The Hobbit: Unexpectedly Three Movies

It’s just possible there’s someone reading this blog who, in 75 years, has never read The Hobbit. I know they exist, because that group of people includes my dad, though he has an excuse: he was 10 when it was published, and already not-interested in fantasy.

So, if you are among those people, this blogpost will spoiler you like anything for The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. (The fiftieth anniversary edition, with the lovely illustrations by Michael Hague, is at my elbow as I type.) This may also spoiler you for the movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, in which Peter Jackson takes full advantage of the fact that he did a pretty good take on Lord of the Rings and any number of fans trusted him to do a pretty good take on The Hobbit, even though he is blatantly milking it for everything it’s worth and no one should let him even think about the Silmarillion, okay?

According to Forbes, The Hobbit is well on its way to being one of the year’s biggest films: it has already grossed $434 million at the global box office.

Up until fairly recently – Ian McKellen said the cast only found out when Peter Jackson had finished filming – we’d all heard that the The Hobbit was going to be split into two movies, and I thought the obvious splitting point was when the dwarves and Bilbo reach Dale, or Laketown – from then on the book gets grimmer and darker, a Nordic epic rather than an amusing tale of dwarves and a hobbit off on an Adventure.

In Peter Jackson’s version, at the end of the first hour we have just reached part-way through chapter 2, “Roast Mutton”, where Bilbo first comes across

Three very large persons sitting round a very large fire of beech-logs. They were toasting mutton on long spits of wood, and licking the gravy off their fingers. There was a fine toothsome smell. Also, there was a barrel of good drink at hand, and they were drinking out of jugs. But they were trolls. Obviously trolls. Even Bilbo, in spite of his sheltered life, could see that: from the great heavy faces of them, and their size, and the shape of their legs, not to mention their language, which was not drawing-room fashion at all, at all.

Also, Dwalin does not lend Bilbo his spare hood and cloak (dark-green, a little weather-stained, and “too large for him, and he looked rather comic”), as he does in the book: Bilbo goes hatless throughout, Peter Jackson perhaps feeling that all of the dwarves should be distinguished by different silly hats and the hobbit distinguished by looking all moppetlike with wet hair when it rained.

The trolls are trollish. Bilbo does the play-for-time gambit about how to cook dwarves. For some reason it does not occur to these trolls that it’s easier to cook dwarves when they’re dead, or the cast would have been cut in half at this point. Gandalf saves the day by making the trolls be caught in daylight, which turns them to stone. (The trolls are played by the same actors who play Bifur, Gloin, and Dori.)

In the book Bilbo takes a knife in a leather sheath (“it would have made only a tiny pocket-knife for a troll, but it was as good as a short sword for the hobbit”) but the movie Gandalf deliberately gives it to him, though one of the dwarves tells him that it’s basically a letter-opener. (Elves have dangerous mail.)

And then Radagast the Brown shows up.

Radagast is referenced in the Lord of the Rings, and Gandalf mentions meeting him, but we never see him. Peter Jackson seems to have decided that we need to know that Radagast the Brown is a lovely wizard who heals hedgehogs and rides in a sleigh pulled by bunnies. And birds crap in his hair, which he never washes. This is apparently supposed to be adorable, but honestly? Gandalf shampoos his beard, Radagast. You may be Ainur, a lesser god not created to dwell in a body, but so is Gandalf, and he looks more kempt that you do.

Rabbit in harnessAnyway, bunnies pulling a sleigh? Rabbits can run between 25 and 45 miles per hour. Radagast takes off in his sleigh (which glides magically across grass and woodlands) being chased by wargs. Wargs are giant wolves. Wolves run between 35 and 40 miles per hour. A rabbit can outdistance a wolf over short distances, but a rabbit can’t run at 45 miles per hour for very long. Radagast’s sled-bunnies would have zig-zagged wildly to avoid the wargs, then dived down the nearest hole. Also, we never get to see the bunny harnesses in close-up. So we have no idea how Radagast magically enchanted his bunny-harnesses not to snap their necks.

In a nod to Lord of the Rings fans who know the story only or primarily by the movies, not only does Elrond appear, but so does Galadriel and Saruman: but not Arwen or Aragorn, even though Arwen must have been there when Bilbo visited, and Aragorn might well have been. In the book, they stay a fortnight: in the movie, they stay for one meal and long enough for Elrond to read the map, before heading on their way – while Gandalf and Galadriel telepathically chat at the council and ignore all the hints Saruman is dropping about how he is Evil Evil Evil.

At that point the dwarves (and Bilbo) head off into the Misty Mountains. The stone giants are Tolkien, though they disappear later on:

There they were sheltering under a hanging rock for the night, and he lay beneath a blanket and shook from head to toe. When he peeped out in the lightning-flashes, he saw that across the valley the stone-giants were out and were hurling rocks at one another for a. game, and catching them, and tossing them down into the darkness where they smashed among the trees far below, or splintered into little bits with a bang.

They find a cave to sleep in, and Bilbo decides he doesn’t belong here and he’s going back to Rivendell (there was probably something which will appear in the Extended Edition to explain why he thought he’d be welcome).

Dame Edna Everage / Barry HumphriesAnd then the goblins show up. There is a huge cavernous chasm, and there follow lots of Dwarves Falling Off Things which really ought to have killed them. The Great Goblin is played by Dame Edna Everage, sorry, I mean Barry Humphries, and honestly, by the time the dwarves had slaughtered their way through a cave full of goblins, I was liking him better than Thorin.

There in the shadows on a large flat stone sat a tremendous goblin with a huge head, and armed goblins were standing round him carrying the axes and the bent swords that they use. Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted.

They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones. They can tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled dwarves, when they take the trouble, though they are usually untidy and dirty. Hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, and also instruments of torture, they make very well, or get other people to make to their design, prisoners and slaves that have to work till they die for want of air and light. It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their own hands more than they could help; but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far. They did not hate dwarves especially, no more than they hated everybody and everything, and particularly the orderly and prosperous; in some parts wicked dwarves had even made alliances with them. But they had a special grudge against Thorin’s people, because of the war which you have heard mentioned, but which does not come into this tale; and anyway goblins don’t care who they catch, as long as it is done smart and secret, and the prisoners are not able to defend themselves.

“Who are these miserable persons?” said the Great Goblin.

And then Bilbo drops out of sight and gets lost, and Gandalf shows up in a flash and kills lots of goblins. However, Peter Jackson omits the pony-eating scene. Possibly just as well. If it horrified Lawrie Marlow out of ever reading a book about elves again, it would probably have horrified sensitive persons out of going to see the next two movies. Gandalf and the dwarves kill lots of goblins, avoid being killed despite falling off bridges (goblins make all the bridges in their cavern out of wood: very convenient for fight scenes, but it’s unexplained where they got it) and lots and lots and lots of goblins are slaughtered, but we don’t care because goblins are Bad.

At this point – at the end of the second hour of the movie – Bilbo meets Gollum and they play the riddle game and it is fantastic.

And then the dwarves escape and Bilbo escapes with the help of the One Ring and he overhears Thorin saying what a waste of space he is, and then he makes like a hero and saves Thorin’s life from giant warg and pale orc (or, well, he tries), and there are giant eagles, and it’s the end of Chapter 6.

Next movie….


(Recommended: Sarah Rees Brennan wrote Thorin Dreamboatshield: An Unexpected Hotness of Dwarves.)

(Oh, and while Bilbo is definitely smoking tobacco in The Hobbit – it was only rechristened pipeweed in The Lord of the Rings – the movie pretty much openly declares that Gandalf is getting high – and Saruman quite explicitly complains that Radagast is eating mushrooms all the time.)

By the way, a double-blind study performed at Johns Hopkins in 2006 showed that:

psilocybin [the psychoactive component of magic mushrooms] when administered under comfortable, structured, interpersonally supported conditions to volunteers who reported regular participation in religious or spiritual activities, occasioned experiences which had marked similarities to classic mystical experiences and which were rated by volunteers as having substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance. Furthermore, the volunteers attributed to the experience sustained positive changes in attitudes and behavior that were consistent with changes rated by friends and family.

This could explain why Radagast is such a nice wizard. Or it may be the beneficial effects of living in the TARDIS longer than any other incarnation of the Doctor.

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Filed under Film Reviews, J. R. R. Tolkien

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