'The Hobbit 2.0' -- How mobile technology would improve J. R. R. Tolkien's famous work

'The Hobbit 2.0' -- How mobile technology would improve J. R. R. Tolkien's famous work

"The Hobbit," J.R.R. Tolkien's famous story of which the movie version opens Dec. 14, was first published in 1937. The world of Middle Earth was set in an indeterminate time, but looked remarkably like an idealized early 19th-century England, though well-stocked with wizards, dwarfs, elves, dragons, trolls, goblins and of course hobbits. But techwise, it was, and is, the Stone Age of Middle Dearth.

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If he was alive today, Tolkien would be creating content on an iPad, crowd-sourcing secondary characters, tweeting arcane but cool references to obscure Anglo-Saxon and Nordic narratives, contributing heavily to Wikipedia, posting photos of his English garden to a Flickr account, and texting Peter Jackson.

And writing "The Hobbit 2.0" ...

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort super-insulated. It had a perfectly round polyethylene foam core fiberglass door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with paneled walls in sustainably sourced mango hardwood, and floors tiled and carpeted in chemical-free hemp (certified woven without use of child labor), provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats, for the hobbit was fond of visitors.

... This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure ...

... What is a hobbit? I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People Average Sized People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little height-challenged people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves Persons of Short Stature (POSS). Hobbits ... are inclined to be fat in the stomach but still very fit; ... wear no shoes, because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity mellow laughs (especially after a Dietary Guidelines for Middle Earthers-based dinner, which they have twice just once a day when they can get it, with healthy snacks between meals).

Just before tea-time there came a tremendous ring on the front-door bell, and Bilbo set down his Kindle Fire eReader, on which he was perusing the non-fiction bestseller "A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five," and went to the door. "It's about time you arrived," he said.

There stood a dwarf POSS, a blue beard tucked into a golden belt, and very bright eyes under his dark-green hood. He hung his hooded cloak on the nearest peg, and as he turned around, Bilbo held up a smartphone with 10-megapixel camera and LED flash and snapped his picture, leaving the stunned POSS blinking. The facial recognition app quickly identified his visitor. "You're Dwalin, at my service, I'm sure," said Bilbo briskly. "Go into the parlour and help yourself to tea and cakes.


And so one by one, and two by two, the POSSes arrived, each photographed and identified, and each seated for tea and a catered meal of sustainably fished, chemical free sushi. Finally, Thorin, the most important of the POSSes, had had enough. "Where's Gandalf, the Gray Wizard? He summoned us here. And who are you?" he demanded.

Bilbo pulled from inside his shirt a large gray smartphone and laid it on the table in front of him. "What's that?" asked Thorin suspiciously.

"That is the new Samsung Galaxy Wizard smartphone, with a 5.8-inch Super AMOLED sun-readable HD display, LTE support, complete with NFC and mobile wallet, which we'll be needing where we're going," said Bilbo. "This is the only magic we need."

"You mean it doesn't run iOS?" asked Fili, dejectedly.

Thorin's fist crashed onto the table. "Where. Is. Gandalf?" he growled.

"That's my Gmail handle," replied Bilbo.

"But Gandalf summoned us ..." Thorin began, to be interrupted by Bilbo.

"I summoned you. By tweet and text and email. Now let's get down to business. I know about the gold."

A stunned silence met this calm announcement. "You obviously don't read WikiLeaks," Bilbo said.

"You don't look like much of a burglar," Thorin snarled.

"You don't need a burglar," Bilbo said. "You need a hacker. You need someone's who plugged in but unwired, online, mobile, adaptable, not to mention cool." His clever Hobbit fingers brushed over the Wizard's high-def screen. "I've sent you the complete agenda for the meeting, a PowerPoint presentation, a link to our Google Maps route showing real-time updates on known troll locations, and TripAdvisor listings for inns, bed and breakfasts, and if needed campgrounds with hot showers. And of course a draft of our contract, which will require your digital signatures."

Thorin stared, even as the other POSSes pulled out smartphones and tablets and began paging through the documents and websites, nodding.

"Wait," the POSS chief said. "I've got this map ..."

Bilbo's nose wrinkled at the sight of the stained, dusty and in truth rather odorous parchment, with its faded scrawls. He waved it away impatiently. "I've already mapped out the GPS waypoints and Google Earth gives us recent-enough terrain views. It's much more accurate," the Hobbit declared. "Plus it's annotated with translations of those runes."

"What about the Great Goblin under the Misty Mountains?" asked Bombur.

"He'll be too busy to bother with us," Bilbo said, with something like a smirk.

"Busy with what?" demanded Thorin.

"He's being video-linked for a live interview with Ellen DeGeneres. His pre-camera makeup prep will take hours. We'll sneak past with no goblin the wiser," said Bilbo.

"Oh! Do you think I can get her digital signature?" asked a wide-eyed Kili.

"What about this Beor, the shape changer?" asked Thorin. "He can help us get to Mirkwood."

"Think about it: shape changing? Seriously, the guy has body image issues. He's unstable. I've filed an electronic report with Social Services. They'll make sure he gets the treatment he needs," Bilbo said. "And find adopted families for his animals."

"Mirkwood has spiders," gulped Bofur. "Really big ones."

"We'll be carrying a Uniden Portable Wireless Video Surveillance Bundle, with extra cameras, to set up around our campsite each night," said Bilbo. "Plus we'll be in constant contact, via real-time video chat link, with the experts at University of California Riverside's Spiders Site.

"But they're spiders!" said Bofur.


"They devour less desirable bugs, like flies, mosquitoes and a lot more, and they can be quite interesting to watch," said Bilbo, reading from the Wizard's screen. "Learn their names and find out as much as you can about them. Keep an online journal. If you are seriously afraid of spiders, it would be wise to attack the fear through counseling or self help methods."

"Uh," said Bofur.

"I've already contacted the Lake People," Bilbo continued. "They'll be hosting our interactive, real-time travel portal, All of Middle Earth will be able to follow us. The lake dwellers will be getting the lion's share of the online ad revenues and sponsorships, not to mention the franchise for the new lakeside casino resort complex."

"We should be getting a share of all that," said Gloin indignantly.

"We're getting the gold," Bilbo reminded him.

"Oh, right," said Gloin.

"Speaking of gold, what about the dragon?" Thorin exclaimed, and the other POSSes looked up their handhelds.

Bilbo's fingers flew over the Wizard's screen, and he held it up. The others leaned closer. "This 3D simulation (thank heavens for quad-core processors) shows the precise location of the hidden side entrance through the Lonely Mountain to the dragon's lair," he explained.

"But what about the dragon?" Thorin growled.

"The Elf lord, Elrond of the Last Homely House, will have a MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone loitering over the main entrance to the lair," Bilbo explained. "It's armed with eight AIM-92 Urlugrist [Sindarin Elvish for "firedragon-cleaver"] missiles. We'll have a satellite link to the Elf base, and real-time video from the drone. As soon as Smaug emerges from the cave, he's toast."

"What if the lakemen and elves want the gold, too?" asked Dori.

"I've got my lawyer on speed dial. He's already prepared a motion of a stay of battle to be filed electronically," Bilbo said. "Right. It's getting late and we have an early day tomorrow. To bed."

"I'm looking forward to breakfast," said Thorin.

"There's a great organic vegetarian café on the edge of town. We'll be stopping there," said Bilbo.


LOTR Lord of the Rings Wiki, "One wiki to rule them all"

The Ambar Eldaron Elvish-English Dictionary

"The Hobbit" online

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: @johnwcoxnwwEmail:

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

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