The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Film Comments 2, “Ch. 13: Not at Home”)
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Film Comments 2, “Ch. 13: Not at Home”)
Good Morning, Everyone!
During the last couple of years, when reviewing Peter Jackson’s 3-part film adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy book, The Hobbit, I’ve been looking at (1) how events occurred in Tolkien’s novel, (2) how Jackson adapted those events, and (3) concluding with my own assessments on how the cinematic presentation did or didn’t work for me as a Tolkien fan.
Out of the (ahem) “front gate,” let me lead my film comments on Jackson’s latest work, 2014’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, with the caveat that I’ve greatly enjoyed the previous film installments of The Hobbit film trilogy (2012’s An Unexpected Journey and 2013’s The Desolation of Smaug), finding in the cinematic presentations an original take on Tolkien’s children’s fantasy novel that imparts a completely different experience from my many readings of the source material.
That distinction — that is, the difference between the reading of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the viewing of a Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of that book — needs to be kept uppermost in mind; to do otherwise is simply to measure the success or failure of a film adaptation not on the merits of viewing the film with respect to director Jackson as an auteur, but against preconceived literary expectations that a reader brings from reading a book by novelist Tolkien as an author.
Thankfully, now that the film trilogy is complete and can be assessed as a totality, we can see that Jackson and his fellow screenwriters (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro) have succeeded in bringing a vision of The Hobbit to the silver screen that honors both the novel and a greater vision of Middle Earth that encompasses both The Lord of Rings (film trilogy and books) and, perhaps most importantly, a work that Tolkien himself held closest to his heart for decades, The Silmarillion.
Why “closest to his heart?” Well, Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937 and didn’t succeed in getting The Lord of the Rings published until the mid-1950s. Why? Because his approach to publishers always pitched the story of Frodo, Aragorn, Gollum and the rest of the gang as part of a story that began with the series of myths and tales we now know as The Silmarillion. (I’ll discuss this work when we get to some sections in The Battle of the Five Armies that realized aspects of Tolkien’s grander Middle-Earth vision; for example, Legolas and Tauriel at the entrance to the kingdom of Angmar.)
The point here is that until Tolkien relented just after his 60th birthday (!) on the hope of having parts of The Silmarillion published as prefatory matter to what became The Lord of the Rings, no publisher would touch what’s since become his most famous work. George Allen & Rayner Unwin finally agreed to publish the LotR as 3 volumes only when Tolkien removed all material related to The Silmarillion. (That book was eventually published posthumously in 1977 by Tolkien’s son, Christopher Tolkien — for the full story, see my blog from last year https://ajcarlisle.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/) Think about the passage of time in your life; Tolkien began writing the myths that ultimately became The Silmarillion in 1914 (he was 22 years old), and it appears that few things in Tolkien’s life were as close to his heart as this mythopoeic enterprise that lasted until his death in 1973 at the age of 81.
SO, in getting back to this three-film epic fantasy that Peter Jackson’s created and wondering why he incorporated so much material that wasn’t in the original novel of The Hobbit, understanding the context of Tolkien’s own attempts to get The Silmarillion published might help understand part of Jackson’s intention. That is, given the early 2000s legal battles and disputes that surrounded the making of Jackson’s LotR and Hobbit adaptations, it’s doubtful that we’ll ever see an attempt at cinematically adapting The Silmarillion. We can argue whether or not The Hobbit film adaptation was the place to include such things as the White Council, the Return of Sauron, the Kingdom of Angmar, etc, but at least Jackson & Co. tried to incorporate these aspects from both The Silmarillion and LotR Appendices that Tolkien spent 60 years of his life working on! That kind of respect for an author’s work is amazing, and contrary to some critics’ irritation that this Hobbit film trilogy runs rather long, I’m grateful that Jackson & Co. have tried to realize so much of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth lore!
Ok. That’s my own preface to these film comments. Here’s a rundown of the actual events in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit:
Chapter 13, “Not at Home,” begins immediately after the dragon, Smaug, flies off to wreak havoc on Lake-town:
[Begin excerpt: In the meanwhile, the dwarves sat in darkness, and utter silence fell about them. Little they ate and little they spoke. They could not count the passing of time; and they scarcely dared to move, for the whisper of their voices echoed and rustled in the tunnel. If they dozed, they woke still to darkness and to silence going on unbroken. At last, after days and days of waiting, as it seemed, when they were becoming choked and dazed for want of air, they could bear it no longer. They would have almost welcomed sounds from below of the dragon’s return. In the silence, they feared some cunning devilry of his, but they could not sit there for ever.
Thorin spoke: “Let us try the door!” he said. “I must feel the wind on my face soon or die. I think I would rather be smashed by Smaug in the open than suffocate in here!” So several of the dwarves got up and groped back to where the door had been. But they found that the upper end of the tunnel had been shattered and blocked with broken rock. Neither key nor the magic it had once obeyed would ever open that door again.
“We are trapped!” they groaned. “This is the end. We shall die here.” But somehow, just when the dwarves were most despairing, Bilbo felt a strange lightening of the heart, as if a heavy weight had gone from under his waistcoat.
“Come, come!” he said. ” ‘While there’s life there’s hope!’ as my father used to say, and ‘Third time pays for all.’ I am going down the tunnel once again. I have been that way twice, when I knew there was a dragon at the other end, and I will risk a third visit when I am no longer sure. Anyway the only way out is down. And I think this time you had better all come with me.”
In desperation they agreed, and Thorin was the first to go forward at Bilbo’s side… [End excerpt, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937]
In the remainder of the chapter, the following occurs:
— the hobbit leads the company back down to main level to see where Smaug went
— the group lights torches and search the great halls of Erebor, with Bilbo striking out on his own and finding the Arkenstone
— 3 pages of Bilbo and the dwarves searching, and confirming that Smaug is gone
— Bilbo receives mithril shirt as partial payment of his 1/14th share of the reward; all of the dwarves find armor and outfit themselves for war
— the company pass the great chamber of Thror and then the skeleton-filled dining hall & chambers, to finally reach the “birth of the Running River”
— pass through the Front Gate and march towards ruins of Dale to have breakfast safely away from the dwarf-kingdom entrance
— 3 pages describing march to watch area and the relative safety of guards’ rock chamber, where the company rests and falls asleep
So, these were the main events of the chapter in Tolkien’s novel. From a narrative standpoint, the chapter complements the previous chapter in conveying a sense of epic scale; that is, in Ch. 12’s “Inside Information,” the focus is on the enormity and seeming invincibility of Smaug, while Ch. 13’s “Not at Home” conveys the vastness of the dwarf kingdom and immensity of the treasure-hoard. Most importantly — and in a development that I’ve not seen addressed in the film reviews of The Battle of the Five Armies — Bilbo’s discovery of and taking of the Arkenstone is simple theft, with the jewel casting a covetous enchantment on his heart as strong as any Ring of Power:
[Begin excerpt: … Bilbo was climbing the great mound of treasure. Soon he stood upon the top, and still went on. Then they saw him halt and stoop for a moment; but they did not know the reason.
It was the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain. So Bilbo guessed from Thorin’s description; but indeed there could not be two such gems, even in so marvelous a hoard, even in all the world. Ever as he climbed, the same white gleam had shone before him and drawn his feet towards it. Slowly it grew to a little globe of pallid light. Now as he came near, it was tinged with a flickering sparkle of many colors at the surface, reflected and splintered from the wavering light of his torch. At last he looked down upon it and caught his breath. The great jewel shone before his feet of its own inner light, and yet, cut and fashioned by the dwarves, who had dug it from the heart of the mountain long ago, it took all light that fell upon it and changed it into ten thousand sparks of white radiance shot with glints of the rainbow.
Suddenly Bilbo’s arm went towards it drawn by its enchantment. His small hand would not close about it, for it was a large and heavy gem; but he lifted it, shut his eyes, and put it in his deepest pocket.
“Now I am a burglar indeed!” thought he. “But I suppose I must tell the dwarves about it — some time. They did say I could pick and choose my own share; and I think I would choose this, if they took all the rest!” All the same he had an uncomfortable feeling that the picking and choosing had not really been meant to include this marvellous gem, and that trouble would come of it … [End excerpt, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937]
As evident from the amount of pages Tolkien devoted to Bilbo and the dwarves walking through tunnel and the interior of Erebor, this chapter complements the previous one’s focus on Smaug. Where the pages of description there about the gigantic dragon gave a sense of proportion to the hobbit’s bravery, this chapter really imparts the vastness of the dwarf kingdom, dragon hoard, & relief the company felt as it emerged from the Lonely Mountain to journey to the guards’ watch where they could observe Dale and Lake-Town in the distance. Most importantly, Tolkien establishes part of the novel’s climax and end-game by revealing the primacy that the Arkenstone holds in both Thorin’s and (surprisingly) Bilbo’s hearts.
Okay, that’s the recap of Tolkien’s version. Next time, we’ll see how the chapter fared in Jackson’s work.
Thanks for visiting!
Next time: Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Chapter 13’s “Not at Home!”
P.S. Check out the panels below for the “Chapter 13: Not at Home” section of 2001 The Hobbit graphic novel adaptation by Chuck Dixon (with Sean Deming) and illustrations by David Wenzel.
The work succeeds in giving the reader a sense of Tolkien’s pace in telling the story, as well as spending time with Bilbo and the dwarves in a way that departs from the recent film adaptation of the same events.