Tolkien Geek

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


Chapter Nine: Barrels Out Of Bond

At this point, I’d like to address the first addition of new material to this film project that has absolutely no connection to anything J.R.R. Tolkien has written – either published or compiled by his son, Christopher Tolkien.  This addition is a brand new character named Tauriel, which will be played by Evangeline Lilly (of “Lost” fame).

Frankly, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a more negative response from the fan base on this one being as it’s such a major deviation from the original work.  From what I can gather, Peter Jackson and his writing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, created a female Mirkwood Elf that will take on the role of what was previously a throw-away (and unnamed) character from the book.  This character, Tauriel, is described as “chief of the guards for the Elvenking”.

Now those familiar with Chapter Nine of The Hobbit will remember that Tolkien does introduce a generic Elf referred to as “chief of the guards” (assumed to be male) who drinks wine in the cellar with an Elf “butler” named Galion to the point of falling asleep.  This episode will allow Bilbo to put a plan into action that moves the story forward.  But it’s obvious that Jackson and company envision a much expanded role for this chief of the guards.  So, while we can come up with several possibilities as to how this will be developed, I have come up with a theory that seems plausible.  And I will explain as we go through these events.
At the beginning this chapter, the newly freed Dwarves are overtaken by a band of Wood Elves (less Thorin, who was already captured) and are forced to surrender.  They are marched through the forest to the underground realm of Thranduil, the Elven-King.  Now, in the book, Thranduil is a part of this Elf group.  And it is possible that Tauriel will be as well when you consider that the official Lego website shows set number 79001, titled “Escape from Mirkwood Spiders”, as including minifigures for Legolas, Fili, Kili and Tauriel.  The accompanying video of the designer explaining the set also mentions the minifigures as a “younger Legolas” and Tauriel “the female Elf”.  Now this doesn’t guaranty that Tauriel takes part in that scene (nor Legolas for that matter) but it’s a strong possibility.  On the other hand, there is no Lego set depicting an escape from Thranduil’s realm so perhaps this is why they were included in this one.

Here Bilbo slips on the Ring, becomes invisible and secretly follows them.  They cross a bridge over a river that leads to the main gate and the hobbit sneaks in just before the gates clang behind him.  The Dwarves are brought before Thranduil in his main hall and the Elven-King demands to know what brings them to Mirkwood, which they all refuse to answer.  Though they are ordered unbound because Thranduil states that there is “no escape from my magic doors”, the Dwarves are taken to the dungeons and each placed in his own cell.

Personally, I think Jackson will wait to introduce Thranduil and his first speaking scene at the throne room rather than in the forest.  Before this we are likely to see at least Legolas and perhaps Tauriel.  How large a part Legolas will have here remains to be seen but given that his real introduction to the audience (and his remarkable abilities) comes in the Lord of the Rings, I wouldn’t expect it to be too elaborate.  This would only overshadow the role he plays as part of the Fellowship.  I have no doubt, however, that we will see something impressive at the Battle of the Five Armies.

Jackson is on record as saying that there is no romantic link between Legolas and Tauriel.  However, this doesn’t rule out a different relationship.  Here’s what I’m getting at.  Reportedly, the name Tauriel means “daughter of the wood” or “daughter of Mirkwood”.  Tauriel could actually be Thranduil’s daughter.  And, by extension, this would make her Legolas’ sister.  It may be the best way to elevate her status among all the other Elves and justify the expanded role.  It’s a crack-pot theory, I know, but I can envision a way that this could be made part of the story (as presented in the film).

Philippa Boyens stated that they brought in Tauriel “to bring that energy into the film, that feminine energy. We believe it’s completely within the spirit of Tolkien.”  Now, what does she mean by “feminine energy”?  I have given some thought to this.  Much has already been made of the bad blood between the races of Elves and Dwarves.  It seems there is a lot of obstinacy and testosterone involved in this new conflict.  Might Tauriel’s feminine energy come into play here?

In the book, the aforementioned Galion and the chief of the guards eagerly sample the latest supply of wine in the cellar and pass out from drunkenness.  Here, Bilbo takes the opportunity to steal the dungeon keys and free the Dwarves from their cells.  But this creates a potential inconsistency that was caused by Jackson in the first place.  In an additional scene that was part of the Extended Edition of The Two Towers, Legolas and Gimli engage in a drinking game.  After downing generous helpings of what appears to be mead or beer, Gimli eventually passes out at about the same time that Legolas – fully in control of his wits – remarks that he feels a “slight tingle” in his hand.  

Jackson essentially established that Elves can consume great amounts of alcohol without any real detrimental effect.  In consideration of this scene how can Galion the butler and the chief of the guards drink wine to the point of becoming unconscious?

Here’s a solution: perhaps in a show of feminine wisdom, Tauriel determines that Thranduil is wrong to imprison the Dwarves.  And perhaps in a display of disobedience to her father’s will she plays an integral part in assisting Bilbo with his plan.  Again, this is wild speculation but given the treatment and expansion of Arwen’s character in the Lord of the Rings is it really all that far-fetched?  I’m sure we’ll also get some “feminine energy” from Tauriel at the Battle of Five Armies.  According to the documentaries that accompanied the Extended Edition of “The Two Towers”, Arwen was originally written (and filmed) as part of the Battle of Helm’s Deep but they took that out because it didn’t feel right for the character (a wise move, in my opinion).  In the coming battle, Tauriel will likely get the opportunity to show off the girl power that Arwen didn’t.

How do I feel about this or any expanded role for a new female Elf?  Well, I’ve forgiven many a liberty taken by Peter Jackson in the past and I will probably do so again in this case.  At least there is a rationale behind it.  There are absolutely no female roles in “The Hobbit” as written.  None.  New Line Cinema and the executive producers are in this venture to make money.  The broader an audience they can appeal to, the more ticket sales.  And, face it, even though some of the male characters present plenty of eye candy for the female audience (i.e. Thorin, Fili and Kili) it does help to have a strong female present.  I’ll reserve final judgment for the actual execution of this new aspect of the story but I’m willing the give them the benefit of the doubt.

After releasing them from their imprisonment, Bilbo seals each of the Dwarves into an empty wine barrel and sets them up to be released down a trap door perched over a part of the Forest River.  This will allow them a back door exit via a raised portcullis.  The Elves oblige and unknowingly toss the Dwarves to freedom.  Bilbo, left alone at this point, must resort to grabbing one of the barrels being tossed out (while invisible) and holding on for dear life (remember that hobbits don’t hold affection for boats of any kind and are terrified of water).

On a side note, it will be interesting to see how the design team presents the dwelling of the Mirkwood Elves.  To this point, we have been introduced to two Elf environments.  One, in Rivendell, is set in a hidden valley.  The other, Lothlorien, shows the Noldor realm set upon flets (platforms) in enormous Mallorn trees.  I suspect given the experience that Alan Lee and John Howe have had envisioning older Elf environments, like Nargothrond from the First Age, we will be in for something special.

Now, the current carries these fourteen unfortunate souls down the river as Bilbo struggles to stay atop his own empty barrel.  The power of the river draws them closer to their objective and is representative of the kind of force that has allowed Bilbo and his companions so much good fortune along the way.  The acquisition of the Elvish blades, the finding of the Ring, the rescue by the Eagles, avoiding the now-dangerous Old Forest Road and now the escape via the Forest River – all lucky coincidences that seem to imply that a greater power is guiding them.  Tolkien’s writing always hints that this is a factor involved in the events of his stories.

They float on until they reach a bank of the river near Lake Town where men retrieve them and bring them to the shore.  And here Tolkien ends the chapter: “They had escaped the dungeons of the king and were through the wood, but whether alive or dead still remained to be seen.”

When this series was set for two films, I kind of thought that this would make for a good halfway point with the end of film one showing the barrels flowing down the river as a wider shot shows the Lonely Mountain off in the distance.  Now, with the story reconfigured, this will probably take us to just shy of the halfway point of film two: “The Desolation of Smaug.”

In the next chapter, Bilbo and his damp Dwarf friends arrive at Lake Town where they receive "A Warm Welcome".

UPDATE: 3/10/14
Having seen the film, we can revisit Chapter Nine here.