkien have been onboard with the film’s beefed-up rivalry between Thorin and the Pale Orc?

Of course, we’ll never know the answer.  One could argue that it doesn’t really matter because tough decisions have to be made when translating a novel (or series) into one or more movies. Also, films often reach a broader audience. Maybe these compromises are a necessary evil so that the story—in some form or another—goes farther. And just maybe a person will be so impressed by the film, he or she will seek out the source material.

Which means the ends justify the means.

Movie adaptations aside, any ending is better than no ending, so hopefully those authors who write grand epics (a.k.a. the never-ending story) have a Plan B. I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin…

Personally, I can’t decide whether I’d want another novelist, screenwriter, or otherwise artist usurping my characters—even if I’m not around to experience the fallout…not to mention any financial gain.

What do you think? Do characters naturally transcend their creators? Is it an honor to see one’s heroes and villains taking on life beyond an author’s control? Or is it just another money grab?

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