A BRIEF-ISH OVERVIEW
Now that Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy has wrapped up in 2014 with it’s final instalment The Battle of the Five Armies, it is possible to review the entire series in relation to the novel it was based on. In other words, Tolkien junkies can now sit around and nitpick every minor detail removed, added, or exaggerated as the story transitioned from book to film. Which is exactly what I’m going to do. Prepare yourself for a four part series, which I think is appropriate since this franchise likes to drag things out. This section is going to provide an overview of the most significant reasons for making changes as well as a breakdown of all the characters that exist in the movie that are absent in the book.
As with any written work that makes it to the big screen, changes are to be expected, and in this case the filmmakers were not shy about taking liberties with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Expanding this single story to span across three films allowed Peter Jackson and his crew to present some scenes almost exactly as they appeared in the book, while still leaving room to add entirely new characters, plot lines and PJ’s signature over-the-top action sequences. While many longtime fans of The Hobbit might disparage at these changes, they do, for the most part, seem to have been made in order to fulfill three specific narrative purposes:
1. To strengthen the audience’s emotional connection to the story’s protagonists.
- In the original work, The Hobbit really is about the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. Almost the entire work is told from his perspective, and there is very little going on in the way of character development for anyone else in the tale. While this creates a singular focus in the book, it would be hard to substantiate the urgency and importance of the movie’s quest if we feel no connection whatsoever to the Line of Durin. Embellishing the roles of the dwarves, and Thorin and his nephews in particular, gives us and Bilbo a reason to care about reclaiming Erebor.
2. To concretely establish The Hobbit as the precursor to The Lord of the Rings.
- A lot of the scenes that have been added to the films are clearly there in order to remind us of what is coming. When Tolkien published The Hobbit originally, he had no intention of writing a sequel, or including this story in the world he had already been privately building in the unpublished Silmarillion. When he was approached to write a sequel he took the opportunity to converge the two worlds in The Lord of the Rings. Subsequent releases of The Hobbit were modified for this purpose and it is no surprise that the filmmakers have modified it even further, albeit with a bit more flare than Tolkien would probably have been down with
3. To make what was written as a children’s book in 1937 more appealing to a contemporary, adult audience.
- The Hobbit as a book is much more fanciful and lighthearted than The Hobbit as a movie. While it retains a certain quirky humour, the overall tone of the films is quite serious. There is also a sense of urgency present in the movies that is absent in the book, an addition necessary to keep audiences at the edge of their seats for three long movies.
- The addition of other factors, such as the presence of Tauriel, the pursuit of Azog, and Peter Jackson’s irrepressible flair for the dramatic also fit into this category.
Quite a few of the characters who appear in The Hobbit do not actually appear in the book. While most of them do appear somewhere in Tolkien’s universe, others have been completely fabricated in order to fulfil a certain narrative purpose. We’ll go over their roles a bit later in the scene-by-scene review, but here is a quick look at who didn’t appear in The Hobbit.
Azog: Surprisingly, considering that this asshole of a Goblin plays the main antagonist of the film, Azog only gets a brief mention in The Hobbit, where we find out he’s dead. Super dead. Not like, we-think-he’s-dead-but-just-wait dead, but actually not alive. Early on in the book, Gandalf says to Thorin,
“Your grandfather Thror was killed, you remember, in the mines of Moria by Azog the Goblin.”
Like he could forget?
Then much, much later, right before the Battle of the Five Armies begins we find out how he died from Gandalf, once again,
“Bolg of the North is coming, O Dain! whose father you slew in Moria.”
Seriously, he didn’t even get a name drop that time, he’s just the dead father of some jerk goblin.
The decision to keep Azog alive is definitely one of the most significant differences between the book and the movie. By having Azog pursue the company right from the beginning, it lends a sense of urgency to the quest and allows for a strong feeling of continuity as they are always facing the same enemy rather than a random series of nameless bad guys. The fact that he murdered Thorin’s grandfather and allegedly vowed to destroy the line of Durin significantly heightens the tension during the series finale as well, but we’ll get to that later.
Radagast: The inclusion of Radagast in this work serves a few purposes. From early on we are able to establish the seriousness of the threat that the necromancer poses. Radagast and his sickly hedgehog provide a clear demonstration of the evil overlying Mirkwood, a theme that reappears throughout the series several times, most pointedly when Thorin and his company face down the spiders. Radagast and his information also provide a reason for Gandalf to pop off occasionally, whereas in the book he basically blusters something like ‘SECRET WIZARD BUSINESS, VERY IMPORTANT, CAN’T WAIT’ before disappearing for several chapters at a time.
Saruman and Galadriel: While neither of these characters actually appear in The Hobbit there is a brief mention of Gandalf popping off to the aforementioned secret wizard meeting to talk about this sketchy necromancer dude. Most of the film’s scenes with these two are very clearly meant to lead us to the understanding that the necromancer is indeed Sauron, and that this story isn’t going to end with the retaking of Erebor. Since most viewers will already be familiar with these two from The Lord of the Rings, using them to entrench the world of The Hobbit as its predecessor makes complete sense. I am personally disinclined to begrudge the inclusion of Galadriel because Tolkien’s works in general are seriously lacking in female representation and I appreciate the fact that badass goth Galadriel banishes Sauron and not one of the dudes.
Tauriel: Ohhhhh, Tauriel. Sadly, you don’t exist at all. Tauriel falls into the category of making the movies more appealing
to a contemporary audience. The story of The Hobbit checks off almost all the boxes for the requirements of an epic tale, but it is definitely lacking in the romance department. Tauriel and her almost-relationship with Kili serve to fill this gap, as well highlight the tension between the dwarves and elves by adding a whole star-cross lovers dynamic to the films. Her interactions with Thranduil also help to remind us what a raging asshat he is. The decision to include Tauriel, like Galadriel, also provides some much needed female representation to the movies. I’m pretty torn about this character. I appreciate the addition of a female warrior chick, but the fact that she is essentially turned into a damsel in distress for both Kili and Legolas pretty much negates her ass-kicking factor. Overall, I do not think that her character is essential to the story, though I have to confess I teared up like a lil’ bitch in her final scene.
Legolas: Legolas has been included for a few reasons. First of all, I honestly don’t think the dwarves could have travelled through Mirkwood without seeing him and not had a million fans asking where their favourite blonde elf was. It’s a pretty valid question and it also provides another extremely convenient way for the writers to tie The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings together. Furthermore, I don’t know if Peter Jackson could have survived making three films without any of this:
Also, he’s pretty.
Bard’s kids: I’m kind of upset that they came up with these guys. They definitely make Bard’s character very compelling and sympathetic. The scene with Bard and his son facing Smaug on the tower also really reinforces the film’s overarching theme of overcoming your destiny – the failure of Bard’s ancestor to shoot down the dragon mirrors the failure of Thorin’s forefathers to protect and reclaim Erebor, which is all very nice. However, the Bard of the books is super surly and rather crotchety and completely no nonsense and I absolutely adored him for the 3 seconds he is mentioned, where Tolkien definitely didn’t have time to mention his kids. His daughters also fall into the category of ‘damsels in distress’ over and over again, despite their brief demonstrations of spunk, which I could do without. Overall, these three are there to flesh out the character of Bard, and strengthen the movie’s themes regarding home and legacy.
Alfrid: Another completely made up character. Now, since we’ve been talking about Bard, let’s just delve a wee bit deeper. The Bard of the movies provides one of the films only true Heroes, he is brave, just, clever and loyal, and represents the all of the good things about men. Alfrid is basically there to be the complete opposite of all that. He is an awful, selfish, greedy coward and represents all the awful things that men can be. The appearance of the Master of Lake Town is rather brief in both the books and the film, and Alfrid essentially plays an amplified version of everything that character stands for. This character was essentially added because Peter and his team loved Ryan Gage so much that they created another role for him when his original character, Bilbo’s cousin Drogo, was cut from the film.
Well! That is it for our ‘brief’ overview. Coming up next, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.