13/08/2012

READING THE HOBBIT IN SEARCH FOR THORIN - PART II

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit upcoming movie

This is my second post in the series “Reading the Hobbit in search for Thorin”.       (Click HERE for Part I)
The second part of my reading has been influenced by one of  Richard Armitage’s recent statements in  an interview related to the upcoming Hobbit movies. When asked how he tried to update a classical Lord figure like his Thorin Oakenshield  for  a contemporary audience, he answered:

I never really thought of updating it. I actually did the opposite. I thought of it as more kind of Greek tragedy. I looked at Shakespeare, a lot of my preparation I was looking at Henry V and bits of Richard III, just to find roots in British literature that were deeper. But I think making it feel contemporary the big themes of the story — loyalty and trust and camaraderie — I think those things are contemporary (transcript from http://io9.com/5929748/the-hobbits-thorin-oakenshield-tells-us-what-happens-when-you-get-a-tolkien-dwarf-drunk . See interview following the same link).

I  wonder  if  the bits Richard Armitage mentions are really of Shakespeare’s iconic wicked king or if he had  the ideal of the fair king,  which the Ricardian historians  rediscovered through documents,  in his mind. So I went on reading The Hobbit in search for Thorin and a bit also of  Richard III or Henry V.  I can anticipate I didn’t find much of them in Tolkien’s Thorin. So, as usual, this means that  Richard Armitage has been giving his own very personal interpretation to the character. Under the direction of Tolkien expert,  Peter Jackson, of course.

N.B. Don’t go on reading if you mind spoilers!


Chapters II,III,IV,V,VI are fast paced and crammed with adventurous episodes but they offer just  a few  glimpses of Thorin Oakenshield and add very little to what we already know of his character from chapter 1.
He talked and said a lot in the opening pages,  while now,  once the journey starts,  he becomes an almost silent presence often mentioned by the narrator but rarely speaking himself. We can imagine him riding with his dignified attitude, concentrated and focused on his responsibilities as the leader of a  dangerous quest.

In chapter II , Roast Mutton,  Thorin sincerely  thanks Buglar Bilbo for his hospitality and for his offer of professional assistance -  it is actually  a fake note written by Gandalf  to flatter Bilbo into accompany them – in which he also states the terms of their agreement: “cash on delivery, up to and not exceeding one fourteenth of total profits (if any); all travelling expenses guaranteed in any event; funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives, if any occasion arises and the matter is not otherwise arranged for”.
The note ends with what may sound a firm order more than an invitation: “ …and shall await your respected person at the Green Dragon Inn, Bywater, at 11 am sharp. Trusting that you will be punctual, we have the honour to remain yours deeply. Thorin & Co.” (p. 29)
When Bilbo  fortuitously bumps into the company of dwarves riding their ponies, Thorin holds his leading position and gives sporadic, abrupt and perentory orders or mutters comments if not complains:
“Up you two get, and off we go!” (p. 30)
“And where shall we get a dry patch to sleep on?” (p.31)
(to Bilbo) “You must go on and find out all about that light … Now scuttle off, and come back quick, if all is well. If not, come back if you can! If you can’t, hoot twice like a barn-owl and once like a screech-owl, and we will do what we can” (p. 33)
(to Gandalf) “Where did you go, if I may ask?” (p. 43)
(to Gandalf) “Exactly!” said Thorin, “but could you be more plain?” (p.43)
(to Gandalf) “Thank you” (p. 43)
I start missing loquacious Thorin in chapter 1! He results seriously concentrated on his goal, responsibly concerned for the people in his company and awkwardly concise,  if not taciturn now.

In  the episode which follows, Bilbo’s unlucky encounter with  the Trolls,   some of the dwarves are taken as prisoners first . They are caught in old smelling sacks. “ Thorin came last and he was not caught unawares. He came expecting mischief and didn’t need to see his friends’ legs sticking out of sacks to tell him that things were not all well.” (p. 37)  He is an experienced , wise leader here,  not at all unwary. Then he exclaims: “What’s all this trouble? Who has been knocking my people about?” Bilbo from behind a tree warns him.
A hilarious fight between the trolls,  Bilbo and Thorin follows which ends with troll William coming up behind and popping a sack right over Thorin’s head and down to his toes.  (p.39)
Gandalf arrives and saves all: this will be the first of a long series of incredible rescues. This is a also a crucial episode in the story since Gandalf and Thorin,  before leaving the trolls’ place,  stole a couple of  swords which probably belonged to some of their victims and which will influence the course of the events:
“Two caught their eyes particularly, because of their beautiful scabbards and jewelled hilts. Gandalf and Thorin each took one of these; and Bilbo took a knife in a leather sheath..”
Now the journey goes on and the wizard foresees that  their road will soon become dangerous and difficult . So he suggests to  stop at Rivendell where they will be guests at Elrond's, one of his friends, and will be able to replenish their stock of provisions. (p.43)

Chapter III , A Short Rest, opens with a darkening atmosphere, full of sullen expectations: “They did not sing or tell stories that day, even though the weather improved…  They had begun to feel that danger was not far away on either side” (p. 44) 
Gandalf leads  their way to food and rest . They meet elves living in the valley midway to Rivendell  but don’t accept their invitation to stop for songs and food. Hobbits don’t like elves and “Even decent enough dwarves like Thorin and his friends think them foolish (which is a very foolish thing to think) or get annoyed with them. For some elves tease them and laught at them, and most of all at their beard” (p. 48)
Anyway their stay at Elrond’s -  an elf-friend, noble and as fair in face as and elf-lord -  resulted invigorating and “all of them, the ponies as well, grew refreshed and strong in a few days (a fortnight) there.” (p.50)
Thanks to Elrond, who knows  all about runes of every kind, they discover how powerful the two swords    (Orcrist and Glamdring) they stole from the trolls are:  they are actually magic swords.
Whence did the trolls get them, I wonder?” said Thorin looking at his sword (Orcrist)  with new interest (…) Thorin pondered these words: “I will keep this sword in  honour”, he said, “May it soon cleave goblins once again”
A wish that will be granted soon enough. But let's  follow facts in their chronological order.
Elrond helps them to decipher the map they have with them, especially  the moon-letters they can’t see.  He reads: Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole”. Thorin immediately got the message:
“Durin, Durin!” said Thorin. “He was the father of the father of the fathers of the eldest race of Dwarves, the Longbeards, and my first ancestor: I am his heir”  (p. 51)
He reasserts his noble rank, he is a dispossessed  king. Elrond gives the map back to Thorin and they all celebrate midsummer’s eve with the elves.

Chapter IV, Over Hill and Under Hill, includes very hectic action since the company of dwarves and their hobbit friend led by Gandalf end up in the caves inhabited by ferocious goblins in order to find a refuge from bad weather. 
The goblins were very rough, and pinched unmercifully, and chuckled and laughed in their horrible stony voices.  (…)  began to sing , or croak, keeping time with the flap of their flat feet on the stone, and shaking their prisoners as well . (…) It sounded truly terrifying.  (…) They did not hate dwarves especially, no more than they hated everybody and everything, …  but they had a special grudge against Thorin’s people because of the war which you have heard mentioned …”(pp. 57-60)
Thorin is not scared and bluntly and ironically answers the goblins’ enquiry on their identity: “Thorin the dwarf at your service!”
Gandalf ,  who had disappeared meanwhile,  comes back just in time and Thorin and the wizard fights with Orcrist and Glamdring in their hands, protecting their mates’ escape from that awful situation: “there was nothing else to be done and the goblins did not like it” (p.64)
Here Thorin becomes the great stoic warrior ready to sacrifice his life for the others. With his sword and his strength he bravely faces  and tries  to stop the rage of the goblins.  A glimpse of Richard III, the warrior king? Not so sure, tragicality totally lacks in this books, but it may be a trait of the movies. 
At the end of this chapter  Dori, the dwarf carrying Bilbo in their frantic flight, is grabbed from behind in the dark and the poor hobbit rolls off his shoulders into the blackness, hit his head on a  rock and lost consciousness.


In chapter V, Riddles in the Dark , Bilbo awakes in a cave where he meets Gollum, a frightening spooky creature used to live in the darkness, with whom he starts a battle of riddles. If the hobbit wins, Gollum must show him the way out. No Thorin in this long chapter which ends with Bilbo stealing from Gollum his “precioussss” ring and succeeding in escaping after turning invisible.

In chapter VI , Out of the Frying –pan into the Fire, Bilbo re-joins his mates just when they fear he has been kept and even killed by the goblins. He is so confident now with his ring in his pocket!  He tells them everything about his adventure  with Gollum and the goblin, s but he doesn’t mention the ring and its power.
There’s little Thorin also in Chapter VI.  He is caught in a new misudventure with his companions, he is there but  not really under the spotlight.
 They are  beyond the Misty Mountains now  and their journey must go on.  However, after escaping the goblins they find themselves surrounded by terrifying wolves, friends of the goblins. They happen to be just were wolves and goblins decided to meet at night. This time another friend of Gandalf’s comes to rescue them: The Lord of the Eagles.

End of Part II. I didn't notice anything of Richard III or Henry V. For that, I'm sure we'll have to wait for December 14.  Till Part III then. It'll be up in about a month.

Maria Grazia

6 comments:

thorinoakenshield.net said...

You've run into the same issues I had! When I first read that RA was cast as Thorin it surprised me, not because of his appearance, but because I couldn't remember the character as having enough depth for the likes of Richard. I wrote something on the dilemma here:
http://thorinoakenshield.net/what-sort-of-thorin-will-we-see-in-the-hobbit-film/

It is really not until the last few chapters that Thorin's moral ambiguity surfaces, which make his character an interesting one. But knowing this happens means RA can call on it throughout the film if need be.

Once you are done with The Hobbit, make sure you read the section on Durin's Folk in Appendix A of Return of the King (the movie will most likely be using parts of this), and also check out this link:
https://sites.google.com/site/portablelibrary/thequestforerebor

It has part of that Appendix information, and also one version of the "Quest of Erebor", which Tolkien wrote much later, and contains more of Thorin's doubts about hiring Bilbo. To me, this later Thorin is almost nothing like the one we see in the "Unexpected Party". I think Tolkien modified his views of dwarves over time, making them less comical and lighthearted, and more grave and noble, but by that time he couldn't re-write the Hobbit since everyone loved it as it was.

Maria Grazia said...

@thorinoakenshield.net
Thanks a lot! Your contribution is definitely interesting. I'll check out the Appendixes you suggest and read more about Tolkien's Thorin following your links. I'm really curious to see what Richard Armitage will make of him. But I deeply trust his talent after watching him transform into plausible heroes less relevant characters.

onemorelurker1 said...

Hi MG,

My general impression when I read the book (before ComicCon was held and thus, RA's comments), was that the background story of every element, land and characters has been very well thought and we know that by the different bits of information the story teller shares with us but not really by the story itself, so if we wanted to know more about -in this case the dwarves- just by reading their journey, we wouldn't get much information.

The focus of the story being Bilbo and his adventure, turns into less time for Thorin and less time for us to 'see' him and get to know him.

When I saw the comment from RA that you post above, I was very excited because I understood from his comment, that he would show us more about Thorin, that we would learn more, even if that doesn't mean necessarily more screen time.

OML :)

Maria Grazia said...

@onemorelurker1

Ciao! First of all, thanks for dropping by and leaving your comment.
What you say is definitely true and, of course, the focus of the tale is Bilbo. I bet Richard will have enough screen time to show how he can give depth to any character, Thorin included ;-)

bccmee said...

When I read Shakespeare, I really visualize the action. It definitely helps in reading Tolkien or any author. I appreciate Richard Armitage's quote about going to the root of the story and not trying to "update" it.

Maria Grazia said...

@bccmee
I like listening to what Richard Armitage says about his characters and his research on them. He always succeeds in making them really special. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.