2.7.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 8, “Flies and Spiders,” Part 4)
Continuing a comparison between Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Jackson’s adaptation, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (DoS). If you’ve read the original, you know that Jackson & Co. are adapting Chapters 7-12 (“Queer Lodgings” to “Inside Information”). So, we’re finally reaching the end of Tolkien’s Chapter VIII, wherein he describes the final encounter of Thorin & Co. with the will-o’-the-wisp partiers in Mirkwood:
“The feasting people were Wood-elves, of course. These are not wicked folk. If they have a fault it is distrust of strangers. Though their magic was very strong, even in those days they were wary. They differed from the High Elves of the West, and were more dangerous and less wise…”
There follows a thumbnail sketch of the different elven peoples (Light-elves, Deep-elves, Sea-elves), and a description of the “great cave” where the Wood-elves live at the edge of Mirkwood. In these aspects, Jackson was very faithful, but most of the criticism the film-maker’s received has had to do with the treatment of Tolkien’s “unnamed” King of the Wood-elves and his immediate circle — these elves are Thranduil, Legolas, and a female elf wholly invented for the film, Tauriel.
As you read this section of the book, you can see that early on that the Oxford medieval languages professor was starting to flesh out the various histories of the elves (whose “motherland,” Beleriand, was destroyed in the Great Battle at the end of the First Age). Tolkien had tried to rewrite The Hobbit in the mid-1960s to align the children’s book with the greater mythology of Middle Earth, but ultimately decided against the rewrite because the task would have completely changed the narrative — to give you an idea of the “scale” on which Tolkien was working, when you read the respectably-sized The Silmarillion, you soberly realize that all of the events from both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings book/film trilogy occur within two paragraphs!
For DoS, screenwriters Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro consciously made a decision not only to make that “rewrite” (to make their film accord with the LotR film trilogy), but to also introduce a vital element sorely lacking in the original…females!!! Just as Galadriel, Eowyn, and Arwen had a much more elevated presence in the LotR film adaptations than Tolkien allowed in his original books, so, too, does the invention of Tauriel bring a much-appreciated feminine presence into this Hobbit adaptation!
Next time: How from a narrative perspective —that is, for an action-adventure FILM (not children’s story) — this treatment of the Wood-elves is an appreciated 21st Century one!