Spiders, Bear Men, Bowmen, and Crises of Elvish Conscience—What We Might See in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

We don’t have to wait much longer for the next installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. While An Unexpected Journey met with some very mixed reviews from die-hard Tolkien fans, it was a box office hit and pleased a lot of people. If nothing else, the adventure and action sequences of The Desolation of Smaug promise to be even more exciting.

The trailer is setting us up for a film that looks more action-packed and suspenseful than the first. Gone are the scenes of White Council debates, to be replaced by Bilbo sneaking through the spiders’ lair and sucking up to Smaug, and where we had dwarves running from goblins, now we’ll have of battles in which the elves gracefully slaughter them bad guys in droves. Helped along by Legolas’s flashy knife tricks. And what else are we likely to see?

Minor spoilers below for things seen in the Desolation of Smaug trailer and The Hobbit book.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Thranduil, Lee Pace

Thranduil

We’re also going to see a lot more of Lee Pace’s Thranduil, likely with the help of added character development compared to what was offered in the book (back when “the Elvenking” was the only name we got), or even what little we have from Tolkien’s other Middle-earth writing.

What we see in trailer suggests that his involvement with the dwarves will be more complicated than questioning them and throwing them in the dungeon. He appears to be offering the dwarves aid, after which we see them in boats, discussing whether they can trust “him.” This hints at an extra complication in the adventure. Maybe its is to do with Azog and his army? Evangeline Lilly’s voiceover coincides with a lot of footage of elves slaughtering orcs and goblins, and Azog does make an appearance. If this is the case, we can suspect that things will not go well for the wood-elves, leading to Thorin and Company’s imprisonment and daring barrel escape.

In the books, the home of Thranduil and his people is the first stronghold to face the return of Sauron, and by the time Bilbo and the dwarves go stumbling through Mirkwood, the once beautiful forest is overrun by darkness and spiders and the evils of the Necromancer. The elves have retreated to a cave fortress in the northernmost part of Mirkwood, guarded by a deep river and “magic doors.” This is given as one of the reasons for the Elvenking’s suspicion and ill-treatment of the intruders.

But there’s even more worldbuilding that can be explored here. The canonical history of Thranduil and his rule over the wood-elves of Mirkwood is uncertain: The Lord of The Rings appendices seem to imply that Thranduil is the founder of his Kingdom, however, the writings collected in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth tells us that Oropher—Thranduil’s father—was king before him, and that he was killed in the War of the Last Alliance, the same war in which Isildur cut the ring from Sauron’s finger. The Elves of Greenwood suffered heavy casualties during that battle, and it has been suggested by some that Thranduil held a grudge against Elrond, and against Isildur and his men, for the fact that his people had been so decimated in the battle.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Tauriel, Evangeline Lilly

Mirroring The Two Towers Film

The dialogue we get between Legolas and Tauriel in the trailer suggests that the second installment of The Hobbit may very well mirror the second Lord of the Rings film thematically—particularly in highlighting the choice the elves face in the coming war. Thranduil’s old grudge from the War of the Last Alliance is compounded by the fact that the elves of Mirkwood are so besieged, long before equivalent darkness has come to other parts of Middle-earth. He is in a perfect position, therefore, to be the pessimist of this film, much as Elrond was in The Two Towers.

How interesting is it, then, to see that Tauriel—Jackson’s invented female elf—may be fulfilling the Galadriel role in that same plotline.

We know she is trying to convince Legolas to fight, and likely beyond the protection of their home. Just as Galadriel questioned Elrond, tried to convince him that there was still hope, so Tauriel seems to be addressing Legolas, urging the battle that must be fought. Meanwhile, Thranduil is apparently sulkily telling her not to use her feminine wiles to convince his son to buy into all this heroic save-the-world stuff.

I am all kinds of on board for the suggestion that Legolas later joins the Fellowship due to the wise words of a badass red-haired lady elf, but less excited about a possible romantic interlude between them. Besides the annoying suggestion that the only female character must have a love interest, she will likely be ill-disposed of since she cannot be in Lord of the Rings. Worse, in early interviews about Tauriel, Jackson mentioned a possible romance between her and Kili. There is no evidence of this in the footage we’ve been shown, fortunately—it would be a shame if her decisions we’re implied to be based purely on a romantic attraction. We have already seen Arwen and Eowyn make choices centered around love, and besides that, fans know that Gimli is meant to be the first dwarf to inspire love from elves in many years.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Beorn

Beorn

We will see new faces besides the elves, though. Because we have three movies, Jackson can pack as much canon into the films as he wants and still have room for his own added themes and plots. The character Beorn—a man who can transform into a bear—shelters the dwarves after their rescue by the eagles. Will he kick off the film for us? While I imagine he’ll be fun, Beorn is basically The Hobbit’s Tom Bombadil; completely pointless to the story other than giving Tolkien a chance to play with his knowledge of mythic character tropes and make some heavy-handed suggestions that technology is evil and animals are better than people.

He is important at the end of The Hobbit, however—so we should probably meet him now before he shows up in There and Back Again.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Bilbo, Spiders

Spiders

We’re going to get the Mirkwood spiders, which I have high hopes for, considering the fantastic treatment and animation Shelob got in The Return of the King. In my earlier article here on Tor.com, I mentioned that the spiders adventure was one of the best in the books, and the horror of it plays perfectly to Peter Jackson’s directing strengths.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Bard, Luke Evans

The Master and the Bard

We will also meet the insidious Master of Lake-town, as well as Bard the Bowman! Speaking of Luke Evans, he is listed as playing Bard AND Girion—Bard’s forbear, the last Lord of Dale—which means we’re getting more flashback scenes to Smaug’s arrival.

What do you think we will see in this film? More of Team Galadriel-Gandalf being awesome? The wood-elves getting drunk? Two hours of Bilbo and Smaug shooting the shit at Baker Street in Smaug’s cave? Because I would watch that.

Kelsey Jefferson Barrett is a brooklyn-based reader and writer who prefers their stories epic and their narrative verbose. You can follow them on Twitter and read their fiction in Lightspeed Magazine.

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