Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


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?

In the book, the Dwarves are surprised by a charging snowy white deer while attempting the crossing of the Enchanted Stream. In note 6 of “The Annotated Hobbit” it is pointed out that, in Celtic tradition, appearances of white animals prefigure an encounter with beings from the “otherworld”. Tolkien likely included this inclusion of the deer to foreshadow the approach to the realm of the Wood Elves. Will Jackson include the deer in the film? If so, it’s likely he read the same note and recognizes its significance.

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 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".

UPDATE: 1/18/14
Having seen the film, we can revisit Chapter Eight here.


Chapter Seven: Queer Lodgings

When I first considered this project I did a quick review of the book to try and identify specific parts that were candidates for removal when translating the story to film. Back when this was to be a two-film series, this next chapter seemed like it should be at the top of that list. It was certainly a casualty of the 1977 Rankin/Bass adaptation. As part of the book, it’s a staple. As part of a film, however, I considered it to be expendable. So naturally I was surprised when I found out that the part of Beorn had been officially cast.

The events of “Queer Lodgings” accomplish two things: introducing the character Beorn and providing a reason that the company should choose a less traveled road through Mirkwood. While an interesting character, the skin-changing Beorn does not enter into the story again until his last minute appearance at the Battle of the Five Armies.

Therefore, I determined that it could be removed completely without drastically affecting the rest of the plot. Since his presence doesn’t really do very much to move the narrative forward, the skipping over of this chapter would have been understandable. The information that the goblins were searching for the Dwarves (thereby diverting the journey northwards to avoid them) could have come from other sources.

In light of the “3 film” announcement, however, it’s obvious that not only would this chapter be fully recreated but it’s possible that it could even be expanded in some way.

It seemed plausible to me that Radagast the Brown could have been the means of introducing the company to Beorn.  Indeed, in the book it is Gandalf who mentions his “good cousin Radagast” to Beorn when explaining that he is a wizard.  Of course this was before I was aware of the use to which Peter Jackson would put Radagast in “An Unexpected Journey”.

Admittedly, it is pretty standard rule in film making that you don’t typically waste screen time recounting a story of what the audience just saw unless you do it from a completely different perspective. Therefore, one might expect that Gandalf’s ploy of introducing the Dwarves gradually while explaining all of their adventures up to that point might be unnecessary.  But it is more likely that Jackson will do his best to use this incident to comedic effect.

In this chapter, Gandalf and Bilbo make the first overture to Beorn and, as his account of their exploits against the Goblins keeps getting interrupted, the Dwarves appear in the following order: Thorin and Dori, Nori and Ori, Balin and Dwalin, Fili and Kili, Oin and Gloin, Bifur and Bofur, and lastly, Bombur.  Beorn actually recognizes the lead Dwarf as Thorin, son of Thrain.  Incidentally, I’m curious as to whether or not Gandalf (or Thorin) will refer to Azog by name.  Will Beorn be familiar with him?

The company joins Beorn for dinner at his dwelling and it is here that Tolkien gives a description of how several animals assist in preparing the dining area for them.  At first, I was skeptical that any of this would be shown.  But, having seen the animals at Rhosgobel (not to mention the rabbit-driven sleigh of Radagast), I’m guessing we shall see ponies, dogs and sheep carrying torches in their mouths and pushing benches up to the table.  Though how they’ll be presented handling bowls, platters, knives and wooden spoons is questionable.  Tolkien states that at least the dogs could “stand on their hind-legs when they wished, and carry things with their fore-feet.”  This might be pushing the boundaries of absurdity, even for Peter Jackson.

During dinner there is a song about the wind and the Lonely Mountain that probably won’t be seen but Beorn shares stories about Mirkwood that may be used in the film as a support for the accounts that Radagast has already provided.  In fact, these tales could be the catalyst for Gandalf’s imminent departure from the company.

As I re-read this chapter I thought to myself how reminiscent it was to the encounter with Tom Bombadil in “Fellowship”.  In both cases, the travelers get shelter from danger, are given ponies and other provisions for their journey, receive advice on how to proceed and spend more than one night to find that the next morning their host is not present.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see some of minor elements of the Tom Bombadil encounter (which was eliminated from that film) to find their way here.

During the second evening (though I’m sure we will only see one of them), Beorn, in his bear form, comes across a goblin riding a Warg and it is here that he learns of the size and scope of the goblin army that is pursuing his guests. Because of this threat, he suggests to the Dwarves that they continue off the beaten path and directs them to a less hospitable route in the Northern part of Mirkwood, warning them of an enchanted stream that they must cross.  The more well-traveled “old forest road” is known by the Orcs and the eastern end has fallen into disrepair, becoming essentially a dead end.

It is interesting to note that although in the book Beorn’s shape-shifting capability always takes place “off screen” it has been reported by representatives of the Weta Workshop group that his transformation will be a major special effects sequence. Now in the book, Beorn’s role in the Battle of the Five Armies is critical.  So, considering the plans for the transformation effects, I would expect the full visual impact to be saved for that moment rather than showing it at this point in the story.  It will be enough to know that Beorn is a “skin-changer” and capable of becoming a large black bear.  We get a hint of this from a promotional poster released by New Line Cinema depicting Gandalf seemingly converse with a bear.

As to the origin of Beorn, there are some interesting bits of information included in "The Annotated Hobbit". Note 4 to the chapter states:
“The name Beorn is actually an Old English word for “man, warrior”, but originally meant “bear”; it is cognate with the Old Norse bjorn, “bear”.”
Note 5 lists several other examples from Norse mythology that undoubtedly inspired this character. Tolkien mentions in one of his letters that Beorn, though “magical”, is definitely a man and, by the time of The Council of Elrond where he is briefly mentioned, is dead. There is no other reference to him that I could find in any of his other writings or any of the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings (including “The Tale of Years”).

At the entrance to the path into Mirkwood, Bilbo and the Dwarves are told by Gandalf that he needs to part from the company to attend to “pressing business away south”.  What will Gandalf’s pressing business be?  In the book the purpose was to meet with the White Council, but he has already done that at Rivendell.  I am guessing that it will be to investigate Dol Guldur himself since we see several shots of him in the trailer walking through what looks like this location.

This raises additional questions.  At what point will he summon the White Council again?  How much of the Necromancer will we see?  Radagast, Saruman and Galadriel are all listed as part of the cast of films two and three.  In the appendices, it is explained that Gandalf encountered Thrain in Dol Guldur at which point he acquired that key and the map of Erebor but at this point in the film series (as in the book) he already has them.

The story as it has been laid out so far seems to suggest that a journey by Gandalf to Dol Guldur will confirm his suspicion that the Necromancer is indeed Sauron.  Likely, he will obtains some sort of evidence that will convince the White Council as well and create the need the drive this evil from Mirkwood, a scene that I suspect will be shown in the final film.

As Gandalf departs, I wonder how much of his business – if any – he will share with the Dwarves, being as he would be sharing it with the audience as well.  Bilbo asks the wizard if they really must go through the forest.  Gandalf replies “you must either go through or give up your quest”.  This reminds me of Gollum’s direction to Frodo at Shelob’s Lair that he must “go in…or go back”.  In both cases there be spiders ahead.

In the last paragraph of the chapter, the text reads “Now began the most dangerous part of all the journey”, which continues in “Flies and Spiders”.

UPDATE: 1/5/14
Having seen the film, we can revisit Chapter Seven here.