The Hobbit: Why Tauriel Doesn’t Belong in Middle-earth

Some of you may find this installment more interesting than the last one; most of you will find it less so. I’ll try to keep it a little shorter and less surly.

This post is technically about the events of the movie that could never occur in Middle-earth, but most of those infractions involve Tauriel in some way. I think the movie would have been…almost acceptable if her entire character arc had simply been omitted (not least because there would hardly be any movie left). I don’t want to be unfair; there is a time and place for non-canonical character insertions…I think. None are coming to mind right now, but I’m sure there are situations where that kind of thing could be done well. However, Tauriel’s insertion is not one of those. She’s pretty and competent, but she doesn’t belong in Middle-earth, and nor do any of the shenanigans in which she is involved. The problem lies not in her character per se, but in the fact that Peter Jackson didn’t put in the effort to create believable, contextual scenarios for the universe he is adapting defiling. Without further ado, here are the main offenses.

1. The awkward and painful romance between Tauriel and Kili

This alone is enough to catapult a worthy Tolkien fan out of the story. I’m sure Jackson thinks he is providing some sort of meaningful social commentary, but it does not make sense in this universe. Elves and Dwarves generally cannot stand each other, due in part to a long and complicated history; but beyond that, romantic feelings such as those hinted at in the movie are fundamentally contrary to the two races’ natures.

Not actually a better love story than Twilight. (Image courtesy of EmilyEretica)
Not actually a better love story than Twilight.
(Image courtesy of EmilyEretica)

It’s time for a little Middle-earth history/theology lesson. This is all in The Silmarillion, if you don’t want to take my word for it.

Eru, or God, delegated the rule of Arda (Middle-earth, etc.) to fourteen helpers, seven men and seven women. They were sort of like angels with great power. One of these was Aulë, the master of all crafts. In the beginning, Aulë was anxious for Eru to create men and Elves so he could love them and teach them his skills. He was so impatient that he created the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves based on hazy ideas of what Eru’s creations would look like. He named them Doc, Sleepy, Grumpy, Bashful…I’m kidding, of course. They were probably all grumpy.

Not a thing in Middle-earth. Image courtesy of Disneyclips.com
Not a thing in Middle-earth. (Image courtesy of Disneyclips.com)

Eru found out what Aulë was doing, of course, and explained that the Seven Dwarves (hehe) had no wills of their own—Aulë could control them, but when he wasn’t thinking about them, they stood still and lifeless. Apparently Aulë hadn’t considered this, but he acknowledged his foolishness and offered to either give the Dwarves to Eru or to destroy them. Instead, Eru gave the Dwarves true life; however, he didn’t change them in any other way, and told Aulë, “often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.” Because Elves (and men) and Dwarves had different creators, their natures were such that they wouldn’t easily get along.

Biologically, this story has some interesting implications. Elves and men are obviously of the same species, because they produce fertile offspring. But I doubt Aulë took that sort of thing into account when he created the Dwarves. Indeed, it seems Elves felt no attraction: the Elvish word for “Dwarves” translates to “the stunted people,” and they often refer to them as “unlovely.” Dwarves appear to feel the same, for the most part. I want to keep this blog g-rated, but let’s just say that if an Tauriel and Kili really formed a romantic relationship, a sane Elf would probably consider Tauriel more similar to Pasiphaë than to Luthien.

…and that’s about all I want to say about that. Moving on!

2. Kili is wounded with a Morgul arrow (and Tauriel is sad!)

My main beef with this scene is that ordinary rank and file orcs get to carry Morgul weapons around and use them at will. Think about it: you have this awesome weapon that can turn anyone into a wraith. If these weapons were widely available, why wouldn’t every single orc, troll, and Nazgul  have one? Why is it that only Sauron’s most trusted servant has one in LotR? If these weapons are rare, why not save the one they have for, say, Thorin?

Maybe there’s an alternate explanation: the orcs that aren’t supposed to exist squandered all the Morgul-brand weapons while chasing random Dwarves through the wilderness, until Sauron put his (hypothetical) foot down. “This is why we can’t have nice things!” the Dark Lord hissed. “No more Morgul weapons. Henceforth, they may be used by Nazgul only.”

3. Tauriel knows fancy Elven magic healing spells

Okay, so this is something that probably irked me more than anything else in the movie, and really drove home the “bad fanfiction” vibe. To find what’s wrong with this scene, we have to do a little digging. Tolkien wrote an essay entitled “The Laws and Customs Among the Eldar” (Elves) that was not published during his lifetime. Still, when creating an original Elven character, it might have made some sense to read up on Elven culture, right? Even I read that essay before writing any of my terrible Silmarillion fanfiction (no, I won’t let you read it).

Anyway, the essay offers some interesting insight into the daily lives of Elves, including gender roles, career choices, marriage customs, naming, and even a form of reincarnation. For this discussion, I’ll focus on the first two topics.

With few exceptions, there are no rigidly-defined gender role divisions (there’s a law that only women can make lembas, for example), but there are activities that women or men generally prefer. In “Laws and Customs,” Tolkien gives an example of this:

“For instance, the arts of healing, and all that touches on the care of the body, are among all the Eldar most practiced by the [women]; whereas it was the elven-men who bore arms at need. And the Eldar deemed that the dealing of death, even when lawful or under necessity, diminished the power of healing, and that the virtue of the [women] in this matter was due rather to their abstaining from hunting or war than to any special power that went with their womanhood. Indeed in dire straits or desperate defence, the [women] fought valiantly, and there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child than is seen among mortals. On the other hand many elven-men were great healers and skilled in the lore of living bodies, though such men abstained from hunting, and went not to war until the last need.”

Make Lembas, not war (Image courtesy of Darkchylde)
Make lembas, not war
(Image courtesy of Darkchylde)

In LotR, we see Elrond acting as both a warrior and a healer, but the two incidents happen 3025 years apart. He’s had plenty of time to retire from the battlefield and develop the skills needed to (partially) heal Frodo of his own Morgul wound. In contrast, the fact that Tauriel is the captain of Thranduil’s guard (we’ll gloss over the fact that an Elf woman is highly unlikely to have such a job) implies that she wouldn’t have spent much time studying the healing arts, beyond perhaps minor first aid that might come in handy in her line of work—she certainly wouldn’t have developed the kind of skill to treat an injury as serious as Frodo’s or Kili’s. Even if she had extensively studied this level of healing, because she spends so much time in the “dealing of death,” she wouldn’t have the power necessary to apply her knowledge—technique isn’t everything, it seems.

Concluding Remarks

Look, I get it. The Hobbit has no prominent female characters, and only a few are mentioned specifically (Bilbo’s mother Belladonna, Girion’s wife, Fili and Kili’s mother, Gollum’s grandmother—let me know if I’m missing anyone). It would be absurd to expect three movies (three movies?!) to be cast entirely male. For this reason, I didn’t mind seeing Galadriel in An Unexpected Journey (though the portrayal of her character and her mind powers left something to be desired) or even giving Bard daughters (though they didn’t really do anything). But the Tauriel arc is just a farce. Furthermore, aren’t we all tired of love triangles already?

I rarely find it appropriate to give stinging criticism like this without any suggestions for improvement; lest I appear hypocritical, I’ve come up with some ways the screenwriters could have made Part Two more woman-friendly without dismantling the plot so abominably:

  • Show us Thranduil’s wife. She’s never mentioned by Tolkien, but she must be quite a cool lady to put up with her hot-headed husband and her air-headed son for centuries upon centuries. Show us more of Thranduil’s character through his interactions with his wife, and leave out that weird scene where half his face disappears.
  • Use Galadriel again—in person. Look, the whole “Gandalf attacks Dol Guldur alone knowing it’s a trap” thing is utter bogus. I don’t want to info-dump from the books again, but Appendix B of LotR says that Saruman (the head of the White Council, who met in Part One) has agreed to launch an attack. This attack was very well planned, and Galadriel would probably have played an integral part—she’s overtly depicted as being there by several artists, and is even more influential in future attacks.
  • Make Smaug a female. That, at least, wouldn’t require me to ignore everything I know about Elves.

Maybe all this blogging/complaining business is unproductive. Maybe I’ll go write my own screenplay, so that when these movies (movies? Plural?!) are inevitably remade, I can sell it to the producers and make millions. Heck, I’d give it to them for free just to stop Tolkien from rolling around that grave of his.

The Hobbit: The Desecration of Soul

It’s come to my attention that this blog is too frivolous. It’s time to tackle some meaty, important issues. So, here’s one: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is an abomination.

(I know this is old news, but I had to see it again before launching an attack to make sure I was totally justified. And, because we weren’t willing to spend more than a dollar on it, I had to wait until it hit Redbox.)

First, you have to understand something about Mr. and Mrs. Tom Nysetvold: we really love Tolkien. In fact, Tom and I decided we were interested in each other based on a conversation in which we discovered that I had read more Tolkien than he had. The books are important. Neither of us care for Peter Jackson or a lot of the things he’s done to the LotR trilogy. Despite this, we went to see the second installment of The Hobbit on a cold December night, just after it came out.

My first reaction after the movie was over: “You took me away from studying for this?” (We’d gone on a reading day, and I was being somewhat facetious.)

Tom’s first reaction: “I am so, so sorry.”

It was cringe-inducing. It was so painfully obvious that Peter Jackson had dug himself into this hole with this three movies business and this weird orc subplot and was just trying to throw stuff together in a way that would maximize his money-made to time-spent-reading-the-book ratio. It was fanfiction–really bad fanfiction. Worse, since Howard Shore’s score work was way below his usual excellent standard, I can honestly say the movie did not have one redeeming quality.

Okay, the Bombur barrel sequence made me giggle a little bit...
Okay, the Bombur barrel sequence made me giggle a little bit…

If Peter Jackson is greedy enough to turn a 95,000-word children’s book into three movies, then I can be lazy enough to break my analysis into three parts: 1) Things that were terrible because they deviated from the book; 2) Things that were terrible because they could never conceivably happen in Middle-earth; and 3) Things that were terrible because they could never conceivably happen anywhere that obeys the laws of logic and/or physics. We’ll tackle number 1 today.

(Edit: I get the feeling that people are as tired of reading about this stuff as I am of writing about it. In addition, I discovered some major problems with the main argument I was using for part 3, so let’s put this on hold.)

Deviations From the Book: Worst Offenders

Now, I know I have friends who prefer to consider movie adaptations as separate entities from their novels, evaluating the movie on its own merits. That’s perfectly reasonable, and those people are welcome to throw everything I’m about to say out the window. I, however, think differently. I see the original medium as the “soul” of the story, and every subsequent adaptation as just an accurate or inaccurate representation. The only person allowed to make acceptable changes, no questions asked, is the original creator. Even if Desolation of Smaug was a brilliant piece of film (it’s not), I couldn’t appreciate it because it was a poor representation of a great book. (Additionally–and I may lose friends over this–this is the reason I just can’t appreciate the musical Wicked: the book is distasteful, and all the catchy music in the world can’t make up for that).

With that in mind, I’ll only target the most offensive moments in this blog post.

1. Beorn

Everything about the way Beorn was handled was disappointing. He is portrayed as this surly dwarf-hating PETA-enthusiast who completely loses his mind and goes on killing rampages, werewolf style, when he turns into this savage bear-beast. Gandalf and crew are on the run from the orcs and have no provisions and nowhere else to go, so they force their way into Beorn’s house and barricade themselves inside, hoping he’ll decide to help the intruders out. Sure enough, Beorn finds his second least favorite type of people sleeping in his house and decides to roll with it. After they’ve explained their story, Beorn criticizes the dwarves for not caring about mice and flies enough, but decides to aid them because he hates orcs more; the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?

In the book, Beorn is more of a general introvert–antisocial, even. He just doesn’t want people in his house. He doesn’t make a habit of inviting friends over, and he certainly doesn’t indulge beggars (like Thorin and Co.). It’s true that he isn’t a huge dwarf fan; however, the reason is never specified, and he seems to recognize that some dwarves are more respectable than others (he even recognizes Thorin’s name and family).

Gandalf knows Beorn can be reasonable when coaxed into a good mood, so he comes up with a very clever plan to get on bear-man’s good side. He approaches Beorn with Bilbo and tells the dwarves to come in pairs, five minutes apart (“Bombur is fattest and will do for two, he had better come alone and last.” You’ve got to love Tolkien). Meanwhile, Gandalf is telling the story of their goblin adventure in the Misty Mountains. He gradually increases the implied number of their party at roughly the same rate at which the dwarves arrive at the house, and with each new arrival Beorn is increasingly intrigued by the story, so he impatiently welcomes the newcomers and urges Gandalf to continue. In the end, Beorn feeds them and puts them up not because he trusts them completely or he’s feeling particularly compassionate, but because Gandalf’s story was so entertaining.

Later, of course, Beorn does some investigating and verifies his guests’ claims, and is all the more willing to help them when he learns they killed the Great Goblin, admitting that his opinion of dwarves has greatly improved. Beorn gives them food and advice, and loans them ponies to get to the Mirkwood.

Why is Beorn’s portrayal a problem? Besides creating obvious inconsistencies–if Bear!Beorn is so unpredictable and dangerous, how does he have the presence of mind to follow them, only attacking if they try to take the ponies into Mirkwood?–Jackson discards a strategic, carefully-considered, diplomatic solution in favor of one in which our heroes push their way into a stranger’s house and presume upon his hospitality. The message Jackson is sending is that any problem that can be solved with a little bit of tact and cleverness is better off solved by brute force and an entitlement attitude. I don’t know about you, but that’s the exact opposite of the message I want my children to take from The Hobbit.

2. Encounter with the spiders

Like Beorn, the spider business was badly handled in the transition from book to movie, and for similar reasons; however, the problems here are greater, because Jackson’s alterations actually detract from Bilbo’s character development–and heaven knows there’s little enough of that in this movie, already. Seriously, the section of the book covered by this movie is supposed to be about Bilbo finally getting his act together and earning the dwarves’ respect through his quick thinking and unconventional skill set (not to mention a certain magic ring). But the movie focuses very little attention on Bilbo, and (to its detriment) gives Martin Freeman hardly any screen time at all.

In the book, after Bilbo kills the spider tying him up, names his sword, slips on the Ring,  and discovers more spiders salivating over his friends, he comes up with a clever and manageable rescue plan. Using a combination of expert rock-throwing and insulting songs made up on the spot, Bilbo (wisely INVISIBLE) enrages and draws off the spiders. He frees the dwarves, tells them to fight their way to safety, continues distracting the spiders, and drives them off himself with Sting.

The dwarves don’t only develop respect for Bilbo–they start looking to him for guidance and direction, in lieu of instruction from their missing leaders (Gandalf is off doing his thing, and Thorin has already been captured by the Elves at this point). Bilbo has gained authority by saving his friends and launching a successful attack on creatures much larger and more deadly than he is. Not a bad day’s work for a little hobbit.

Some of these elements are present in the movie (no mention of the word “attercop,” however), but it all starts to go downhill when Bilbo drops the Ring. The rest of the scene centers around Bilbo frantically trying to get the Ring back while his friends struggle outnumbered against the spiders, fighting with this freaky crab thing, and slowly coming out of this Ring-possession-induced haze.

Hold on a minute. The Ring is dormant at this point. The word “ring” is never even capitalized in this book, because it’s only important to the plot as a tool to help Bilbo accomplish his tasks. I’m not even sure Tolkien had conceptualized its nefarious past when he first wrote The Hobbit. I realize Jackson is trying to tie the two trilogies together, but Bilbo’s bizarre reluctance to keep the Ring on is nonsensical.

And then, just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, there are Elves.

Did anyone else groan audibly when this guy showed up?

Sure, let’s sacrifice Bilbo’s character development in favor of letting Orlando Bloom save the day and bring in the fangirls. Bad form, Peter Jackson. Bad form.

3. Just…this.

No.
No.

Note to random comment-er on IMDB: Don’t try to tell me this is Thranduil’s fëa influencing his body. I know Peter Jackson has no idea what a  fëa is.

 4. Lake-town

I was almost too intimidated by the sheer amount of wrong in the Lake-town sequence, but Tom requested a section on it. The best way to sum up what’s wrong with the sequence is that none of its content comes from the book; as a result, it’s disjointed, surreal, and agonizingly slow in the movie.

Tolkien spends very little time describing the most boring part of the story. In my copy, Thorin and Co. are in and out in less than six pages. They make their grand entrance, have a brief tense encounter with some Wood-elves (“Hey! These were our prisoners!” “So what? We’re not talking to you.”), get the people excited, party a bit, collect Lake-town swag, and leave. Bard (the Bowman!) is not mentioned, because he isn’t important at this point–he becomes important later, because of his status as the captain of the town archers and his impressive lineage, but none of that is relevant yet.

At this point, the movie had me simply asking, “Why?!”

Why is all this political garbage necessary? Why make Bard out to be this malcontent rabble-rouser? Why has he been demoted to “Bard the Bargeman”?

What could be a legitimate, plot-driven purpose for leaving four dwarves behind? Don’t you need all the manpower (dwarfpower) you can get against a fire-breathing dragon? Sure, leave the injured guy with the healer, but don’t you care more about your cause than to abandon your company because Thorin made a very reasonable decision? (And don’t get me started on Kili’s “Morgul-blade” injury. That’s a major subject of the next post.)

Why does Lake-town need to be attacked by orcs? Isn’t it going to be attacked by a dragon in just a few hours? Give the poor town a break!

Why are Legolas and Tauriel here? What legitimate, plot-driven purpose could they possibly serve (beyond muddling things up when the dragon finally appears)? (More on my dissatisfaction with Tauriel in the next post.)

I don’t have the answers to these questions. I don’t think Peter Jackson has the answers to these questions.

 …

Well, I think this post is quite long enough. In summary, the alterations Peter Jackson made were not only unnecessary, but simply bad. But worry not, Tolkien purists: more faithful adaptations of the professor’s works exist. In particular, I highly recommend Fellowship! The Musical (the soundtrack can be found on Amazon or on Spotify, if you’re into that) (also, who thinks “Dwarf, Elf, Mithrandir–everyone is welcome here!” would be a great tagline for this blog?). Tune in next time for Part 2.

 

Chemistry: A Meme-tastic Tribute

In just a few short weeks, I’ll be graduating from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. It’s been a long, hard road, but filling out the senior exit survey brought back a lot of delightful memories. The past four years really have been filled with memorable (if not always strictly pleasant) experiences.

I’ve been wanting to do a little chemistry department tribute post, but I didn’t want to be sappy or overly sentimental. And then it hit me: memes! In my experience, it’s almost impossible to be sappy with memes.

And so, here it is: one chemistry major’s class-by-class experience, illustrated by memes. This will probably only be slightly amusing to other chemistry majors, but that’s okay. (Just to be clear, this should be my only meme post for a very long time.)

Chem 111:

chem111

Chem 112:
chem112forreal
(Yes, this was the topic of not one but two lectures, one of which was allegedly the final exam review. It was a fun class.)

Chem 113:
chem113

Chem 227:
chem227

Chem 351:
chem351real

Chem 352:
chem352
Chem 354:
chem354

Chem 455:
chem455

Chem 462:
chem462

Chem 391:
chem391
Chem 463:
chem463
Chem 464/5:
chem464

Chem 481:

chem481
Chem 514:
Rogelio
Image credit to Glen Thurston

Chem 521:
chem521

Chem 518:
chem518
Image credit to Glen Thurston

 

Chem 523:
chem523
Image credit to Glen Thurston

 

I have no intention of dumping all my chemistry knowledge after graduation, but that’s a subject for another post.

Writing update: 30,509/35,000 words! The end is in sight!