Chapter Fourteen: Fire and Water
[Note: this is a complete rewrite of a post I originally published on 7/20/13 back when I anticipated these plot points taking place in the second film. Since the release of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, I have moved it to the last section of the contents list in the right sidebar.]
So now that we know exactly where film two ends it’s pretty easy to guess how the next one will begin. So why jump over Chapter Thirteen? Well the events in both chapters happen concurrently. But Tolkien decided to address the plight of the Dwarves in Erebor and leave the reader wondering about the fate of Lake Town, jumping back to those events afterwards. Cinematically, however, it’s much more effective to pick up where the cliffhanger of “The Desolation of Smaug” left off. As such, it made sense to discuss the events of this chapter first.
In Chapter 12, Smaug was filled with wrath and heads toward Lake Town. Here he intends to rain down fire and destruction on the Men who he believes played a hand in helping the thieves that dared try and plunder his treasure. Unlike in the films, this is the part of the story where we really first get to meet Bard and learn his back story. Bard’s son, Bain, is not really a part of Tolkien’s original work but Peter Jackson wanted to portray Bard as a humble widowed father with something to lose so Bain’s part was written into the film. He also gave Bard two young daughters who are portrayed by James Nesbitt’s own children, Peggy and Mary, to round out the family.
In my original post for this chapter, I discussed the portrayal of Bard at length as well as the actor who plays him, Luke Evans. At the time I expected Jackson to almost mirror the character with Aragorn – both strong, heroic Men who are exiles from a ruling house and reluctant to accept their destiny as a leader. And like Aragorn’s sword Narsil that is reforged as Anduril, Bard here has a token of his own heritage in his possession that will play a significant part in this scene – the final black arrow that his grandfather Girion never had a chance to fire. Now, unlike a normal arrow fired from a standard bow this black arrow is a huge weapon fired from a large mounted fixture atop a building. And Bard must find the weakness in Smaug’s hide to take advantage of this one chance he has to kill the beast.
Bard was last seen on film as a being imprisoned by the Master as Smaug approaches the town from the Lonely Mountain. So, clearly, he needs to be released. This will either be by Tauriel (who has just finished saving Kili) or the Master himself out of fear of the coming dragon. Visually, I imagine Jackson will call for an elaborate attack by Smaug featuring lots of fire, explosions and flying stunt people. All will probably seem lost until Bard is able to get the arrow in place and face off against the dragon.
The book uses the device of the thrush that Bilbo encounters at Erebor that carries the information of Smaug’s missing scale to Bard, who is able to understand him. This ability to communicate with birds is a manifestation of his royal lineage that Jackson decided to do away with. Instead, as we learn in the earlier scene at Bard’s house, the knowledge of this vulnerability is something that has been passed down over generations. In fact, it is Bain who actually informs the Dwarves that Girion wasn’t able to use the last black arrow to finish off Smaug after he caused the breach in his armor.
What we’ve already seen of Smaug is likely just a taste of what we are in store for during this sequence. The Master survives the onslaught in the book and suffers humiliation at his loss of credibility in the book. Based on his past work (and love of gore) I have a hunch that Peter Jackson has decided to kill him off with a particularly horrible death, perhaps along with Alfrid, his personal lackey. Finally, Bard will fire the arrow that will find its mark and send the dragon plummeting to its death into the Lake. I think at this point we will cut back to Bilbo and company at the Lonely Mountain to get an update on their situation before we return to the aftermath of the attack.
Now, admittedly the removal of the thrush from this aspect of the story is more in keeping with the style that Jackson is employing. But I think it’s worth mentioning that it does take away from the running theme of good fortune that was a part of Tolkien’s original tale. I mean to say that the chance discovery of Smaug’s wound by Bilbo and the use of the thrush referred to in the moon runes as a vital part of ensuring the dragon’s destruction gave credence to the feeling of destiny that this whole adventure seems to be following. The change works with the film version but it is important to note how such a seemingly minor change can deviate from the flavor of the original text.
Anyway, as in the book, the people of Lake Town will likely turn to the descendant of Girion as their savior. And Bard’s new stature will require him to make a decision regarding the now unguarded treasure under the mountain. The book Bard rallies the people to turn their anger towards the Dwarves as the cause of this calamity. Jackson’s Bard may not take as harsh a tone against Thorin but he will undoubtedly look to them for recompense.
How exactly the Men’s alliance with Thranduil and the Elves will come about is up for speculation. And what becomes of Tauriel and the Dwarves who were left behind? These questions I will address in a later chapter. But now to look at what’s happening with Bilbo, Thorin and the rest of the party we need to go back to Chapter Thirteen.