I admit, when I heard there was going to be a movie version of the Hobbit, I wasn’t particularly enthused. Perhaps it was because I was such a huge fan of the LotR trilogy, the thought of going back to its short, light-toned prequel didn’t impress me. Gimli had a few good moments in the trilogy, but a whole movie based around thirteen such characters? Nah. I figured Peter Jackson had hit gold once with the stories of Aragorn and Faramir, Eowyn and Theoden, Frodo and Sam – what were the odds of him hitting it like that again? Especially if he wasn’t even planning to direct? No disrespect to Del Toro. I’d been intrigued by a lot of things in both Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, but they were both heavy on horror and neither was in the same ballpark as LotR. So I only noted vaguely when it was delayed and Del Toro dropped out. Meh, whatever.
But when Jackson took over, things moved very quickly and I happened to see a posting for one of the first trailers. Curious, though still skeptical, I watched it.
There’s a scene in the Hobbit book where Bilbo is recovering from his faint and the dwarves begin to sing in their deep, sonorous voices. They sing of gold and dragons and the deep places of the earth. That’s the moment when Bilbo’s Tookish side expresses its yearning to go adventuring and see all the wonderful things he hears about in the dwarves’ song.
The exact same thing happened to me. That song drilled its way into my bones. I wanted to go see those wonderful things and hear that astonishing singing again. These were not the animated Rankin-Bass dwarves, with their Saturday morning cartoon voices. These were rough-hewn warriors, dedicated and determined, rattling with weapons, weighed down with thoughts of gold and vengeance. Even as they dexterously juggled Bilbo’s plates and drank his cellar dry.
So I went and saw it. Then went back a second time. And a third. This is something I never do. But I expect I’ll keep going back at regular intervals as long as it’s in the theaters. This is a movie that is made for the big screen, and I want to absorb as much of that as I can before it’s shrunk down onto a DVD. I keep seeing more and more to interest and enthrall me. I rushed out the door with Bilbo, excited, though still harboring deep-seated reservations. But the farther he goes, the more he experiences, the closer he comes to becoming an accepted member of the dwarvish troup. And that is no small feat. He is pulled along in their irresistible wake, and I feel myself drawn with him, over the fields and off to the places where stories happen.
Speaking of stories, did I mention Thorin? Leader of this company, exiled prince from a dragon-ravaged kingdom, it is his story that Bilbo has fallen into. The other dwarves laugh and joke and may appear foolish, but not Thorin. Peter Jackson has chosen to make him younger than many of his companions, but he is hard as lightning-struck oak, tempered to unyielding strength by the white-hot rage that burns continuously within him. He moves as if he is carrying a mountain on his shoulders, standing always in its unforgiving shadow. He is the last hope his people have that they might once again be great. If he fails, as did his father and grandfather, they will never be more than itinerant blacksmiths and tinkers. There is great power in him, as well as immense vulnerability. In this journey, he risks everything, and he knows, unlike most of the others, what it means to lose all you hold dear.
I’ve read the book, I know what happens. But I so want to follow this passionate dwarf-prince as his obsession for reclaiming what was taken from him battles with his love for his family, his friends, and in the end, threatens to destroy him.
Little, light-hearted prequel to the real story of Middle-Earth? No. Thorin Oakenshield’s story is the true heart of legend. His fate is one of both triumph and tragedy. There can be no other word for this than Epic.