As ever, dear readers, welcome.
Over the years, I’ve reviewed a number of films and, almost always, I’ve avoided negative comments, as there is all too much negativity on the internet already and because, when I see such criticism, I usually find that it’s simply not helpful. What I try to do in my reviews is:
1. understand what the makers are attempting
2. evaluate how well I believe that they have succeeded.
In doing so, I’ve sometimes gone against much mainstream criticism—I thought that Obi Wan had much more to offer than some professional reviewers thought, for example. (If you’re interested to see my reaction, see “Obi: Won? (One)” 6 July, 2022, and “Obi: Won? (Two)” 13 July, 2022.)
Because I’m about to teach The Hobbit again, that’s brought me back to the 3-part Jackson film and my initial reaction to it which was, I confess, negative, so much so that, although I’ve owned a set of Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, since it was first released and have rewatched some scenes more than once (the Rohirrim, as you’ll know if you read this blog regularly, are my favorite part),
I’ve never invested in his Hobbit
and I doubt that I ever will.
There are many reasons for this, including the bloated nature of the whole, the overemphasis on Thorin and his death, the many changes to the text, the addition of an anarchronistic pursuing villain, “Azog the Defiler” (dead 150 years, in fact, before the events in The Hobbit).
and the turning of Radagast the Brown into a buffoon,
thus making him seem like what Saruman calls him, “Radagast the Bird-tamer! Radagast the Simple! Radagast the Fool!” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”), rather than one of the five Istari sent to Middle-earth to counter Sauron.
This last, I suppose, was meant by the script writers somehow to “lighten” the story for a moment—for all that its initial tone (which Tolkien was later to dislike) was almost jokey, with its “Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him…” etc, it’s, ultimately, at least for me, a rather serious book (I point to things like Bilbo’s riddling game, which could have ended in his death, the destruction of Lake-town, and the book’s depiction of grief at the death of Thorin, for examples).
Another moment, which combines that “lightening” with one of the many changes to the text was the insertion of a completely new character, “Tauriel”,
and her suggested romance with one of the dwarves, Kili,
and this is what I’ve been thinking about most recently.
Making Tauriel into a warrior strikes me as coming from the same impulse which, rumor has it, made the script writers think to turn Arwen into a kind of Elf-ninja until fan reaction forced them to abandon that idea (although she does replace Glorfindel as the owner of Asfaloth, and carries Frodo across the Ford of Rivendell)
and would have had her fight at Helm’s deep. On the one hand, I certainly respect the urge to produce more fierce woman warriors in films and books—which is why I so much enjoy and reread the works of Tamora Pierce, who has a number of brave (and often tricky) female characters, in her series The Song of the Lioness,(which is about a female knight)
and Provost’s Dog.
(If you don’t know her work and these interest you, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamora_Pierce_bibliography )
On the other hand, although the latest on-line series of Tolkien-related material, Rings of Power, presents us with a scrappy Galadriel (based , at least in part, it seems, upon a remark in one of JRRT’s late letters—“…in her youth a leader in the rebellion against the Valar…”—“from a letter to Mrs. Ruth Austin” 25 January, 1971, Letters, 407), it seems clear that, with the exception of Eowyn (and what a wonderful exception she is),
Tolkien takes the very traditional view that women, (unless, say, enchantresses or goddesses like Circe
or Athena (one of my two favorite characters in The Odyssey)
or my other favorite Odyssey character, Penelope)
(This is a fragment of a tapestry by the remarkable Dora Wheeler Keith, 1856-1940.)
are, as in so much of western epic, to be sidelined, in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings,
(But how I wish that he had said much more about “the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took” teasingly mentioned almost in passing in Chapter One of The Hobbit!)
Introducing a woman warrior into a text which has no female characters and, in fact, is virtually without mention of any females at all, seems rather like the appearance of Azog, a kind of interference for “dramatic effect” with the fairy tale “feel” and pace of the story as Tolkien wrote it, but using her for a kind of “love interest” goes beyond that, I think, especially when we consider what JRRT had to say about romance in The Lord of the Rings.
“Since we now try to deal with ‘ordinary life’, springing up ever unquenched under the trample of world policies and events, there are love-stories touched in, or love in different modes, wholly absent from The Hobbit. But the highest love-story, that of Aragon and Arwen Elrond’s daughter is only alluded to as a known thing. It is told elsewhere in a short tale, Of Aragorn and Arwen Undomiel. I think that the simple ‘rustic’ love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero’s) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the ‘longing for Elves’, and sheer beauty.” (letter to Milton Waldman, “probably written late in 1951”, Letters, 160-161)
Tolkien, then, sees The Hobbit , unlike The Lord of the Rings, as a pure fairy tale, removed from “the trample of world policies and events” and, presumably, in no need of the contrast between “quests, sacrifice, causes, and the ‘longing for Elves’, and sheer beauty” and “breathing, eating, working, begetting” which makes him insist upon “the simple ‘rustic’ love of Sam and his Rosie” as “absolutely essential”.
This is especially true, when we attach to that phrase“the study of his (the chief hero’s) character”—this is, the character of Frodo, whoTolkien says “will naturally become too ennobled and rarefied by the great Quest”, whereas Sam is, for Tolkien, not only “this jewel among the hobbits” (letter to Christopher Tolkien, 28 July, 1944, Letters, 88), but also“the most closely drawn character, the successor to Bilbo of the first book, the genuine hobbit.” (letter to Christopher Tolkien, 24 December, 1944, Letters, 105)
Although he becomes sturdy and even wily in the course of his adventures, Bilbo is hardly “ennobled” or “rarefied” at the story’s end, being content to return to his former domestic life (with an occasional foray to visit elves). In such a story as his, what place would a romance (improbable to begin with) between an elf and a dwarf possibly have?
As ever, thanks for reading.
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