2.9.14 To Defend Legolas & Tauriel/The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 11, “Flies and Spiders, Part 6)
Good Morning, Everyone!
As we reach the concluding paragraphs in “Chapter VIII, Flies and Spiders” of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and compare how they’re realized in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we find that one of the greatest departures from the book lies both in the moment that Bilbo and the dwarves are fighting the Giant Spiders of Mirkwood, and in their rescue by an elf-troop led by Legolas and Tauriel. I’ve already mentioned some other aspects of the fan-rage at the introduction of Legolas (the son of Thranduil, King of the Wood-elves), but what seems to irritate some bloggers is the fact that Legolas’s back-story is brought into this version of The Hobbit to either extend the adventure into three films, or, along a similar line, to make this trilogy segue seamlessly with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. To this critique, which I’ll call, “Fan-Rage Critique 3: Taking Legolas from his proper place in the LotR and placing him firmly alongside his father in the Wood-Elves’ kingdom, what can I say to this critique, except “balderdash?”
Since Tolkien took care to establish this relationship (i.e., Legolas as Thranduil’s son, & Thranduil explicitly named as the King of the Wood-Elves in The Hobbit), I think it’s all fair game. Moreover, it plays into the generational attention that Jackson’s been very careful to respect in these film adaptations. To those who love the mythology of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, “generational continuity and conflict” seems to be one of the main underpinning themes of both the book and film versions of The Lord of the Rings. Some sixty years have passed for Bilbo between the events of The Hobbit and the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, and the entirety of the LotR really is the tale of the end of the Third Age, with the Fellowship of the Ring’s members representing all the last generation of that Age who have to save Middle Earth.
In that way of thinking about the story, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are the next generation of hobbits after Bilbo; Aragorn represents the final/new generation of the bloodline of the Kings of Numénor; Boromir is the eldest son of the final generation of the Stewards of Gondor; ; Gimli (son of The Hobbit’s Glóin) is a member of the newest generation of Durin’s Folk, who may have regained the Lonely Mountain (Erebor) by the end of The Hobbit, but who will also be damned in Moria (under poor Balin) to suffer from the invasion by Balrog and orcs. I’ll assess Gandalf in another blog (he’s not truly what we’d call a human, but one of the Maiar), but for the elves, Legolas (along with Elrond & Galadriel) is among the last generations of Elf-kind who remain in Middle Earth by the start of FotR (most are sailing from the Grey Havens into the West). To see this partially generational relationship played out in the scenes with Thranduil and Legolas in this film version is both appropriate and highly entertaining!
Fan-Rage Critique 4: The Introduction of Tauriel into the story when she never appeared in any of Tolkien’s work: First, let’s quickly find out who she is from one of the most “neutral” sources for this controversial character, Wikipedia:
Although the character Tauriel does not appear in this story [of The Hobbit], she was created to be the head of the Elven guard by Peter Jackson and his wife and producing partner Fran Walsh in order to expand the world of the elves of Mirkwood Forest, and to bring another female to the cast, which is otherwise dominated by males. The character is a “Silvan Elf,” which means she is of a much lower order than the elves that had previously been seen in The Lord of the Rings film series, and holds a lower social status than characters like Arwen, Galadriel, Elrond, and Legolas. A Woodland Elf, her name has been translated as “Daughter of Mirkwood.”
In June 2011 Peter Jackson announced that actress Evangeline Lilly, who was known for her portrayal of Kate Austen in the ABC drama Lost, was cast in the role. Lilly, who had been a fan of Tolkien’s books since she was 13, expressed some trepidation at the reaction of Tolkien purists to a character that does not appear in Tolkien’s written works, but stated that creating the character for the adaptation was justified: “I believe she is authentic, because Tolkien refers to The Woodland Elves, he just doesn’t talk about who they are specifically… [Peter and Fran] know that world so well. They’re not going to create a character that is not true to Tolkien’s world.” Nonetheless, following the June 12, 2013 release of the first trailer for the film, many fans expressed dissatisfaction with the creation of a character that did not originate in the original book.
I’d put my enthusiasm for Tolkien’s works up against any of the “purists” who are incensed by the introduction of this character — as well as fan-outrage at the perceived “love triangle” between Tauriel, the dwarf, Kili, and Legolas — but I’m finding that I don’t get upset at all if I disagree with their premise. That is, no matter much they state to the contrary, the Tolkien fans who want a chapter-by-chapter film adaptation of The Hobbit will never settle for anything less than a canonical interpretation of the book. Now, I’ve said it before, but for the first serious attempt at an adaptation in film over the last 77 years since the book was first written, I’m simply grateful to see any adaptation of the material, especially one that ties into Jackson’s earlier film trilogy and makes for an exciting adventure series.
And, again, I think that the storyline deepens Legolas’s character for when he appears in the LotR, just as seeing Thorin and the dwarves trying to regain their kingdom will deepen my appreciation of Gimli. (After this trilogy is over, go back and watch LotR and tell me that you don’t appreciate Legolas more when you see him — Fran Walsh has said that whatever the outcome of this Kili/Tauriel/Legolas dynamic, the screenwriters were intentionally trying to give a reason for Legolas’s mistrust of dwarves that went beyond Tolkien’s presentation of the elf & Gimli in FotR — and, especially, watch the scene in Moria when Gimli discovers Balin’s Tomb. I’m really loving Ken Stott’s “Balin,” and this trilogy’s development of his character is really going to enhance the presentation of Gimli’s grief when he finds his tomb under the mountains…).
On her own merits (and as a father of a daughter who also loves Tolkien’s works, but can’t find many females within the books with whom she can identify), I find both the Tauriel character and Lilly’s interpretation of her wholly welcome additions to Jackson’s perception of Middle Earth. In fact that brings up another blog in itself, the treatment and presentation of women in the fantasy genre! Next time. Meanwhile, let’s take a poll:
Both the “Ask Middle Earth” Tumblr blog http://askmiddlearth.tumblr.com/search/Tauriel and Natalie Wilson at Ms. Magazine have thoughtful appreciations of Tauriel (http://msmagazine.com/blog/2013/12/14/).
Next time: Women in the Fantasy Genre!