11/07/2012

READING THE HOBBIT IN SEARCH FOR THORIN - PART I

It's time to wrap up for cast and crew led by Peter Jackson in New Zealand, for a few of them to present The Hobbit first movie at San Diego Comic-con  2012 , and it's rather time for me to start my personal journey into The Hobbit  by J.R.R. Tolkien. December 2012 is not that distant anymore. 
This reading is something I planned as soon as I heard Richard Armitage was going to play Thorin Oakenshield.  As it has already happened in the latest years, I'm going to approach  a genre I've never been interested in , as a total newbie, to follow Mr Armitage's career with due background information and knowledge  to be able to enjoy and appreciate every little aspect of his detailed acting. 
If it is not totally clear yet, I've just confessed I've never read Tolkien's books nor been interested in them so far. You can't imagine how many times my teenage students have asked me to read and teach Tolkien to them, but I've always had to answer  : how can I teach something I don't know anything about? They could have taught me much about Tolkien and the world he created on the reverse.

However, it's never too late to start.
From now on I'll post  about my quest for Tolkien's Thorin from time to time. The account of my reading of The Hobbit  will be divided in a few posts. Finally, if you already know everything about the book and its characters, just be patient with me and, if you don't mind,  help me to notice things I may not, seen my little experience with the tales from the Middle Earth.

OK! Ready to start. What kind of character is Thorin? 
What kind of a leader? What's his journey in The Hobbit like? 
Chapter 1.

O my! Not a regal entrance for the king of the dwarves, but a funny tumbling down and into the quiet comfortable life of Bilbo Baggins: 
"an enormously important dwarf, in fact no other than the great Thorin Oakenshield himself, who was not at all pleased at falling flat on Bilbo's mat with Bifur, Bofur and Bombur on top of him. For one thing Bombur was immensely fat and heavy. Thorin indeed was very haughty, and said nothing about service, but poor Mr Baggins said he was sorry so many times, that at last he grunted 'pray don't mention it', and stopped frowning" (p.11) 
Thorin seems more the parody of a great leader than the impressive portrait of a king here. Nothing to do with the regal appearance he made in Peter Jackson's trailer announcing film one, An Unexpected Journey.


Well, let's read on and forget the film for a while. In the book Thorin has a sky-blue hood with a silver tassel, he asks for some red wine, he talks with Gandalf while the others clear up ,  he is too important to be engaged in that kind of chores, he blows the most enormous smoke-rings from his pipe. He orders and is obeyed by the dwarves who rush to accomplish his wishes: "Now for some music!"
Thorin plays his harp, "wrapped in a green cloth. It was a beautiful golden harp and when Thorin struck it the music began all at once, so sudden and sweet that Bilbo forgot everything else". (p. 14)

They sing and play a melancholic tune, "Far over the misty mountains cold" and, afterwards, Thorin gives his first official speech. He sounds loquacious, refined but slightly pointless:
"Gandalf, dwarves and Mr Baggins! We are met together in the house of our friend and fellow conspirator, this most excellent and audacious hobbit - may the hair on his toes never fall out! All praise to his wine and ale! ( ... )   We are met to discuss our plans, our ways, means, policy and devices. We shall soon before break of day start on our long journey, a journey from which some of us, or perhaps all of us (except our friend and counsellor, the ingenious wizard Gandalf) may never return. It is a solemn moment "(p. 17)
And solemn Thorin sounds in his speech especially when he warns all the participants of the dangers they are facing undertaking that journey: they are risking their lives. This is something we must positively acknowledge: Thorin is a born-leader. No fear is conveyed through his  words, no hesitancy.
After they have a look at the precious map Thorin's ancestors gave to Gandalf, which will be indispensable on their forthcoming journey, Thorin gives his second, very long,  official speech:
"There was a most specially greedy, strong ad wicked worm called Smaug. One day he flew up into the air and came south. The first we heard of it was a noise like a hurricane coming from the North, and the pine-trees on the Mountain creaking and cracking in the wind. Some of the dwarves who happened to be outside ( I was one luckily...) Well, from a good way off we saw the dragon settle on our mountain in a spout of flame. Then he came down the slopes and when he reached the woods they all went up in fire" (p. 23)

The narration goes on (pp. 22 - 24) with cinematic, almost graphic precision. The description of the distant catastrophe is powerful  before our mind's eyes. Thorin sounds painful more than resentful, he is concentrated in the narration of the events more than on his own feelings.  He is a witness of the facts, but he just mentions himself once, in brackets.  
If his first speech he might have sounded pointless, now we have a really touching, gripping report of dragon Smaug's attack to their lands and caves and treasures. Through his own words, we discover Thorin is a dispossessed king yearning to go back home after a long tragic exile, he is an outcast longing to go back to his fatherland. That makes him a  romantic character from now on who doesn't search for pity, but for support and practical help from Mr Baggins: "Aren't you the burglar? And isn't sitting on the door-step long your job, not to speak of getting inside the door?"
Then Thorin orders his breakfast : "I like six eggs with my ham, when starting on a journey: fried not poached, and mind you don't break 'em"  and goes to sleep  in the best bedroom in Bilbo's house. The hobbit can hear him humming to himself: "Far over the misty mountains cold..."
I suspect we'll see much of the romantic, sensitive leader of the dwarves and very little of his funny, haughty  alter ego  in the two Hobbit movies. At least,  this has become my conviction after watching the trailer.  Thorin action figure instead hasn't got a very reassuring look! (HERE)


End of part I

Reading The Hobbit in search for Thorin - Part II will be up on blog soon. 
Maria Grazia

Have a look at the new panoramic poster of The Hobbit!

16 comments:

Jenny Allworthy said...

Hi Maria Grazia! I have also managed to avoid all Tolkien books and films until now. But RA's voice in that clip! He sings! He speaks! Now I have to see the film and I guess summer holiday would be a good time to read the book too. You have inspired me!

A fellow RA addict,

Jenny Allworthy

Maria Grazia said...

@Jenny Allworthy
I find RA's Thorin definitely a charmer ... He's the real inspiration for OUR (mine and yours)reading :-)
Enjoy your own journey into the book, then!

Summer said...

Welcome to Tolkien's World Maria! I'm sure you will enjoy the ride! Your students will certainly be glad you're including some Tolkien in your English Literature Course.
Enjoyed reading your first post. I also believe Thorin's approach in the film will be different, quoting RA's own words.. "There are elements of Tolkien's description of Thorin that I'm trying to evolve.." "I'm trying to make him more human and less cantankerous the entire journey." I just love this last quote, sounds so RA LOL
So, let's get ready for a performance treat!!
Enjoy the read!!

Maria Grazia said...

@Summer
LOL! I had missed the cantankerous bit :D

Trudy said...

I also have never been interested in reading Tolkien. I started The Hobbit some months ago but lost interest in continuing it part way. I suppose I should try again as the fervor for the film really begins to grow.
For now, though, I'll let others tell me about it.

A Scattering said...

I've recently pulled out my copy of The Hobbit to re-read it in preparation for the release of part one of the film in December.

Thorin, as portrayed by Richard Armitage in the first photo of your post, will be very handsome dwarf.

Amapola Bennet said...

I am going to watch it because of Richard and Martin Freeman :D

phylly3 said...

I finally read this book not long ago (because of RA's involvement). I wasn't able to envision Bilbo Baggins as my personal hero when I first attempted to read it long ago. But Thorin makes very good hero, especially when imagined with RA's looks!
I am almost ready for a reread!

Maria Grazia said...

@Trudy
I'm still not convinced it is my cup of tea but I'll make the effort to get to the end. As @phylly3 says, my quest for Thorin imagined with RA's looks is exciting. And, yes, @Amapola, many of us here in and around Fly High! will watch The Hobbit just for Richard Armitage. Of course, I loved Martin Freeman as John Watson and I'm ready to like him as Bilbo.
Dear @A Scattering, it's impossible to resist to Thorin's magnetic charm in that photo, isn't it?
Thanks a lot to all, for your nice comments! MG

prue batten said...

Tolkein has been a part of my life for over 40 years, Maria. A dearly loved part. I hope you'll find the beauty in his writing as I did.

mommbsta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mommbsta said...

this is so FANtastic - the phenomenol interest in a character/story because of the adoration for 'the' actor... (well that's the only reason i watched Guy Of Gisborne ie Robin Hood)

Maria Grazia said...

@Prue, I hope I'll enjoy my journey into The Hobbit. I really don't expect much, apart from some fun. My reading is bit by bit to notice and analyze Thorin as a character but I'm sure I'll find something to appreciate in Tolkien's writing and I hope I'll be able to read pages from his books with my students in the next months. Just in time to invite them to see the film?
@mommbsta
Guy? I liked Richard's characterization of Gisborne very much. Then RA is the only reason why I saw Strike Back and several other series. Not North and South or Sparkhouse:I didn't know who he was when I bought the DVDs!
Thanks for contributing your opinions to both of you! MG

Melanie said...

I've been planning to read a Tolkien book for years and since I want to see the movie, it seems like perfect timing in the next few months.

Do you know if anyone is hosting a read-along?

Maria Grazia said...

I'm afraid, I can't help you, @Melanie. I don't know about any read-along. But I'm a terrible blogger in this period. Very little spare time to spend online.
I'm going to post once a month, dividing my musings in installments from July to December when the film is out.
See you next month, then, to discuss chapters 2-3-4.
Thanks for your interest. MG

mommbsta said...

North & South is da bomb - story, cast, music - everything. seen him before but that's where the keen interest sparked from.
sweet reads.