I have a conundrum. On December 14th, I’ll join in the solidarity of nerddom and plunk down my $9.00 to see the opening installment of The Hobbit. There’s no question about this—I’ll be there opening day (or if I’m being honest, maybe the day after, cause I’m really just not sure I can deal with the midnight opening hordes anymore, or that my body can deal with the lack of sleep). But there is a question about something—one that I have to answer pretty quickly. And that is whether or not I’m going to reread the book before the movie.
See, I must tell you that I Am Not One with most book/movie adaptations. Especially not initially. My overwhelming tendency, upon seeing a movie made of a book I like, is to feel a) deflated, b) irritated, or c) so filled with rage that I am liable to chew the face off anyone who tells me that was a good movie. I cringe every time they add a chase scene that didn’t appear in the book; I lean over and whisper, “What about ----?” whenever it becomes clear that something has been left out; I sigh with resentment when characters are changed. (It must be said that I completely avoid movies that have so obviously gotten it completely wrong that aliens in space could tell—really, I will never lay eyes on The Dark Is Rising movie or The Time Traveler’s Wife, because the trailers alone made me want to gouge my eyes out.)
I’ve tried to get better about it. I remind myself that movies and books are different forms of storytelling. That what works in a book sometimes just won’t work in a movie. That movies have far less time to tell the story, and by God something has to be left out or we’d all be sitting there for five days. I read reviews by other people who loved the book as much as I did and yet somehow also manage to like the movie and try to appreciate both as they’ve been able to do.
And sometimes, after getting some distance and upon repeat viewing, I’m able to come around to liking the movie. The original LoTR movies are like that. I watch them mainly happily now (though I will never, ever, EVER forgive Peter Jackson for what he did to Faramir. No, I will not.). Mainly, though, I tend to watch movies based on books once, shrug a “the book was better" shrug, and never return. I’ve seen all the Harry Potter movies, for instance, but I doubt I’ll rewatch them. Same with The Golden Compass, or The Hunger Games.
So that’s my movie/book background. It’s something I know about myself. But it still leaves me with the question: Do I read the book beforehand so that I will know, without a doubt, every facet of every scene that’s been altered or added or deleted, or do I let the memory of the book stay hazy, so that I just have the suspicion that something may have been changed?
Unlike with most of the YA books that have recently been made into movies, it’s been a pretty long while since I read The Hobbit and, honestly, I’ve read it far less than I’ve read LoTR. So there’s a big case to be made for just letting it lie. Especially since I know that they’ve changed it significantly, adding in a lot of material that, while does occur in the timeline, doesn’t actually appear in The Hobbit but in the Appendices. I already feel suspicious of this. The rage-tendency part of my is already screaming about how Galadriel and Legolas might have been doing a lot of things while Bilbo was trekking toward the Lonely Mountain, but appearing in the book wasn’t one of them. So really, I’ll probably enjoy the movie more if I don’t read the book ahead of time, if I don’t force my brain to highlight each and every change.
But there’s still the part of me that wants to know. That wants to be able to compare. And, slightly less neurotically, that wants to be able to anticipate and get ready for the movie. Because, all the above to the contrary, I am excited about it. I want to see Middle Earth in color-saturated, IMAX-y awesomeness. I want to see Martin Freeman play Bilbo, because I love him in Sherlock and I think he’ll do a great job. I want (some years in the future, sadly) to hear Smaug talk with Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice. I want to see Ian McKellan rock Gandalf again. I’m hoping and praying and hoping that they get the riddle scene right, because if they do it will be spine-chillingly cool. So reading the book would get me in the right mood. It would ground me in Middle Earth, this place that I’ve been hanging out in since I was literally seven and my dad would tell me parts of the stories in simple words and then we’d pretend to be Bilbo and Gollum.
So I’m torn. To read or not to read—that is the question. I’ve got a little over a month to figure out the answer.