Tag Archives: The Hobbit

Dealing successfully with originality in stories

fv-bridgeThis was presented at the LTUE 2014 writers conference.

Originality is defined as the ability to think independently and creatively. Another way to put this is: To come up with a new story idea or putting a new twist on a familiar story format.

Originality is praised, but there is a conflict surrounding it that must be recognized: The heart of story telling is to talk about familiar things. If an idea is too original the prospective audience will think, “Huh?”, and move on to something more quickly understandable. So originality that is popular has a lot of familiarity mixed in.

This necessary combination explains a mystery that vexed me for years: When new technology is introduced into something like a business or manufacturing process, the result will be new and surprising ways of doing things. When new technology is introduced into an entertainment process, the result will be the same old stories told with different bells and whistles.

The importance of familiarity is the key to this difference.

That said, let’s talk about how to be original.

The challenge in creating original stories is where to mix in the original.

o The originality in Tolkien’s work is his meticulous building of back story — everything has a history. The familiar is the characters working through this rich world he has developed. The hobbits are nice, polite people who are good observers.

o In 1940’s Golden Age science fiction the original was exploring new worlds and new technologies. The familiar was the characters encountering these situations.

o In 1960’s Star Trek the original was introducing characters with different ethnic backgrounds and new roles for authority figures — Kirk is not a “yessir!” military captain. The familiar was the situations they encountered on their strange new worlds.

o In early Harry Potter books (1990’s) the familiar is the British middle school setting. The original is adding magic. In the later stories the familiar is the main characters and Hogwart’s setting. The original is the quirky new teachers and administrators.

o In the 2010’s Swords and Sorcery genre the familiar is the monsters. The original is the gender roles. Conversely, in the Twilight series the familiar is the lead damsel character and the original is the friendly sparkly vampires.

The key is mixing familiar and original. And keep in mind that what mixes will work and what won’t are still unpredictable. …Sparkly vampires, you say?


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Technofiction review of The Hobbit


On this film Peter Jackson, director and co producer, was in movie making heaven. This was a sequel to a wildly popular trilogy, he had a ton of money available, he could use all the CGI and New Zealand backdrop his heart could desire, and he could bring back popular stars for cameos. Ummm…

The result in the first half was really good. We get up close and personal with hobbits, dwarfs and wizards and we had some nice comic relief scattered through it.

In the second half Jackson’s “Inner Transformers” got the high ground and the show went to pure action, action, action, with only a brief pause for Bilbo and Gollum to meet each other and riddle.

So all in-all-it was good, but, I admit, I had hoped for better. Here are some details of what bothered me as I watched.


I read the book a couple times, but many decades ago. While I’ve forgotten a lot I did notice that Jackson has deviated from the book early in the movie by adding a new bad guy, the white orc, and by turning Radigast from a two paragraph aside into a major character. Orcs didn’t show up in Tolkien’s writings until Lord of the Rings. Tolkien added them in LOTR because he wanted bad-ass goblins. The Hobbit had goblins, and they were sneaky bad guys, not particularly powerful ones.

What adding the Orc is going to add to this movie trilogy story remains to be seen. I’m guessing he’s there to add some kind of continuity to the three films. Why ever he’s there, he’s inconsistent because if he’s ruling in Moria what’s he doing roaming the wilderness many days journey north of there? If he’s not ruling in Moria anymore, where is he based out of now, and why is he coming after Thorin now? It’s been decades since the humiliation. This meeting outside Shire seems to be coincidence, except that the White Orc is not talking as if it is one… inconsistent.

In the book Gandalf comes and goes. He is technically not part of this quest because he has a lot of other pots in the fire. This is why he invites Bilbo. This element of coming and going is lost in the movie, and I find it weakens Gandalf as an interesting character, the moving around was part of his being subtle and important.

Up until the dwarfs leave Rivendell the movie proceeds nicely. I like the settings and I liked the small scale adventures such as what they have with the trolls. The one problem that comes to mind in the first half is that these vagabond trolls have very powerful antique weapons in their small stash of cave loot. How did those end up there? It’s a small and forgivable problem, but I noticed it.

After leaving Rivendell Jackson gives us a triple feature of action: in the mountains, in the caves and in the forest. Each comes with crashing and smashing stuff and cliffhangers — my goodness how Jackson loves showing people dangling over empty space! The problem with the triple feature is that even as each is unfolding you know nothing will happen to the characters — this is story telling and they’ve been through this just minutes before and nothing happened. So by the third round of cliff hanging… yawn… the scene will end in some exciting way… yawn… and nothing will have changed.

Another issue for me personally is how much Jackson loves vertical in his settings. Everywhere was a hill or a ridge top or a steep-walled valley or a multi-story, multi-block cave setting — all very vertical. I’d love some horizontal in his movies for relief.

Jackson shows us innovative action scenes. He was particularly innovative in his goblin cave action scenes. He did a lot there I’d never seen before. But by then I was so tired of action I didn’t care.

In the book the ring is described as making a person invisible, not undetectable. In this movie Bilbo becomes completely undetectable by Gollum — whom the book describes as a being who has developed acute hearing and smell from all those years of living in the roots of mountains. In the book Bilbo has to dodge Gollum or kill him, but he makes that choice at a distance.

In the book there is some description of Smaug’s attack on Lonely Mountain and some description of a secret escape route. But the movie spends many minutes at the beginning on the attack. This left me wondering: Why didn’t the Lonely Mountain Minister of Defense have a better plan for repelling “Great Wyrm Attack”? These creatures were known to exist and not too far away. I don’t remember the book version on this so it may be an inconsistency in both.

In sum, the first half is a delightful movie that shows off some interesting characters in interesting ways. Jackson has fun with his settings, and puts in some innovative comedy. The second half is full of overbearing unrelenting action and is not nearly as interesting for a story-oriented buff like me.


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Ed Wood and Aliens Don’t Exactly Mix

I like science fiction, speculative fiction, that explores how technology affects our lives, and is internally consistent. Some recent favorites of mine are the movies “Moon” and “Limitless”. Both portray rich worlds and they explore how a new technology will affect our lives. In the case of Moon it shows off a suprise use of cloning technology and in Limitless it is a pill that enhances thinking. “Prometheus”, on the other hand, I found silly. The effects and characterizations were wonderful, but the story was channeling Ed Wood. The people in that story did not use their tools well.

“Lord of the Rings” is on my favorite list because Tolkien built such depth into that series. I loved it, read it many times, and spent as much time on the Appendixes in the last book as on the rest of it. Lord of the Rings demonstrates the value of a solid back story — all the characters were doing what they did for good reason and I as a reader could sense that.

Early Heinlein works fired me. “Starship Troopers” was what started me on the road to avid science fiction reading. And it continues to be personally interesting because every time I read it I come away with a different impression. When I read it as a teenager the military adventure aspects of it were exciting. I couldn’t wait to be personally “on the bounce” in my own set of power armor! I read it again when the movie version came out and I wasn’t so impressed, it now read like Sands of Iwo Jima in Space, and I’d read a lot of similar stuff through the years.

The movie, by the way, missed the point of the book entirely. They took out the power armor! The soldiers were something out of World War One! But there was a silver lining. The movie mishandling of power armor inspired me to write my own version of how it should be handled. See “The Ticket Out” in Tips for Tailoring Spacetime Fabric Vol. 1.

I read it again a couple years ago, and I liked it better again. I liked his philosophy that demonstrating responsibility to the community should be a criterion for citizenship. However, on this last reading I also noticed a whole bunch of internal inconsistencies — my Technofiction viewpoint was now strong.

Those are a few of my likes and dislikes. You can read more about what I like and don’t, and why, in my Technofiction Reviews in Tales of Technofiction on White World.

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