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The Hobbit trilogy effect: More kids' books that should be made into three movies

Ken Hardin offers a tongue-and-cheek look at three classic children's books that Peter Jackson or a like-minded filmmaker could make into three movies.

We are about a month away from the U.S. release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of three features loquacious director Peter Jackson plans to wring out of the beloved 300-page children's novel.

Jackson reportedly has said that much of the additional storytelling for the three installments -- upcoming are The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There and Back Again -- will come from appendices author J.R.R. Tolkien included in his sequel to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings. However, Tolkien geeks already know that very little from those appendices actually occurs within the time frame of The Hobbit; they are mostly about sunken continents, ancient Orc-Dwarf wars, and romances between kings and female characters who don't rate dialogue in the main narrative -- stuff like that.

Trailers clearly show that viewers will follow the wizard Gandalf on his mission that, in the book, whisks him away from the titular Bilbo Baggins and a band of dwarfs with no immediate explanation -- which is entirely the point, from a literary point-of-view. But for a filmmaker who decided 100 minutes of cinematic perfection needed to be stretched to 187 minutes and include footage of a giant ape ice skating, any unfilmed minutia must seem like a wasted opportunity.

In this vein, here is a tongue-and-cheek look at three classic children's books that Jackson (or a like-minded filmmaker) could contort into multiple features. The prerequisites here are:

a) A built-in audience of geeks who are sure to show out for opening weekend,

b) Plenty of opportunity for ground-breaking, lengthy CGI segments,

c) Companion works that can be cobbled around the standard three acts of the core storyline.

A Wrinkle in Time. Madeleine L'Engle's beloved 1962 science-fantasy story has been crying out for a credible screen adaptation for more than four decades. There's a built-in audience, and it has the additional appeal of being one of most challenged books of the 20th century, due to its liberal Christian themes. The story has three clear narrative acts: Cool inter-dimensional travel and the revelation of cosmic evil The Dark Thing; the rescue of the main characters' missing father from a soulless captor; and the final confrontation with the villainous IT. And really, who does not want to see Aunt Beast in CGI? If the source material gets a little thin, a filmmaker could pull a Jackson and cut in scenes from future L'Engle books. Certainly, The Hobbit trilogy (it is still hard to type that) is going to be chock full of cut-ins from The Lord of the Rings antecedents that have absolutely nothing to do with the central narrative. (That's one reason Tolkien left them, ya think?) Who wouldn't want to see the brewing rebellion within Charles Wallace's cells, complete with mice-fish farandola, that L'Engle wove into her trippy sequel, A Wind in the Door? The Last Battle. While we are on the topic of Christian themes, let's not overlook C.S. Lewis' final and most theosophical entry in his fabled Chronicles of Narnia, first published in 1956. First off, only a director with Jackson's box-office track record could even get this one made. For those who have not read the book, it's basically Lewis' lay theology of the Shadowlands adapted to the children's adventure format. The three acts are clearly outlined: a funny animal adventure starring a talking donkey and orangutan; the reunion and establishing adventure of a beloved cast of characters in the Pevensie family; and finally a whole lotta death and the end of the world, which is great news, by the way. As with all the Narnia books, there is unlimited opportunity for extended CGI sequences, and this time you get the vile Calormen diety Tash in addition to a giant lion. And there are a ton of characters re-introduced in the book that can have their back stories from The Magician's Nephew and The Horse and His Boy piped in for filler. The Mouse and The Motorcycle. Really, I'd be happy with three full movies of nothing but Ralph wearing his ping pong ball helmet racing through furniture and evading cats. The three acts could not be more clear: Ralph learns to ride a motorcycle; Ralph loses motorcycle and must make daring escape from pile of sheets; Ralph bravely regains human friend's trust by endangering his own life to get the kid an aspirin. There has to be at least three chase scenes per movie right there. Plus, a coy filmmaker could co-opt the motorcycle getting destroyed and Ralph getting a toy car replacement, which Beverly Cleary gave us in 1985's Ralph S. Mouse, as a real tear-jerker ending to the trilogy. And surely Ribsy and Beezus could pop into The Mountain View Inn for a stretch cameo or three.

About

Ken Hardin is a freelance writer and business analyst with more than two decades in technology media and product development. Before founding his own consultancy, Clarity Answers LLC, Ken was a member of the start-up team and an executive with TechRe...

32 comments
twtrout
twtrout

I believe that Peter Jackson has a sequel in the making for Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin". Speaking of CGIs, there are a lot of great tales that can be made into movies now with CGIs and some remakes of earlier flops.

anakin hemelloper
anakin hemelloper

Alan Garner has a trilogy... The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath and Boneland As a young teenager The Weirdstone of Brisingamen kept me awake with nightmares lol but is a brilliant book. Please, please please read the second edition - even adults will like it.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Given how adult kids are commercially forced in to being now, I's make the distinction between children's novel and a novel suitable for 'erm young adults. MacCaffrey, Norton (Breed to come would be good choice), Cherryh (Finity's end?). All depends on what you want to say really, after all you wouldn't give the Original Grimm's fairy tails to a child would you? You could make the Hobbit alarming without departing from story line as well.

Robiisan
Robiisan

Should try to do a decent job of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonrinders of Pern series! I've heard rumors that it's in the works, but nothing concrete. Enough books and stories to do a quintology, let alone a trilogy, and CGI? How else would they do the dragons? Companion works could be anything from the four hundred year history of the series, an intro of the last battle of the Nathi War, the probe that first surveyed P.E.R.N., or even something from one of her other series (Ship Who Sang, Crystal Singer, Doona, you name it). The only caveat is that it might not be considered a "children's book" due to the nature of some of the scenes (think dragon mating flight).

agrajag
agrajag

The Very Hungry Caterpillar :-)

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

For a starter, until this article I've never even heard of the first and third stories mentioned; also The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and the Narnia weren't that big a thing with kids where I grew up, not until the UK TV series about Narnia started showing in the area in the 1970s. What's sad is the few of the Science Fiction stories the teens I grew up with loved that have been made into movies have NOTHING except the title in common with the books they're supposed to be from. I wonder how a set of films set in the appropriate eras of the Enid Blyton Famous Five and Secret Seven would go down, or Capt. W.E.Johns' Biggles series stories - especially those from WW1 as a fighter pilot.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

For some reason, I couldn't enter 'T i f f a n y Aching', the lead character. I suspect the spam filter is blocking her first name to keep out bogus jewelry advertisements. 'Wrinkle' was the first book I thought of when I saw the subject under discussion. You mean I missed a Ralph book? I recall reading a sequel to M&M titled 'Runaway Ralph', but I was well into my 20s when 'Ralph S. Mouse' was published. I hadn't heard of it until now.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Don't hold your breath. The really incredible hulk The most phantomest phantom ever A greener lantern Thor with bollocks The Sparkliest ever vampire than ever sparkled... In order to achieve what you describe, many people would have to have an imagination implant and probably graft a spine in as well. Why if you going to make big use of CGI, would you repeat tired old drivel? Who want's to see Axis City power off down the Way to expunge the Jarts? Coltayn and the Chain of Dogs? Pyanfar Chanur droppinbg into Kita point. Do some real stuff.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It will just result in better looking flop. No amount of visuals is going to save a weak story.

SKDTech
SKDTech

But then again, I read and watched much worse when I was a child. Depends on the child really, some are developed enough to handle it and some aren't, most don't really understand any of it because society and parents try to wrap them in swaddling cloths until they magically become adults themselves. It seems to me that people nowadays spend more effort trying to keep kids from growing up and "protecting them from the world's horrors", when their time would be better spent actually talking to their kids and helping them learn about life, the world, and imagination (light and dark sides). Talk to a kid, you may find out that they understand far more about the world around them than you give them credit for.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

'Ender' I guess I could see, but do you really regard Honor Harrington as children's material? The third or fourth book features her lover being assassinated for as revenge against her, and the sixth or so features she and her companion animal being maimed. Or am I that out of touch with today's pre- and adolescents?

Kenneth Hardin
Kenneth Hardin

It won the Newbery and was required reading in schools in the U.S. in the '70s. And I can't imagine a childhood without Ralph. Thanks for the comment!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Just because it has children in it doesn't make it a kids' book.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Any three consecutive chapters by CJ Cherryh would be too much for Hollywood to coherently adapt. Look at its track record with really broad, deep SF mythologies. One word: Dune.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

One minute they don't want sex education in case it gives the little dears ideas, next they are putting four year olds in bikini's for a beauty contest. Probably one of the sickest things I've ever seen after two girls one cup, that. Quite the opposite is going on as far as I can see, barely time to enjoy childhood, before they become parents...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Seems to be about puberty. There are children who've been allowed to watch that Saw crap. When I was a kid my parents wouldn't have been allowed to watch that.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

They don't have graphic sex scenes, and it's well known people have lovers. I was looking at the same sort of audience the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit are supposedly aimed at, which I was under the impression of as being the 12 and up group, year 7 onwards. But of you want to limit it to say ten years old and under, you would exclude Webber, but you'd also have to exclude Tolkien as well - and he was in the original list. A lot of the stuff I read in the first years of high school recognised the concept of lovers - especially the stuff by Shakespear.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I had it even better. In the sixth grade our teacher read it to us at lunch. It was my gateway drug to SF, a monkey she put on my back and I've been happily feeding ever since. Thanks, Mrs. Fucella, wherever you are.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

being In Australia it's very unlikely any US based thing for children, other than kids TV shows, would have been mentioned out here prior to the 1990s or specialist circles. Add in I was in full-time work in December 1970 and you can see why there's damn little chance I'd have heard of it.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

Orson Scott Card said he wrote it for a youth audience. [i]genre: teen[/i] my friend. BTW: I have to ask, you consider [i]The Hobbit[/i] a kids book but won't place [i] Enders Game[/i] in the same category? :) ADDENDUM: I might be misremembering my author sides. Card may have written the short story for a more mature audience and the subsequent novel was expanded and adopted for youth, whereas Tolkien wrote the Hobbit for youth (I think his nephew had a lot of critical input) but was adopted by a more mature audience...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Dune is way to cerebral for Hollywood, sheesh imagine the mess they'd make of Foreigner. :( We'll never see 'em, from Hollywood, they've neither the brains nor the balls.

JamesRL
JamesRL

When it happens to zombies or monsters....

JamesRL
JamesRL

I've watched any number of zombie movies, big Walking Dead fan, like John Carpenter stuff. But I'm not a fan of the Slasher genre, and Saw seems to me to be torture. My kids have never seen it.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

I'm a Dora fan. :) Grant you that a teen audience is not the same as a young adult audience (18+). [i]The Hobbit[/i] ranks as 9th grade material, hence my suggestion of [i]Ender's Game[/i] also 9th grade. Of the three books selected [i]The Last Battle[/i] is the only one which is listed as suitable for grades 3 through 8 and might qualify as a "childrens" book with a crowd that would watch Dora... NOTE: Grade levels are US education system xlate to age in years by adding five.

spdragoo
spdragoo

As "teen audience" "child audience". Unless, of course, you think the fans of Twilight, Hunger Games, and Mortal Instruments are also [b]simultaneously[/b] big fans of Clifford, Dora, or Diego...as opposed to "fans when they were kids, but they grew out of it".

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've started it three or four times over the years. I know it's sacrilege, but I could never get into it and usually gave up after thirty or forty pages. I don't know if it was the story, Tolkien's style, or something else. I do know that it's the reason I haven't attempted anything else of his. Frankly, I found the first 'Rings' movie boring too. Sure, it was pretty enough, but I just didn't care about any of the characters or what might happen to them. I didn't bother with the subsequent movies. As long as I'm committing heresy, I thought 'Avatar' was also pretty but boring. There was nothing new about the story, especially for anyone who's read much SF. If Orson says it's a juvenile, then who am I to argue with him? I enjoyed it immensely but was surprised to find it mentioned in this category. I withdraw the objection.

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