Tag Archives: The Hobbit

Blogging through LOTR: Concerning dwarves

Seven dwarfs

Continuing blogging my reading of The Lord of the Rings. Still on The Hobbit.

I have an idea that, if J. R. R. Tolkien had gotten the chance to see the Peter Jackson movies, he would have found the Lord of the Rings movies acceptable in parts. But he would have disliked the Hobbit movies intensely.

One of several things he would have hated in the Hobbit movies is the appearance of the dwarves. Both Tolkien and Lewis were keenly interested in dwarves (or dwarfs), and had definite opinions about them. Lewis writes (in Surprised by Joy, I think) about how he loved dwarfs as a boy, “before Disney vulgarized them.” He describes dwarfs as having long beards and wearing hoods. The dwarfs in the Narnia books are always dressed that way. Likewise, Tolkien’s dwarves always wear hoods except when they wear armor.

Peter Jackson, or his costume designers, apparently disliked hoods. Gimli never wears a hood in the movies. I think a hood or two shows up in the Hobbit films, but they’re gotten rid of fairly quickly. Maybe actors won’t wear them because they put their faces in shadow. Aragorn was supposed to wear a hood when traveling as Strider, too. But it’s almost never up.

Tolkien (and by Tolkien, I mean me, because I’m assuming he’d agree with me) would have hated the Dwarf-Elf romance, and the necessity of making one of the dwarfs “sexy” in order to achieve the unlikely goal of attracting a goddess-like Elf. I don’t think he wanted Thorin to look as heroic as the movies make him, either. Tolkien’s assessment of dwarves’ characters is interesting.

There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.

That passage is interesting in light of the fact (I don’t know its source, but it’s commonly cited as authentic by Tolkien scholars) that Tolkien modeled his dwarves, at least in part, on the Jews. The passage above parallels pretty well the opinion of a broad-minded Englishman of Tolkien’s time, when pressed on the subject. It sounds condescending to us, but in that day it was commendably tolerant. It’s consistent with the Professor’s famous retort to German publishers when they queried him about his pure Aryan ancestry.

The Hobbit movies went wrong in so many ways. I’ve heard that somebody’s done a cut that reduces them to one movie, excising all Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit Helper” extensions. I’d love to see that. Tolkien and Lewis might even have tolerated it.

Reading report: ‘The Hobbit,’ by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit

I keep bellyaching about having a difficult time with my latest Erling book. And this continues to be the case. I make progress – don’t get me wrong – but it’s kind of like punching my way through sand.

So I said to myself, maybe I haven’t spent enough time with fantasy lately. Maybe it’s time to read The Lord of the Rings again, to get my mind onto a different track.

And behold, I did even according to my word. Reading the Trilogy and its prequel, of course, is a time-consuming project. And it’s a little late in history to review the books. So I figured I’d blog my way through them. I can’t compete with the real Middle Earth geeks who’ve memorized Bilbo’s genealogy and know how many miles it is from Buckleberry Ferry to the Grey Havens. But perhaps my modest expertise in Norse mythology and legend may help illuminate one or two points for you, rendering the exercise not entirely worthless to mankind.

I’ve made it through The Hobbit already. There are definite Norse elements in this book. Some of the ones that struck me on this reading were these: Continue reading Reading report: ‘The Hobbit,’ by J. R. R. Tolkien

A new leaf

I’m still working through the Inklings book I’m reading. I must be getting near the end – most everybody’s dead now. Maybe there’s a long notes section at the end.

But for now, you’re stuck with my idle thoughts.

My reading today got me thinking about The Lord of the Rings, and my mixed feelings about the Peter Jackson films.

I remain a fan of the original movie trilogy. It has its flaws, but all in all (and this is my personal metric) the experience of watching the films is fairly similar to that of reading the books. So they get a thumbs up. The Hobbit movies are a different matter. I saw them in a theater, but hope never to watch them again.

Still, there are moments in the LOTR movies that should have warned me, I think, of what was to come with the Hobbit fiasco. I’m thinking primarily of the treatment of smoking.

It’s impossible for anyone who understands Tolkien’s life and culture, his friends and environment to understand the smoking in the LOTR books as being about anything but tobacco. Tolkien and the Inklings were inveterate smokers. No doubt we might have enjoyed their presence in this world longer if they hadn’t been, but the world was different then. Lewis is on record as disbelieving all the health warnings.

But in the very first movie, as Gandalf and Bilbo smoke together, they consistently refer to what they’re smoking as “weed.” That’s shorthand, of course, for “pipeweed,” which is what tobacco is called in the books. But the clear implication for the modern viewer is that they’re enjoying marijuana. This is reinforced later on, when Saruman taunts Gandalf, saying that his love of “the halflings’ leaf” has muddled his thinking.

Of course it’s a different world today. People today are taught to treat tobacco as if it were plutonium. It has almost become magical in its evil effects, in the public imagination. So Jackson, no doubt, thought he was helping Tolkien out by turning his beloved tobacco to cannabis. In so doing he changed the Shire, replacing Tolkien’s idealized agrarian English village with something that might be his own ideal – a 1960s California commune.

And that’s Jackson’s problem, it seems to me. He thinks he’s in a position to correct Tolkien. To explain to him how a story really ought to be told. In his view, he is the master, Tolkien the student. Tolkien is lucky to benefit from his storytelling genius.

And that’s what spoiled the Hobbit movies.

In my opinion.

Tolkien Styled His Dwarfs After Jews

In 1971, Tolkien said it was obvious that his dwarfs represented the Jewish people. In a letter, he said, “I do think of the ‘Dwarves’ like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue.”


via GIPHY

Among the members of Gandalf’s group (known as the “Fellowship of the Ring”) are a dwarf named Gimli and an elf named Legolas. Dwarfs and elves, Tolkien informs us, had never gotten along. When Gimli and Legolas first meet, each blames this historical ill will on the other’s people. Gandalf, in turn, calls for a truce. “I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me,” he says. “I need you both.” Coaxed by Gandalf, the two ultimately become the best of friends, fighting side by side and risking their lives to defeat the Dark Lord and his evil legions. This dwarf-elf alliance may well be a paradigm of a Jewish-Christian friendship. Interestingly, as Saks and others have noted, Tolkien’s correspondence during World War II reveals that he himself fell into an unplanned interfaith friendship.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik offers his reaction to this revelation. (via Prufrock News)

He Who Waits For the Best Time to Act

The hobbit at his table
The hobbit at his table

One of my life quotes, which I wish I could say I’ve actually given proper attention, is a verse from a song in the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit.

“A man who’s a dreamer and never takes leave,
Who lives in a world that is just make-believe,
Will never know passion, will never know pain.
Who sits by the window will one day see rain.”

It’s a Glenn Yarbrough song, which you can hear here.

That verse is loosely related to a quote attributed by some to Martin Luther. “For truth and duty it is ever the fitting time; who waits until circumstances completely favor his undertaking, will never accomplish anything.” As our readers often say, “That’s the truth,” but did Luther actually say this?

The Quote Investigator doesn’t believe he did and has evidence to support his belief that another German theologian with a curiously similar name is the one who first put this thought (in his own words) on paper.

Film review: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

The main takeaway that I take away from watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, second in Peter Jackson’s very fat movie adaptation of a fairly thin book, is that I have no interest in buying the DVDs. I want to see the movies in theaters, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t find in my heart any desire to buy them and watch them again.

The main reason, I think, is that there’s too much Peter Jackson here. The mix works out to about 50% Tolkien’s story, 50% Jackson’s special effects indulgences. He promised us a Hobbit fleshed out with material from the Silmarillion and other Tolkienian sources. But in fact most of the added stuff is just fluff – improbable chases, a Rube Goldberg strategem for fighting the dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, and wonderful to see in itself), and an entirely implausible romantic subplot. Also a fighting female elf, unknown in the original material.

As with the first film, it’s visually wonderful. Glorious, beautiful, dazzling. But I kept getting pulled out of the story by Jackson’s self-indulgences. I don’t think he trusts the material. In the classic moviemakers’ tradition, he wants to do the story the immense favor of improving it in his own image.

I kept wanting to tell him to sit down, shut up, and let Tolkien talk.

My movie companion thought it was better than the first one. He may be right. But I continue to feel that great opportunities were lost here.

Cautions for frightening scenes and fantasy violence. OK for kids above, oh, eight, I’d say.

Oh yes, I wanted to mention that the wise old dwarf Balin is played by Ken Stott, who played Inspector Rebus in the second Rebus TV series, reviewed here.

Film review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey





So I finally saw
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And I enjoyed it. And yet… I understand why some people were disappointed. I suppose I was a little disappointed myself, though that shouldn’t be taken as a thumbs down.

First of all, the good parts. Martin Freeman is a wonderful, wonderful Bilbo Baggins. I can’t imagine how the role could have been better played. Superb casting, superb job.

I liked the visuals. Some people, or so I’ve read, have trouble with the unusually high resolution in which the film was shot, but it didn’t bother me at all. As you’d expect, I saw it in 3D, and I liked that too. There were some wonderful color effects. One of my major take-aways from the whole thing was just how lovely it looked.

My reservations are complicated, and I suppose I’m still thinking it out. A lot of material has been added, in order to grow the original story, which is a pretty quick read, into a twin to The Lord of the Rings. Much of this ought to be legitimate enough for the most exacting Tolkien fan. Instead of taking things out of the story, as they had to do with the first trilogy, Jackson and people put stuff in, and the most substantial of the additions come (or so I’m told, I’ve only actually read The Silmarillion) from Tolkien’s own writings about Middle Earth. Continue reading Film review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey