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2.21.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 22, “Inside Information,” Part 1)

2.21.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 22, “Inside Information,” Part 1)

J.R.R. Tolkien, "Conversation with Smaug" (The Hobbit, 1937)

J.R.R. Tolkien, “Conversation with Smaug” (The Hobbit, 1937)

Good Morning, Everyone!

"Resting at the Lookout" (from The Hobbit; by Michael Hague)

“Resting at the Lookout” (from The Hobbit; by Michael Hague)

Well, it’s taken a while, but we’re finally at the concluding part of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit that Peter Jackson adapted in his 2013 film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. You’ll recall that this movie took Chapters 7-12 as its inspiration, and allowing for all the newly introduced elements (Legolas & Tauriel, orcs pursuing the company instead of goblins, Gandalf vs the Necromancer, etc.), Jackson did reward the viewer with a climax that featured the titular villain, Smaug.

As I’ve done with each of the other chapters vis-a-vis Jackson’s work, here, too, let’s see Tolkien’s version, and then Jackson’s interpretation (tomorrow), before turning to my own thoughts (Sunday) that run very contrary to most bloggers who’ve been criticizing Jackson & Co. while thumping paperback versions of Tolkien’s 1937 The Hobbit against their chest, jeering at CGI enhancements, pulling hair at the sight of all the elves flitting throughout the film (and one of the elves is a female!), & bemoaning all of the other “violations” and “desolations” done to a cherished children’s book. (Hint:  I’m not very sympathetic to such criticisms, because I’ve been approaching my assessments from the point-of-view as a storyteller and a grateful fan who’s pleased to see such a massive film undertaking after the world’s waited 75+ years to see Tolkien’s work on screen!)

So, here are the original plot-points of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Chapter 12, Inside Information” as they appeared in his book, The Hobbit:

Bilbo & Dwarves at Secret Entrance (Rankin-Bass, 1977)

Bilbo & Dwarves at Secret Entrance (Rankin-Bass, 1977)

— Staring into darkness of tunnel, Thorin tells the company that “…now is the time for [Bilbo] to earn his reward..” and the hobbit reminds them all that he’s already gotten them out of two messes not in the original contract, but agrees to go scout ahead and honor his promise

Tolkien's The Hobbit (Graphic Novel by Chuck Dixon & David Wenzel, p. 100)

Tolkien’s The Hobbit (Graphic Novel by Chuck Dixon & David Wenzel, p. 100)

— Balin accompanies Bilbo for some distance into the tunnel, but then Bilbo proceeds alone, and as he nears the hall where the dragon lies, the air grows warmer and begins to thrum; the hobbit stops, and Tolkien writes, “Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it.  He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait…”

— Bilbo steals a great two-handled cup and returns to the dwarves; as they pass the cup around, a great rumbling shakes the mountain as Smaug has a bad dream about a warrior stealing from him, and then awakens to find the cup missing, notices the small doorway where Bilbo entered, and then soars outside the mountain to find the secret entrance

Bilbo with the Two-Handed Cup...(from The Hobbit, Ch. 12 "Inside Information," art by Ted Nasmith)

Bilbo with the Two-Handed Cup…(from The Hobbit, Ch. 12 “Inside Information,” art by Ted Nasmith)

— the dwarves are panicking, but Bilbo keeps his wits and orders the company into the tunnel and to shut the door; they barely make it in time before Smaug circles the area and almost catches the dwarves unawares, but doesn’t see them through the shut door; the dragon chases the ponies, and returns to his lair to gather strength

— the next morning, the dwarves start to blame Bilbo for awakening Smaug, and the hobbit makes some common-sense retorts that puts Thorin & Co. in their place, and they again ask him his advice, revealing that he’s become the real leader of the group

— Bilbo volunteers to return to Smaug and remain invisible because of his magic ring, and promises to try and find a weak spot

"Smaug the Magnificent" (Michael Hague)

“Smaug the Magnificent” (Michael Hague)

— Bilbo and Smaug converse for six pages, each testing the other with wordplay, taunts, bravado, and riddles; a truly brilliant exchange here, and reveals Bilbo’s true cleverness and also how far he’s come during the journey with the dwarves, but he makes a last gibe at the dragon that enrages Smaug

— he breathes fire up the tunnel through which Bilbo flees and scorches him

Conversation with Smaug (David Wyatt)

Conversation with Smaug (David Wyatt)

— Thorin & Co. very worried when Bilbo returns, get full details from him about the conversation and Smaug’s perceptions of the dwarf-kingdom, and then begin plotting ways to steal the treasure, with the talk finally turning to Thorin & Balin’s memories of the Arkenstone

"Scouring the Mountain" (Ted Nasmith)

“Scouring the Mountain” (Ted Nasmith)

— Bilbo gets a really bad feeling, urges the dwarves to completely shut the door, and they do so just seconds before Smaug blasts the entire side of the mountain into rubble; the dragon had stealthily crept from Erebor, soared high into the air, and tried to find the dwarves

— when  Smaug couldn’t find them, he just furiously started destroying everything, and then “…rose in fire and went away south towards the Running River.”

Lastly, I’ll leave today with Tolkien’s description when Bilbo first sees the dragon:

J.R.R. Tolkien (in 1955; Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images)

J.R.R. Tolkien (in 1955; Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images)

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1970s paperback version)

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1970s paperback version)

There he lay, a vast red-golden dragon, fast asleep; a thrumming came from his jaws and nostrils, and wisps of smoke, but fires were low in slumber.  Beneath him, under all his limbs and his huge coiled tail, and about him on all sides stretching away across the unseen floors, lay countless piles of precious things, gold wrought and unwrought, gems and jewels, and silver red-stained in the ruddy light.

Bilbo's Encounter with Smaug (from The Hobbit, Rankin-Bass, 1977)

Bilbo’s Encounter with Smaug (from The Hobbit, Rankin-Bass, 1977)

Smaug lay, with wings folded like an immeasurable bat, turned partly on one side, so that the hobbit could see his underparts and his long pale belly crusted with gems and fragments of gold from his long lying on his costly bed.  Behind him where the walls were nearest could dimly be seen coats of mail, helms and axes, swords and spears hanging; and there in rows stood great jars and vessels filled with a wealth that could not be guessed.

"Smaug" (from 1997 Tolkien Calendar, by The Brothers Hildebrandt)

“Smaug” (from 1977 Tolkien Calendar, by The Brothers Hildebrandt)

To say that Bilbo’s breath was taken away is no description at all.  There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful.  Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoard before, but the splendor, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him.  His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of the dwarves; and he gazed motionless, almost forgetting the frightful guardian, at the gold beyond price and count.

Next time: Peter Jackson’s interpretation of “Chapter XII: Inside Information”

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