I haven’t seen The Desolation of Smaug yet, but am very likely to do so in the next couple of days, before my housemate Paul heads east to see his folks for Christmas. I am, however, starting to see a lot of reaction coming across my various social network channels, so I wanted to get a few things on the record.
To wit: Dara’s talked to me about how Tolkien was seeing his work as a way to set up a mythic backstory for English speakers, and you know what happens with myths? They get retold. They get reshaped and changed. You have but to look at the rich tapestry of Greek mythology to see this in action–you can often find different versions of the exact same story, told differently by different playwrights, or differently between the Greek and Roman traditions. And the stories get changed over and over again as they get handed down through the millennia, too.
For me, Middle-Earth has pretty much the exact same status in my head as Greek mythos. It’s so rich and varied and fully realized, in short, so mythic, that it seems entirely natural to me that Peter Jackson is playing around with the story and adding in his own interpretations, plotlines, and in the case of Tauriel in Desolation, his own brand new characters. It would in fact seem weird to me if he didn’t do that.
“But he ought to film what Tolkien wrote!” I hear you cry. Or, perhaps, “This isn’t the Middle-Earth in my head!” Both of which are also absolutely valid ways of looking at it.
But see, here’s the thing–with the exception of what he’s doing with Tauriel, almost everything else I’m seeing in the Hobbit trilogy of movies is sticking fairly well to what Tolkien wrote, at least for this particular reader. This was particularly driven home to me now that I’ve finally concluded my re-read of The Hobbit, wherein I noticed this in the final chapter:
It was in this way that he learned where Gandalf had been to; for he overheard the words of the wizard to Elrond. It appeared that Gandalf had been to a great council of the white wizards, masters of lore and good magic; and that they had at last driven the Necromancer from his dark hold in the south of Mirkwood.
I don’t know about the rest of you, Internets, but this right here sounds exactly like a one-paragraph summary of the entire Necromancer plotline that Jackson’s putting into this trilogy. In other words, he’s taking something that Tolkien put right there in the text and is simply expanding it out to play out on-camera for us, rather than mentioning it as an afterthought at the end, when Bilbo himself only finally finds out about it. Which, I daresay, would be way less exciting on a movie screen.
Which brings me around to the other change I’m hearing people getting up in arms about in the new movie: i.e., Tauriel.
For the record, I am totally down with adding a warrior female to Jackson’s version of the storyline. I don’t particularly find it a ploy to get me, as a female viewer, to see this trilogy–I mean, I was going to see it anyway, because hi I’m a great big Tolkien nerd. And love Tolkien as I do, his female characters were pretty damn thin on the ground. I can name a small handful off the top of my head who stand out for me, and only two of them are major forces at all in The Lord of the Rings: i.e., Galadriel and Eowyn. (I almost don’t even count Arwen as a major character in the books, just because she functions a lot more as a MacGuffin than a character actively participating in the plot.) And given that my all-time favorite Tolkien female character, Luthien, is over in The Silmarillion, I don’t expect we’re going to see her on camera any time in the foreseeable future.
And in The Hobbit, we have no female characters at all. None. I’ve just spent the last several months re-reading the thing in three languages, folks, so trust me–I know. So I’m totally fine with putting a woman in there, particularly an elf. An elven warrior woman makes the best sense, since of the various Middle-Earth cultures, the elves have the least amount of gender separation between warriors–you can find that if you go digging through Unfinished Tales as well as bits of The Silmarillion. And it does not diminish Tolkien’s original work, in my opinion, to put a new character in there; see previous commentary re: that kind of thing happening all the time in myths.
To put it in more modern terms, albeit perhaps with less gravitas than “myth”–this is Peter Jackson’s Most Expensive Tolkien Fanfic Ever, Complete With Original Character, and I am absolutely fine with that. I absolutely believe that fanfic is a modern way of doing the same mythic retellings I talk about above. It’s just that with fanfic, you’re dealing with source material that’s still new enough that we have the original material around!
Here’s another reason I’m good with Tauriel being in this trilogy of films. For anyone out there who hasn’t actually read The Hobbit, and I’m sure there may be some of you who haven’t, there are spoilers involved here. Ditto for those of you who actually have read the book but not recently, and who may not remember the specific events of the Battle of Five Armies. I’m going to white out the next paragraph, so highlight the text if you want to see it.
Right then. I’m pretty damned certain that Tauriel’s doomed to die in the Battle of Five Armies. We already know that Thorin, Fili, and Kili all die in that battle, and that Fili and Kili die defending Thorin in particular. Given that the new movie is setting up a love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel, and Kili, I am foreseeing a situation where Tauriel sees Kili about to die, and rushes in to try to save him, and she goes out in a blaze of glory. Which sets a grieving Legolas up nicely to be all “grrrr dwarves” until the events of The Lord of the Rings, when he meets Gimli and finally gets over himself. It makes total narrative sense.
Lastly, while I know some of my friends object to Tauriel having a romantic plotline on the grounds that they find it insulting, I’ll freely acknowledge that a) I am a total romantic sucker, and b) I’m already on record as being a movie!Kili fangirl. So I’m down with the concept. I’ll need to see the movie before I can decide for myself whether I think the romance is well done.
But I don’t have a problem with Tauriel having a romance at all. Hell, I don’t even have a problem with her being in a romantic triangle. It ain’t like Tolkien himself didn’t pull out the trope of romantic rivalries, or even just romantic angst in general, all over The Silmarillion or anything!
So I’m ready for Desolation, and I’m predisposed to look kindly upon Tauriel and what she contributes to the film. And when I work out whether her story works for me, I promise to do so with respect to the film itself, without worrying too much about whether Jackson has committed sacrilege by adding in a new character at all.
Because yeah–whether you think of this trilogy of movies as Jackson retelling the Arda mythos, or simply just producing the Most Expensive Tolkien Fanfic Ever, Tolkien’s masterworks are not harmed by these film creations. It doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of them in the slightest or make me think less of them, any more than Rankin-Bass’s animated Hobbit and Return of the King did back in the 70’s.
Arda is wide, my friends, and there is time aplenty to sing each other’s songs and tell each other’s stories about the First, Second, and Third Ages of the world. I’m ready to hear them all.