Hillbilly Hobbiton now Hiring
Chapter 9: Hooray for Y’allywood (Cont’d)
Excerpt from Man of Iron: The Michael Eisner Story, an unauthorized biography by Anthony Edward Stark


Michael and Jane Eisner began to feel increasingly at home in Atlanta, despite their early culture shock. They were increasingly becoming active parts of the Atlanta social scene, and increasingly pleasantly surprised at just how cosmopolitan The Big Peach was becoming as wealth continued to pour into the city. Already a regional transportation hub since the early days of the republic, the expanding airport and highways and the new intermodal trans-shipping facility, tied into the growing intermodal network that began in Bristol, Tennessee, with “silicon holler”, was making the city an increasingly busy rail, air, and trucking hub linking the Atlantic, Gulf Coast, Northeast, and Midwest. Atlanta kept on growing, in size, wealth, and stature. The studios of Y’Allywood kept expanding both at Columbia and Warner Brothers. Banks and agencies were expanding to meet the growing industries. New faces from New York, Chicago, and LA and growing international immigrant communities were mixing with older faces from the Old Atlanta Gentry and a rising Black Urban Nouveau Riche class to create a uniquely “New South” culture, and the Eisners were becoming Big Fish in this growing pond.

And it seemed that the city and its surrounding counties would be forever under construction! Much of that construction was improving traffic into and out of Columbia Peach Grove Studios and Adventure Park, with the Ryman-run theme park side growing in size and gaining further fan appreciation with each year. The new James Bond 007 Action Spectacular was becoming a big hit and the Rocketeer Inverted Roller Coaster was, despite the underperformance of the film that inspired it, becoming a favorite destination for roller coaster enthusiasts for its unique ride experience. WCW themed attractions and live shows found a niche audience. Forrest Gump offered good fodder for live shows and a themed restaurant, but a lack of original IP remained a challenge. So Eisner made deals with other studios, bringing in a Gateway themed action and animatronics show (in concert with a Gateway TV Series on CBS) and a Men in Black themed dark interactive walkthrough attraction, both in partnership with Orion, and finally a Predator-based track ride in partnership with 20th Century (Eisner called it his “three aliens deal”). But still more was needed. Eisner was in talks with Paramount about the possibility of building a Star Trek based attraction, but was outbid by Universal, who wanted a Trek-based attraction for their Universal Studios Florida expansion. The great limiting factor of the Peach Grove Park, the lack of good IP, remained an Achilles’ Heel.

And then he discovered that Time Atlantic was putting the Kings Entertainment Company (KECO), which owned five theme parks including one in Canada and another in Australia, up for sale. Time Atlantic had acquired the company when they acquired its parent company, Taft Entertainment, in 1993. TAC had swept up Taft on the verge of bankruptcy primarily for its many local TV stations. They had little desire for getting into the theme park game. Instead, Eisner realized that the sheer cost and complexity of building a park from the ground up, as they had done with Peach Grove, was a specialized skill set in its own that required an existing (and expensive) set of specialized “Imagineers”. Instead, Eisner saw a bargain opportunity to give Columbia Parks a global reach with the stroke of a pen.

volcano01.jpg

Inferno: Escape the Volcano inverted coaster, tied to the 1997 Columbia volcanic disaster film Inferno, opening spring 1998 at Columbia King’s Dominion in Virginia (Image source Theme Park Tourist)

“Goddamn, Mikey, you just made Columbia Parks a player!” Turner enthusiastically said of the deal, slapping him so hard on the back that it nearly bowled him over. The parks, which included King’s Island in Ohio near Cincinnati, King’s Dominion in Virginia near Richmond, Carowinds in North Carolina near Charlotte, Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto, and Australia’s Wonderland near Sydney[1], got put through an immediate “Columbification” effort. In the short term this meant slapping the Columbia name on everything and giving every park a set of Hanna-Barbera walkarounds, or in the case of the King’s Dominion Volcano roller coaster then under development, retheming it to the 1997 volcano-themed Columbia disaster film Inferno. In the longer term this meant retheming many of the rides and expanding with Hanna-Barbera Lands and the like. The deals with Dollywood and Ryman were expanded with Opry-style theaters and Dolly-themed shows and attractions, even as Peach Grove was handed over to Kings to manage.

But that unique Columbia IP that would establish Peach Grove as something more than just “that other park” on the Southeastern Theme Park Trail, was still eluding them. Turner saw The Lord of the Rings as their “big thing”, but Eisner remained skeptical.

Outside of the halls of Columbia, work and private life began to merge on occasion as golf outings or horse races or barbecues or trips to the Atlanta Symphony or Peach Grove Opry led to business deals. Even private dinners could become business opportunities, such as when a dinner party with Ted Turner, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and her husband Carl Thomas Dean led to Dolly and Jane Fonda reminiscing about their roles together on 9 to 5 and figuring that they should call up Lily Tomlin and see how she was doing. Jane Eisner mentioned how she’d always wondered what happened to the characters. Michael Eisner spun the idea into a sequel, 1998’s minor hit What a Way to Make a Living. Set 20 years after the events of 9 to 5, it followed Judy, Violet, and Doralee and their families, all now successful career women on their own, as they come back together to deal with their former boss Franklin Hart Jr. (Dabney Coleman), now a slimeball politician and using his power to try and sabotage them out of revenge. They even brought in Christina Hendricks as Doralee’s daughter Sue Ellen to run a honeypot sting on him.

And when the High Concept buddy cop film Cowboy Justice starring Mathew McConaughey as the Wyoming Cowboy who joins the NYPD Mounted Police alongside Carl Weathers as the old school NYPD cop underperformed due to spotty direction and editing, Eisner and Tartikoff resurrected the idea as a TV procedural dramedy series with Scott Bakula and Ron Glass which proved very popular with a wide audience. It aired right after the new Donald P. Bellisario series JAG about a Navy Judge Advocate General legal team. In general, the mix of “cops, jocks, soldiers, rappers, angels, and cowboys” seemed to be a winning formula for CBS on the whole, attracting a mix of wide audiences and niche audiences, while the addition of several Black- or Hispanic- or even Muslim-led series[2] brought in a diversity of audiences in keeping with both Eisner and Tartikoff’s attempts to make CBS more “hip” and Turner’s New South prerogatives.

The studios were doing well. Braveheart and Forrest Gump had stabilized things, My Tennessee Mountain Home had become a super-profitable breakout hit. And Beauty and the Beast, done in partnership with Bluth Animation and Pathé (now a part of the Penguin empire), had nearly broken $200 million at the box office and given Heart of Ice a run for its money[3]. An enthusiastic Eisner greenlit Bluth’s next idea, an adaption of The Velveteen Rabbit, for release in 1999[4].

1664447077530.png

Coming 1999 (Image source Don Bluth Wiki)

Other films beckoned. Lucifer’s Hammer went into production with Roland Emmerich as director. Eastwood and Wallace agreed upon a new World War 2 film that followed the adventures of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in the dark days following Pearl Harbor after failing to agree on a direction for a film about Pearl Harbor itself (reportedly Eastwood wanted something along the lines of Tora Tora Tora while Wallace was pushing for a romance angle ala From Here to Eternity). The resulting film, No Return, went into production scheduled for a 1999 release, though Eastwood refused to allow a tie-in ride at the Columbia/Kings theme parks, calling the idea “revoltingly disrespectful”.

But the Big Bet that absorbed most of Eisner’s time (and provided the majority of his work-related stress) was The Lord of the Rings saga. Eisner and Saul Zaentz went into early pre-production in 1996, hoping to have the first film out by 1999. Eisner suggested Mel Gibson to direct and potentially star as Aragorn based upon his work on Braveheart, but Zaentz was hesitant, fearing that Gibson would try to take over the production or make it into an R-rated bloodbath. After some initial talks, Gibson suggested focusing entirely on the story of Aragorn and paring the story down to a single film about the Return of the King of Gondor to claim the throne and defeat Sauron in battle, reducing Gandalf to a Merlin-like mentor figure, and leaving the Hobbits and the One Ring out of it entirely. The Gibson film treatment reportedly included Aragorn getting tortured by Ring Wraiths at one point and was loaded with Christ imagery that “even C.S. Lewis would have found excessive”. Eisner was receptive since it would lead to a more tightly focused and affordable film and also avoid the distribution rights issue with UA regarding The Hobbit, but Zaentz outright refused the highly unorthodox idea, knowing that it would outrage the Tolkien fans and family alike.

Gibson instead began working on a King Arthur adaption based upon his rough ideas. This eventually became The Once and Future King, staring Gibson as Arthur, Julia Roberts as Guinevere, Brad Pitt as Lancelot, Alan Rickman as a scenery-devouring Mordred, and Sean Connery as Merlin. It was epically anachronistic, with renaissance-era castles, armor, weaponry, and tactics even though it was overtly set in the year 699, though such anachronism was to be expected in an Arthurian tale and practically tradition by that point. Many critics and fans saw it as a rehash of Braveheart in its themes and plot points, with Gibson playing up the Celtic heritage of Arthur and the Englishness of the Saxons. While incredibly violent and self-indulgent, the star-studded film none the less made a good profit when released by Columbia in 1998 and led to medieval battle recreations at Stone Mountain Battlefield using all the armor developed for it and to an Arthur-based dark ride at Peach Grove.

As for The Lord of the Rings, Turner suggested that they approach Amblin and use it as a back door to ILM or the Disney I-Works, but Eisner wanted to keep things in-house. As it happened, they were soon approached by New Zealander director Peter Jackson, who contacted Columbia after hearing that they were making a Tolkien film. A big fan of the books, Jackson desperately wanted to be involved, even if only for the special effects. He sent them a quick effects demo of a Troll done by his WETA Digital company. They were duly impressed. And when Kong: King of Skull Island screened to huge success in 1995, with Jackson behind the effects and second-unit direction, Eisner considered offering him the director’s chair for The Hobbit, for which Turner had finally managed to work a distribution sharing agreement with UA after some “serious nut-twisting”.

However, the Columbia Pictures board was hesitant to give a potentially make-or-break tentpole feature to an “untested” director, so instead Eisner found up and coming Mexican “Otherworldly Horror” pioneer Guillermo del Toro, who’d just made a minor splash with In the Mouth of Madness, with its monstrous Old Ones serving as an excellent demonstration of his ability to work with cutting edge effects. “If he can handle a giant land squid, then a dragon should be no problem,” Eisner noted. However, Eisner did add the eager Jackson to the production team, and del Toro gladly took him on as a second unit and “backup” director[5].

The Hobbit was, Eisner felt, the perfect test-film. Prior fantasy films such as the Willow series had generally performed to only modest success (and marginal profits) and Eisner remained hesitant to support a risky high fantasy trilogy, particularly one likely to cost close to a hundred million dollars a film to make. If The Hobbit underperformed or flopped, they could put the rights to The Lord of the Rings into turnaround. It was also an inherently less risky film than the complex and multifaceted narrative of The Lord of the Rings. The story was simple and straight forward and could be fashioned into a simple three-act narrative with several great set pieces, only a few of which would be inherently expensive to produce due to extras, extended location shoots, elaborate sets, or special effects. Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh approached writer Stephen Sinclair, but it would be his partner Philippa Boyens, a Tolkien fan herself, who would become the principal screenwriter. After some thought, they decided to keep the songs and go for a family friendly PG film. “The kids can see this at ages five-to-eight and then be a few years older for the T-rated Rings films, assuming the first film succeeds,” Eisner told del Toro and Jackson.

Del Toro and Jackson would go into pre-production on The Hobbit in early 1997, scouting locations in Jackson’s native New Zealand and working with artists Alan Lee and John Howe to develop concept imagery. WETA was working overtime trying to advance the art of computer effects to a level where half of the scenes that del Toro wanted would be even possible. The appearance of 1997’s Star Wars: A Darkness Rising demonstrated the potential of computer effects and WETA worked to reverse-engineer the methodology in their minds. They also partnered with London-based Thunderbird Digital, the Gerry Anderson company, who’d been one of the few companies outside of the “I’s” that had mastered the art of digital puppetry and practical animatronics. Gollum and Smaug’s face would both be attempted using Digital Puppetry techniques, with Gollum ultimately being made primarily with simple visual motion capture but Smaug done mostly with Digital Puppetry.

Eisner got his son Breck, a recent MFA grad from the University of Southern California film school, a job as Jackson’s Production Assistant, a job that Breck found “exhausting, but educational.” Production began in full in late 1997, the spring season for New Zealand. They built partial villages for Hobbiton and Laketown and found locations for the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood Forest, and Lonely Mountain, and built sets for Rivendell and Smaug’s treasure room on sound stages in New Zealand. Effects experiments for trolls and goblins and Smaug and giant spiders were conducted, determining the right mix of practical and digital techniques for any given scene. As Eisner feared, costs built up fast (simply hand-making all the suits of armor proved costly all by itself and they flat out refused to recycle Braveheart and Once and Future King armor), but Turner, visiting them with Eisner in April of 1998, was enthralled. In fact, in addition to designing the outdoor set for Hobbiton in New Zealand for filming, Turner had the crew flown to Atlanta to build a near-exact replica in the hills at the edge of Peach Grove Studios as a theme park attraction. It became colloquially known as “Hillbilly Hobbiton” and quickly became a Mecca for fantasy geeks too poor to afford a trip to New Zealand. Eisner dispatched central casting to find lots of little people willing to live and work in Atlanta to play Hobbits, though he was soon admonished by HR to stop calling them “midgets”, which was considered a slur.

img-1536146232-7113-13851-p-C0D0C298-B2CC-6A7B-221A3805870C61FD-2544003__aWxvdmVrZWxseQo_CropResizeWzk0MCw1MzAsNzUsImpwZyJd.jpg

Hillbilly Hobbiton at Columbia Peach Grove Studios and Park (Image source NewZealand.com)

Casting for The Hobbit became a fulltime job. Del Toro and Jackson wanted to focus on non-superstar actors, for example pushing back on David Bowie, who expressed an interest on playing Elrond. Eisner wholeheartedly supported this as a cost-reduction effort. Christopher Lee approached them, hoping to play Gandalf, but del Toro didn’t feel he projected the right “warmth” and he was instead asked to voice Smaug and retained to play Saruman in the future Lord of the Rings film series. Ian McKellen was approached for Gandalf, but too busy playing Cetu Thorpe on Star Wars, so instead, Richard Harris was hired to play Gandalf. Del Toro and Jackson decided early on not to hire little people to play the hobbits and dwarves except in background shots, but to instead use forced perspective techniques to imply the differences in stature between the races of Middle Earth. After a long search, Billy Boyd was brought in to play the lead Bilbo Baggins, Australian actor Hugo Weaving was hired to play the lead dwarf Thorin Oakenshield, Scottish comedian Billy “Big Yin” Connolly was hired as the bombastic Glóin, Ken Stott as the amenable Balin, and Stephen Fry as the rotund Bombur, among others. Stellan Skarsgård was hired as Lord Elrond, Antony Sher as Thranduil the king of the Forest Elves, John Rhys-Davies as the shape-shifting Beorn, Brian Blessed voiced the Great Goblin (performed through a combination of animatronics, prosthetics, motion capture, and digital puppetry), and Russel Crow brought in as Bard the Bowman. Finally, Timothy Spall voiced and performed Gollum[6], another character brought to life through a combination of digital and practical puppetry, prosthetics, motion capture, and animatronics.

Filming commenced in January of 1998 for some location shots, switching to sound stages during the New Zealand winter before returning to locations and pickups in the spring and summer. With so much riding on this one film, set for a Holiday 1999 release after the ongoing effects work pushed back the planned summer release, and thus running right up against Star Wars Episode II, Eisner hoped that all would work out.





[1] Recall that Six Flags claimed Great America. Ironically, Hanna-Barbera Land and Hanna-Barbera’s Marineland were already sold off by KECO in the 1980s per our timeline.

[2] Mohammed to the Mountains would win an Emmy for the special two-part episode “Terror” following the triple rocket attacks on airlines by Al Qaida in 1997, where the citizens of the town have to deal with the stresses and prejudices of the moment. In the end, Bernie Casey’s Terry, who has up to that point been Mo’s biggest critic, steps up to his defense. Casey, Ahmed, and Chris Elliott all get Emmy nominations, with Casey winning.

[3] More on this coming soon.

[4] Hat tip to @nick_crenshaw.

[5] Jackson at this point isn’t quite at the point where he’d be a first choice to direct, but wasn’t in our timeline either, making his selection at the time a huge gamble that thankfully paid off. And while there was certainly the opportunity for a simple Second-Order Butterfly here (I very nearly went there), I decided that just going more or less per our timeline wouldn’t be very interesting. Instead, Jackson is a part of the team and likely doing a lot of the location shoots (so expect similar epic panoramic visuals), but del Toro will be bringing his eye to the visuals and effects, so there will be an interesting mesh of styles here.

[6] Sorry, Serkis Freaks, but the specific circumstances that led him to his groundbreaking role as Gollum are pretty butterfly-prone while Spall is making an earlier name for himself in Hollywood with some memorable supporting roles in blockbuster films like the X-Men Trilogy. Serkis is currently, per our timeline, doing theater work and will possibly appear here eventually.
 
I love the Allo-historical irony of Del toro getting to make the hobbit over Jackson. I also really like your reasoning for why the films were made in this order - it definitely makes a lot of sense for the more fiscally/risk-conscious Eisner to start out with The Hobbit instead of a full-on fantasy trilogy. And it just feels right that Tolkien's adaptations are filmed in New Zealand.

I'm also glad to hear Mohammed to the Mountains is fighting back against rising Islamaphobia. I can only hope that it makes a lasting impression on those that need to hear it ITTL.
 
Last edited:
You know, when I heard the Gibson-Rings proposal I was willing to burn this thread to the ground (had a 'thanks, I hate it' all ready to go for this), but then sanity prevailed and we got a del Toro/Jackson teamup with essentially the same production team as OTL. The line about how they adamantly refused to reuse prop armour (and presumably props) from other films was when I was satisfied with the implications for how the production was going.

Well done, Khan. You've taken what could have been a disaster and given us a better Hobbit with a setup for an equal Lord of the Rings
Hillbilly Hobbiton sounds *just* terrible enough to be real :closedeyesmile:
 
Well, Gibson's LOTR is... interesting at best.

del Toro Hobbit? yes please

Funnily enough, many of the Cedar Fair parks my own Canada Wonderland had Hanna Barbara lands already, so I presume many will retain as oppose to add.
 
TTL me would totally be there for The Hobbit. (Unlike OTL me, who suffered from serious trilogy fatigue after the LOTR films, great though they were, and just wanted the simple story they tell here, rather than bloating it up with half the Simarillion. If they ever release an "Unextended edition DVD", I will be one of the first in line; but not, I suspect, the only one.) I might have checked out Gibson's King Arthur movie as well.

Many critics and fans saw it as a rehash of Braveheart in its themes and plot points, with Gibson playing up the Celtic heritage of Arthur and the Englishness of the Saxons.

Much as I hate to admit Gibson might be even vaguely historically accurate, this is probably closer than the portrayal of Arthur as the first King of England defending the realm from Germans. (The actually accurate version would be to acknowlege that the kingdoms and tribes of early Middle Ages Europe don't really map directly onto any modern nationalities, of course.)

Scottish comedian Billy “Big Yin” Connolly was hired as the bombastic Glóin,

Yes!

Given Conolly's ability to steal any scene going, TTL is probably going to think it has a definite origin for the idea that "dwarf" = "Scottish", which I think IOTL is generally agreed to have just sort of happened. (I always thought the idea of dwarves being Welsh -- as seen in The Soddit and some Discworld novels -- made more sense; they're associated with mines, and the ones in The Hobbit form a male voice choir!)
 
Eisner seems to be thriving in Atlanta, which is ultimately a good thing considering what happened during Hollywood Pictures. The parks deal is especially genius for Columbia as they don't need to invest much in building a park from scratch while expanding their reach. While Disney has dominion in the west of the Mississippi, Columbia and WB have the East.

I already knew that Columbia's LOTR trilogy was coming, but starting with the Hobbit seems like a sound plan in order to test the waters. Plus del Toro directing it could lead it towards an even bigger success than OTL's Hobbit (which was needlessly extended when it really should've been one film). Columbia might have a big hit on their hands.
 
It really amuses me that the OTL Hobbit movies were overly stretched out when the studio had previously attempted to make Jackson squeeze the three LotR books into two movies.
 
You know, when I heard the Gibson-Rings proposal I was willing to burn this thread to the ground (had a 'thanks, I hate it' all ready to go for this), but then sanity prevailed and we got a del Toro/Jackson teamup with essentially the same production team as OTL. The line about how they adamantly refused to reuse prop armour (and presumably props) from other films was when I was satisfied with the implications for how the production was going.

Well done, Khan. You've taken what could have been a disaster and given us a better Hobbit with a setup for an equal Lord of the Rings
Hillbilly Hobbiton sounds *just* terrible enough to be real :closedeyesmile:
To be fair something similar happened OTL and likely in this one as well. A Lord of the Rings adaption with the Beatles fell through and was reworked into the film Excalibur. So like OTL we have a bad idea to adapt LOTR into a weird script far from the source material being cancelled and adapted into a King Arthur story.
 
Given Conolly's ability to steal any scene going, TTL is probably going to think it has a definite origin for the idea that "dwarf" = "Scottish", which I think IOTL is generally agreed to have just sort of happened. (I always thought the idea of dwarves being Welsh -- as seen in The Soddit and some Discworld novels -- made more sense; they're associated with mines, and the ones in The Hobbit form a male voice choir!)
I think you can blame Warcraft for Scots Dwarves OTL, not sure if that game is even made TTL or if the deal with Games Workshop actually worked and it was made as a Warhammer licenced game as planned. Speaking of, I've always been fond of Warhammer's Norwegian/Swedish versions.
To be fair something similar happened OTL and likely in this one as well. A Lord of the Rings adaption with the Beatles fell through and was reworked into the film Excalibur. So like OTL we have a bad idea to adapt LOTR into a weird script far from the source material being cancelled and adapted into a King Arthur story.
Yeah, Tolkien has long been considered unadaptable for decades since the basic story structure of film is so very different to the epic-length novels that are the source material (and for a studio to commit to a trilogy right out of the gate? preposterous!). I consider Jackson's LotR series as one of those unequalled landmarks in filmmaking, an event like the First World War where all the steps leading up to it might have been well understood, but having it all come together into a single instance marks a fundamental change in history. Just as the 20th Century becomes unrecognizable without WW1, cinema in the 21st becomes a very different beast without The Lord of the Rings working out similar to how it did. It's right up there with Star Wars for that reason.
This is why I was kind of dreading it coming up in the timeline as something too different to what we got could create the sort of second order butterflies that could throw things straight past the Fiction Point.

I'm pleased to see that the franchise looks to be in good hands, in no small part to Turner wanting to get one up on Disney and unironically falling in love with the project. I'm hopeful we'll get a Rings series at least as good as OTL's now, and hopefully without screwing over New Zealand's film industry like WB did OTL.

And at the very least, we've got a good Hobbit!
 
I am glad that you want olmec toys to become a major corperation. I feel that shoul buy a a more established toy company. My top pick in tyco (best now for rc cars seasme street toys view masters and magan doodle) If mattle already bought tyco Then I would have olmec buy out gaalbo the makers of mciroc machines. I also like the idea olmec finding succes with an fictional ethincily divers fashon doll simalir to bratz. I feel that olmec bratz like dolls should debut a few before the bratz thus butterflying the bratz
 
I think you can blame Warcraft for Scots Dwarves OTL, not sure if that game is even made TTL or if the deal with Games Workshop actually worked and it was made as a Warhammer licenced game as planned. Speaking of, I've always been fond of Warhammer's Norwegian/Swedish versions.
Still waiting for 100% Viking dwarves, personally (longships and all) - the setting writes itself.
 
Chapter 9: Hooray for Y’allywood (Cont’d)
Excerpt from Man of Iron: The Michael Eisner Story, an unauthorized biography by Anthony Edward Stark


Michael and Jane Eisner began to feel increasingly at home in Atlanta, despite their early culture shock. They were increasingly becoming active parts of the Atlanta social scene, and increasingly pleasantly surprised at just how cosmopolitan The Big Peach was becoming as wealth continued to pour into the city. Already a regional transportation hub since the early days of the republic, the expanding airport and highways and the new intermodal trans-shipping facility, tied into the growing intermodal network that began in Bristol, Tennessee, with “silicon holler”, was making the city an increasingly busy rail, air, and trucking hub linking the Atlantic, Gulf Coast, Northeast, and Midwest. Atlanta kept on growing, in size, wealth, and stature. The studios of Y’Allywood kept expanding both at Columbia and Warner Brothers. Banks and agencies were expanding to meet the growing industries. New faces from New York, Chicago, and LA and growing international immigrant communities were mixing with older faces from the Old Atlanta Gentry and a rising Black Urban Nouveau Riche class to create a uniquely “New South” culture, and the Eisners were becoming Big Fish in this growing pond.

And it seemed that the city and its surrounding counties would be forever under construction! Much of that construction was improving traffic into and out of Columbia Peach Grove Studios and Adventure Park, with the Ryman-run theme park side growing in size and gaining further fan appreciation with each year. The new James Bond 007 Action Spectacular was becoming a big hit and the Rocketeer Inverted Roller Coaster was, despite the underperformance of the film that inspired it, becoming a favorite destination for roller coaster enthusiasts for its unique ride experience. WCW themed attractions and live shows found a niche audience. Forrest Gump offered good fodder for live shows and a themed restaurant, but a lack of original IP remained a challenge. So Eisner made deals with other studios, bringing in a Gateway themed action and animatronics show (in concert with a Gateway TV Series on CBS) and a Men in Black themed dark interactive walkthrough attraction, both in partnership with Orion, and finally a Predator-based track ride in partnership with 20th Century (Eisner called it his “three aliens deal”). But still more was needed. Eisner was in talks with Paramount about the possibility of building a Star Trek based attraction, but was outbid by Universal, who wanted a Trek-based attraction for their Universal Studios Florida expansion. The great limiting factor of the Peach Grove Park, the lack of good IP, remained an Achilles’ Heel.

And then he discovered that Time Atlantic was putting the Kings Entertainment Company (KECO), which owned five theme parks including one in Canada and another in Australia, up for sale. Time Atlantic had acquired the company when they acquired its parent company, Taft Entertainment, in 1993. TAC had swept up Taft on the verge of bankruptcy primarily for its many local TV stations. They had little desire for getting into the theme park game. Instead, Eisner realized that the sheer cost and complexity of building a park from the ground up, as they had done with Peach Grove, was a specialized skill set in its own that required an existing (and expensive) set of specialized “Imagineers”. Instead, Eisner saw a bargain opportunity to give Columbia Parks a global reach with the stroke of a pen.

volcano01.jpg

Inferno: Escape the Volcano inverted coaster, tied to the 1997 Columbia volcanic disaster film Inferno, opening spring 1998 at Columbia King’s Dominion in Virginia (Image source Theme Park Tourist)

“Goddamn, Mikey, you just made Columbia Parks a player!” Turner enthusiastically said of the deal, slapping him so hard on the back that it nearly bowled him over. The parks, which included King’s Island in Ohio near Cincinnati, King’s Dominion in Virginia near Richmond, Carowinds in North Carolina near Charlotte, Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto, and Australia’s Wonderland near Sydney[1], got put through an immediate “Columbification” effort. In the short term this meant slapping the Columbia name on everything and giving every park a set of Hanna-Barbera walkarounds, or in the case of the King’s Dominion Volcano roller coaster then under development, retheming it to the 1997 volcano-themed Columbia disaster film Inferno. In the longer term this meant retheming many of the rides and expanding with Hanna-Barbera Lands and the like. The deals with Dollywood and Ryman were expanded with Opry-style theaters and Dolly-themed shows and attractions, even as Peach Grove was handed over to Kings to manage.

But that unique Columbia IP that would establish Peach Grove as something more than just “that other park” on the Southeastern Theme Park Trail, was still eluding them. Turner saw The Lord of the Rings as their “big thing”, but Eisner remained skeptical.

Outside of the halls of Columbia, work and private life began to merge on occasion as golf outings or horse races or barbecues or trips to the Atlanta Symphony or Peach Grove Opry led to business deals. Even private dinners could become business opportunities, such as when a dinner party with Ted Turner, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and her husband Carl Thomas Dean led to Dolly and Jane Fonda reminiscing about their roles together on 9 to 5 and figuring that they should call up Lily Tomlin and see how she was doing. Jane Eisner mentioned how she’d always wondered what happened to the characters. Michael Eisner spun the idea into a sequel, 1998’s minor hit What a Way to Make a Living. Set 20 years after the events of 9 to 5, it followed Judy, Violet, and Doralee and their families, all now successful career women on their own, as they come back together to deal with their former boss Franklin Hart Jr. (Dabney Coleman), now a slimeball politician and using his power to try and sabotage them out of revenge. They even brought in Christina Hendricks as Doralee’s daughter Sue Ellen to run a honeypot sting on him.

And when the High Concept buddy cop film Cowboy Justice starring Mathew McConaughey as the Wyoming Cowboy who joins the NYPD Mounted Police alongside Carl Weathers as the old school NYPD cop underperformed due to spotty direction and editing, Eisner and Tartikoff resurrected the idea as a TV procedural dramedy series with Scott Bakula and Ron Glass which proved very popular with a wide audience. It aired right after the new Donald P. Bellisario series JAG about a Navy Judge Advocate General legal team. In general, the mix of “cops, jocks, soldiers, rappers, angels, and cowboys” seemed to be a winning formula for CBS on the whole, attracting a mix of wide audiences and niche audiences, while the addition of several Black- or Hispanic- or even Muslim-led series[2] brought in a diversity of audiences in keeping with both Eisner and Tartikoff’s attempts to make CBS more “hip” and Turner’s New South prerogatives.

The studios were doing well. Braveheart and Forrest Gump had stabilized things, My Tennessee Mountain Home had become a super-profitable breakout hit. And Beauty and the Beast, done in partnership with Bluth Animation and Pathé (now a part of the Penguin empire), had nearly broken $200 million at the box office and given Heart of Ice a run for its money[3]. An enthusiastic Eisner greenlit Bluth’s next idea, an adaption of The Velveteen Rabbit, for release in 1999[4].

View attachment 777900
Coming 1999 (Image source Don Bluth Wiki)

Other films beckoned. Lucifer’s Hammer went into production with Roland Emmerich as director. Eastwood and Wallace agreed upon a new World War 2 film that followed the adventures of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in the dark days following Pearl Harbor after failing to agree on a direction for a film about Pearl Harbor itself (reportedly Eastwood wanted something along the lines of Tora Tora Tora while Wallace was pushing for a romance angle ala From Here to Eternity). The resulting film, No Return, went into production scheduled for a 1999 release, though Eastwood refused to allow a tie-in ride at the Columbia/Kings theme parks, calling the idea “revoltingly disrespectful”.

But the Big Bet that absorbed most of Eisner’s time (and provided the majority of his work-related stress) was The Lord of the Rings saga. Eisner and Saul Zaentz went into early pre-production in 1996, hoping to have the first film out by 1999. Eisner suggested Mel Gibson to direct and potentially star as Aragorn based upon his work on Braveheart, but Zaentz was hesitant, fearing that Gibson would try to take over the production or make it into an R-rated bloodbath. After some initial talks, Gibson suggested focusing entirely on the story of Aragorn and paring the story down to a single film about the Return of the King of Gondor to claim the throne and defeat Sauron in battle, reducing Gandalf to a Merlin-like mentor figure, and leaving the Hobbits and the One Ring out of it entirely. The Gibson film treatment reportedly included Aragorn getting tortured by Ring Wraiths at one point and was loaded with Christ imagery that “even C.S. Lewis would have found excessive”. Eisner was receptive since it would lead to a more tightly focused and affordable film and also avoid the distribution rights issue with UA regarding The Hobbit, but Zaentz outright refused the highly unorthodox idea, knowing that it would outrage the Tolkien fans and family alike.

Gibson instead began working on a King Arthur adaption based upon his rough ideas. This eventually became The Once and Future King, staring Gibson as Arthur, Julia Roberts as Guinevere, Brad Pitt as Lancelot, Alan Rickman as a scenery-devouring Mordred, and Sean Connery as Merlin. It was epically anachronistic, with renaissance-era castles, armor, weaponry, and tactics even though it was overtly set in the year 699, though such anachronism was to be expected in an Arthurian tale and practically tradition by that point. Many critics and fans saw it as a rehash of Braveheart in its themes and plot points, with Gibson playing up the Celtic heritage of Arthur and the Englishness of the Saxons. While incredibly violent and self-indulgent, the star-studded film none the less made a good profit when released by Columbia in 1998 and led to medieval battle recreations at Stone Mountain Battlefield using all the armor developed for it and to an Arthur-based dark ride at Peach Grove.

As for The Lord of the Rings, Turner suggested that they approach Amblin and use it as a back door to ILM or the Disney I-Works, but Eisner wanted to keep things in-house. As it happened, they were soon approached by New Zealander director Peter Jackson, who contacted Columbia after hearing that they were making a Tolkien film. A big fan of the books, Jackson desperately wanted to be involved, even if only for the special effects. He sent them a quick effects demo of a Troll done by his WETA Digital company. They were duly impressed. And when Kong: King of Skull Island screened to huge success in 1995, with Jackson behind the effects and second-unit direction, Eisner considered offering him the director’s chair for The Hobbit, for which Turner had finally managed to work a distribution sharing agreement with UA after some “serious nut-twisting”.

However, the Columbia Pictures board was hesitant to give a potentially make-or-break tentpole feature to an “untested” director, so instead Eisner found up and coming Mexican “Otherworldly Horror” pioneer Guillermo del Toro, who’d just made a minor splash with In the Mouth of Madness, with its monstrous Old Ones serving as an excellent demonstration of his ability to work with cutting edge effects. “If he can handle a giant land squid, then a dragon should be no problem,” Eisner noted. However, Eisner did add the eager Jackson to the production team, and del Toro gladly took him on as a second unit and “backup” director[5].

The Hobbit was, Eisner felt, the perfect test-film. Prior fantasy films such as the Willow series had generally performed to only modest success (and marginal profits) and Eisner remained hesitant to support a risky high fantasy trilogy, particularly one likely to cost close to a hundred million dollars a film to make. If The Hobbit underperformed or flopped, they could put the rights to The Lord of the Rings into turnaround. It was also an inherently less risky film than the complex and multifaceted narrative of The Lord of the Rings. The story was simple and straight forward and could be fashioned into a simple three-act narrative with several great set pieces, only a few of which would be inherently expensive to produce due to extras, extended location shoots, elaborate sets, or special effects. Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh approached writer Stephen Sinclair, but it would be his partner Philippa Boyens, a Tolkien fan herself, who would become the principal screenwriter. After some thought, they decided to keep the songs and go for a family friendly PG film. “The kids can see this at ages five-to-eight and then be a few years older for the T-rated Rings films, assuming the first film succeeds,” Eisner told del Toro and Jackson.

Del Toro and Jackson would go into pre-production on The Hobbit in early 1997, scouting locations in Jackson’s native New Zealand and working with artists Alan Lee and John Howe to develop concept imagery. WETA was working overtime trying to advance the art of computer effects to a level where half of the scenes that del Toro wanted would be even possible. The appearance of 1997’s Star Wars: A Darkness Rising demonstrated the potential of computer effects and WETA worked to reverse-engineer the methodology in their minds. They also partnered with London-based Thunderbird Digital, the Gerry Anderson company, who’d been one of the few companies outside of the “I’s” that had mastered the art of digital puppetry and practical animatronics. Gollum and Smaug’s face would both be attempted using Digital Puppetry techniques, with Gollum ultimately being made primarily with simple visual motion capture but Smaug done mostly with Digital Puppetry.

Eisner got his son Breck, a recent MFA grad from the University of Southern California film school, a job as Jackson’s Production Assistant, a job that Breck found “exhausting, but educational.” Production began in full in late 1997, the spring season for New Zealand. They built partial villages for Hobbiton and Laketown and found locations for the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood Forest, and Lonely Mountain, and built sets for Rivendell and Smaug’s treasure room on sound stages in New Zealand. Effects experiments for trolls and goblins and Smaug and giant spiders were conducted, determining the right mix of practical and digital techniques for any given scene. As Eisner feared, costs built up fast (simply hand-making all the suits of armor proved costly all by itself and they flat out refused to recycle Braveheart and Once and Future King armor), but Turner, visiting them with Eisner in April of 1998, was enthralled. In fact, in addition to designing the outdoor set for Hobbiton in New Zealand for filming, Turner had the crew flown to Atlanta to build a near-exact replica in the hills at the edge of Peach Grove Studios as a theme park attraction. It became colloquially known as “Hillbilly Hobbiton” and quickly became a Mecca for fantasy geeks too poor to afford a trip to New Zealand. Eisner dispatched central casting to find lots of little people willing to live and work in Atlanta to play Hobbits, though he was soon admonished by HR to stop calling them “midgets”, which was considered a slur.

img-1536146232-7113-13851-p-C0D0C298-B2CC-6A7B-221A3805870C61FD-2544003__aWxvdmVrZWxseQo_CropResizeWzk0MCw1MzAsNzUsImpwZyJd.jpg

Hillbilly Hobbiton at Columbia Peach Grove Studios and Park (Image source NewZealand.com)

Casting for The Hobbit became a fulltime job. Del Toro and Jackson wanted to focus on non-superstar actors, for example pushing back on David Bowie, who expressed an interest on playing Elrond. Eisner wholeheartedly supported this as a cost-reduction effort. Christopher Lee approached them, hoping to play Gandalf, but del Toro didn’t feel he projected the right “warmth” and he was instead asked to voice Smaug and retained to play Saruman in the future Lord of the Rings film series. Ian McKellen was approached for Gandalf, but too busy playing Cetu Thorpe on Star Wars, so instead, Richard Harris was hired to play Gandalf. Del Toro and Jackson decided early on not to hire little people to play the hobbits and dwarves except in background shots, but to instead use forced perspective techniques to imply the differences in stature between the races of Middle Earth. After a long search, Billy Boyd was brought in to play the lead Bilbo Baggins, Australian actor Hugo Weaving was hired to play the lead dwarf Thorin Oakenshield, Scottish comedian Billy “Big Yin” Connolly was hired as the bombastic Glóin, Ken Stott as the amenable Balin, and Stephen Fry as the rotund Bombur, among others. Stellan Skarsgård was hired as Lord Elrond, Antony Sher as Thranduil the king of the Forest Elves, John Rhys-Davies as the shape-shifting Beorn, Brian Blessed voiced the Great Goblin (performed through a combination of animatronics, prosthetics, motion capture, and digital puppetry), and Russel Crow brought in as Bard the Bowman. Finally, Timothy Spall voiced and performed Gollum[6], another character brought to life through a combination of digital and practical puppetry, prosthetics, motion capture, and animatronics.

Filming commenced in January of 1998 for some location shots, switching to sound stages during the New Zealand winter before returning to locations and pickups in the spring and summer. With so much riding on this one film, set for a Holiday 1999 release after the ongoing effects work pushed back the planned summer release, and thus running right up against Star Wars Episode II, Eisner hoped that all would work out.





[1] Recall that Six Flags claimed Great America. Ironically, Hanna-Barbera Land and Hanna-Barbera’s Marineland were already sold off by KECO in the 1980s per our timeline.

[2] Mohammed to the Mountains would win an Emmy for the special two-part episode “Terror” following the triple rocket attacks on airlines by Al Qaida in 1997, where the citizens of the town have to deal with the stresses and prejudices of the moment. In the end, Bernie Casey’s Terry, who has up to that point been Mo’s biggest critic, steps up to his defense. Casey, Ahmed, and Chris Elliott all get Emmy nominations, with Casey winning.

[3] More on this coming soon.

[4] Hat tip to @nick_crenshaw.

[5] Jackson at this point isn’t quite at the point where he’d be a first choice to direct, but wasn’t in our timeline either, making his selection at the time a huge gamble that thankfully paid off. And while there was certainly the opportunity for a simple Second-Order Butterfly here (I very nearly went there), I decided that just going more or less per our timeline wouldn’t be very interesting. Instead, Jackson is a part of the team and likely doing a lot of the location shoots (so expect similar epic panoramic visuals), but del Toro will be bringing his eye to the visuals and effects, so there will be an interesting mesh of styles here.

[6] Sorry, Serkis Freaks, but the specific circumstances that led him to his groundbreaking role as Gollum are pretty butterfly-prone while Spall is making an earlier name for himself in Hollywood with some memorable supporting roles in blockbuster films like the X-Men Trilogy. Serkis is currently, per our timeline, doing theater work and will possibly appear here eventually.
Hopefully this doesn't butterfly away Boyd's friendship with Dominic Monaghan.
 
Thanks, all, glad to see that Rings generated some interest. Stay tuned for where this goes.

I love the Allo-historical irony of Del toro getting to make the hobbit over Jackson. I also really like your reasoning for why the films were made in this order - it definitely makes a lot of sense for the more fiscally/risk-conscious Eisner to start out with The Hobbit instead of a full-on fantasy trilogy. And it just feels right that Tolkien's adaptations are filmed in New Zealand.
New Zealand was practically made for Fantasy filmmaking. It's probably the closest thing we have to Middle Earth IRL.

I'm also glad to hear Mohammed to the Mountains is fighting back against rising Islamaphobia. I can only hope that it makes a lasting impression on those that need to hear it ITTL.
Seemed like an obvious place for them to go. Dolly would likely insist on it.

You know, when I heard the Gibson-Rings proposal I was willing to burn this thread to the ground (had a 'thanks, I hate it' all ready to go for this), but then sanity prevailed and we got a del Toro/Jackson teamup with essentially the same production team as OTL. The line about how they adamantly refused to reuse prop armour (and presumably props) from other films was when I was satisfied with the implications for how the production was going.

Well done, Khan. You've taken what could have been a disaster and given us a better Hobbit with a setup for an equal Lord of the Rings
Hillbilly Hobbiton sounds *just* terrible enough to be real :closedeyesmile:
"Mel Gibson" and "Lord of the Rings" are two things which I hope to never again read together in a sentence. Like "Tarantino's Star Trek," but worse.
Yea, I succumbed to the Troll Side there, hinting at just how bad it could have gotten. Glad I got in a few squirms in the misdirection. But Zantz would never agree to something like that, and neither would the Tolkien family.

Much as I hate to admit Gibson might be even vaguely historically accurate, this is probably closer than the portrayal of Arthur as the first King of England defending the realm from Germans. (The actually accurate version would be to acknowlege that the kingdoms and tribes of early Middle Ages Europe don't really map directly onto any modern nationalities, of course.)
He makes them overtly Norman English rather than Anglo-Saxon in attitude (the Saxon King is essentially Longshanks 2.0), and some of Arthur's armies wear kilts and carry claymores, but the basic concept is at least historical-adjacent. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, yeah?

Given Conolly's ability to steal any scene going, TTL is probably going to think it has a definite origin for the idea that "dwarf" = "Scottish", which I think IOTL is generally agreed to have just sort of happened. (I always thought the idea of dwarves being Welsh -- as seen in The Soddit and some Discworld novels -- made more sense; they're associated with mines, and the ones in The Hobbit form a male voice choir!)
Still waiting for 100% Viking dwarves, personally (longships and all) - the setting writes itself.
It never ceases to amaze me how many cultural overlays the dwarves get in fiction. Tolkien gave them a Semitic-based language, which combined with other stereotypes ("Gold gold gold gold....") have led many to consider them Jewish, or occasionally Muslim. Scottish is common. The original AD&D artwork made them look very Viking in armor and weapons actually, @Migrant_Coconut, and of course Elves and Dwarves are originally from Norse mythology. Welsh is a new one for me, but that makes sense. Though I always thought that Llamedos was Discworld's Wales. Fun fact: "Llamedos" = "Sod em all" backwards. And speaking of which, while I've read Bored of the Rings I totally missed The Soddit...need to dig that one up.

Funnily enough, many of the Cedar Fair parks my own Canada Wonderland had Hanna Barbara lands already, so I presume many will retain as oppose to add.
Yea, allo-irony there. KECO lost the HB rights the second that Peach Grove broke ground, so the HB characters will vanish from CW in the early 1990s and return in the late 1990s.

To be fair something similar happened OTL and likely in this one as well. A Lord of the Rings adaption with the Beatles fell through and was reworked into the film Excalibur. So like OTL we have a bad idea to adapt LOTR into a weird script far from the source material being cancelled and adapted into a King Arthur story.
I didn't know that Excalibur began as a LotR project. Alt-History Rhymes in this case.
 
Stamos might not be my darling but I respect your choice and he is not a bad actor.
He was a bad singer in the 1990s, though (remember his version of "Forever", anyone? (1))...

To be fair, he has improved at that as the years have gone on...

(1) Listen to that on YouTube, and then listen to Dennis Wilson's version, and tell me the former is the better version...
 
Last edited:
You're a Wizard, Harry
Harry Fletcher and the Four Temperaments
From Golden Snitch Netlog by Wynn Gardium and Levi Ossa, November 15th, 2007


Harry Lucas Fletcher, everyone’s favorite Ginger Wizard, hero of the epic Wizarding World of Jo Rowling[1]. Since his debut in 1997’s A Touch of Magic[2], Harry has connected to young readers in a way few characters have in decades, ushering in a renaissance of readership in an age where many were predicting the imminent death of the novel as a popular artform.

Now, a decade since Rowling’s first novel appeared, and with Three Gifts from Death now a few months past its release (and with plenty of time for spoilers to have been absorbed by my readership), let’s take a deep dive into the central themes – or indeed central theme – of the work.

Many have wondered what magic lay behind Rowling’s Boy Wizard. And the answer, once thoroughly deconstructed, nets something based in actual ancient mysticism: The Four Temperaments.

25ae28687680d9367ac6c6fbb81f3ae6.png

The traditional view of the Four Temperaments with associated Elements (Image source Pinterest.com)

For those not up on your ancient philosophy, medieval alchemy, Jungian psychology, or modern Corporate Personality Test pseudo-psychology, the Four Temperaments represent four basic core aspects of the human mind, body, and soul with origins dating back to the ancient Greeks and closely tied to the Four Elements. Each Temperament was tied to an element and a “humour” or bodily fluid, and “balancing the humours” was a staple of western medicine right up to the 19th century, with bleedings and enemas standard medical practice because of this.

Everyone has, the theory goes, some combination of the Four Temperaments, but one or occasionally two will predominate, which will define your personality.

The Four Temperaments are[3]:

  • Sanguine: associated with the element Air, the humour of Blood, and the color Red, the Sanguine personality type is described primarily as being outgoing, highly talkative, enthusiastic, active, and social. Sanguine individuals are extroverted and brave, but can be reckless risk takers, flaky, insensitive, and can lack focus and initiative.
  • Choleric: associated with the element Fire, the humour of Yellow Bile (urine) and the color Yellow, Choleric individuals tend to be extroverted, independent, decisive, goal-oriented, and ambitious, but can also be argumentative, violent, vengeful, petty, selfish, and short-tempered.
  • Melancholic: associated with the element Earth, the humour of Black Bile (feces), and the color Black, Melancholic individuals tend to be introverted, analytical, cerebral, perfectionist, and detail-oriented, but also moody with raging emotions, which they often externally suppress. They can be self-reliant, thoughtful, reserved, and often anxious, but also cold, distant, elitist, or neurotic.
  • Phlegmatic: associated with the element Water, the humour of Phlegm, and the color Blue, Phlegmatic individuals tend to be relaxed, peaceful, quiet, and easy-going. They are sympathetic, empathetic, reliable, honest, and caring, but tend to hide their own emotions. They can be good at compromise, but are often passive, naïve, and easily manipulated.
And if all of this sounds like the type of information that a certain sentient hat might want to know, well, congratulations, you have caught your first glimpse of the magic beneath.

Rowling took these Four Temperaments and modified them slightly, in particular changing around some of the elements and colors for symbolic purpose, until the result was the Four Houses of Hogwarts[4]:

  • Gryffynhart: clearly Sanguine with its focus on bravery, outgoing nature, and Red color, though it drops Sanguine Air for Choleric Fire and adopts Choleric Yellow as well. Is this perhaps a hint of ambition and self-reliance in the Gryffynhart? Or is this simply due to symbolism, the Red of bravery and Yellow of Gold (Golden Rule) and Fire of stoutheartedness or the welcoming hearth? We can easily see how the outgoing, popular, and sporting (but occasionally flaky and cliquish) members of Harry’ House can be the Sanguine Blood of Hogwarts, as symbolized by their leonine mascot.
  • Slythryus: very much the Choleric with its ambitious, goal-oriented, power-seeking, vengeful, and selfish nature, though it adopts the colors Green and Silver and the Phlegmatic element of Water. A hint of the controlled here? Or simply the jealousy of Green and the greed of dollar-bill-Green and the miser’s (or Judas’s) Silver? The low-seeking and malleable and persistent nature of Water, particularly as is sinks down below the earth into the cavernous Slythryus spaces, seems to be a symbolic driver for this change. Certainly, the personality traits of the Slythryus seem very much in tune with the Choleric in both the positive and negative, the sly, persistent, and cold-blooded serpent as their mascot.
  • Corvidious: so much of the Melancholic here with these “high minded” and often neurotic elitists. Intellectual, arrogant, living high in the Ivory Tower at the top of Hogwarts, but often touched with a bit of the insane, dancing on that line between genius and madness. Perhaps the Sanguine Air element is a hint of some sort to enthusiasm or the Phlegmatic Blue a hint of the Thoughtful, or perhaps the symbolism of the Blue Sky and Air at the top of their high tower tells you all you need to know, the wise, high-flying, and mighty Owl as their mascot.
  • Burleighnohn: this grounded, loyal, and hard-working bunch are practically the poster children for the Phlegmatic, though with Choleric Yellow and Melancholic Black as their colors and Melancholic Earth as their Element. Hints of being touchy and reserved? Or simply symbolism of the solid reliability and, well, grounded nature of the Earth along with two unassuming colors which, when together, are like the warning stripes of the hardworking but protective of its own bee? It would certainly blend well with the gruff, insular, familial, and dangerous-when-provoked bear that is their mascot.
This cannot just be coincidence! Surely Rowling did her homework and was well aware of the role of the Four Temperaments and Four Elements within traditional magic and mysticism as well as psychology. Add in some modern symbolism with colors and elements to update it, and you have an ancient wizards’ school steeped in real western magical traditions. Even more apparent to this is how the personalities of the four central characters, each from one of the four houses, map to the Temperaments, and also how, since a balancing of the humors is a staple of the tradition, the four of them must ultimately come together to save the day; four different people, four different temperaments, one whole being.

Let’s take the main hero protagonist, Harry Lucas Fletcher. Brave, outgoing, friendly, enthusiastic, longing for friendship, and a little bit reckless, Harry embodies the Sanguine, and yet since he is the character we get to know best we see that there are depths to him, with his Phlegmatic reliability, Melancholic moodiness, and most of all Choleric ambition, making it little wonder why the Sorting Hat had a bit of a hard time with him before sorting him to Gryffynhart. Harry was, of course, the original character that Rowling thought up and the very genesis of the story.

“I was riding on the train, my mind sort of wandering,” she said in an interview, “and this vision comes to me of this skinny, ginger boy with glasses and this uncontrollable mop of curly hair. He was this powerful wizard, and yet he didn’t know it. The image became brighter and more real to me as the trip continued.”

In keeping with Rowling’s clear love of wordplay and symbolism, his name was not just pulled from a hat, as it were. While she’d always loved the name “Harry”, Harry’s middle name Lucas means “light bringer” and speaks to his messianic purpose, and yet it does so in the form of a common, almost boring name. The resemblance to the word “luck” is probably deliberate as well, as is the resemblance to “Lucifer” given his dark secret connection to He Who Shall Not Be Named. Fletcher, likewise, is a common name, one evoking a tradesman-like job of making bows and arrows, and yet it is one of creativity, and creativity in the creation of something associated with the brave British yeoman of old. It is also a weapon, speaking as well to the secret darkness and his ultimate role as a warrior[5].

Harry, to complete himself as it were, needs three other people in his life. Two of them are obvious: the brilliant know-it-all Hippolyta Granger and the reliable but boorish Ron Hedgeley. These two he meets and quickly befriends on the Hogwarts Express not long after discovering his magical talents. The meeting seems serendipitous, even fated. The brief and fleeting introduction of the fourth passenger of the cabin, the independent minded Scorpia Spinx[6], seems at first similarly meaningful, even though she barely stays in the cabin, instead heading out for what Hippolyta assumes to be “mischief”. Scorpia, of course, would play a bigger role later, though many wondered at the time why Rowling went to the trouble to introduce this particular character just for her to vanish so quickly.

But let’s look first at Hippolyta, a character whom Rowling admits bears more than a passing resemblance to herself at that age. With her frizzled hair inevitably tied up into a haphazard pile atop her head and her out of style reading glasses, Hippolyta is a consummate bookwork and rather socially detached and judgmental, and yet secretly has these raging emotions and is easily hurt by the cruelty of others, even as she endeavors not to show it. The name comes from the mythical daughter of Ares, God of War, and Otrera, the Queen of the Amazons[7]. Meanwhile, a Granger is a farmer or rancher, or otherwise someone who works with the dirt and thus speaks to her common Muggle-born origins (as if “mud” was in her “blood”, as it were). She’s presented as an unpopular nerd who alienates others with her haughtiness. With such classically Melancholic personality traits, it is little surprise in hindsight that she’d be sorted into Corvidious[8]. However, she too will reveal her Sanguine bravery, Choleric ambition to be the best student, and Phlegmatic empathy as the novels progress.

Ron, meanwhile, is from a large and ancient but humble wizarding family. Poor in material wealth but rich in generosity, the Hedgeleys – whose name speaks to something bucolic (a hedge) but also to the seemingly small and weak, yet clever, inquisitive, and well-protected hedgehog – are all but your living embodiment of the Phlegmatic. Ron himself, whom Rowling maintains is partially based upon a childhood friend of hers, personifies this Temperament with his friendly, reliable, and humble nature. Serving as a bit of comic relief, Ron nonetheless regularly proves his meddle while also serving as the Heart of the central trio. So it’s hardly a surprise that he was sorted into Burleighnohn, even as he shows a Sanguine outgoing and friendly nature, a Choleric temper on occasion, and a Melancholic moodiness.

But what of the Fourth? Well, on the surface this seems apparent. One of the first people that Harry encounters at Hogwarts is, of course, Draco Malfeus[9], the callous and cruel blond boy whom Rowling based off of a bully that she knew. The ambitious and social-climbing Draco comes, like Ron, from an old wizarding family, and yet one that is wealthy and powerful. He immediately tries to ingratiate himself to the famous and fabled Harry Fletcher, but his casual cruelty to Hippolyta and Ron immediately reveals to Harry his nature, and Harry famously snubs him, setting off their complicated and generally acrimonious relationship. Draco, who on the surface embodies the Choleric, is, of course, sorted to Slythryus. It would take until the last two novels before we really start to see more of his Sanguine bravery, Melancholic intelligence, and Phlegmatic empathy beyond subtle hints.

That these are our Four seems apparent when they are the four assigned to the Study Group. In a decision that seems to confirm that the Four Temperaments (and the balancing thereof) are at the heart of the themes of the series, it is revealed that a longstanding Hogwarts tradition has the students assigned into groups of four, one from each house, to perform their lessons. And naturally Harry, Hippolyta, and Ron are placed together. But the fourth is Draco, whom all of them despise and who increasingly seems to be an impediment to their growth rather than a support for it.

Adding further complexity to Harry’s life is the new Gryffynhart family that he is assigned, with likeable and eclectic characters like Nevil and Bill and Percy and Tom-John who are so welcoming and treat him like the loving family that he never had. They seem to lift him up and salve his worries and he’s soon a popular and talented part of this new fraternal order. Yet much like when Vonnegut wrote of meaningful karasses and empty granfalloons, the fraternity of the Gryffynhart Housemates would ultimately begin to feel hollow for Harry as the series progressed, particularly when compared to the true sense of family he’d develop for his study friends.

This contrasts with his Study Group, whose idiosyncrasies can irritate him. And yet it is Hippolyta and Ron whom fate seems to always throw together with him, Draco always on the fringes as an impediment and yet also constantly trying to horn in on their efforts, often for his own selfish aims. And yet so often it is Scorpia who has that last bit of information or takes that one critical action which allows the trio to save the day. As the novels progress, it is through these three, and ultimately the fourth, that Harry begins to experience what a true found family can be, as if they are lost parts of himself and he a lost part of all of them.

Scorpia, meanwhile, is presented as a bit of an enigma throughout the series[10]. Sorted into Slythryus (and revealed to be Draco’s cousin), the raven-haired troublemaker is an unabashedly ambitious and single-minded rulebreaker who ends up becoming the, well, “alpha bitch” of Hogwarts as the children enter into their teens. She’s hardly there at first, and yet inevitably manages to appear at critical moments, a (well) sphinxlike enigma. Often a nemesis for Hippolyta in particular, with her casually insensitive and inconsiderate nature (she is based in part on girls who used to pick on Rowling), she is nonetheless revealed to be someone who, while not inherently cruel, is certainly selfish and argumentative. And her role certainly grows as the arc-story of the series continues. When it is revealed that Draco’s father Janus Malfeus used his wealth and influence to get Draco into Harry’s study group in Order of the Phoenix, one can’t help but wonder if Scorpia was supposed to be the proper “fourth” all along, and her replacement by Draco a sign of just how much the leadership of Hogwarts has gone astray from their founders’ original vision.

In fact, one can’t help but see, when one looks, how the entire narrative of the stories – the four Houses, the cross-House study groups, and the way that the Four seem to be the key to solving every problem – are representative of the balance of the four humours and elements.

And this story of balance soon gets writ large as the larger arc-plot of the novel series plays out. At the beginning Gryffynhart is the dominant house, with Headmaster Alban Dumbledore[11] and several prominent Gryffynharts in positions of power. Gryffynhart has been the winning House in the competition for 8 of the last 10 years. At first this is made to seem a good thing, as the kind hearted and joyous Dumbledore becomes a father figure for Harry. Rival House Slythryus, meanwhile, is shown as the house of bullies and cheats and seems symbolized by the dour and cruel taskmaster, Potions Professor Severus Snape[12], who was based on a professor that Rowling disliked (are you seeing a pattern here?). The Slythryus are shown to be driven by jealousy and constantly plotting to replace Gryffynhart as the dominant house.

Corvidious, meanwhile, as represented by the taciturn Transfigurations Professor Aife Minerva[13], is aloof to this old contest, and sees such contests as largely beneath them, while Burleighnohn, as represented by the unflappable Herbology Professor Pomona Sprout[14], simply objects to such contests and games in principle as hubristic and unseemly.

In the first book in particular, this Gryffynhart dominion is presented through Harry’s wondering eyes as a good and right thing, and the idea of an ascendent Slythryus seen as a decidedly bad thing. Harry has gone from an abused shut-in to practically the most popular kid in school, and from an awkward nerd to a sports hero after winning the Quaddach[15] game at one point. The first book, A Touch of Magic, is deliberately written in simple terms with simple, seemingly black and white morality. The use of childish things like bogie jokes and earwax-flavored jelly beans similarly fits in with this simplistic, childlike view, and led many critics to at first dismiss the book, and by extension the series, as empty and childish wish fulfilment.

And yet even then the seeming binary morality is being subtly challenged. Harry is led into some troublemaking adventures by his Gryffynhart friends, but then has to rely on Hippolyta and Ron to help get him out of trouble and save the day. The very subtle way that Scorpia is woven into the story, easy to overlook as just one of many other students who appear in passing, becomes clear foreshadowing in hindsight, as does the fact that the hated Snape is secretly protecting Harry from the hidden malefactors. And the rushed coverup of the fact that He Who Shall Not Be Named is back hints at the moral complexity to come.

What makes the Wizarding series stick in the hearts and minds of so many in ways that go beyond the relatable characters and the clever language use is how the stories indeed “grow with their characters and audience”. As Harry grows and starts to learn more about the way of the world, the binary morality is increasingly broken down. The mistakes of his mentors and the limits of his own assumptions become increasingly clear. The humanity of his antagonists becomes more apparent and the flaws of his friends and benefactors clearer.

Principal among these shades of grey is the response to the Fascist-like Death Eaters. It would have been easy to simply make the Slythryus all support them and the other Houses all oppose, and yet the situation becomes more mixed. While a significant number of Slythryus do support the Eaters or at least try to profit off of their ascension, in particular the powerful heads of the House, like Janus Malfius, there is an increasing sense of unease about them among the younger generation of Slythryus in particular, as demonstrated by the openly resistive Scorpia and the increasingly divided Draco. The other Houses see similar division. Many of the high-minded Corvidious seem easily swayed by the order and power that the Death Eater movement represents, even as others (such as Minerva) openly oppose them. Gryffynharts at first rally against the Eaters, and yet we see Tom-John and a growing minority of that House becoming caught up in the thrall of the power and glory they promise. Burleighnohn, meanwhile, attempts to stay aloof or out of the way, but increasingly many of them find themselves pulled between the principle of opposing this abject authoritarian tyranny and a small number who see the Eaters as a stabilizing force, or who find themselves vulnerable to their manipulation and persuasion.

Again, balance between the Four Temperaments seems to be the driving force here, with the weaknesses and limitations of them – Choleric ambition, Sanguine glory-seeking, Melancholic elitism, and Phlegmatic naivete – exploited by the Eaters while the positive aspects – Choleric independence, Sanguine bravery, Melancholic empiricism, and Phlegmatic compassion – are used to defeat them. Our (likely) True Four, Harry, Hippolyta, Ron, and Scorpia, become the nucleus of Dumbledore’s Army, the student-led resistance to the ascension of the Death Eaters. Scorpia’s ultimate death at the hands of Janus in The Half-Blood Prince, in turn, is the moment that first awakens Draco to the evil that he is supporting by standing with his father. This initiates his later decisive turn away from the Death Eaters in the final book, where he will ultimately be the one to take up her mantle as the Sythryus leader of Dumbledore’s Army and ultimately use his charisma and connections to lead the bulk of the younger generation of Slythryus away from the Eaters in what many fans see as the salvation of Slyhthryus House[16].

In the end, it’s the bulk of the youth of the Four Houses coming together, which reflects the story of our Four characters coming together writ large, that holds the key to defeating the Death Eaters and setting up Harry’s messianic defeat of He Who Shall Not be Named. This not only saves Hogwarts and averts a likely war of genocide against the Muggles and half-bloods, it saves the very soul of Hogwarts and restores the balance that the Four Founders set up in the beginning.

This central theme of balance appears to have always been at the back of Rowling’s mind from early in the development. She had written the initial draft of what she was initially calling, simply, “The Philosopher’s Stone” in reference to the MacGuffin, and was seeking a publisher. She shopped it around for a while before encountering Disney Publishing Vice President Lorraine Williams at a fantasy publishing expo, who was in London looking for a new fantasy franchise now that George Lucas’ Willow series was reaching its conclusions and Dragonlance was not really catching on with the mainstream. She approached Rowling with an offer of a $3000 advance in exchange for publishing rights under the Fantasia Books label, film and TV production rights, and theme park rights, but Rowling was reticent.

“Honestly, it was a hard offer to refuse,” she stated in a later interview, “but in truth we’d all seen what Disney did with British fantasy like Mary Poppins and Mort and I just couldn’t abide with seeing Harry and Hippolyta singing a showtune in some animated extravaganza, probably with a poor attempt at a British accent by some American child actor. And while it may be rather parochial of me to say this, I really wanted a British publisher.”

Williams put in a good word at Penguin Books with an executive with whom she’d worked in the past, Disney at this point having established a limited partnership with Pearson, Inc., Penguin’s owner[17]. Penguin published the newly renamed A Touch of Magic under their Puffin label with a 9-14 target age and some tie-ins to education and readership initiatives. Fantasia Books would in turn partner for the US distribution.

And yet it was her early interactions with the Disney team that give us some insight into the early, formative years of the Harry Fletcher saga. Rowling herself spoke to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine in 1999 (shortly before the child abuse scandals that brought down Bradley and her husband) about touring the London Creatureworks with Cheryl Henson, who was at the time working on the Dark Crystal prequel television series in partnership with Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbird Entertainment.

“I spoke at length with Cheryl about our two projects,” Rowling said in the interview, “In particular we spoke about the subject of balance, which was an important aspect of both. Balance was, she told me, the central theme to The Dark Crystal. ‘The Skeksis are in reality victims themselves,’ she said to me, ‘They lost a part of themselves when the crystal broke, which became the uuRu.’ She went on about how despite people assuming the uuRu to be ‘good’ and the Skeksis ‘evil,’ neither was a whole being fully capable of making free choices and both were equally complicit in the destruction of their planet’s ecosystem, the Skeskis through the mindless pursuit of power and pleasure and the uuRu though their passive inaction. You needed the ambition and passions of the Skeksis to make the necessary change and the grounding and compassion of the uuRu to be conscious of the inadvertent damage you may do.

“This resonated with me as I looked at the balance between the Slythryus and the other Houses,” she continued. “The Skeksis in many ways embody aspects of both the Slythryus and the Gryffynhart and the uuRu have much in common with the Corvidious and the Burleighnohn, and as the novels progress, we see how the values of the Slythryus aren’t by themselves evil or wrong, but instead how ambition and self-reliance must in turn be balanced by the values of the other Houses, and vice versa.”

It's also worth noting that the Four Temperaments were a central theme of Henson’s production of The Fantastic Four film, which was in pre-production at the time of the meeting.

Altogether, the themes of balance, in particular the balance of the Four Temperaments, become obvious in hindsight. In fact, the other themes, such as bigotry, greed, friendship, family, honor, bravery, acceptance, and sacrifice, can all be seen as aspects of this central theme of balance, with the positive (family, honor) seen best when the balance is restored and the negative (bigotry, violence) a symptom of the larger imbalances. Indeed, the early Slythryus enthusiasm for the Death Eater movement can be seen as a pathological overreaction to a possibly justified anger at their disenfranchisement and marginalization by the dominant Gryffynhart, not just blind ambition. She plants the idea that if they’d had more opportunity for self-actualization, then fewer would have been tempted by the Death Eaters.

Of course, Rowling herself has never stated one way or another about the Four Temperaments. Her comments about balance are few and often situational. In good faith I must point out that she has neither confirmed nor denied whether the Four Temperaments are at the heart of her story, though it seems obvious to many of us to be the case.

What do you think? Is there truth to these observations, or is this theory another case of obsessive fans overthinking things? What evidence do you see to support or oppose this theory?

Let us know.

Commentus leaviosa!



[1] Yes, this is this timeline’s Harry Potter, and yes, I’m playing with fire even touching this. On one hand, this will irritate the orthodox Butterflyists since the sheer unlikelihood of Harry Potter’s success in our timeline and ephemeral nature of entertainment means that Rowling simply never selling any story is the most plausible outcome. On the other hand, this is an iconic piece of many people’s childhood and I’m messing with it. On the gripping hand, Rowling’s newfound infamy with progressives as a “TERF” makes even including her controversial (not that I’ve ever shied from controversial figures appearing in my timeline). That said, with the popularity of fantasy films in this timeline’s 1990s in general and the “Witch Craze” in particular, the market is much more receptive in this timeline to such a concept as her Wizarding World, and since she is honestly a good author with great characters and ideas, it seemed fully within the realm of plausibility for her to get an opportunity in this timeline.

And as to the butterflies themselves, let’s start with the title character. Interestingly, my research led me to the conclusion that the most malleable character in Harry Potter was, ironically, the eponymous one since the vision of Harry appeared to her during a train delay where (to quote Rowling) “all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.” Other characters are based on people that she knew or (in the case of Hermione) had autobiographical components. The basic plot and setting elements were built off of a long British history of “School Stories” with uniforms and “Houses” and other literary traditions. More on all of this later.

[2] Ironically A Touch of Magic is the title of a fantasy series that’s clearly inspired by Harry Potter in our timeline. In this timeline, with the Indiana Jones sequels following a title format of “Mysterious McGuffin: a Hero Protagonist Adventure” rather than a “Hero Protagonist and the Mysterious McGuffin” format, the emphasis of subsequent stories has evolved along with it. So instead of Harry Fletcher and the Philosopher’s Stone it’s A Touch of Magic, later subtitled “A Harry Fletcher Adventure” as the Harry Fletcher stories continued.

[3] Taken from The Transformative Soul.

[4] I’ve found no background on how Rowling chose her House names in our timeline, so I went for similar concepts: a heroic-sounding Sanguine house, a snaky-sounding Choleric House, a ravenous Melancholic one, and a nonsensical but vaguely down-to-earth sounding Phlegmatic one.

[5] The name Harry Potter is a subtly clever one and likely a purposeful one as well. Harry is a very familiar but jovial name (and also an occasionally royal one) and was one of Rowling’s favorites while Potters are creative artists, but producing practical, humble wares. It’s an ironically average name for a messianic figure, which is likely the point. In this timeline, Rowling played the symbolism closer to the messianic image and as such Harry Lucas Fletcher will need his friend Ron there to help keep him grounded and not fall too far into the hype surrounding him (he will occasionally get caught up in himself and his popularity only to see it all come crashing down and learn a humbling lesson). In general, Harry Fletcher is a more outgoing figure than Harry Potter, and more obviously Sanguine, faults and all, making his external relationships that much more important.

[6] Spinx is similar to one of the original last names considered for Draco Malfoy (Spinks), and speaks to the Sphinx and therefore mystery, power, or forbidden knowledge.

[7] By comparison, Hermione is name based on Hermes and essentially means “Well Born”; when combined with Granger (earth worker) it speaks to how she’s well born despite, or indeed because of, her Muggle origins.

[8] It’s long been my suspicion that Rowling originally intended for Hermione to be a Ravenclaw and Ron a Hufflepuff, seeing as how they seem to embody the main “traits” of those two houses, respectively, but that Rowling’s agent or the publisher convinced her to make all three Gryffindor to simplify the narrative, since, you know, “kids is dumb.”

[9] Started as Spungen then Spinks in our timeline before evolving to Malfoy. The name Malfoy is derived from mal foi, which translates roughly to “bad faith”. Malfeus takes the same cue, and adds in a similarity to the word malfeasance and the Latin malleus (hammer), also a sly reference to the Malleus Maleficarum, or the book that witchfinders used to identify and destroy witches, hinting ironically at the tyranny of the Death Eaters.

[10] She ends up performing a lot of the plot actions which secondary characters like Luna Lovegood or Pansy Parkinson would fill in our timeline.

[11] Dumbledore is an old word for bumblebee and was chosen by Rowling due to associations with music and humming to himself. Alban is simply a variation on Albus, both meaning “white”.

[12] The names come form Severus Road in Clapham, London, and the surname Snape. I have the feeling she was sitting on that name for a while until she had the character for it.

[13] Aife is a mythical warrior and sorceress from Ireland who lived in Scotland while Minerva is the Roman goddess of justice, law, and righteous conflict, equivalent to Athena. Obviously this timeline’s Minerva McGonagall.

[14] Pomona is the goddess of fruitful abundance and sprout is, well, obvious. Seemed like the obvious route for the character’s name to progress in any timeline.

[15] Rowling came up with the nonsense-word quidditch by literally writing a bunch of nonsensical Q-words down in a list until a name stuck, so an inherently butterfly-prone name.

[16] Wizard’s hat tip @Emote Control.

[17] Publisher’s sorting hat tip to @El Pip for this suggestion.
 
I absolutely love this alternate Harry Potter! There's so much to like!

The cast being more spread out (house-wise anyway) allows for a much wider look at Hogwarts, and the study group idea is ingenious. The found family tropes being played against the fraternal brotherhood of Gryffynhart are excellent and it sounds like this version has a bit more of a complex look at fame, with Harry initially wanting and enjoying it, as opposed to OTL.

Scorpia sounds like a fascinating character, and I really like what you did with her. Similarly, Draco's turnaround feels much more earned here than in the OTL books (and his extra screen time probably helps immensely).

This is really really well done @Geekhis Khan! and one of your best so far in my opinion.
 
Top