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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Hobbit:
Imagining Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: Part One

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Nov 24 2012, 5:12am


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Imagining Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: Part One Can't Post

Over coming days, in this four-part series, guest writer Eric M. Van will draw together the threads of known facts, and add a dash of logic to speculate on how Peter Jackson and his crew may have imagined their version of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit. In the first part, he takes one of the most mysterious sections, how The Necromancer, Sauron, and the wizard, Radagast the Brown, will weave into Bilbo Baggins' much-less-epic (yet no less important) adventure.

Imagining Peter Jackson's The Hobbit
Part 1: Sauron and Dol Guldur. Radagast and Rhosgobel


If Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit mirrors his Lord of the Rings, timelines will be compressed

"What's it going to be then, eh?"

That's the question we're all desperately asking about Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit. We have a collection of puzzle pieces - here a Morgul-blade, there a hedgehog - and we're trying to put them together to make some kind of picture of the trilogy, especially the fast-approaching first installment.

But one can also simply do what the screenwriters have done: take a close look at the novel and see what changes need to be made to adapt it successfully. This humble effort thus begins with a set of solutions to all the major extant mysteries, before turning (in a series of follow-up features) to a general overview.

And, sure, that's backwards, but I've got an empty Nazgul tomb that's just aching to be filled with some kind of sensible explanation.


One of the hallmarks of Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptations is the compression of story timelines. It's always for the same reason: the Wise regard Sauron as an imminent rather than a long-term threat. In Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf takes sixteen-and-a-half years to confirm that Bilbo's ring is the One, once he first suspects it; Jackson has Gandalf accomplish this in what appears to be a single year.

(It's about 1000 miles to Minas Tirith. A hundred miles per day is a perfectly manageable rate for a horse over adequate roads, and consistent with the 120 that Gandalf managed on Shadowfax with Pippin, according to The Atlas of Middle-earth. It would thus take less than a month to ride to Minas Tirith, view the scroll of Isildur, and return. But in the next scene both Frodo and Gandalf behave as if at least several months have passed. A full year would not only provide adequate time for Gandalf's pursuit of and interrogation of Gollum, but maintain the seasonal timelines of the book).

Tolkien has Frodo dawdle for 163 further days before leaving Bag End; Jackson gets him out the door the next morning. If this were a contemporary film, we'd be expecting Fed Ex product placement.


A compressed timeline dramatically would increase the perceived threat of Sauron.

With The Hobbit, Jackson and his fellow screenwriters, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Torro, have made a precisely analogous change, only this time it's supersized. In LOTR's Tale of Years, it takes the Wise 790 years to confirm that Sauron has returned once they first suspect it, and another 91 for the White Council to decide to attack him. In the film version, the 790 years have been reduced to what appears to be a few months at most, and the 91 years seem likely to be reduced to no time at all. The investigation of Sauron's possible return has been moved 878 years later, to form an entire parallel storyline to the quest of Erebor. And if Jackson is true to form, the White Council will feel so much urgency over the threat of Sauron that the decision to attack Dol Guldur will be a foregone conclusion. (Why 878 and not 790 + 91 = 881? It's another compression; in the book, after the Wise first suspect Sauron has returned, they let three years pass before Gandalf goes to Dol Guldur to investigate.)

Both of these timeline compressions dramatically increase the perceived threat of Sauron, but there is a second very good reason for excising the 91-year delay between confirming Sauron's existence and attacking him. In the books (LOTR and "The Hunt for the Ring" in Unfinished Tales), the White Council meets in Rivendell a year after Gandalf has confirmed that the Necromancer of Dol Guldur is Sauron. And Gandalf does urge an immediate attack. Saruman "overrules" him (presumably by persuading Elrond, Ci­rdan, and the other members, since there is no indication that Saruman, even as head of the Council, had ultimate authority) and Gandalf immediately suspects Saruman's true motive: he wants the Ring for himself, and wants to leave Sauron alone so the Ring can seek its master.

In Jackson's necessarily simplified version of the history, Saruman never overtly desires the Ring for his own; he is a true ally to Sauron rather than a false one who secretly desires to supplant him. For the most part, he turns traitor not because of his desire for power, but because he looks in the palanti­r and is persuaded of the utter certainty of Sauron's victory. (In the book, this is what happens to Denethor, although he responds by despairing rather than collaborating. Denethor's palanti­r was written out of the film apparently to avoid redundancy with Saruman's; unfortunately, that had the side effect of diminishing his character, since in the movie version he has to be weak enough to fall into despair even without a push from Sauron). Since Saruman only becomes a traitor when he becomes convinced that Sauron's victory is inevitable, he can't possibly already be one at the time that it's first discovered that Sauron has returned, when he is yet to rebuild Barad-Dur or amass his armies. So the Saruman we see in The Hobbit will be unfallen (as Christopher Lee has stated in interview), and without a fallen Saruman there is no plot mechanism for delaying the attack.


Peter Jackson's Saruman in The Hobbit will be 'unfallen'.

Even leaving the history aside, though, an unfallen Saruman makes for much better storytelling. We know that Gandalf has no suspicion of Saruman's fall when he first leaves for Isengard in FOTR, so there can be no hints of any corruption in his interactions with the Council in The Hobbit (anything we as viewers could discern would certainly not escape Galadriel). Therefore, the only way to portray a fallen Saruman would be to show him working behind the scenes to undermine the attack on Dol Guldur, and in a way that neither Gandalf nor Galadriel ever becomes aware of. Even if that were credible, it doesn't seem to add anything to the story. And if future viewers of all six films in internal chronological order first see Saruman as a good guy, they'll be as blindsided as Gandalf when he turns traitor in FOTR. The only narrative function of a fallen Saruman in The Hobbit would be to spoil that surprise. (Part 2 of this series has much more to say about the interaction of the two trilogies.)

In fact, I think we'll see in this trilogy just why Gandalf regards Saruman as "both wise and powerful"¯ (though admittedly somewhat proud, stubborn, and conservative, since he is apparently skeptical about the significance of the Morgul-blade). We'll even see Gandalf and Saruman collaborate on creating devices to help win the Battle of Dol Guldur (in the books, credited largely to Saruman alone). And we'll come to understand that Saruman's invention of the Olympic Explosive Device in TTT was inspired and informed by Gandalf's mastery of fireworks in The Desolation of Smaug; that Saruman mimics Gandalf's magic with technology makes this a cruelly ironic application of Clarke's Law.

Oops, I said the magic words: Morgul-blade. We've learned quite a bit about how the Sauron storyline has been revised for the movie, but what we've learned raises many further questions, some of which are so subtle that I haven't seen them asked yet. Let's look at what we know and what we don't know, and see if we can figure out the missing details of this major (but quite justifiable and dramatically effective) revision of Middle-Earth history.

Things we know (plus a few immediate inferences):


The White council will debate the implications of the Morgul-blade

-- From the second trailer, we know that Radagast is among the first to recognize that "a Dark Power has found a way back into the World."A giant spider attacks him in Rhosgobel, his home on the edges of Mirkwood, and he perhaps flees on his rabbit-sled.
-- From the footage shown at CinemaCon, we know that Gandalf presents a Morgul-blade to Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman (but not Radagast) at a White Council meeting in Rivendell, and they debate its significance. We can easily infer that Gandalf has initially shown the blade to Elrond upon his arrival at Rivendell, and that the Council has subsequently been summoned.
-- In the same scene, we learn that at some point in the past, the Witch-king and the rest of the Nazgul had been entombed / imprisoned by the Dunedain, in crypts protected by powerful spells. One might ask why the Dunedain didn't simply destroy the Nazgul, and the clear answer is that they must have tried and failed - and so sometime in the trilogy we're likely to see a flashback to this, and learn the origin of the belief that "no man can kill"¯ the Witch-king.
-- Again from CinemaCon, we learn that Gandalf and Radagast meet at the tombs, investigate them and find them empty - unambiguous evidence that Sauron has returned, because only he could break the spells put there. Entombing the Nazgul strikes me as the boldest of all of Jackson's changes to Tolkien, and it seems clearly motivated by the need for such an unambiguous sign, one that does not involve Gandalf going to Dol Guldur and seeing Sauron himself (as he does in the book). When this was screened, the first movie was going to continue much further. Since this scene must be the conclusion to the investigation of Sauron's return and begin the sequence leading to the Battle of Dol Guldur, it now seems very likely that we won't see it this December.
-- From the figurine character biographies, we know that the company encounters an apparently resurrected Azog (the orc captain killed long ago at the battle of Azanulbizar), and that Gandalf regards this as a clue as to the nature of the evil that dwells in Dol Guldur. This tells us that the film emphasizes Sauron's powers of necromancy.

Things we don't know:


Exactly when, and how, will Gandalf find Thrain's Key to the secret door of Erebor?

-- How well established is it, at the time of the story, that there is a malign presence in Dol Guldur? If such a presence is well known, is it already called "the Necromancer,"¯ as in the book? And who do the Wise think it is?
-- On a possibly related note, why was Gandalf in Dol Guldur many years previously, where he encountered mad Thrain and got the map of Erebor and the key? In the book, Gandalf was on a successful reconnaissance mission to determine whether the Necromancer was in fact Sauron, as long suspected.
-- Where does Gandalf get the Morgul-blade?
-- Who could possibly have lost the Morgul-blade? It certainly wasn't lost by one of the Nazgul.
-- Why is Radagast absent from the White Council meeting? (In the book, he doesn't seem to be a member, but you'd want to include him in the movie, it seems clear.)
-- If giant spiders attack (and presumably destroy) Rhosgobel, where does Radagast spend the rest of the trilogy?
-- Is there any reason for introducing a giant spider attack before the dwarves get to Mirkwood, other than the coolness thereof?
-- Where are the tombs of the Nazgul, and when do Gandalf and Radagast investigate them?
-- Why is Gandalf missing during much or most of the journey from Hobbiton to the Trollshaws? (Check out the scenes of running dwarves in trailer two.)


Who is the master of Dol Guldur?


When Jackson's story begins, the Wise do not know that Sauron has returned and is master of Dol Guldur.

The first questions we need to deal with are the ones regarding the perception of Dol Guldur at the time of the story. Fortunately, they yield fairly well to common sense. Dol Guldur is a scary-looking place in a haunted forest; it seems to be an ancient ruin, probably dating back, as in the book, at least to the days of Angmar. And Gandalf has been there to check it out and found a crazed imprisoned dwarf. So it must be well established that it is has been ruled for a while by some malign presence.

Next, since necromancy is a major weapon of Sauron's in these movies, the name "the Necromancer"¯ must be used prominently. However, when Azog shows up resurrected, it's a clue as to the nature of the evil presence in Dol Guldur. So this is the first time that Dol Guldur has been linked to the art of necromancy, and that tells us that its master is not already known as "the Necromancer" (whereas in the book, that's his longstanding name). Since necromancy was a well-known specialty of Sauron's going back to the First Age, that means that "the Necromancer"¯ in the movie is instead merely an old name for Sauron; one that's being revived now as particularly appropriate.

So, at the time our story begins, the Wise know of the existence of a malign presence in Dol Guldur. Not only do they have no suspicion that it is Sauron returned, they don't believe it is one of the Nazgul, since they are all imprisoned. And most tellingly, they have not yet acted against it. We can figure out quite a bit from these facts. First, they must have investigated Dol Guldur as soon as they became aware of the evil there, and identified its master to their satisfaction. And they must have concluded that he was someone ultimately non-threatening to Middle-earth at large- not a Dark Power, but a mere orc chieftain or descendent of Black Numenoreans. This in turn gives us a time frame for his first appearance in this version of the history - within an orc or human lifetime of the present, whereas in the book he's been doing his thing in Mirkwood for over 1800 years and is responsible for the forest (formerly called Greenwood the Great) becoming evil.


Bolg is the overseer of the dungeons of Dol Guldur.

All of this makes good sense as storytelling. It's terrifying for the Wise if they realize that Sauron returned a hundred or so years ago, and has been planning his attack on them the whole while, while remaining essentially undetected. It's much less scary (and hence much less interesting as a story) if the Wise have succeeded in identifying Sauron immediately upon his actual return. This plot point has been kept out of the trailers and character biographies, but it's crucial: the danger is not merely that a Dark Power has returned to the world, but that he did so some time ago and is now beginning to move openly against the Wise.

And now we know enough to answer one of our major questions. Just as in the book, it must have been Gandalf who first investigated Dol Guldur to try to identify its master, and that's what he was doing there 91 years previously when he encountered Thrain. This version of the history thus combines Gandalf's two visits to Dol Guldur - his initial unsuccessful investigation of 2063, and his successful one of 2850 - into one. In this revision, he succeeded in identifying the nature of the evil in Dol Guldur on his first try, and reported his finding back to the Council... but he got it wrong. All we have to do is figure out whom he believed was in charge there.

Hmm... is there anything else we know, something I may have left out of the above recap for phony dramatic effect? Yes, we know (from the figurine character descriptions) that Bolg is the overseer of the dungeons of Dol Guldur. How old is Bolg? He's the son of Azog, who in the book is slain at the Battle of Azanulbizar in 2799. Unless the orcs have sperm bank technology (credible only in a Rankin-Bass adaptation), Bolg was alive when his father was killed (even if only in utero). So when Gandalf investigated the first reports of an evil presence in the ruin in Mirkwood, Bolg was at least 50, plenty old enough to have been enlisted by Sauron as a lieutenant. (It's also worth noting that Bolg is at least 141 when he is killed in The Hobbit in 2941; I believe this is the only orc lifetime established by Tolkien.)

So when Gandalf found Thrain in the dungeons of Dol Guldur, Bolg was not only there, he was the character Gandalf was likeliest to encounter. It's perfectly reasonable that Gandalf could think he was in charge of the place. And that's why Bolg has been made Sauron's lieutenant (by both Sauron and the screenwriters): so that Gandalf and hence the White Council could think he was the master of Dol Guldur. And to return to an earlier point now that we've solved this riddle, it's entirely credible that the Wise would not summon an army to drive Bolg from Mirkwood. He represents no long-term threat, Mirkwood is already a place that prudent people avoid, and there are plenty of other evil things in the world. From their point of view, he's like Saddam before he acquired imaginary weapons of mass destruction; just one bad guy of many, and you can't take them all on.

The Morgul-blade revealed!



Now that we've dispensed with the preliminaries, let's get to the good stuff. In my humble opinion, the best of these questions is: who lost the Morgul-blade? Because a mere Morgul-blade doesn't mean much. Consider, for example, the obvious and common guess that the blade is found in the troll's treasure along with Orcrist, Glamdring, and a Sting to be named later. (Never mind that that's bad storytelling, as it fails to make the finding of the blade special in any way.) Elrond tells us that the trolls must have "plundered other plunderers" in a succession that reaches all the way back to the fall of Gondolin in the First Age. And in fact there's no reason why a Morgul-Blade from a thousand years ago, before the Witch-king was defeated, couldn't be found in any treasure-hoard. Nope, you can't just find a Morgul-blade. You have to know it was recently used by an enemy.

And who could that be? Who might be wielding a Morgul-blade, other than a Nazgul?

A barrow-wight, that's who. A barrow-wight, as in a spirit re-animated by necromancy.

That's right, Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves must unexpectedly encounter and defeat a wight - and this discovery of necromancy is itself possible evidence that Sauron the Necromancer has returned to Middle-Earth. The White Council meeting is probably as much about the encounter with the barrow-wight as it is about the retrieval of the Morgul-blade from him; we've been shown the latter to whet our appetites while the former has been kept under wraps. Yet the Morgul-blade is far from trivial. To create the proper level of uncertainty within the Council, necromancy of this simple sort must be rare but not unheard of in Jackson's version of the history; presumably Sauron taught the art to other, lesser practitioners, and that knowledge has been passed down through the ages. That the corpses in the barrows of the ancient kingdom of Cardolan (I'm guessing this happens somewhere east of Bree) have become reanimated does not necessarily point to the Necromancer as the culprit. But if they have been armed with Morgul-blades, that makes it far more likely.


We may see a diversion to the Barrow-downs before the Company reaches the Trollshaws. Artwork: John Howe.

I've been advocating for the insertion of "Fog on the Barrow-Downs"¯ since the movie was announced, with the idea that wight activity would be one of the reasons the Council decided to attack Dol Guldur. And that's because adding such an episode would serve no less than four other purposes.

First, and most importantly, it inserts an adventure between Hobbiton and the Trollshaws. In FOTR that journey fills nearly twenty-five minutes of action (in thirty-four of running time, the other nine being three Saruman sequences). Without an added adventure, The Hobbit would likely cover the same territory in a fifty-second montage of walking and running to the tunes of Howard Shore, a la the Ring going south in FOTR. And that would seem odd and abrupt to everyone familiar with the FOTR version of this journey.

Second, if Gandalf stays behind to further investigate signs of barrow-wight activity, it provides a much more satisfying reason than the book's for his absence when they encounter the trolls, and hence a much more dramatic reappearance (and of course explains why he is missing from all of the walking and running footage in the second trailer).


A diversion to the Barrow-downs brings in action before the Trollshaws.

Third, you can provide an early, important hero moment for Thorin, by making him the only dwarf who can overcome the spell and battle the wight, thus keeping the rest of the party alive until Gandalf can open the tomb.

And fourth, it would break up the comic tone that dominates the story from the Unexpected Party through the Trolls. (I was thrilled to see Thomas Monteath make the same guess in his September 5 piece on the figurine character biographies, and I hope I've provided the rationale that he mostly left missing.)

Oh, and "Fog on the Barrow-Downs" rocks. (Or "standing stones,"¯ if we can make that a verb.)


Radagast and the tombs of the Nazgul


Radagast may be introduced to the audience by his absence from the White Council meeting.

This would make a good name for a standing stone group, but what can we figure out about them? The Radagast story line is predictably the toughest to parse, since it's entirely invented. But let's start with the background insight that Dol Guldur has been moved significantly northward, much closer to Rhosgobel. In the book, Dol Guldur is due east of Lorien, which would mean the battle of Dol Guldur would be fought by elves from there and not from the Wood-elves' realm in northern Mirkwood.

In other words, if we stay faithful to the book's geography, we'd see Haldir instead of Legolas at the battle - and we know we're seeing Legolas. Furthermore, LOTR is meant to take place on a larger canvas than The Hobbit, so we want to leave some regions of Middle-earth unvisited until the later story. It thus makes sense to show us only one of the two great Elven refuges now, and that means highlighting Rivendell while writing Lorien out of the story. All of this explains why there are no reports that Lorien will be in the film, even though Galadriel will be.

Moving Dol Guldur northward also strikes me as an improvement on Tolkien; it's always been a puzzle as to why Sauron would have built it a hundred miles due east of the home of the mightiest and most perceptive of the remaining Eldar of Middle-Earth. A location close to the middle of Mirkwood, halfway between the Old Forest Road and the Gladden Fields, makes more sense. Tolkien only located Rhosgobel in a late note, cited in Unfinished Tales (which Jackson has no rights to), but it would make sense for Jackson to put it where Tolkien did -near the Forest Road and hence on Thorin and Co.'s original intended route.

We can next ask, how can you introduce Radagast? Never mind that he's barely in the book - he lives alone, meaning no one ever addresses him by name. The one way that's easy and straightforward is to have the White Council introduce him by discussing his absence.


Radagast discovers that "a dark power has found its way back into the world".

Their debate about the likelihood of Sauron's return and the necessity of examining the Nazgul tombs could end in a deadlock, with Gandalf and Galadriel concerned but Saruman and Elrond unconvinced. And Saruman could break the tie by reminding them that Radagast sees things the way he does, and would certainly take his side if present. Cut directly from Saruman's assertion to Radagast discovering that "a Dark Power has found a way back into the World," and the irony is chilling.

However it plays out, Radagast's absence from the Council makes it clear that he and Gandalf initially have separate, independent storylines, where each finds evidence of Sauron's return. That's good storytelling. And like you, I am dying to find out just what Sauron can do to a hedgehog that would be as scary to Radagast as the re-animation of the dead is to Gandalf. But this invention of Jackson's seems nicely in accord with the concern that Tolkien always shows for the natural world. A hedgehog by any other name would be a tree.

I'm guessing there's at least one scene that escalates this initial discovery of hedgehog evil blight, before the big third act event: giant spiders attack and presumably destroy Rhosgobel. This has two related consequences: Radagast, driven out of Mirkwood, must go somewhere else, and he must relay this news to the Council as soon as possible. Now, we're fairly certain that Radagast is a master of sending messages by animal, bird, or moth, but it would be intensely undramatic if he were able to able to pass this news along without any trouble. In terms of making things difficult for the good guys, it's already problematical enough that Elrond and Galadriel can communicate telepathically. If Radagast never finds it a challenge to send messages, you've essentially given the rest of the White Council cell phones, albeit very slow ones and almost certainly running Windows. Sending messages has to take him time and effort.


Radagast must convey news to the White Council.

As we'll see below, we can be sure that this attack is not random, but part of a plan to get Radagast. That means that a party of orcs and/or wargs will be waiting for our wizard just outside of Mirkwood - perhaps the same party (probably led by Azog) that had Thorin and Co. up in the treetops a day or two before. And this plot requirement meshes with the three we just laid out. Radagast flees; his goal is to get someplace that's not only safe, but where he'll have time to summon and instruct the proper messenger. The obvious destination is the nearby hall of his friend Beorn. It's likely that Radagast's rabbit-sled was invented (by both Radagast and the screenwriters) to make a pursuit by and escape from Wargs not just credible but exciting; rabbits and wolves run at roughly the same speed (especially true of rabbits and an imaginary species of wolf).

Jackson being Jackson, the pursuit sequence will be garnished with an especially exciting incident or two (think crumbling bridge in Moria); we'll see below that there's probably one such incident good enough to function as a film-ending cliffhanger. There may be dramatic tension as we wonder whether Radagast will arrive at Beorn's before Gandalf leaves (I'm guessing he doesn't), and downright anxiety when we see that Beorn has left to accompany his guests to the eaves of Mirkwood, and won't be there to defend Radagast against his pursuers. (That job could be handled by ordinary bears - but at this point I'm just making wild-assed guesses, and, what's more, probably guesses about the beginning of the second film.)

Radagast II: where are the tombs, and when do we see them?


Gandalf investigates the tombs of the Nazgul.

Let's jump ahead now to the end of this sequence, where things become clear again. The Council (perhaps just Elrond) has received Radagast's terrifying message that a Dark Power had attacked and destroyed the home of a Wizard. They have responded urgently: the Nazgul tombs must be examined at once. The investigation of the tombs is the final Radagast scene we know of - and as already noted, it's unlikely that we'll see it in December. However, I think we can figure out exactly when in the story it must happen. When Gandalf goes to investigate the tombs, he's leaving the Dwarves. And we know when and where he leaves the Dwarves: at the eaves of Mirkwood. This is a dramatic scene in the book, one far too good to omit. And Jackson can use the expanded Sauron storyline to make it significantly more effective.

That Gandalf is not formally a part of Thorin's group is of course a central plot element: it's because he can't be counted as one of the party that the Dwarves need Bilbo to be the lucky fourteenth member. In Tolkien, there are two types of reason for this. The authorial reason is that Gandalf is too powerful a character, and his permanent presence among the company would restrict the range of perilous situations that Tolkien could have the company face. The reason internal to the story that Tolkien then invented was that Gandalf had other wizardly business he expected to have to attend to, and therefore could not commit to accompanying the Dwarves the entire time; specifically, Gandalf expected to be working with the White Council against the Necromancer.

(The glib jest here is that it's a good thing for Jackson that he did, because without the Necromancer storyline there might not be material for more than one movie. The truth is that without this seemingly offhand connection, there might be no Hobbit or Lord of the Rings at all. Tolkien abandoned The Hobbit in the middle of the first chapter, and when he picked it up again about nine months later, he introduced the Necromancer (Sauron) within pages. Had Tolkien consciously decided to set this new story in the world of his legendarium, and is that the reason he resumed work on it?)


Gandalf leaving the Company at the eaves of Mirkwood increases the story tension.

The book thus features a tension between the Dwarves' knowledge that they're not supposed to count on Gandalf, and their feeling that he'll always be there to save them, as he did from the Trolls and the Great Goblin. This tension comes to a head when Gandalf leaves them at the worst possible place, at the eaves of Mirkwood.

So there is a big scene where the Dwarves groan and look distressed and plead with Gandalf and offer him "dragon-gold and silver and jewels"¯ not to leave them. But this doesn't happen at the eaves of Mirkwood, where it would be most dramatic. It happens at the Carrock. Gandalf has given them two days' advance notice of his intentions.

There's a good internal story reason for this: Gandalf is wise and good-hearted, and telling the Dwarves in advance, so that they can get used to the idea of his leaving, is the right thing to do. It's in character. But there is, I think, an even stronger authorial reason. Gandalf leaving the Dwarves in the lurch at the edge of Mirkwood has no sound story reason; Tolkien simply needs Gandalf out of the way to make the forest sequence work. It's an authorial contrivance, a diabolus ex machina, and Tolkien cheerfully admitted this in his letters. Gandalf's advance notice that he's leaving is designed to alert the reader as well as the Dwarves of this unsupported upcoming plot turn, and hence make it seem more organic and less arbitrary.


The dwarves must dread the thought of Gandalf leaving the Company at Mirkwood yet hope he won't.

The storytelling actually stumbles at Mirkwood. The advance warning ends up accomplishing little or nothing; when the Dwarves realize Gandalf is leaving, they are "in despair," and they argue with him to try to change his mind, not only that evening but the next morning as well. And there is no internal story reason for this. In fact, all it does is make the Dwarves look bad; they've had plenty of time to get used to the idea of Gandalf leaving and should be accepting his departure with equanimity. No, the reason is strictly authorial: to make Mirkwood scary. The Dwarves are again a reader surrogate, and they have to act despairing at the thought of facing Mirkwood without Gandalf, or we readers won't dread Mirkwood the way Tolkien wants us to.

All of this can be fixed and improved in the movie. First, we now have an internal story reason for Gandalf's departure; in fact, we've made it an entire parallel storyline to the Quest of Erebor. So there's no longer any authorial need to tell us of Gandalf's departure in advance; it will still seem uncontrived even if it comes as a surprise. So why not make it one? You can have Gandalf tell the Dwarves that he might have to leave them just when things will get scariest, but that he very much hopes not to. The Dwarves can steel themselves against this possibility while hoping fervently that it doesn't come true.

And just as they are preparing to enter the forest together, Gandalf can get a message from Radagast: meet me at the tombs, now. Everyone is surprised, everyone is distressed - Gandalf included. Mirkwood's even scarier now that we see how badly Gandalf wanted to help the Dwarves deal with it. The Dwarves' despair at his absence doesn't make them look bad, because they were blindsided at the last possible moment. And we can see them tighten their belts and summon the courage to plunge onward nevertheless. It seems to me to be inescapably better storytelling, and I don't think Jackson will miss it.


Gandalf must divine what has brought the Nazgul back.

Hence the investigation of the tombs will happen parallel to the dwarves' first Mirkwood adventures. And that leads us directly to the one truly counter-intuitive insight of this analysis. The Dunedain cannot have entombed the Nazgul anywhere in their bailiwick, not in Angmar, Rhudaur, or elsewhere in Eriador, even though that would seem to make sense for them. The tombs must be somewhere in Anduin Vale. It's pure plot expediency; the tombs must be relatively near Mirkwood for screenwriters' reasons. It would take weeks for Gandalf to journey back over the Misty Mountains to tombs in Eriador.

That journey would have to be either uneventful or eventful, and both are unacceptable narrative choices. We've just gone to great lengths to establish that a journey through the Mountain Passes is dangerous, so Gandalf - and separately, Radagast - just can't go waltzing over them unhindered; that would weirdly undermine the previous thirty minutes of the movie. And yet the two known perils of the Passes, goblins and stone-giants, have been used already, which means the Wizards would have to face a peril that was either redundant, or wholly invented and thus intrusively unfaithful to the book. More importantly, encountering any sort of difficulty wouldn't serve to advance the story, but in fact would hinder it. We want to get to the Nazgul tombs: that's the next story point. They need to be nearby. So Jackson needs to come up with an internal story reason why the Dunedain would entomb the Nazgul in Anduin Vale, far from their own homes.

And it turns out that the reason is right in Tolkien. In LOTR, the Witch-king alone "comes north"¯ to Angmar and is not even recognized as one of the Nazgul. Tolkien never specifies where the other eight are at this time, but it's not Mordor, which is still closely guarded. Dol Guldur (400 miles south of Carn Dum in Angmar, and 300 miles east) is probably the best guess. And in the movie, having the rest of the Nazgul be the original lords of Dol Guldur would serve three purposes: it would explain Mirkwood's initial darkening, it would make Dol Guldur's later occupation by Sauron himself more credible to the Wise, and it would thus increase Gandalf's regret at having missed this.


Jackson will make the Stone-giants a key obstacle to the Company on the journey to Erebor.

(As we'll see in a moment, Gandalf's mistakes and regrets will be a major theme of the new trilogy.)

So here's our new backstory. The Dunedain defeat the Witch-king in Eriador and, after failing to destroy him, immobilize him with spells; they then bring him East to Dol Guldur, and work the same magic on the rest of the Nazgul.

(Note that separating the Witch-king from the other Nazgul here helps explains why there is a prophecy only about his death, and not about the Nazgul in general.)

They're not going to carry all Nine back to Eriador; they're going to entomb them nearby. Nor is that an impractical idea, if the tombs are located between Elrond, Galadriel, and Radagast.

And here's a bold guess for exactly where the tombs are: the Carrock. To begin with, it already has a cave. It's surrounded on three sides by a river, and hence the burial of the Nazgul here would echo the suggestion in Tolkien that the Nazgul don't much like water, and thus have an evocative resonance with their defeat at the ford of the Bruinen in FOTR.


The tomb of the Nazgul may be inside The Carrock.

You'd get two uses from one location design, and you'd make the location important and memorable without having had to invent it. And if we hear quite a bit about the tombs, visit the Carrock without giving their location away, and then come back there to reveal it, it would be a very cool surprise.

The one obvious drawback to this idea is that it seems to open a plot hole: why doesn't Gandalf stop and investigate the tombs the first time he's there, after the Eagles have dropped him right on top of them? But this actually fixes a plot hole that was latent in Tolkien and that Jackson has probably exacerbated by having orcs about, and still presumably hunting them after the treetop rescue. Why wouldn't Gandalf have the Eagles take them much closer to Beorn's? Why land seven miles away, at the Carrock? The Eagles don't like to fly within arrow range of human settlements, and Gandalf doesn't want to get within easy sight of Beorn's halls, so he can work his two-at-a-time ruse.

But there's no good reason why they couldn't land a mile or so away and spare themselves an entire morning's journey. So what I think might happen is this: as they circle high above Anduin Vale, Gandalf has the Eagles look for signs of orc and Warg activity. The Eagles see some (mostly pursuing Radagast, although only we know that), but Gandalf makes the decision to land at the Carrock to investigate the tombs, even though that would be time-consuming.


Eagles don't like to fly within arrow range of human settlements.

When he gets there, though, he changes his mind. Probably he sees or hears something that causes him to reconsider the risk, and then he allows himself to be reassured (against his better judgment) by the skepticism of Saruman.

So he instead decides to seek out the safety of Beorn's lodgings as quickly as possible. (All of this we would understand only after the fact, when we return to the Carrock. And if Jackson has really introduced a party of orcs from Dol Guldur hunting the company as soon as they get East of the Mountains, they need to be put out of action for a while to allow the party to get to Mirkwood, and then the tombs to be examined - this may well be connected to Radagast's escape.)

I might be entirely wrong about this, but I include it as an example of something the movie will stress: Gandalf's occasional uncertainty and self-doubt. In both the book and the movie, the Istari (Wizards) have been sent to Middle-Earth in advance of Sauron's return and have spent many long years preparing for that eventuality (the only difference being that in the book, Sauron returns much sooner and goes undetected much longer). By delaying the Sauron storyline, Jackson can show us the crucial moments when Gandalf first takes on the great task that has long been appointed for him: being the enemy of Sauron. Tentative first steps and missteps, and the lessons they teach, make for terrific drama; the better Gandalf gets at his job, the less interesting a character he becomes (although he becomes more inspiring to an almost precisely opposite degree). Gandalf is the one character who has a story arc across all six movies; an unsure Gandalf is precisely what Jackson wants to show us here at the start.

Radagast III: knitting together the story strands


The attack of the spiders upon Rhosgobel helps weave the story threads together.

And the key moment for Gandalf is now upon us. Gandalf hears Radagast's story of the destruction of Rhosgobel by spiders. What does that remind him of? Being attacked in the Misty Mountains by stone-giants (an episode which has been expanded by Jackson not only because it's exciting, but to contribute to this logic). The heretofore-autonomous nasty things of Middle-earth seem to be suddenly turning concertedly against the Wise, as if directed by some ruling malign force. And the point of this is not to simply ratchet up the threat of Sauron.

The purpose is to unite the two separate strands of the movie, the quest of Erebor and the return of Sauron, and it goes back to Tolkien himself.

After finishing LOTR, Tolkien was faced with a vexing plot question: if Gandalf had been sent to Middle-earth to be the enemy of Sauron, why had he invested so much time and energy to helping the dwarves recover their kingdom and treasure? The answer must have come easily. Years earlier Tolkien had written the tale of the destruction of the elven refuge Nargothrond by the dragon Glaurung, who frankly makes Smaug look as threatening as a third-grader. (If you've not read The Children of Hurin, stop and do so now. I'll wait.)


Glaurung the dragon, one of the chief weapons Morogth used to defeat the Eldar in Beleriand. Artwork: John Howe.

And Glaurung, though he seems to be utterly self-willed, is at the same time a weapon of Morgoth, the original Dark Lord, in his war against the exiled Noldorin high elves. Smaug, then, could have been used by Morgoth's old lieutenant Sauron as a weapon against Rivendell. That was Tolkien's retcon (which you'll find in the final section of LOTR's Appendix A, "Durin's Folk,"¯ and in "The Quest of Erebor"¯ in Unfinished Tales and The Annotated Hobbit): Gandalf aided Thorin because he hoped it would lead to the death of the dragon; and hence save Rivendell.

At the start of the movie, Gandalf no longer has this rationale consciously, but it is completely within the spirit of Tolkien to give him a foresight that he should aid Thorin, just as in "The Quest of Erebor"¯ he has a foresight that Bilbo must join the company. And then along the way, the reason for his foresight is discovered. When that happens, the response to Sauron's threat becomes twofold, as it is in the books: attack Dol Guldur and drive Sauron from Mirkwood, and complete the quest of Erebor to remove Smaug as a potential weapon.

While it would seem obvious to Tolkien that even a creature as intelligent and self-willed as a dragon could be used in such a fashion by a Dark Power, it wouldn't seem anywhere as evident to film audiences who know nothing of the Glaurung story. So that's why Jackson has the stone-giants attack Gandalf and his party, and giant spiders destroy Rhosgobel. It's not just that it gives Gandalf the chilling insight that if Sauron has indeed returned, he is very likely planning to use Smaug in a similar fashion as a weapon against Rivendell. It's that it makes this credible to the other members of the Council - and to us.


Gandalf's foresight drives his aid for Thorin's quest.

This knitting together of the two separate story threads will likely happen just after the two Wizards find the tombs empty, setting off the entire parallel storyline climaxing in the Battle of Dol Guldur. The now-homeless Radagast will clearly be an important figure throughout it; I suspect we'll even see him at The Battle of Five Armies.

At the end of the tale, though, he will tell the rest of the Council that he's had enough of dwarves and elves and men, and wants to devote his energy in any upcoming battle against Sauron to the protection of animals: someone has to look out for them. (And in a late note, Tolkien imagined that he was sent to Middle-earth by the Vala Yavanna for just that purpose, contradicting the statement in his essay on the Istari in Unfinished Tales that he had failed in his mission by doing so.) By this time, we will understand that the moth in LOTR was his messenger. Radagast is thus given an explicit presence in the other trilogy at the same time that his absence from it is explained.


How exactly does An Unexpected Journey End?


The barrels out of bond sequence has been shuffled to the second film.

(While this has little to do with the revision of the Sauron backstory, it is the other major revelation that folks have tried to divine from the available clues.)

We know that the first movie continues as far as the rescue by the Eagles from the treetops, since we see that in the revised scroll. And not only has Beorn been excised from the scroll, there's no longer any mention of him in the synopsis or cast list. This has led some to conclude that we know that the movie ends there, and others (including myself) to complain that that's a lousy and uncharacteristic place for an ending.

However, while the original scroll ended with "Barrels Out of Bond," the revision ends not with the treetop rescue, but with a generic shot of Thorin and Gandalf, standing vaguely in front of Erebor - which they are certainly not getting anywhere near. I can think of two possible reasons for this. First, it might indicate that the treetop rescue is not the last scene in the movie, but is followed by a scene or two that are either new or thoroughly changed, so that any portrayal of them in the scroll would have been incomprehensible or a spoiler. Additionally, it could be a placeholder indicating that there may or may not be significant additional scenes. It's perfectly credible to think that the revised scroll, synopsis, and cast list were produced at a time when Jackson wasn't sure where he was ending the movie. If he were unsure where it would end, he would have them include just what he knew would definitely be in the film.


Wargs will pursue them through the forest.

We can make sense of this muddle by looking at the way Jackson ended FOTR and TTT. We've essentially seen four segment endings already, since each movie featured divided storylines. In three of them (both stories in FOTR, and Frodo and Sam in TTT), the characters were actively moving from one stage of their journey to another more dangerous or difficult one, and we knew at least a little of what the new stage entailed. Jackson is so fond of this structure for story suspension that he had Gandalf in the other half of TTT invoke it: "The battle for Helm's Deep is over. The battle for Middle-earth is about to begin."¯ (The difference here is that the increased difficulty is coming to them, rather than their actively choosing it.) None of this is true of being carried away by Eagles. The characters have not decided what they're doing next, their journey is not entering a distinct new stage, and in the book there's no hint of increased danger or difficulty.

However, if we continue until Thorin and Co. have been deposited on the Carrock, we do have a classic Jackson stopping point. They've successfully gotten themselves over the Mountains, and now they're in sight of Mirkwood, which promises a new type of danger. And this is especially true if they've just learned that the land between them and the forest is teeming with orcs and Wargs, as I speculated above. Meanwhile, in the parallel Radagast storyline, Jackson could both create a sense of stage transition and give us his first cliffhanger. Radagast could see an unexpected opportunity to briefly elude his pursuers, and use it to get his message off - only to find that the effort has put him in impossible peril. I can imagine cutting from the Lord of the Eagles telling Gandalf that he sees orcs and Wargs, to the scene of them surrounding or trapping Radagast, and then back to the Carrock landing, where Gandalf (after hesitating mysteriously and appearing unsure of himself) says cryptic things about where he's taking them next. And then the credits.

The Ending II: The Eagles are changing!


Jackson's The Hobbit may exaggerate that the Eagles "are not kindly birds".

One problem with this ending is that the last dwarves' sequence, their stay in the Eagles' eyrie, would seem to be undramatic, far less satisfying as a climax than the treetop rescue. After all, the end of ROTK establishes that the Eagles are not just Good Guys, but the closest thing in Middle-earth to Deus ex Machina Airlines, as Bored of the Rings put it. (To Tolkien's credit, he was acutely aware of this and leery of overusing them as a device). In The Hobbit, Tolkien creates some temporary dramatic tension when the Eagles refer to "the prisoners,"¯ and Bilbo interprets this as "our prisoners"¯ rather than "the ex-prisoners of the goblins and Wargs."¯ The solution here would be to make Bilbo's fear legitimate rather than mistaken.

The Eagles of the Misty Mountains were, after all,"not kindly birds," so immediately after the rescue, let's make them surprisingly inimical to Thorin and Company. Why might they rescue them and then be unfriendly? It's a puzzle, but by no means an impossible one for the screenwriters to solve. For instance, they might mistakenly believe Gandalf and the dwarves responsible for some hurt or harm, and desire to interrogate them and, if appropriate, punish them themselves. This twist would essentially end the movie with "out of the frying-pan, through the fire, then down the garbage disposer," to coin a proverb you're unlikely to ever hear again.

At first glance, this might seem like adding obstacle for its own sake, and it will certainly remind some viewers of Treebeard's surprise initial decision not to attack Isengard. But there's another reason to turn the Eagles sequence on its head, one I feel Jackson will find irresistible. In the book, it's noted that Gandalf had once healed the Lord of the Eagles of an arrow-wound, thus beginning the great friendship between Gandalf and the Eagles that reaches its apotheosis near the end of LOTR.


The help of the Eagles at the Battle of the Five Armies is what Tolkien called a "eucatastrophe".

Jackson loves to take elements from the backstory and place them in the present action;for instance, we witness the first time that Treebeard sees the destruction of trees he knew, when in the book that had been going on for some time. So Gandalf wouldn't just convince the Eagles that he and his companions were innocent; he would fix whatever it was that had made the Eagles so angry (or promise to do so and then later make good on it), and this would replace the healing of the wound as the origin story for his friendship with them.

And that in turn would change the dramatic impact of both the Eagles' tide-turning arrival at the Battle of Five Armies and (for future viewers of the films in chronological order) near the end of ROTK. "The Eagles are coming!" is an exquisite example of what Tolkien, in his groundbreaking essay "On Fairy-Stories," called eucatastrophe, the sudden unforeseen turn for the good that causes the heart to catch, and which is an essential component of the classic fairy-tale. (It occasionally crops up in realistic narratives, too, including one of the most critically acclaimed films of the last few years. Note that simply knowing that there is a eucatastrophe, even without knowing what it is, spoils the ending, so blog.

The views in this post are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of TheOneRing.net or its staff.

(This post was edited by Silverlode on Nov 24 2012, 11:32am)

Subject User Time
Imagining Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: Part One News from Bree Send a private message to News from Bree Nov 24 2012, 5:12am
    Oh dear. Lacrimae Rerum Send a private message to Lacrimae Rerum Nov 24 2012, 10:40am
        So much work..so much thought! Bombadil Send a private message to Bombadil Nov 24 2012, 6:24pm
        Indeed Aitieuriskon Send a private message to Aitieuriskon Nov 24 2012, 6:59pm
            Indeed totoro Send a private message to totoro Nov 24 2012, 9:30pm

 
 
 

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