Posted by:
Byron Brewer

Wayback Machine: The Hobbit




Bilbo a hard hobbit to break


the hobbitWith (finally!) the live-action The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey slated to hit theaters Dec. 14, 2012, with the sequel, The Hobbit: There And Back, scheduled a year later on Dec. 13, 2013, I thought I would dig through my memories and tell you about my first exposure to Bilbo Baggins, this greatest of J.R.R. Tolkein’s imagined creatures.

To be honest with you, even a year into college I had never even heard of the Lord of the Rings books, The Hobbit or Tolkein himself. And being a nerd, that was probably inexcusable! So imagine my wonder and joy when along came, on NBC in November 1977, The Hobbit, an animated TV special by Rankin-Bass.

Now of course I was familiar with all the other Rankin-Bass specials, especially their Christmas series which hung its hat on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Some, like Rudolph and Christmas Without a Santa Claus, are beloved, while others like Frosty the Snowman and Shiny New Year … well, not so much.

But believe me, True Believers, the first time this college sophomore saw The Hobbit, it was a whole new world! Even though there are several differences in toon and book, there was enough of Tolkien’s original enchantment about the piece that made it a very different proposition than anything I had seen in Rankin-Bass’ North Pole offerings.

The music by Maury Laws was especially mesmerizing. After reading The Hobbit and then the Rings trilogy during one wonderful lazy summer on my back deck, almost non-stop, I realized most of the tunes were indeed from the book.

The traveling over mountains and through woods of Bilbo and the dwarves, the stark eyes of the wizard Gandalf, the delightful Riddle Game with Gollum (voiced by Brother Theodore, he is the break-out success of the toon, my precious) … this 1977, 77-minute Rankin-Bass piece of animation truly set the stage for the later Oscar award-winning film series.

If you ever get a chance to view it or purchase it, please do. You will be fascinated, I hope, even if you have seen the movies or read the books