The Hobbit – An unexpected runtime?

Warning. There are spoilers in the text below

In my last post I commented on why I thought the film had to be longer than just one. because of the extra material needed to tie together both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, including taking characters and giving them some more development.

However the accusations of “padding” go on. That there is no need for or justification for the extra text. I am going to argue against that by pointing to the first person to “fiddle with” the story. There might be an argument made for filming The Hobbit as written, but that leaves it adrift from LoTR a story that “grew in the telling”.

Tolkien changed The Hobbit to fit, but he did more. He wrote text to fill in some of the gaps, not only in the general history, language, genealogies and calendars of Middle-Earth, but also why Gandalf helped the Dwarves and what would have happened if he had not. That is in the section on Durin’s Folk in Appendix A of Return of the King. I know there are editions that omit the Appendices, usually single-volume sets or translations, but the publication of Return of the King was delayed to get these in, which shows you the importance Tolkien placed on the information there.

In the “Unfinished Tales” , versions of “The Quest for Erebor” (TQfE), another way of presenting the information, were included in Part III, Chapter III, and I have seen one guy suggest that TQfE would be a better title for the films. Before I go into the important points Tolkien was trying to get across, I’ll quickly look at a few digressions the film has from the books.

  • Thror is at the Battle of Azanulbizar. He wasn’t. he was already slain by Azog. Thor’s death and the battle are described in the Durin’s Folk section of Appendix A, as is how Thorin came by the nickname Oakenshield.
  • Azog survives the Battle. In the story, Dain killed him
  • Thrain runs off during the Battle. No, he disappears later
  • Gandalf hasn’t been to Dol Guldur in the film of the Hobbit. In the book he had, and already suspected he knew who the Necromancer was. He met Thrain in the dungeons there and that is where he got the map and key. He did not know who Thrain was and only worked it out later on meeting Thorin, leading to the quest for Erebor

I’m not sure about the reasoning for the first three but I have a hypothesis for the fourth. TQfE is Gandalf telling a tale told to the Fellowship after Aragorn’s coronation, while still in Minas Tirith. It is all a tale told about the past, so a long timescale can work on such a narrative. There are echoes of this in Bilbo’s opening narration. I think this would work less well in a film, so it was changed, and now Radagast is discovering a return that was older in the book “history”.

So what was Tolkien trying to convey in the Appendix and the versions of TQfE?

Remember that Gandalf is fairly sure who the Necromancer is. He is sure that the Necromancer intends to attack Rivendell and Lothlorien, thus destroying the two centres of ancient Elvish lore and power. That would mean also recapturing Angmar and being able to threaten the lands West of the Misty Mountains, but now there was little force in the North capable of aiding the Elves. Dale and Erebor were shattered, though Thranduil’s Kingdom and the Dwarves of the Iron Hills remained.

he was troubled by the perilous state of the North; because he knew then already that Sauron was plotting war, and intended, as soon as he felt strong enough, to arrack Rivendell. But to resist any attempt from the East to regain the lands of Angmar and the northrn passes of the mountains there were now only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills”

Between the Elves and the Iron Hills was Smaug and with the dragon Sauron could devastate the north and the woods. Without the Elves Gondor and Rohan could be subjugated more easily, attacked from all sides by enemies.

In fact in TQfE, Gandalf says that were it not for his own motives (the defence of the West) he would not be aiding the Dwarves at all.

Gandalf’s plan therefore was to drive the Necromancer out. This had the effect of giving some safety to Rivendell and Lorien. Sauron retreated to Mordor. Gandalf thought Sauron would take longer than he did to re-establish himself. At that time also, according to TQfE,

‘I was very troubled at the time,’ he said, ‘for Saruman was hindering all my plans’

That leaves Smaug himself, still a threat in the North. With his death and the destruction of a large part of the orcs of the Misty Mountains, Dale and Erebor can reestablish themselves.

There is more information in TQfE, including the idea that not only is Bilbo stealthier than a Dwarf, but that he has “A scent that cannot be placed, at least not by Smaug, the enemy of the Dwarves”, but the ultimate relevance of this is in the Appendix to The Return of the King, after news of the deaths of the Kings of Dale and Erebor fighting against the Easterlings

Yet things might have gone far otherwise and far worse. When you think of the Battle of Pelennor, do not forget the battles in Dale and the valour of Durin’s Folk. Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador, night in Rivendell. There might be no Queen in Gondor. We might now hope to return from the victory here to ruin and ash. But that has been averted — because I met Thorin Oakenshield one evening on the edge of spring in Bree. A chance-meeting, as we say in Middle-earth.

This is why I think Peter Jackson is correct to link The Hobbit and LoTR. Had he done the Hobbit first, he could have filmed the charming children’s story we love, but Tolkien even changed that, to make it darker and to link with LoTR. He has his LoTR. now he has to make The Hobbit consistent.

If it accords with Tolkien’s desires, how is it wrong?

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One Response to The Hobbit – An unexpected runtime?

  1. Geoffrey says:

    My speculation on the changes to the Necromancer storyline is similar to yours: it makes the storyline more self-contained, which is a Good Thing in a film where you don’t have the option of saying “read the appendices to this other book if you want to understand what’s going on here”.

    Tolkien wasn’t writing for film – and frankly, even as an author of dead-tree books, he’s not perfect. I love his books but here and there they have weaknesses – not least because, as you mention, he spent decades developing this stuff and there was more than a little retconning going on.

    My favourite example being the drowning of the Nazgul by Glorfindel, changed to Arwen in the films: Glorfindel was a mistake in the first place (having been killed off long before by a Balrog), and while Tolkien retconned a resurrection after noticing the error, it still feels wobbly. IIRC he acknowledged that he just needed a random elf-lord and picked a name without checking what he’d already written about Glorfindel.

    So I doubt Tolkien would have been *that* offended to find they’d given the part to Arwen instead. For my money, it was important to give Arwen a bigger role in the story, because the Aragorn/Arwen romance always seemed like a weak spot in the books. On the one hand there’s Eowyn who kills the bloody WITCH-KING and is generally awesome, and on the other… Arwen is pretty. Really, really pretty. And while you can write somebody as “the most beautiful woman in the world” in print, you just can’t do that in a movie.

    (I’m not a fan of all of PJ’s changes – in particular, I was unhappy with what happened to Denethor – but I don’t think slavish obedience to canon is a good thing in a film director.)

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