Chapter Eight: Flies and Spiders
Now that the party is without Gandalf, they stand at the entrance to the mysterious and dangerous forest of Mirkwood. Once known as Greenwood the Great in the Elder Days, the forest has grown darker and thicker and the evil stirring in Dol Guldur in the southern portion has had its effect over the years.
This is an especially long chapter that (literally) covers a lot of ground so I’m not going to describe each event in detail. Essentially, the action goes as follows: Bilbo and the Dwarves enter Mirkwood, they cross an Enchanted Stream (in which Bombur becomes temporarily enchanted into a deep sleep), play a game of cat and mouse with a camp of Wood Elves, get captured by a clutter of spiders (after which they are rescued by Bilbo) and Thorin is captured and brought before Thranduil, the Elven King. The content of this chapter could easily take up an hour of screen time, if not more. The journey takes place over several days and nights. Just how many sunsets Peter Jackson will show is anybody’s guess.I will, however, make a few specific observations. Firstly, the presentation of Mirkwood should probably be different than the forests we have seen previously, such as Fangorn. While we have already seen parts of the forest, specifically the areas around Rhosgobel and Dol Guldur, the part that the Dwarves journey through will probably be denser with overgrowth. Tolkien describes the entrance as “a sort of arch leading into a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves.” However, for aesthetic reasons, I think we will see more natural light to show us the beauty of the forest as well as the danger. Will there be black squirrels?
There is also a point where Bilbo is directed by the Dwarves to climb a tree to its very top and get a sense of where they are in the forest. His appearance at the top of the trees and seeing large butterflies has always struck me as visually appealing enough to show on film. It was shown in the 1977 animated version and it would present the special effects team with an opportunity for a stunning visual. I at first thought that this part wouldn’t make the cut but now I’m inclined to expect it.
As night falls, Bilbo and the Dwarves see a camp fire and follow it hoping to find some provisions to ease their hunger. As they approach, the fire goes out and they repeat this action two more times. But the Elves continue to evade them and Bilbo is separated from the Dwarves (again). Though Thranduil is present here in the book, it is not guaranteed that he we will see him just yet. Now, the Wood Elves are of a different sort that the Elves we saw in The Lord of the Rings. In Lothlorien, Galadriel and her kind were of the Noldor. The Elves of Mirkwood are descended from the Teleri, those who stayed in Middle-Earth and never returned to the Undying lands. Their race has a long history dating back to the First Age in the land of Doriath which later sank beneath the sea. They speak a version of Elvish known as Sindarin rather than the Quenya spoken by Galadriel. Tolkien explains a little about this in the book but this is before he had the chance to fully flesh out the Elves’ history as he would do in later writings.
Our introduction to Thranduil in “An Unexpected Journey” shows that he, like his son Legolas, is blonde. So, one would think that all the Sylvan Elves would be presented as blonde, like the Noldor in Lothlorien rather than like Elrond’s folk in Rivendell. However, the production stills that I have seen of the new character Tauriel show here as brown haired (Evangeline Lilly’s natural color) – and a lighter brown than Elrond or Lindir. So, it’s likely we’ll get a mix. The other character taken from the book is Galion, the “butler” Elf who is in charge of the wine. The New Zealand actor who plays him, Craig Hall, is a natural brunette but I can find no photos of Galion as presented in the film. Will he be another brown-haired Elf? We shall see.
Now the spiders have already made a brief appearance, assaulting Rhosgobel. It was difficult to tell their size without any scale comparison to an actor but I’m estimating that they were anywhere from the size of a large dog to a small pony. We’ve already gotten a taste for the Weta Workshop’s design of Shelob. However, as the Wargs that we’ve seen so far differ considerably from the ones in “The Two Towers”, these spiders will probably be less like Shelob that one would expect. They capture the Dwarves and secure them with their webbing. Of course, the effect of a spider wrapping its prey in webbing is something we’ve already seen in “The Return of the King”
Will the spiders speak as they do in the book? I’m inclined to say no only because I would think that it would detract from their being sufficiently terrifying. But you never know. Bilbo’s use of the Ring to confuse and distract the spiders begs an interesting question – just exactly how much of the invisibility power will be used throughout the film. Bilbo uses his new Ring quite liberally throughout the book but clearly this presents a limitation when translating the story to film. I’m guessing that unless a scene absolutely requires the use of the Ring (like Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug) that it will be included only sparingly.
Put another way, anyone who is familiar with the Harry Potter series will remember that the Invisibility Cloak makes repeated appearances (or disappearances?) in the books. But many of the same scenes in the films alter, shorten or eliminate the use of the Cloak entirely. This makes for a more visually friendly presentation. Don’t be surprised if in this case Bilbo uses the Ring only briefly or not at all, relying more on stealth to achieve the same effect.
On a side note with the spiders, note 12 of “The Annotated Hobbit” explains that Tolkien put spiders in the story specifically because his son, Michael, has a particular dislike of spiders “with a great intensity. [Tolkien] did it to thoroughly frighten him.”
Bilbo discovers the web-encrusted Dwarves and, in the cutting of the webs and fighting the spiders, Bilbo’s Elvish blade earns its nickname “Sting”. Those fans not familiar with the books may have wondered about the name when Bilbo gave it to Frodo to take on his quest with the Fellowship in Rivendell or when Frodo tells Gollum “This is Sting. You’ve seen it before, haven’t you?” Well, this is where Bilbo will give the sword its name.
Tolkien has Bilbo admitting to the Dwarves that he has a magic ring which he then puts on and leads the spiders away so his friends can escape. I’m not sure if this is the moment that Jackson will choose for this revelation.
By the time that Bilbo meets back up with the Dwarves they notice that Thorin is missing. We find out that he has been captured by the Wood Elves and is taken before Thranduil. Naturally, he is reluctant to divulge any information about his true objective at the Lonely Mountain. In addition to the betrayal that Thorin feels against Thranduil as illustrated in the first film’s prologue he is jealously protective of the treasure that lay within Erebor. Does Thranduil suspect the nature of the Dwarves’ quest? Perhaps he does but Thorin’s overall lack of cooperation leads him to his confinement by the Elves.
We know that Orlando Bloom is attached to this project to reprise his role of Legolas. How extensive his part is in the context of The Hobbit as a whole is uncertain. While he is the Elven King’s son he is not presented in the book – mostly because Tolkien had not yet conceived of him at the time. Bloom, however, is included in the cast list of “There and Back Again” by IMDB.com but not in “The Desolation of Smaug”. I once speculated that a possible role for Legolas in this story would be to have him, rather than Thranduil himself, lead the party of Elves that encounter the Dwarves. However, if he is not set to appear in the second film then this is unlikely. Although it is possible he could appear in a non-speaking capacity at this point.
While the character of Tauriel could be seen at this point I think it more likely that we will first encounter her once the Dwarves reach the realm of the Elves as her role is described as “Chief of the Guards” for the Elvenking. Therefore, I will discuss her more in the next chapter.
In the next chapter, our hero and his party are tasked with getting Thorin (and, ultimately, themselves) out of this mess. Their escape is recounted in "Barrels Out Of Bond".
Having seen the film, we can revisit Chapter Eight here.