Book Review: Dragonwatch 2: Wrath of the Dragon King, by Brandon Mull

All right, boys and girls. Gather ’round, ’cause it’s DRAGONWATCH TIME!

Dragon

Dragonwatch: Wrath of the Dragon King came out last October, and man. Brandon Mull pulled out all the stops with this one. Usually he seems to wait until about book 4 of a series before ramping up the intensity, but when I finished this one, I was speechless. If this is book 2, what are the next three going to be like?

I’ve been dying to talk about this book, so let’s get started!

***Major spoilers will be avoided, but if you’re sensitive about that sort of thing, you may want to skip this post. Also, any promotional materials released before the book came out (book trailer, exerpts, etc.) are fair game.***

91HBXmR1P5L

Wrath of the Dragon King picks up right where Dragonwatch left off. Having found the caretaker’s scepter and humiliated Celebrant, the dragon king, Kendra and Seth Sorensen are invited to the Feast of Welcome at Celebrant’s palace. The king officially declares war on the human caretakers, has their transportation killed, and forces them to take the long way home. As if hiking past a creepy castle on a festival night in a deadly sanctuary isn’t bad enough, they learn that Celebrant is trying to get the Wizenstone, a magical doohickey that either side can use to deus ex machina their way to victory in this war. Once again it’s up to plucky youngsters Kendra and Seth, along with their rotating cast of closest friends, to get the macguffin and save the day!

(Quick side note: What’s up with the name Celebrant? It’s a river in Middle-earth, a city on Roshar, and of course, ol’ kingy here. Is there some sort of rule that every fantasy author has to have something named Celebrant in their books? Because I’m so in. I hereby pledge to put a Celebrant of some kind in every fantasy novel I write from now on.)

The Good

First good thing: Tanu is back! Everyone’s favorite Samoan potion master returns from parts unknown, providing some much-needed Fablehaven nostalgia and adult supervision. I know, middle grade novels are supposed to be all about the kids. And don’t worry, Kendra and Seth are the ones who save the day, as usual. But Brandon Mull’s side characters are so much fun that you really miss them when they’re not around.

As such, sometimes I wish Brandon would work with the expansive cast he already has instead of introducing tons of new characters in every book. But at least one character introduced in Wrath of the Dragon King is worth the space: Ronodin, the dark unicorn.

Ronodin was actually mentioned in Fablehaven as a unicorn who willingly corrupted his horns, whatever that means. In Dragonwatch, Bracken went to Soaring Cliffs to stop him from wreaking havoc in another dragon sanctuary. Obviously he failed, because Ronodin starts slinking around the Feast of Welcome, causing trouble and harassing Kendra. He shows potential as an interesting villain for the series, and after finishing the book, I think he’s more twisted than the Sphinx. Here’s Ronodin in the book trailer, which gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect.

 

There are some spectacular dragon fights in this book. A dragon called Madrigus challenges Celebrant for the kingship at the end of Chapter 6 (which was released on Entertainment Weekly back in July, so calm down), which in dragon-land calls for a fight to the death. Which is awesome. The Somber Knight—Wyrmroost’s resident dragon slayer—makes a reappearance as well, and definitely earns his keep by throwing down some dragon carnage.

Several characters show some decent growth in this story. This might be the first book to break from the pattern of Seth doing idiotic things and endangering everyone, and Kendra bailing him out. He shows some genuine bravery in this book—not just reckless bravado, but actual courage. Especially at the end (oh my gosh the end! (sobs)). As for Kendra, she continues to be the level-headed, combat-useless older sister we know and love. She deals with some tricky situations in this book, but she pulls through every time. Without giving too much away, she has a hilarious and delightful Cinderella-style fairytale princess moment. Now she just needs her handsome prince to come back…grumble grumble…

Where was I? Oh yeah. Character growth. It seemed like Raxtus was going down a dark path in book 1, but he redeems himself here. And it’s fun to watch Knox and Tess, the Sorensens’ cousins introduced in the first book, getting involved in the magical stuff. Tess’s ability to see fairies and brownies and goblins without drinking the milk is fun and raises all sorts of questions about belief and magic, and Knox becomes less of an arrogant jerk as he’s forced to acknowledge he doesn’t know everything about everything. Good times.

Finally, Patton Burgess somehow makes an appearance in this book. It was so ridiculous that I laughed out loud. But it’s Patton, the ultimate bro, so overall I was pleased.

The Not-So-Good

My chief complaint is that once again, Warren Burgess is unacceptably absent. A Goodreads reviewer made the excellent point that it’s been eight (going on nine) years since we’ve had a book with Warren in it. Tanu is great and all, but I just want to know what my favorite injury-prone doofus is up to.

For that matter, I’ve got some bad news for Bracken-lovers: this installment is completely devoid of our favorite unicorn prince. Dragonwatch? More like Brackenwatch, amirite?

Seriously, though, I loved the Bracken/Kendra dynamic from Keys to the Demon Prison. All romance-y stuff aside, Bracken works extremely well on a team with both Kendra and Seth, and I was excited for more of that in this series. I’m hopeful that progress will be made toward rescuing Bracken from Unicorn McEdgebro in book 3, though. You can’t just leave that plot thread dangling for too long. I’m predicting that he’ll come into play fairly early on, just in time to help Seth out of his latest scrape.

As far as characters go, I continue to not be a huge fan of Calvin, the tiny hero. He’s a little too go-team, giddy-up, optimistic for me. After he swam in a bowl of custard in book one, I pretty much lost all respect for him. And come on, he says things like, “Try smiling. When I was just a boy, I remember my papa could smile his way out of anything.” What a chump. I was actually relieved when he couldn’t go into the castle with the kids. And while Lomo the Fair-folk outlaw sounded cool on paper (well, I guess this is all on paper), he doesn’t really contribute much to the story or the group dynamic. He’s basically the Legolas of the Dragonwatch crew.

derpylegolas2

One little thing that’s bugged me since Fablehaven is the weapons used in these situations. Everyone’s using a sword or a crossbow or a staff–Kendra even spends some time learning to use a bow. And yes, many of these weapons are magical, which is great. But does anyone really think a sword is the best thing to use in a fight with a dragon? Wouldn’t, like, a magical machine gun be better? Don’t try to tell me that, in a world where Larry Correia supposedly exists, there aren’t magical firearms and adamant bullets. Dale has used a shotgun to save the kids in the past, so don’t try to tell me the Sorensens are anti-2nd-amendment hippies. If time is of the essence, and you’re trying to teach someone like Kendra—with the musculature of a typical fifteen-year-old girl—to fight magical bad guys, wouldn’t it make more sense to take her to the ol’ Fablehaven shooting range? I dunno, man. This has just been on my mind for a while.

I picked up some inconsistencies regarding Seth’s shadow charmer powers. At the beginning of the book, the Chinese dragon Camarat is testing Seth on his ability to withstand dragon paralysis. Seth is frozen, but manages to keep his mind clear. Now I could be wrong, but I understood dragon fear as having two components: extreme magical fear, and overwhelming distraction. Seth, as a shadow charmer, is immune to magical fear. Kendra’s fairykind powers make her immune to distracter spells. So the first time they faced a dragon together, Seth didn’t feel any fear but couldn’t remember anything about himself or anything else; meanwhile, Kendra was terrified and frozen solid, but was able to think clearly the whole time. So when the kids were touching, they combined their powers and negated both components. In this case, Seth doesn’t feel any fear, but the distracter component seems to be absent. Although it’s possible that Camarat was deliberately holding that part back. But later on, Kendra is in a situation where she has to pay attention to a distracter spell in order to navigate, which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. So maybe there’s a consistent issue with keeping these powers straight. I get it, though. There’s a lot of Fablehaven lore at this point.

In Conclusion…

Wrath of the Dragon King  was a wild ride. And all things considered, I really enjoyed it, even more than the first one. Despite the fact that certain characters are unaccounted for, I’d give it five stars (and I promise to keep the Warren whinging to a minimum from now on). It’s impressive that after seven books in this world, Brandon Mull is still picking up momentum, and I can’t wait until the next book comes out in October.

(P.S. To my little sister: Read the book already! We need to talk about stuff!)

Happy reading!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Farm Animals

People have been asking me to review The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (BotFA) since it came out last December. However, we’d decided not to see it in theaters. Since it came out on DVD at the end of March and Dan was born in early April (we actually tried to use the movie to send me into labor, but it didn’t work), a timely blog post just wasn’t going to happen. This weekend we were bored and Redbox had a copy, so here we are.

We did put our youngest Tolkien fan to bed before we got started, to protect his innocent mind.

"No, Mom! Not another Hobbit movie!"

“No, Mom! Not another Hobbit movie!” I know, son. I know.

I watched BotFA with very, very low expectations, so I have to admit I didn’t work up as much rage this time around. I was able to appreciate the few things Peter Jackson did well and laugh at the absurdity of it all. So, for this blog post, we’re going to look at the good, the bad, and the ridiculous.

The Good

Like its prequels, BotFA had some redeeming qualities. It was probably worth $1.50.

As always, Martin Freeman is the best part of the movie. I liked nearly every scene Bilbo was in: his interactions with Thorin were great; the acorn scene was cute; the negotiation scene with Bard and Thranduil was well done. You know what would have been great? Tolkien should have just written a book about Bilbo and cut out all that other nonsense. Oh wait…

Sorry, this is supposed to be the positive section. *ahem*

Next on the “stuff that wasn’t terrible” list: This guy.

Dain_Ironfoot

I liked Dain a lot. He comes riding in with his dwarf army and his battle pig (more on that later) and makes it clear that he won’t take any crap from Gandalf  or Thranduil or anyone else. You know what? Just watch it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-SG2o_rEHs

Then he leads his army to face down the orcs while the pansy Elves just stand there and watch. Thranduil probably wouldn’t have done anything if he hadn’t been afraid to look bad in front of a bunch of dwarves. Git ‘er done, Dain!

Also, his favorite method of fighting involves headbutting orcs. That’s pretty hardcore. Ironfoot? More like IronHEAD!

I’ll address all the exotic battle steeds used in this movie in the “Ridiculous” section, but the most heart-wrenching part of this movie is definitely the moment when the battle pig goes down. Rest in peace, noble creature.

Finally, the movie’s ending wasn’t bad. We finally get some closure as to Gandalf’s knowledge of the ring, Bilbo finds all his neighbors bidding on his stuff, and the final scene ties this movie in with The Fellowship of the Ring. It was simple, it was sweet, and it worked. This could have been the ending to the Hobbit movie I always wanted.

***

Now, I know you’re all here to see me angrily rip this movie apart. Never fear, dear readers. There’s plenty of that coming up.

The Bad

Oh, there was plenty of bad to go around. I ended up with six pages of notes on what was wrong with this movie. Let’s jump right in!

Dol Guldur

First, let’s talk about the assault on Dol Guldur.

really wanted to like this scene. I was looking forward to it long before the first Hobbit movie came out. It wasn’t all bad—Elrond’s outfit was pretty awesome. But beyond that, things were extremely disappointing.

Courtesy of NervousPearl

“You should’ve stayed dead”? That’s your epic line? What kind of Elf are you? Who’s writing this stuff?
(Courtesy of NervousPearl)

First of all, Gandalf is still in his cage. According to movie canon, there’s no reason why he should be out of the cage, necessarily, but it brought back all these unpleasant memories from The Desolation of Smaug. Sigh. Then Galadriel comes in, and you know things are about to get weird.

By the way—what’s with the implied weird romantic subplot involving Gandalf and Galadriel? Why do they keep touching each other like that? Are we all supposed to just forget that Galadriel is a married woman and has a 2700-year-old granddaughter?

galgandalfbeardstroke

Galgandalfkiss

galgandalfhandhold

Yuuuuuuuuuck.

But wait—it gets worse. Not only does Galadriel spend the first half of the battle cradling Gandalf in her arms and ignoring the fighting, but when she does get involved, she transforms into the evil swamp hag.

Galadrielcreep

Wut

Peter Jackson, you do realize that the Elven rings aren’t evil, right? Sauron had no contact with them, ever. In fact, I’m pretty sure when Celebrimbor hid them from Sauron, he thought, “I’ve got to keep these safe so their bearers don’t become evil swamp hags when they try to use them.” Elves are pretty clever that way.

And of course, the rabbit sled makes an appearance. I guess it wouldn’t be a Hobbit movie without it, but can’t we let it die already?

Anyway, the whole scene lasts about 8 minutes, and probably makes the top 50 most disappointing 8-minute segments of my life.

Tauriel and Legolas

Tauriel continues to drag these movies further down into the muck. She contributes nothing positive, and because she’s around, Legolas has to be around, too. Any scene with either Legolas or Tauriel was painful to watch. Starting with this one:

Oh, Legolas. First of all, how did you think this was going to end? Tauriel defied an (admittedly boneheaded) order from Thranduil, and you tagged along after her. And she was already in the doghouse—of course she’s going to be banished.

Second, the whole “If there is no place for Tauriel, there is no place for me” thing made me throw up in my mouth a little.

Persistence

To be fair, Legolas spends very little time mooning over Tauriel for the rest of the movie. But that leaves the two of them without a lot to do, as Tauriel’s improbable dwarven love interest is busy hanging out with his bros in the Lonely Mountain. You can’t leave the fangirls without Orlando Bloom for that long, so Lego and Tauriel take a pointless vacation to Gundabad and discover the orc army there.

Why is it pointless, you ask? Because it has absolutely no effect on the outcome of the final battle. How could it? Legolas’ and Tauriel’s warning about this Gundabad army doesn’t exist in the book, and yet somehow, the good guys still win.

Furthermore, with his characteristic laziness, Peter Jackson doesn’t even attempt to make it look like Tauriel and Legolas contributed anything important with this discovery. They warn Bilbo, Bilbo warns Thorin on Ravenhill, Thorin tells Dwalin to call Fili and Kili, and before Dwalin can do anything, the orcs show up and off Fili. As far as I can tell from this jumbled-up, illogical sequence of orc-stabbing scenes, they didn’t provide their information early enough to prevent anything or change the course of the battle at all.

While we’re talking about nonsensical action sequences, Tom wishes me to mention that no piece of masonry would ever act like this:

(Okay, I guess Legolas and Tauriel do kill some important things in that part. They’re still completely unnecessary.)

Let’s move on. Tauriel’s greatest offense continues to be her awkward, improbable romance with Kili. Worse than their awkward flirtations are her whiny, pubescent conversations with Thranduil on the subject. I swear these scenes could have been pulled out of a Twilight movie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzissiMcfRE

Tauriel: “THERE IS NO LOVE IN YOU!”

Thranduil: “YOUR VAMPIRE LOVE AIN’T REAL!”

Lego: “DAD STAAAAAAHP” (*flashes werewolf abs*)

And then there’s this one:

Cringe-inducing. I almost expected to see Tauriel moping in a chair in front of a window while the camera pans around and the months pass by. There’s a possibilityyyyyyyyyyyy…

The phrase “Still a better love story than Twilight” doesn’t apply here.

And then Legolas throws a hissy fit and refuses to go home for unexplained reasons. 

Seriously, someone this delicate has no business in the Fellowship of the Ring.

GANDALF: (reading) “…Speak, friend, and enter. And underneath small and faint is written: TRIGGER WARNING: Orcs in here, bro.
LEGO: “Whoa whoa whoa! Sorry, dudes. I don’t do orcs. Come on, Bill.”
BILL: (whinnies)
Exeunt LEGO and BILL.

The worst part is that Tauriel doesn’t even die at the end. I wanted her to die so badly, maybe even hand in hand with Kili. It would have been so, so satisfying. Instead we’re left to wonder what happens to her, since she’s apparently still exiled from Mirkwood. Oh well. Maybe she died of a broken heart off camera—a girl can hope.

Thorin’s Insanity and “Dragon Sickness”

I want to briefly touch on the fact that Thorin’s greed and corruption were blown up to unreasonable, bizarre proportions, and we’re supposed to believe that it’s all because a giant lizard sat on his money for awhile.

I’m sorry, but this whole “dragon sickness” thing is way overblown. You can be corrupted by greed without any sort of supernatural curse making you go absolutely bat-guano crazy. This is, in fact, the case for most people who are corrupted by greed. Last I checked there weren’t many dragons in Washington, DC, for example.

"A treasure such as this cannot be counted in lives lost." --Planned Parenthood's mission statement

“A treasure such as this cannot be counted in lives lost.”
–Planned Parenthood’s mission statement

Seriously, if this treasure is so dangerous, how are the Lake-men supposed to use it to rebuild their town? How is Bilbo able to take some home and become fabulously wealthy? Wouldn’t it make the Lonely Mountain uninhabitable forever? News flash: after the battle, Dain moves right in. But maybe Dain is incorruptible because of his indestructible head and his fondness for porcine steeds.

battlepig

Even Gandalf is taken in by the supposed “dragon sickness” nonsense. And he’s supposed to be the smartest guy here. And don’t get me started on that “Don’t underestimate the evil of gold” nonsense.

Thorin’s madness culminates in this acid-trip-esque hallucination involving that lake o’ gold I love so much.

I know when I’ve been a moron about something, it takes a weird hallucination to make me see reason. Personally, I prefer to be swallowed up in a lake of hummus. Or maybe pho.

Look, there are a lot of perfectly mundane reasons for Thorin to become corrupted by greed. He’s just regained control of an amazing treasure stolen from his family. The moment he gets it, everyone comes knocking at the door trying to grab it back from him, Rainbow-Fish-style. Normally he’d probably be okay with that, but these people are armed; among them is Thranduil, the jerk who threw him in prison.  Human nature is inclined to be stingy under those circumstances; dwarf nature even more so. Thorin simply chooses to indulge these feelings instead of deciding to be the bigger man (uh, dwarf), and so he becomes corrupted. It doesn’t have to be weird, and it doesn’t have to involve “dragon sickness.”

In short, Peter Jackson took a potentially relatable character arc and turned it into a freak show. In other words, it’s business as usual in Hobbit Movie Land. Sigh.

Honorable Mentions

I’m only scratching the surface on what was wrong with this movie. Here are some other things I noticed that didn’t quite generate paragraphs worth of rage:

  • Gandalf is a total pushover in this movie. He spends the whole time whining when Thranduil won’t do what he wants, and Bilbo is continually getting the better of him. What happened to this guy?

  • This Asian.
    laketownasianI’m all for cultural diversity, but a place as tiny and isolated as Lake-town is just not likely to be that diverse.
  • Another Billy Boyd song? He’s not even a very good singer.
  • I hate to say this, but Howard Shore continues to disappoint.

The Ridiculous

Every time I watch BotFA, there’s a distinct moment in which I can actually feel part of my brain shutting down—the part connecting the movie with the book. See if you can figure out which moment I’m talking about:

If you guessed the were-worms popping out of the hills, you get a gold star! (Ding!)

From that point, I stop registering deviations from the events of the book. I still notice things that are lame or nonsensical, but I can sit back, relax, and revel in the ridiculousness of it all. I almost wish my brain had been overloaded like this earlier in the series, but then I realize that my conscious revulsion has saved me money that might have been spent purchasing DVDs or seeing this abomination in theaters.

As for the were-worms, I don’t think much commentary is needed. I’ll just add that the only basis for the presence of were-worms in Middle-earth is this throwaway comment by Bilbo at the beginning of the book:

“Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.”

This blog post is already way too long, so let’s move on.

What’s with all the animals?

I titled this post “Battle of the Farm Animals” because of the astounding variety of war-steeds used in BotFA. We were introduced to Thranduil’s majestic elk in An Unexpected Journey, but the animal doesn’t really come into his own until this scene:

And then the elk dies, just as I’m starting to like it. Oh well. It still wasn’t as sad as the pig’s death.

The elk and the pig are enough to make one wonder why no one rides horses anymore (okay, so dwarves really can’t, but Thranduil has no excuse). Not to mention the rabbit sled. But wait! There’s more!

(Sorry…you’ll have to skip to about 1:40 in the video)

Where on earth did Thorin and Co. find fully domesticated battle goats, particularly in an area patrolled (until recently) by a giant carnivorous lizard?! Is there some sort of traveling battle farm where people can just buy domesticated animals on which to charge down orcs? How can I get in on this business?

On a more serious note, I’ve just learned that 27 animals died, sometimes in horrific ways, during the production of the Hobbit movies. I’m no animal rights activist, but that’s pretty darn bad. Chalk that up as another of Peter Jackson’s offenses.

***

Next on our list of ridiculous BotFA elements…

This guy.

Alfriddress

Can we just pause for a moment and consider the fact that this man is named “Alfrid Lickspittle”? That is the actual name of an actual character in this movie.

This man serves no narrative purpose. He just hangs around Bard and annoys everyone around him by saying things like, “Out of my way! Abandon the cripples!” and “Not every man is brave enough to wear a corset.” He’s a completely static character. Why is he in this movie?

As Tom puts it, “Realistically, somebody ought to shank him.”

***

In conclusion, I liked BotFA much more than Desolation of Smaug, though only because my expectations were outrageously low. It may have had its moments, but for every battle pig there were three were-worms, so the whole business is doomed.

At least the series is over, and Peter Jackson’s reign of terror comes to an end at last. (It does come to an end, right? He can’t possibly be thinking about The Silmarillion, can he? CAN HE?!?!?!?). Also on the plus side, the How it Should Have Ended guys are on point.

To end on a positive note, here’s a goofy picture of Dan that always makes me smile.

IMG_20150529_082734

Happy Thursday!

The Hobbit: An Explanation (and Exciting Contest!)

It has come to my attention that part three of a certain bloated waste of special effects and Martin Freeman’s acting talent is coming out this week. Tom and I will be skipping the theater experience on principle, though we’ll probably waste a dollar or so when it’s available at Redbox.

Will we finally find out what this guy's deal is? You'll have to let me know.

Will we finally find out what this guy’s deal is? You’ll have to let me know.

I also realize that I have yet to post my third critical review of the last installment. Some people *cough Tom cough* have pestered me to get my post up before The Battle of Five Armies hits theaters. However, I’m extremely reluctant to do it.

It’s not like I don’t have anything written; I wrote most of it in September. The problem is, it’s not very good, definitely not up to the standard set by the first two. Part of the issue is that I didn’t have a good focus for the post, but the main problem stems from the fact that at the time of writing, I hadn’t seen the movie in almost five months. It wasn’t at Redbox, and it wasn’t available to rent on Amazon. If I wanted to refresh my memory, I was going to have to buy the thing, and that definitely wasn’t happening (or, you know, I could have borrowed it from someone, but that would have involved talking to people). I’m not willing to spend more than $3 on another Peter Jackson movie, and even that’s pushing it. In order to make my points, I was relying on sketchy, disjointed clips on YouTube.

Anyway, this is super lame, and I apologize for not keeping a commitment. When it comes down to it, I’m too prideful to post something I feel is less than my best work, so I procrastinated. However, I owe you guys something, and I do have a draft sitting around. So, here’s the plan: I’m going to hide my third Hobbit post, in all its rambly, unpolished glory, somewhere on my website. Those of you who are interested enough can poke around and try to find it. The first two people to leave a comment on the post will win the Grand Prize.

What is this Grand Prize, you ask?

Why, it’s an autographed copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game!

dating game(I submitted the story of how Tom and I met for this book. They published it, so they sent me $200 and ten copies of the book. I still have several copies I can’t get rid of, and I’m not allowed to sell them online.)

All right, I know: it’s a lame prize. I’ll throw in some candy or something. The good stuff, like Twix bars.

(Those of you who already have a copy can still leave a comment, and maybe we’ll arrange for an alternate prize.)

Happy hunting!

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.