The 1985 Soviet TV Adaptation of The Hobbit: Cheap and Yet Strangely Charming

If you call your­self a Tolkien fan­boy or fan­girl, you’ve almost cer­tain­ly kept up with the var­i­ous film and tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tions of not just the Lord of the Rings tril­o­gy, but of its pre­de­ces­sor, The Hob­bit, or There and Back Again. Tolkien’s first chil­dren’s nov­el (or so the lit­er­ary world first received it). The sto­ry it tells of the reluc­tant hero Bil­bo Bag­gins and the band of raff­ish com­pa­tri­ots who drag him out to claim some trea­sure from Smaug the drag­on offers under­stand­ably irre­sistible mate­r­i­al for adap­ta­tion: the rich­ly detailed, often fun­ny high-fan­ta­sy adven­ture has, over the decades, made for numer­ous pro­duc­tions on the stage, radio, and screen.

They’ve ranged from low- to high-pro­file, from Gene Deitch’s loose-as-pos­si­ble 12-minute “ani­mat­ed” adap­ta­tion that came out in 1966 to Peter Jack­son’s tri­par­tite, high-fram­er­ate, nine-hour series of major motion pic­tures, two cur­rent­ly released with one to go. But what to make of the Sovi­et Hob­bit above?

Known in Eng­lish as The Fairy­tale Jour­ney of Mr. Bil­bo Bag­gins, The Hob­bit and in Russ­ian, in full, as Сказочное путешествие мистера Бильбо Бэггинса, Хоббита, через дикий край, чёрный лес, за туманные горы. Туда и обратно. По сказочной повести Джона Толкина “Хоббит,” the hour­long TV movie debuted on the Leningrad TV Chan­nel’s chil­dren’s show Tale After Tale in 1985. This unli­censed adap­ta­tion frames itself with the words of a Tolkien stand-in called “the Pro­fes­sor,” using live actors to play the main char­ac­ters like Bil­bo, Thorin, Gan­dalf, and Gol­lum, por­tray­ing the more exot­ic ones with either pup­pets or, accord­ing to Tolkien Gate­way, dancers from the Leningrad State Aca­d­e­m­ic Opera and Bal­let The­atre. The fact that this ver­sion of The Hob­bit only recent­ly became avail­able with real Eng­lish sub­ti­tles (as opposed to goofy par­o­dy ones) goes to show just how seri­ous­ly the Tolkien fan­dom has tak­en it, but it does retain a kind of hand­craft­ed charm. Plus, it gives the inter­net the chance to indulge in the oblig­a­tory Yakov Smirnoff gag: in Sovi­et Rus­sia, ring finds you.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Hob­bit: The First Ani­ma­tion & Film Adap­ta­tion of Tolkien’s Clas­sic (1966)

C.S. Lewis’ Pre­scient 1937 Review of The Hob­bit by J.R.R. Tolkien: It “May Well Prove a Clas­sic”

Lis­ten to J.R.R. Tolkien Read a Lengthy Excerpt from The Hob­bit (1952)

Sovi­et-Era Illus­tra­tions Of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hob­bit (1976)

Illus­tra­tions of The Lord of the Rings in Russ­ian Iconog­ra­phy Style (1993)

Down­load Eight Free Lec­tures on The Hob­bit by “The Tolkien Pro­fes­sor,” Corey Olsen

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (3)
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  • Bilbo B., youtube uploader says:

    Don’t for­get the Finnish “Hobitit” ver­sion (of LotR, not of The Hobbit).nn(Oh, and tech­ni­cal­ly, LotR is not a trilogy.)nBut I do not think the fan­dom has tak­en this seri­ous­ly at all. It took ages to get sub­ti­tles and few peo­ple took notice.

  • ssalty says:

    Also, I saw on U.S. TV sev­er­al years ago a poor­ly done ani­mat­ed ver­sion of it. I don’t know who made it.

  • Alicja says:

    When I was younger we had what we called Tele­vised The­atre. It was basi­cal­ly thear­tri­cal play filmed live by sev­er­al cam­eras and edit­ed in pseu­do-film style. I think this is the same type of TV play, not an actu­al film made for tele­vi­sion

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