Another Perspective

Money and Misery

Let Peter Jackson make The Hobbit.

By 2.24.08

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Many years ago part of my father's duties in London was to arrange loans for Western Australia on the International money market, and to lend out spare West Australian Government money. This led him to meet with many of the greatest financiers and money-men in Europe and he noted in his diary a thing that puzzled him: Why did they look more miserable the more money they had? He concluded, perhaps indulging in a touch of rhetorical paradox, that he found the best way to be happy was to have no money and spend it freely. (He had, it was true, owned a small newspaper, but had given it away to my step-brothers decades before I was born.)

Yes, money... I was never, or at least only for a very short time about 1969, a fan of the Beatles. Particularly, I was never a fan of John Lennon, singing songs against money and capitalism and asking people to "imagine no possessions" with a special apartment in New York simply and solely to keep his and his wife's furs. Whether it was hypocrisy or self-delusion, it was stomach-turning. Anyway, looking from what they were then, to what they are now, how times change!

I don't know what's happened to Ringo Starr now, though he did a pleasant-enough job as the television narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine. Although described at the time as the least gifted or creative of the Beatles, he seems the only one both alive and happy. Paul McCartney, locked in a bitter divorce with millions of dollars at stake, looks like a sad old man, prematurely aged, though if he gave Lady McCartney everything she could reasonably expect to be awarded, walked away and got a life, he'd still be rich. John Lennon was in a sense killed by wealth and celebrity.

But sadder, it seems to me, than this evidence of the fact that, as Saint Paul said, "Love of money is the root of all evil" (not, please note, that "money is the root of all evil") is news from Britain that the heirs of J. R. R. Tolkien are suing the studio behind the filming of The Lord of The Rings for $150 million, claiming that they have received no royalties from the films. It appears from press reports that the fight may prevent the filming of Tolkien's The Hobbit.

Now, I am very grateful to Tolkien's son, Christopher Tolkien, for diligently and devotedly editing and publishing his father's various uncompleted works, and the various drafts and fragments about the world of Middle Earth which we would not otherwise have seen. Further, I am as a rule very reluctant to tell other people how to organize their lives, but I really think he and his sister, who head the Tolkien Trust which has reportedly brought the action, could let this one go through to the keeper, whatever the legal rights and wrongs (about which I express no opinion). The sale of the books has made them an enormous fortune, more than they or their families could ever live to spend, the films of The Lord of The Rings have, even if they have received no direct royalties from them, boosted those book sales still further by a very large degree, and a film of The Hobbit would be sure to do the same. If this litigation does prevent The Hobbit being filmed, they will really be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. And Christopher Tolkien is 83 years old. How many more millions does he think he needs?

Let The Hobbit go ahead, Christopher, I suggest. Collect the additional royalties -- which will probably be millions anyway -- which extra sales of the book spurred by the film will bring in. Let your father's great achievement reach millions more people on the screen. He did not, after all, write and publish it to make a vast fortune, but to awaken people to the wonder and otherness of the world of faerie.

And remember what The Hobbit is largely about -- people who fall out quarreling over a dragon's treasure which has exercised a baleful spell of greed. Before the goblins' attack unites them, the good parties are brought to the verge of war between themselves because, though none are exactly in the wrong, and there is plenty of treasure for all to share, each -- particularly the Dwarf-Lord Thorin Oakenshield -- insists on what he considers his strict legal right. When Bilbo Baggins, the hero, is given a share at the end, this experience leads him to take only a modest part of what is offered him, saying he does not know how he could manage a greater treasure "without war and murder all along the way." And remember too, perhaps, the dying words of the repentant Thorin Oakenshield, mortally wounded in the final battle over the treasure: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song over hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

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About the Author

Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and author, has lectured in International Law and International Relations at Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and worked on the staff of two Australian Federal Ministers.