2.6.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 7, “Flies and Spiders,” Part 3)
Good Afternoon, Everyone!
With the temperature below-zero outside, somewhat strange to be writing about forest and elves, but when the dark wood is Mirkwood and the ruling elf is Thranduil, maybe iciness is in keeping with the topic! I was reviewing Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug by comparing the film to J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, & we’ve now reached the end of “Chapter 8, Flies and Spiders.”
In The Hobbit, Tolkien’s depiction of the Wood-elves very much remained within ancient and medieval Celtic/Welsh traditions of the “faerie folk.” Think of the “will-o’-the-wisp” moments that run throughout the chapter — particularly in the fires that the starving and delirious Thorin & Co. see through the woods, only to have the flames and elves disappear every time that the dwarves burst into the elven circles —and even Mirkwood itself can be seen as representing aspects of the Gaelic “Otherworld” that still resonate in the British Isles and points northwestward even to Iceland (e.g., the Marsh Lights/Faerie Fires/Pixy Lights of bogs in Britain, burial mounds (barrows), Helgafell in Iceland, “portals” at Stonehenge, Newgrange, etc.)
The only indications of this immersion into the Otherworld are two-fold. First, there’s the moment (not in Tolkien’s version) when Gandalf steps through the Old Gate and pulls back the brush to reveal scrawled Black Speech (of Mordor) on a ruin. In the film, he’s getting a telepathic message from Galadriel to go see what’s happened to the Nazgûl tombs; in the book, he’s vague about the reason he’s leaving the company (“pressing business elsewhere…”).
The second sign is the warning by Beorn and Gandalf to “stay on the path!” Jackson very effectively shows how Bilbo and the dwarves come to wander off the path, but his focus is on the dark magic of Mirkwood causing Thorin & Co. to become completely disoriented (In contrast, Tolkien had exhaustion, claustrophobia, and starvation as the main causes for distress.)
The game-changer, of course, is the manner in which Jackson has the dwarves reach the end of Mirkwood. For Tolkien, the returning will-o’-the-wisp lights of the partying Faerie-folk tempt the company into capture; for Jackson, dark magic and attack by giant spiders are the main reasons for getting lost, and the Wood-elves help the dwarves fight off the spiders, and then capture the dwarves!
Next time: Of Thranduil, Legolas, the Wood-elves, and …Wait a minute! Where in Beleriand did this “Tauriel” come from?