Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Hobbit - A Final Musing

Now that I've got all that out of my system, I really did enjoy the film last night. As with the previous films in this trilogy, there were characters and moments that came off flawlessly on screen. Bilbo's parting with the dwarves before the gates of Erebor had tears welling up in my eyes. It was a reminder of just how lucky this generation, and our parents', have been to see this world of our childhood brought to life by the magic that is cinema. I put my trust in John Howe and Alan Lee's vision of Middle Earth many years ago, and they have never let me down. By their design I've witnessed Tom, Bert, William squabbling over dinner in Trollshaw forest; listened to a contest of riddles in the dark; laid eyes on The Lonely Mountain across the Long Lake. And it's all been a rather profound experience. I still maintain that it would be worthwhile to re-edit the trilogy; if one were to cut out all the extraneous blockbuster-mongering action and romance, you would be left with a pretty darn accurate rendition of Tolkien's story. A lot of work for some fan out there, but if you ever pull it off let me know. I want to watch that cut.

We die-hard lovers of Tolkien's world have had to put up with some downright wrong implications in the films these past few years, fabrications made with the intention of tying Jackson's trilogies together into a cohesive franchise (because we all know Tolkien was no good at creating a unified world for his stories to exist in...right?). I think the most forced of these instances comes at the end of The Battle of the Five Armies when Thranduil sends Legolas off to find the Dunedain and meet/mentor a "young ranger" named "Strider". From a strictly canonical point of view, this is absurd. Aragorn was ten years old at the time of the Battle of the Five Armies, being fostered by Elrond in Rivendell, and would not even come to know his true name for another ten years. He would not be known as "Strider" for five more years after that. Tolkien would shudder, I think, at the implication that Legolas and Aragorn had known each other already for nearly eighty years by the time the Council of Elrond brought The Fellowship together. It's unnecessary conjecture on Jackson's part; mythology is meant to have gaps, but PJ is bent on explaining them away. Leave it! It's myth.

My point in all this is more than just bandying facts and inconsistencies about, which any Tolkien-obsessed fan can (and, with the slightest provocation, will) do. The films ends with Bilbo's return to Bag End, only to discover that his life (and many spoons) as he left it is being auctioned away. He's been presumed dead, and upon his return there is much debate as to whether or not he really is who he says he is. After all, hobbits who leave The Shire on such adventures are hardly expected, or desired, to return.
Bag End (by John Howe)
Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons - he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be 'queer'-except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders. I am sorry to say he did not mind. He was quite content; and the sound of the kettle on his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party. His sword he hung over the mantelpiece. His coat of mail was arranged on a stand in the hall (until he lent it to a Museum). His gold and silver was largely spent in presents, both useful and extravagant - which to a certain extent accounts for the affection of his nephews and his nieces. His magic ring he kept a great secret, for he chiefly used it when unpleasant callers came. He took to writing poetry and visiting the elves; and though many shook their heads and touched their foreheads and said "Poor old Baggins!" and though few believed any of his tales, he remained very happy to the end of his days, and those were extraordinarily long.
 The films does a superb job of illustrating the contrast between Bilbo and the hobbits he finds himself surrounded by upon his return. They clearly don't understand what he's been through, don't understand the weight of the name "Thorin Oakenshield" upon the contract papers he produces to prove his identity, cannot for the life of them fathom why he would have an orc helmet slung under one arm. The Shire, of course, was Tolkien's metaphorical England, the epitome of armchair-lounging, pipe-smoking, tea-drinking modern comfort. When confronted with the stuff of myth and legend, with the concept of adventure and the change in a character's spirit wrought by such trial, the hobbits simply don't get it. I couldn't help but watch that final scene with a wry smile on my face, for a I saw in those confused and disconcerted hobbit faces none other than Peter Jackson, who may have started out back in 2001 on a noble quest to bring us unadulterated Tolkien but who has long since lost himself in the armchair of Hollywood. 

I will likely return to the movies once a year or so, watching them with friends and family on holidays, and surely watching The Two Towers more often than any of the others. But I will surely return to the books and the world within their pages, crafted with almost palpable love. Someday I'll read the books aloud to my kids and introduce them to that world, where little folk are capable of great things and dwarves counselled by ravens rule halls of gold beneath a mountain. And maybe, eventually, I'll let them watch the movies, if only to see if they miss Roac, son of Carc, as much as I do.

Roac, son of Carc (by John Howe)

"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.
"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"
"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

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