You should know that my heart lies with the Elves. That Elf has been the
archetype I related to since someone in my art class said (of my flowy
Galadriel's yard sale shirt), "you look like an elf in that shirt..." to which I
said; "?!?!?!???" So, here I am in love with a company of Dwarves...
In 1977 Star Wars hit the screen, and a fellow fan dumped a pile of reading
material into my hands. "You must read this," she intoned. I stared at the stack
of verbiage and paled. Lo!, in my copious free time, somewhere in the next
millenium. The epic tome was J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
Somewhat later, I borrowed a tent from a second cousin twice removed, so I could
spend a week on a desert island called Assateague. He told me about this game
they played: D&D. I showed up, rolled up a character, waved the paper at the
DM and said, "What do I make of this?"
"Play an Elf."
mean like Hermie, in Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer?
"Read Lord of the
I did, in 1978. Orlando Bloom was yet in diapers. He would later fill the
shoes of the character that most summed up my worldview (leave no footprints),
my value system (talking to trees and riding horses without saddle or rein), and
my internal archetype.
I may look like a Hobbit, and enjoy second and third breakfasts, but my heart
lies with the Elves. So, here I am, enamored of...
...a bunch of Dwarves???
We (fandom, geeks of the world, nerds inc.) had been waiting
all our lives for someone to turn our favorite piece of literature, impossibly,
into a film. We'd sat around, casting our favorite actors into the unlikely Lord
of the Rings film. Unlikely because it was considered unfilmable.
Then Peter Jackson and company proved the naysayers wrong. After we got done
ooooing and aaaahing and picking apart how PJ's film was different from the ones
in our heads, we said...
...he must do the Hobbit. A clever fan did a fake trailer (using bits
from the LOTR films and, I think, Dragonslayer). We contemplated casting and
character design. We blogged, we arted, we fanficked.
We waited for a decade.
And at last, here it is. Of course I was there, an hour before the start of
the midnight showing of the first of the three movies in Peter Jackson's Hobbit
trilogy. Trilogy. Yes, trilogy. The challenge with LOTR, (published in 1955) was
to pare the immensity of that Epic down to something that would fit in a film...
or three. The Hobbit, published in 1937, was lighter, not only in tone (as a
kids' book, meant to be read aloud) but in weight and length. By stretching it
into a trilogy matching LOTR, PJ and crew could expand not only the action and
character development, but the rest of the story; the storm clouds gathering on
the horizon which will erupt into the perfect storm of LOTR. When he wrote the
Hobbit, Tolkien had not yet imagined LOTR, but the world of Middle Earth was
being sketched out... in the trenches of WW1 Tolkien was scribbling bits of
ideas on scraps of paper. His son, Christopher, would later publish those
half-finished tales as the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and the HoME series
(History of Middle Earth). "There is not complete consistency
between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the two most closely related
works, because Tolkien never fully integrated all their traditions into each
other. He commented in 1965, while editing The Hobbit for a third edition, that
he would have preferred to completely rewrite the book because of the style of
Peter Jackson, working in reverse, has the chance to do that rewrite.
Film 1, An Unexpected Journey, takes us to the point where the great eagles
have left the company of Dwarves, one Hobbit and Gandalf the Wizard on top of a
pinnacle of rock (how the heck did they get down from there?); from there, they
can see the Lonely Mountain, their destination, in the misty distance; in
between are the wilds of Mirkwood, and Beorn's house, some peeved wood Elves,
and a lot of really big spiders. We know, of course, how it all ends, we've read
it dozens of times. The joy is in seeing the characters move, the details added,
Gollum's subtle (improved CG and the brilliance of Andy Serkis) facial twitches,
soaring eagles the size of jet fighters, the orcish maze of Moria, stone giants
that are chunck of mountain come to rock'em sock'em life, trolls both
frightening and hilarious, The Shire, and some really good fight scenes. The
high frame rate kicks us up to a new level of film clarity. The 3D is worth the
price of admission. There are those who have naysayed this technology, saying it
makes things too clear, too sharp, blowing the illusion of fantasy. Tolkien
himself preferred oral storytelling (in his day, special effects were fairly
primitive stage illusions). To that I snort, go see it.
There are immense beauties here, beauties beyond what I might have imagined
reading the book. Beauties beyond what illustrators could imagine, even the good
ones (let's not mention the hideous Rankin Bass TV film, where the Elves of
Mirkwood looked like orcs). There is the Shire, where we all want to visit, if
not move in, the perfect comfort zone from which Bilbo has to venture forth to
achieve anything. Gandalf, the iconic Wizard, wonderfull imagined by WETA, and
brought to life by the inimitable Ian McKellan. There are mountains and
woodlands and rugged highlands (played well by various parts of New Zealand).
There are wonderfully hideous monsters: trolls and orcs and wargs and the Goblin
King. There is the Rube Goldberg maze of the goblin tunnels; we could see this
as a crazy amusement park ride. There are the eagles, plucking our heroes up,
eagles whose every feather, every movement has been studied and lovingly
recreated in magnificent CG (I've worked with birds of prey, and these are
terrific). There is Rivendell, serene valley of the Elves. Galadriel, the
epitome of elegance and wisdom. There are galloping elven warriors, Elrond on a
magnificent black Friesian. Thranduil, Elvenking of Northern Mirkwood, mounted
on a stag that looks like an Irish Elk (a horse-sized deer with a six foot rack,
And the dwarves. I can reel off their names, it's a sort of mental memory
game I play (I have more trouble with Snow White's seven). Tolkien wrote the
Hobbit as if it was a story being told to kids. You can hear the voice of the
narrator/storyteller. The names of the Dwarves (it is NOT Dwarfs, and he
explains, somewhere, why) come in soundalike sets, clearly an aid to remembering
them: two sets of three, three sets of two. Dori, Nori, Ori... Bifur, Bofur,
Bombur... Balin and Dwalin... Fili and Kili.. Gloin and Oin. And their leader,
Tolkien drew much from Celtic and Norse myth. Thor (Norse thunder god) is, in
Hesse Germany, associated with a sacred oak tree. (Odin's "world tree" is an
Thorin Oakenshideld. Also Thror's map (the map they use to find the way into
the Lonely Mountain). The Dwarves themselves have a strongly Germanic/Norse
quality, while the Elves feel more Celtic. I always preferred the Elves for
their nature child/magical child qualities.
But these Dwarves rock.
First, the character design is amazing. Someone had a great deal of fun with
hair and beards and makeup and costume. Each is a highly unique individual,
unlike the fairly homogenous Elves seen in Rivendell. Bofur has an inexplicable
hat, a sort of northwoods earflap thing, the flaps looking like wings about to
turn him into the Flying Nun... it works, it's cool, it's memorable, and it
makes him look like a likeable and slightly goofy guy I'd like to hang out with.
Fili and Kili are described in the book as the youngest Dwarves, and here they
are clearly designed to appeal to the younger fans... they are ... well... I'd
never thought of dwarves as hot... until now. Balin is distinctive as the white
haired elder, wizardly, kindly, Santa-ish. Bombur is extremely fat, but don't
let that fool you... he kicks butt in battle as well as anyone. Ori has a unique
face, not the typical human standard of beauty, but somehow appealing, he seems
like a gentle heart who would rather join Bilbo in the Shire for third
breakfast. Nori has braided eyebrows. Bifur, inexplicably, has an orc axe
embedded in his forehead. And of course Gloin is easy to recognize... he looks a
bit like his son (from LOTR) Gimli.
And Thorin is just magnificent.
We stop to consider the fact that there are no humans in this film (except in
the very beginning, when we see an ancient city under attack by Smaug... though
we don't see Smaug, only his devastation). LOTR had two humans in the
Fellowship: Boromir, who dies halfway through, and Aragorn who becomes King. And
he isn't a normal mundane human, he's part Elf. Hobbit has Hobbits and Dwarves
and Elves and trolls and orcs and goblins and one Wizard. No normal mundane
And yet we identify. We relate. For they are Archetypes. They are us, our
deepest ideas of ourselves. Our dreams, fears, wishes for adventures beyond our
own comfort zones.
I still love the Elves. I can't wait till the lost Dwarves are blundering
around in Mirkwood (my favorite place in Middle Earth) trying to crash the
elves' woodland parties. Can't wait to see Legolas, Thranduil, the warrior girl,
and Bilbo when "the chief of the guard had no keys...".
But for now, Dwarves rule.