My thoughts on The Hobbit

Since a few folks wanted to know what I thought about The Hobbit, I thought I’d take a blog post and do exactly that.

Oh yeah: Spoiler alert.

First, the good things.

I really liked almost all of the casting choices.  Martin Freeman makes a very good Bilbo, and Richard Armitage makes for an excellent Thorin Oakenshield.  I really look forward to seeing how he plays Thorin in the next two films.

New Zealand once again makes for a sumptuous Middle Earth.  Thanks again for making me want to visit and see these places.

Gandalf got a little preachy in Rivendell, but he turned out to have a really great line about the power of little ordinary acts of goodness versus looking for the rare hero.  Which turned out to be serendipitously comforting after the Connecticut shooting earlier in the day.

The rescue at the end of the film–mostly.  More on that later.

The soundtrack is very good, and I really like Neill Finn’s “Song of the Lonely Mountain.”  I think I like how they took the Dwarves’ version of the song and made it the foundation for all the new musical themes…and, of course, the old theme of the Ring and a few others that snuck in, mostly around Hobbiton and Rivendell.

One highlight were the two awesome flashback scenes to the arrival of Smaug and the destruction of the town of Dale, and the giant battle between the Dwarves and the Orcs where Thror is killed and Thorin earns the title of Oakenshield.  Very cool.  Was not expecting either of them.  Will look forward to seeing if the epilogue shows the restoration of Erebor is comparable to its splendor before Smaug took it.

The not so good things:

The very first overall impression that I got was that The Hobbit did not translate especially well to the style of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The Hobbit is a children’s book; so when it was adapted for the same style as LOTR, something got lost.  The more fanciful and fantastical elements simply seem contrived in Jackson’s retelling, though not completely–but just enough to really be noticed.  I will see if this is the case if (when) I see it again.

The “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” rule ought to have applied.  There was no reason for Elrond to be running around killing orcs (even if he was wearing some seriously cool armor).  It’s not like he actually needed to work that hard at it, considering he had a whole river at his command for the defense of Rivendell.

I was perplexed by the portrayal of Radagast the Brown.  For Pete’s sake, he’s a wizard, not Radagast the Crazy Cat Lady.  The notable trail of bird crap down the side of his face really didn’t endear him to much of anyone, either.  It was nice of them to write him in, but it was totally unnecessary.  Perhaps this was more a bone thrown to the LOTR fans who didn’t get Radagast in that trilogy.  Heck, by the time they get to the third movie they might throw Bombadil in (don’t quote me on that, heaven knows LOTR fans are excitable enough as it is over canonicity, remember the balrog wing controversy?  We don’t want that again).

The wargs.  The book just said ‘wolves.’  What’s wrong with plain old wolves?

(Edit:  The book did say wargs.  My bad!  Thank you Brandon and Fio!)

The Great Goblin was…uh…a little more sarcastic than I recall in the book.  Which made for a funny scene, but was…odd.

Azog.  He died in that great big battle depicted when Thorin got his name Oakenshield.  Why not leave him dead?  Why not just introduce Bolg since he was the one who was alive then?

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Thoughts on Connecticut (and the gun control debate)

Yesterday on Facebook I posted a question in response to the shooting: What chain of events transpires in a person’s mind that concludes with “And then I will execute an entire classroom of kindergartners?”  Let’s take a look at just a few things that someone would have to believe in order to come to that conclusion (and I trust the reader to forgive me for leaving any out):

  • Life is of no worth.  Specifically, certain individual lives that are within reach.
  • My life is of no more worth than theirs.
  • The world is such that it does not matter whether or not these lives continue or not.
  • Life is not fair.  If life will not be fair to me, I will not be fair to it.
  • There must not be anything after death–if there is such a thing as cosmic-scale justice, and such an act were to violate it, and that death would not erase that injustice, it is not worth risking such an injustice.
  • Heaven and hell cannot be real (and thus no God to govern the present or the future).

It seems to me that at least all of these things must be believed before such an act can happen.  At each and every step, certain beliefs about the world and humanity have to be denied and suppressed.

So to my fellow Christians, I would simply ask: live and talk and think in ways that show that life matters, that all specific lives matter, that material life–the substance of our being–matters, and that there is a Judge who will ‘set the world to rights’ one day.   Are we as Christians walking and talking the walk and talk that conveys that the above list is actually false?  Do everyday people we pass on the street come to that conclusion after meeting us?  I’d say most of us do, but it’s worth thinking about more.

But there’s another debate in all of this, that inevitably follows: shouldn’t we do something about the guns?

At the very outset, it appears to me that there is one key principle that an awful lot of people seem to ignore: that regardless of stance, both sides of the debate seek the same moral good: that no shootings like this ever occur again.    That’s the high moral good that should be the guiding principle in these discussions, but it seems to be left out an awful lot.

I don’t think it’s necessary or helpful to complain about people immediately making their case for or against gun control right after events like this happen.  First, it’s a very natural response, almost a reflex, of people on the outside who are observing the whole thing from a distance.  Second, people naturally can’t stand a problem they can’t fix, and, well, this is a big problem that can’t be easily fixed (and so it drives us nuts).  Third, everyone on the argument spectrum naturally sees events like this through their worldview ‘filter,’ so it easily fits into a given spot in a particular overall argument.  So I don’t begrudge anyone what they believe about much of anything, even if it does seem overly soon–because of reason #1, that it is really hard to avoid doing.  And we’ll eventually draw worldview-level conclusions about the event anyway, whether or not we say them right off the bat.  It seems to be just looking for offense to be offended at an argument when we’re all distant observers (unless, of course, it happens close to home, then we really do have bigger things to worry about).  It’s still people seeking a particular good, and I have little reason to be upset with that.

That said, I do have a few thoughts about the gun control debate.

The presence and absence of guns doesn’t really seem to matter much.  Countries like Japan are touted for having extremely few guns and hardly any gun crime, and countries like Switzerland are touted for having tons and tons of guns and no gun crime.  This tells me that it’s not the guns, it’s possibly culture, or more probably worldview-related.

Gun-free zones are probably a bad idea.  It sounds good, to have zones where guns ought not be, but that is premised on the idea that every single person will obey that law at all times regardless of mental state.  Thus far, we have had an abundance of mass shootings in gun-free zones: schools, a church, a movie theater, and a mall.  Hospitals are about the only places that don’t need guns, and even then just about every guard carries one.

In each of these recent (and past) shootings, the question arises: Could one more gun have limited or stopped this tragedy?  And that answer is almost always yes.  And that should tell us something about both guns and people who use guns.

Thomas Sowell makes a great point in his books about the difference between solutions and trade-offs.  Solutions rarely ever turn out to be solutions, but trade-offs recognize and mitigate risk.  Banning guns is not the solution it is promised to be; the trade-off of more citizens legally owning guns and having the training to wield them is a more optimal solution in a world of uncertainty.

The media has a hand in this.  They’ve already been criticized for how they handled this shooting and others (Jared Loughner of non-tea-party fame), and the Aurora shooting, also of non-tea-party fame, and this time they identified the wrong person, and have generally been invading the privacy and solace of a grieving town for news consumption.  But gun crimes are big, dramatic events that get lots and lots of airtime and hand-wringing and kvetching of all kinds.  Yet guns kill relatively few people every year compared to things with very high death rates like cars, but nobody makes that big a deal about it, which tells me that the publicity generated by a shooting may be a significant motivator in these shootings: the world will see me, and see the mark I made on the world.  I reckon if gun crime were treated no differently than any other cause of death, or other causes of death with greater rates were treated like gun crime, it would be a vastly different picture.  But there’s a narrative to uphold, so gun crime gets lots of attention.  And yet another inconsistency: Ten people were shot last night in Chicago alone, four of them teenagers, yet did that make the news?  No.  Chicago is notorious for its absurdly high levels of gun crime and murders.  So not all gun crime is even regarded as worthy of equal attention by the media.  Why is this so?

Each and every event makes me consider getting a conceal/carry permit.

On that note: at heart in the gun control debate is a view of humanity itself: an optimistic view, that says that with enough influence and education, events like this won’t occur; and a tragic view, that says that mankind is flawed to some extent and that events like this, however rare, are inevitable, and therefore individuals must be on guard to use force, even deadly force, to protect lives.

It is not simply enough to say to those who argue for proliferation of conceal/carry licenses or abolition of most gun-free zones that “it’s absurd” or “it’s irrational” or whatever else you might well think it is.  Show how it is so.  I trust you’ll understand if I can’t just take your word for it.  But be warned: you will have to show that there is no meaningful difference between lawful gun ownership and use and unlawful gun ownership and use.  And that may be a bridge too far.

Conversely, those who argue for conceal/carry expansion, take the time to recognize that those you disagree with seek the same moral good as you, and be willing and able to show that an argument, no matter how well-meaning, cannot account for the extent of the evil that all people are capable of (as well as arguing that that difference is also critical to the debate) and that it is a higher moral good for individuals to be able to defend others lawfully and forcefully, in equal measure.

As I write this, I’m seeing reports on Twitter of a mall shooting in California.  Which brings me back to my previous statement: there might come a time when we cannot wait ‘until another day’ to have this debate.  So…regardless of what side you’re on, you’d better be on your game when this debate breaks out big time.  Because one of these days we won’t have another day to wait.  May the best argument and worldview win.