Friday, December 21, 2012

So, I saw The Hobbit, Part 1. I was disappointed. I saw it in 3D high frame-rate, but that turned out to be just fine. What disappointed me was the story: Bloated, violent, not about Smaugh, not about Bilbo.

Let's talk a little bit about the story. Essentially, the story is about a terrified little man, Bilbo Baggins, who is bullied by Gandalf and the dwarves. In a decision he later comes to very much regret, he decides to stand up for himself and "prove his worth". So he goes on this journey to help kill a dragon. The essence of the story is that Bilbo becomes a better person by confronting his fears. The company decides to go to Rivendell, because the elves can help with the map they have. Along the way, the company encounters trolls. Bilbo tries to be something he's not (a burglar) and get caught. This forces the dwarves to save him, and they get caught. Gandalf pulls their fat out of the fire by distracting the trolls for many hours -- until dawn arrives, and the trolls turn to stone. The dwarves are even less impressed with Bilbo then before. The elves do help with the map, and the company moves on. They get caught by orcs while crossing the mountain. Again, Gandalf has to pull their fat out of the fire: He does so by killing the Goblin King. Bilbo gets lost, and confronts the evil creature Gollum in a riddling game.

Bilbo's emergence from the orc tunnels and sneaking past the dwarvish lookout (with the help of the One Ring's invisibility power) makes the dwarves think Bilbo is a better burglar than they thought. But Bilbo is troubled, because he knows it's nothing he's done: It's all the Ring. The dwarves get treed by some big wolves. Gandalf tries to pull their fat out of the fire again, but mistakenly sets the forest on fire. Just in the nick of time, eagles arrive to save them. The eagles deposit them at the home of Beorn, who gives them food, rest, and ponies. The company loses faith in Gandalf's guidance while traversing Mirkwood. They are caught by poisonous spiders. This time, Bilbo uses the same trick Gandalf did (imitating voices to cause dissension in the spiders' camp) and frees his friends. But the whole bunch are instantly caught by elves instead.

Bilbo, still invisible with his ring on, is not caught by the elves. Instead, he breaks his friends out of jail. But he has no plan to escape the elvish kingdom. By luck, the company comes upon a way out: In the apple barrels. (My word, what if the elves had not recycled??) The company ends up at Laketown, where they cause a sensation. They are re-outfitted again, and managed to get to the Lonely Mountain just in time to use the advice given to them in Rivendell. They find the secret back door into the Lonely Mountain. Unwittingly, Bilbo almost causes them disaster: By taking a simple coin from Smaug's treasure, he manages to enrage the dragon. Fleeing Smaug's wrath, the company must hide inside the mountain.

Smaug lays waste to Laketown. But a soldier in the town is told by a thrush (deus ex machina) how to defeat the dragon. He does so. The elves arrive to see what's up. The men of Laketown and the elves realize that the golden hoard of the dragon is now up for grabs, and they head for the Lonely Mountain. The 13 dwarves, however, have sealed themselves inside the fortress there and called for help. Bilbo tries to mediate a truce by turning over the Arkenstone (a fabulous dwarvish gem) to the men and elves. It doesn't work: War between the newly-arrived dwarvish army and the elves/men is about to break out. Just then, the orcs -- pissed off that Gandalf killed their king -- come storming out of the Misty Mountains. Elves, men, and dwarves unite to fight off their long-time foe. They are losing, but at the last second the eagles show up again to help turn the tide.

Sadly, the dwarf leader, Thorin, has died in the battle. He's laid to rest in a crypt in his fortress, the Arkenstone on his chest. His Nth-removed cousin, who led the dwarvish army to his rescue, becomes the new king of the Lonely Mountain. The men rebuild their town better than ever. Bilbo goes home a new man.

* * * * * * * *

It's a very simple story. Peter Jackson thinks he's better than J.R.R. Tolkien, however, and so he has fucked it up with all sorts of new crap. (No longer is the goal Smaug, no longer is Smaug the main villain. Now it's Azog the Giant Albino Orc.)

Let's examine one of the characters in the movie, shall we? That's Thorin II Oakenshield.

What people who've read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings may not realize (unless they read the appendices at the back of the latter book) is that Thorin has a lengthy backstory.

Now, in The Hobbit, Thorin is kind of stupid. He's greedy for gold, he's something of a dimwit, he's stubborn, and he is pretty much unlikeable.

But he shouldn't be depicted this way. Tolkien himself said much later that he regretted the childish, light-hearted tone of The Hobbit and wished he'd written it more like the tone in The Lord of the Rings.

But let's talk about Thorin.

The One Ring is cut from Sauron's hand in the Year 3441 of the Second Age. That's the same day as Day One of the Third Age. Remember, the Elves (under the guidance of Sauron) forged Three Rings of Power for the Elves. They forged Seven Rings of Power for the Dwarves. And they forged Nine Rings of Power for men. Sauron touched all the rings except the Elvish rings. (This is why Galadriel and others can continue to wear their rings, and use their power to help build and defend their realms.) The One Ring allows Sauron to know the thoughts of anyone who wears a Ring of Power which he has touched. It also allows him to know the location of that person. In time, Sauron can dominate their mind -- and turn them into a wraith. But Sauron has not reckoned on the unique nature of dwarves. He can't know their thoughts or locations, nor can he dominate them or turn them into wraiths. But he can exacerbate their lust for gold, and this can cause immense damage....


Around 1050 Third Age (TA), the Greenwood Elves began to see evil things growing in the Forest of Greenwood. They and the men of the plains east of the forest began to call the forest Mirkwood. (This is soooooooooooo contrary to Peter Jackson's film, in which evil things begin to be seen at the time of Bilbo's journey.)

In 1100 TA, five wizards came to Middle-Earth. Among them are Saruman, Radagast, and Gandalf. The wizards immediately meet with Cirdan (leader of the Elves in the Grey Havens), Amroth (king of Lothlorien), Elrond (king of Rivendell), and Thranduil (king of Greenwood). They determine that something evil has taken up residence in the abandoned Numenorean fortress of Dol Guldur in southern Greenwood. They suspect it is a Nazgûl, but are not certain. Typically, they do nothing about it.

In 1980 TA, a Balrog appears in Khazad-Dûm and slays its king, Durin IV. Nain becomes king, but is slain by the Balrog a year later. The Dwarves, led by Thrain I, abandon Moria.

In 1981 TA, Amroth (king of Lothlorien) drowns in the Bay of Belfalas. His parents, Galadriel and Celeborn, resume leadership of Lothlorien. (They had abandoned the realm in 1701 SA. Yes, that's right: Galadriel has evaded her responsibilties.)

In 1999 TA, Thrain I founds the "Kingdom Under the Mountain". (The Elves call it "Erebor". But since that is an Elvish name, not a dwarfish name, we will not use it here.)

In 2060 TA, the White Council is formed by Cirdan, Elrond, Galadriel, and Thranduil. Saruman, Gandalf, and Radagast also belong to the council. The Council concludes that Sauron may be taking shape again –- at Dol Guldur. Typically, they do nothing about it. (They've actually dithered around for 1,000 years at this point!)

In 2063 TA, Gandalf goes to Dol Guldur. But Sauron, not wanting anyone to know that he's back yet, and leaves and goes into the east. Gandalf reports that the tower at Dol Guldur is empty. The Watchful Peace begins.

In 2190 TA, Thrain I dies. He is succeded by Thorin I.

In 2210 TA, Thorin I travels to the Grey Mountains (Ered Mithrin), which run east-west across the northern edge of Mirkwood. He founds the Kingdom of the Grey Mountains there. Massive riches are mined from the mountains.

In 2289 TA, Thorin I dies in the Grey Mountains. He is succeded by his son, Gloin.

In 2385 TA, Gloin dies in the Grey Mountains. He is succeded by his son, Oin.

In 2460 TA, Sauron returns to Dol Guldur. (Mirkwood must suddenly get a lot worse, but no one seems to notice.)

In 2480 TA, Sauron sends orcs and trolls into the Misty Mountains to make secret strongholds and bar the passes. (This is why the Goblin King lives under the Misty Mountains.) Sauron also sends orcs and trolls into Moria.

In 2488 TA, Oin dies in the Grey Mountains. He is succeded by his son, Nain II.

In 2570 TA, dragons re-appear in the far north and attack the Dwarves of the Grey Mountains, Erebor, and the Lonely Mountain.

In 2585 TA, Nain II dies (of natural causes) in the Grey Mountains. He is succeded by his son, Dain I.

In 2589 TA, Dain I is slain by a dragon while fleeing into the doors of the Dwarven Kingdom in the Grey Mountains. He is succeded by Thror.

In 2590 TA, Thror leads most of his people back to Erebor and the Lonely Mountain. Gror, his brother, leads a small clan eastward from the Grey Mountains into the Iron Hills.

In 2758 TA, Saruman, who has spent hundreds of years in the east, shows up again in Gondor. He settles in the abandoned Gondorian fortress of Isengard. Within a few years, he discovers a palantir in a secret room in the top of the tower, and begins looking for the One Ring.

In 2770 TA, Smaug attacks the Kingdom Under the Mountain. Dale is destroyed. Thror and his son, Thrain, escape through a secret back door. Thrain's son, Thorin, is out hunting and also escapes. The Dwarves head for Dunland (south Eriador, just west of the Gap of Rohan). Thror rules his people on these plains -– despondent.

* * * * * * * * *

Wow! Pretty ugly development there. Less than 200 years have passed. The dwarves probably have not really recovered at all from their flight from the Grey Mountains.

Now, let's think a bit about this. Thror's son is Thrain II. Thrain II's oldest son is Frerin. His second son is Thorin II (soon to be known as Oakenshield). Thorin II is not in line for the throne. He's an afterthought, as most royals not in line for the throne are. He's probably not paid much attention to, and might be a bit lonely and feeling ignored. Thorin II is just 24 years old at the time his people flee the Lonely Mountain. He's just 12 or 13 years old in human terms.

Thorin II Oakenshield must have been told stories about how his great-grandfather got burned to a crisp on his doorstep. It must have been pretty horrible for Thorin II.

Furthermore, the dragons are so powerful that the entire dwarvish people have fled their Kingdom of the Grey Mountains. Thorin II must be pretty traumatized by this, too! His own father was tossed out of the only home the family has ever known.

It's all because of dragons. Thorin II Oakenshield must be pretty mad at dragons now. But he also must feel humiliated and powerless, as none of his people have confronted the dragons (and those that have are now cripsy critters).

Look at how Thorin II Oakenshield must feel. Thorin II must feel like a real coward. Twice dragons have destroyed his homeland. His grand-father and father were cowards again. So, for that matter, was Thorin II.

Thorin II must feel pretty worthless.

Back to the story.....

* * * * * * * * *

In 2780 TA, Thror abandons his people. He and an old friend, Nar, begin wandering the Misty Mountains. Thrain II rules as regent over the Dwarves. Thrain II and his people slowly begin migrating west into the Blue Mountains (their oldest homeland, and the site of the ruined Dwarvish cities of Norgrod and Belegost). (Imagine: Thorin is just 24 years old now. Barely 16 or 17 in human terms. His grandfather abandons everyone for no good reason. Thorin II must feel like shit.)

In 2790 TA, Thror enters Moria alone. (He must think the Balrog has left.) He has no idea that Sauron has sent massive numbers of orcs and trolls to live there. Thror is captured by orcs, tortured, and slain. Azog, lord of the orcs in Moria, cuts off Thror's head and brands his name on the Dwarf's brow in Dwarf-runes. He throws the head out the western door at Nar's feet. Azog also chops up Thror's body and feeds it to the crows. Nar goes home to the Blue Mountains, and the Dwarves begin preparing for a war of vengeance. Thrain II becomes King of the Dwarves in the Blue Mountains.

In 2793 TA, the Dwarves swarm over Eriador, slaughtering orcs. Six years later, they pass through Rohan and pursue the orcs north to reach the eastern gate of Moria. Thrain II's oldest son, Frerin, is killed. (This makes Thorin II Oakenshield a prince and in line for the throne for the first time in his life.) Thrain II and his second-oldest son, Thorin II, are wounded. (Thorin II is now just 37 years old. About 20 years old in human terms.) Thorin's shield is cloven in two during the battle, so he hacks an oak branch off a tree and uses it as a shield. Thereinafter, he is known as Thorin II Oakenshield. Thorin II's distant cousin Nain, son of Gror (the king of the Iron Mountains), arrives with a dwarf army to help Thrain II and Thorin. Nain challenges Azog to come forth, and Azog manages to break Nain's neck. Nain dies. Nain's son, Dain II Ironfoot, instantly becomes King of the Iron Hills. Now, Nain may be dead -- but the orcs are losing this battle. Azog sees this, and runs for the door of Moria. Dain II Ironfoot catches Azog as the orc is about to re-enter Moria, and decapitates him. The orcs shut the doors to Moria, and the Dwarves are too few and too exhausted to force an opening. Instead, Thrain II leads his people back to the Blue Mountains, and Dain II Ironfoot (who is only 30 years old; that's 16 in human years) leads his people back to the Iron Hills.

* * * * * * * * *

Think about what has happened here. Thorin II Oakenshield is barely in his 20s when this massive battle of vengeance takes place. He sees his father wounded. But his father -- who has led this war -- IS NOT the guy who manages to save the day. That's his uncle, Nain. And Nain is killed almost instantly. And then Dain II Ironfoot, who is even younger than Thorin, is the one who decapitates Azog.

Thorin did something pretty spectacular during the battle. He grabbed a tree branch and used it as a shield, and led the attack when his father was wounded.

But it wasn't enough. Nain was the one who challenged Azog, and Dain is the one who killed Azog.

Everything Thorin has done is overshadowed by his cousins.

How does this make Thorin feel? Not good, I bet.

* * * * * * * * *

In 2841 TA, Thrain II (like his father before him) abandons his people. Remember, the king of the dwarves has had a Ring of Power since halfway through the Second Age. Thror undoubtedly gave his ring to Thrain before he left for Moria. Now Thrain, driven by the Ring of Power to reclaim Erebor and the Arkenstone, becomes restless and a poor king. He sets out for the Lonely Mountain with Balin, Dwalin, and a few companions. Thorin II Oakenshield is named regent for his people. Born in the year 2476 of the Third Age, Thorin II is now 95 years old. (That's like being in his mid-20s, if he were human.)

In 2845 TA, while camping south of the Gladden Fields near Mirkwood, Thrain II vanishes from the Dwarvish camp. Balin, Dwalin, and the other Dwarves return to the Blue Mountains after a long search. (Remember, Balin and Dwalin will accompany Thorin II on his quest in The Hobbit.) Believing Thrain II dead, Thorin Oakenshield succeedes him as King of the Dwarves in the Blue Mountains. (Thorin Oakenshield is now Thorin II.) But the truth is that Thrain was captured by orcs and imprisoned in Dol Guldur in Mirkwood. Sauron takes his Ring, tortures him, and questions him regarding the whereabouts of the One Ring. Thrain's mind is broken, and he cannot answer. Sauron tosses Thrain into the deepest dungeon he has, and lets him rot.

In 2850 TA, Gandalf re-enters Dol Guldur. Why he did so is not known. Sauron is momentarily not there, so he does not realize Gandalf has entered the fortress. Gandalf learns that Sauron is living there and is gathering all the Rings of Power to himself. He also learns that Sauron is seeking the One Ring, and is determined to discover whether any heir of Isildur still exists. (The heir of Isildur is.... Aragorn.) In the dungeons, Gandalf finds Thrain II -– so close to death that he cannot even remember his own name. Thrain gives Gandalf the key and map to the secret back door of the Lonely Mountain. Gandalf goes to the Blue Mountains, where he meets Thorin II. Realizing Thorin is Thrain's heir, he gives the key and map to Thorin. (Thorin now knows, nine years after his father left, that his father is dead. Barely in his mid-20s, in human terms, Thorin is now king over his people.)

In 2851 TA, Gandalf summons the White Council for a meeting. He urges an attack on Dol Guldur to defeat Sauron before he can become more powerful, but Saruman overrules him, counseling caution and demanding proof that Sauron is indeed the "Necromancer" said to be inhabiting the tower. The Elves (and, presumably, Radagast) believe Saruman and take no action. Saruman's counsel, however, was a lie: Saruman has been secretly searching the Gladden Fields for the One Ring.

In 2890 TA, Bilbo Baggins is born.

In 2931 TA, Aragorn is born.

In 2939 TA, Sauron figures out how Isildur died at the Gladden Fields. Saruman learns what Sauron knows and he is alarmed, for now Sauron knows that the One Ring still exists; it is not lost in the sea, it is not in some molten lake of lava somewhere. It is simply lost in the river, and could have been picked up by a fisherman. This puts Sauron on the track to find the One Ring, but Saruman but says nothing about this to the White Council (hoping to get the One Ring before Sauron does).

In 2941 TA, Gandalf visits the 51-year-old Bilbo Baggins (who just about to enter middle-age, in hobbit years) and convinces him to go on a journey with Thorin II to kill Smaug and recover the Lonely Mountain, its treasure, and the Arkenstone...

* * * * * * * * *

Like his grandfather and father, Thorin II Oakenshield has now also abandoned his people. He's 195 years old, which is like being in about 40 years old for a human being.

Think about where Thorin II Oakenshield is, emotionally. Ignored as a child, he grows up listening to stories about dwarvish defeat and humiliation, and the horrific death of his great-grandfather. His grandfather abandons the kingdom, and dies horribly. His father leads a war of vengeance, and Thorin sees his brother -- the prince -- die. Thorin acts heroically, but it's not enough. His cousin saves the day instead. His father abandons the kingdom, too, when Thorin is barely of age. Thorin shouldn't have been king. Thorin wasn't ready to be king. Thorin wasn't ready to take over in his 20s; that was supposed to happen a hundred years later.

No wonder Thorin II Oakenshield abandons his kingdom. He must have an immense guilt-complex, suffer from tremendous survivor's guilt, and feel immensely inadequate. Thorin does not have the Ring of Power; Sauron took it from his father. So Thorin can't blame the Ring's influence. Thorin's desire for gold, for power, for vengeance is his own doing.

It's interesting, however, that Peter Jackson doesn't use this really complex back-story and complex motivation in his film. He jettisons the entire thing in favor of a simplistic, trite vengeance story.


* * * * * * * * *

Thorin II dies during the Battle of the Five Armies. It is Dain II Ironfoot, king of the dwarves in the Iron Hills, who comes to their rescue again at the Battle of the Five Armies. Dain II Ironfoot becomes king of both the Lonely Mountain and the Iron Hills -- reuniting the two great branches of Dwarves.

When Bilbo left Rivendell for the Shire at the end of "The Hobbit", Gandalf summons the White Council to a meeting at Rivendell. Saruman agrees to an attack on Dol Guldur, since he now wishes to prevent Sauron from searching the River Anduin for the One Ring. Sauron, however, having already made plans to abandon Dol Guldur, heads for Mordor.

In 2951 TA, Sauron openly assumes control of Mordor, begins to gather orcs and trolls to him, and begins rebuilding Barad-Dur. Mt. Doom erupts for the first time in living memory. Aragorn learns his true heritage. Typically, the White Council does nothing.

In 2953 TA, the last meeting of the White Council occurs. Saruman, attempting to keep his search for the One Ring a secret, tells the White Council that he discovered the One Ring had passed down the River Anduin and into the sea. Afterward, Saruman declares Isengard to be his own and takes it away from Gondor. Afraid of Gandalf, he sets spies to watch Gandalf's movements and sends agents to Bree and the South-Farthing. Typically, the White Council continues to do absolutely nothing.

In 3001 TA, the events of LOTR occur. (Seven years elapse from Bilbo's birthday party until Frodo leaves for Rivendell, and the LOTR occurrs over six months [September 3017 to March 3018].)

* * * * * * * * *

In Peter Jackson's world...................

Mirkwood first sickens not in 1050, but in 2941! The White Council debates an evil presence at Dol Guldur not in 1100, but in 2941! The White Council does not conclude that Sauron has returned to Dol Guldur in 2060, but never!!

Thrain I's role in founding the Kingdom Under the Mountain is ignored. Thorin I's role in founding the Grey Mountains, and the reawakening of dragons there, is ignored. The death of Dain I by a dragon in the Grey Mountains is ignored, and Thror's return to the Kingdom Under the Mountain is ignored. Thror is said to have found the Arkenstone (not true, it was Thrain I). Thror's abandonment of his people is ignored. The Dwarves' return to the Blue Mountains is transmuted into "a wandering people".

Thror's solitary attempt to enter Moria is turned into "a massive battle against Azog the Giant Albino Orc." Instead of Nain challenging Azog and dying, it's ignored. Instead of Dain II Ironfoot chopping off Azog's head, Thorin II Oakenshield is said to chop off his arm -- setting in motion a vengeance campaign by Azog the Giant Albino Orc.

The kingship of Thrain II over the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains is ignored. The Ring of Power's role in sending Thrain II on a quest is ignored. Balin and Dwalin's role in the loss of Thrain II is ignored.

Gandalf discovering absolute proof of Sauron's residency at Dol Guldur in 2850 is ignored, and some ridiculous plot line about Radagast saving hedgehogs and driving a land-sleigh hauled by "rabbits of Roscobel" and having bird shit in his hair is introduced instead.

And this just takes us up to the start of The Hobbit. Aside from the massive changes in Hobbit story itself.

It's too bad. Thorin could have been one of the great, complex cinematic characters of all time. Instead, we have two guys locked in a typical "you made me, I made you" vengeance campaign.


1 comment:

  1. I was going to correct your description of Bilbo as a "terrified little MAN", but you clearly aren't being serious. (If you ARE being serious, that's quite scary.)