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With the overload of Hobbit interviews and set reports yesterday, I haven’t had time to read most of them, but I did manage to squeeze in this one from Collider.  Fans of dwarves, and Richard Armitage, should be very pleased.  Some speculations were confirmed, expectations met, and fears alleviated (or at least mine were).

As usual, Armitage has been immersing himself in the role, going deeper into the motivations of the character than some might expect. To his fans, this is nothing new. He regularly writes character biographies and does a significant amount of research for each part he plays (check out Vulpes Libris for an interview showcasing this dedication).  But what many of his fans have yet to discover (despite a year’s worth of my propaganda) is how perfectly matched the role of Thorin is for the type of character he typically inhabits. And the reverse is true as well. Skeptical Tolkien fans (I know you’re still out there) are in for a pleasant surprise.

We are continually reminded, in the film’s promotional material, that Thorin is a great warrior, and from this we get the impression he is one of the heroes. Viewers may (especially if they have not read the story) assume a certain code of behavior will go with this hero status, but Thorin does not remain simplistically altruistic in the book (today’s heroes are rarely expected to be ill-mannered, or nearly kill one of their companions in a fit of rage). But as Armitage points out, “I think that’s the beauty of Tolkien. He does create very well-rounded, quite dangerous characters to play his protagonists…” (MTV).  Thorin defies easy categorization, walking that fine line between protagonist and antagonist. He can be petty and pompous, but also genial and gracious. He is a determined and fair leader, but not a particularly gifted tactician. He has moments of great bravery, but he will volunteer others for risky or tiresome tasks. Overall, he wants the best for his people, but will also jeopardize the lives of all his companions to get back what is his own. In short, he is a perfect fit for an actor like Armitage, whose recipe for a successful hero has been to “look for all the flaws, for the dark side to the hero. And then with the bad guy you look for the good side of the bad guy,” (Scotsman Magazine). Given Armitage’s desire to invest characters with an interesting duality, I’m sure Thorin will come across as even more conflicted than the text makes apparent. But where is all this inner turmoil coming from?

Hopefully we will get some visual reminders that Thorin has not had an easy reign:

“…there have been moments of taking him out of the present, sort of projecting his mind into the future, but also into the past, because of the trauma of the dragon coming to the mountain, he carries that with him as well. And there aren’t many on the quest that have seen Erebor, and experienced that holocaust that happened. So he has all of this inside of him.”

And if that doesn’t sound serious enough, check out his mental model for dwarf annihilation:

“I’ve used Hiroshima, actually, as an inspiration for that kind of devastation that drove them away from their homeland. So yeah, that’s been Thorin’s driving force.”

Even when the external threats subside, there remains the private fear of failure:

“…I think the burden of taking his people back to their homeland, which is so massive, makes him a lonely figure, I think. Knowing that his grandfather failed, and his father failed, so if he doesn’t do it, there’s no other member of his line that will ever do this. So he will continue through history as the king that failed to achieve the potential for his people.”

We’ve surmised as much from the brief clip in vlog 8, but Thorin will be getting some flashback scenes:

But because I play the character younger as well, deciding how to portray that, the fight style has been a way of doing that. So when he’s a younger dwarf, he fights in a completely different way to when he’s older. He’s much more crazy and berserk, and as he’s got older, it becomes more efficient, so he doesn’t waste any energy. It’s a very heavy, disciplined way of fighting.”

So where, and who exactly, is he fighting?

“We did some fighting, which was basically part of a prologue of when the dwarves take the gates of Moria, and it was a great day walking onto second unit, and he [Andy Serkis] had Orcs on this mound and he was rallying them to start this battle cry, and wind machines going, and blood everywhere. It was a really good day.”

That’s right folks, the GATES OF MORIA!  The stinking Battle of Azanulbizar is going to happen in some way, somehow.  Hopefully it will be more than just 30 seconds long.  Presumably Azog will be there in force:

“…I think he’s thinking less about the gold and more about his people and his own personal agenda with his grandfather, his father, and his nemesis Azog who slaughtered his grandfather.”

The mention of Azog as a “nemesis” is interesting (sort of implies he is still an active problem, rather than dead and beheaded), but as there has been so much confusion (from the fans’ point of view anyway) about the current status of that character, I’m letting the topic rest for now.

He also recognizes that his character has an almost genetic predisposition to “dragon sickness”:

“I think knowing that his father and his grandfather have been touched by this dragon sickness, which doesn’t necessarily affect all dwarves, but some dwarves are susceptible to it. It’s this attraction to gold which becomes their downfall, has always been at the back of his mind….I’ve looked at drug addiction, and along those lines, so that it actually has a physical effect on him, his mind and his body. But I think because he’s been a very heavy, melancholic character, I think the gold is going to change that, and it’s going to sort of bring him to life and make him the king that he should be, and more vibrant. But it comes at a price….”

Part of that cost involves a certain artifact, which is beyond any price:

“The Arkenstone is certainly something which he covets and craves. And he knows that without that gem, he can never truly be king. So that takes on a real significance, like a talisman that he obsesses over in a similar way to the Ring. But he doesn’t really carry that through the story with him [the way Frodo did], it’s just something that he’s going towards.”

I was very relieved to see confirmation that the Arkenstone is in the movie, and the acknowledgment that it is vaguely similar to the Ring. To an outsider, the Arkenstone is an exceedingly impressive glowing gemstone which sparks desire in the hearts of those who look on it. But the desire can be overcome with a little effort (both Bilbo and Bard manage it). To the Heir of Durin, on the other hand, it represents everything. Found within the Lonely Mountain by Thorin’s ancestor, it is the focal point of his people’s pride, and his own sense of self and place. But most importantly, it gives his character an exploitable weakness. The dispute over the Arkenstone is the flashpoint from which Thorin cannot return unscorched.

It may not be clear if you aren’t up on your dwarven origin stories, but Armitage makes an interesting suggestion as to why dwarves build their kingdoms, and everything else, on such a grand scale:

“They’re compensated for the fact that they are a secret forbidden race that was nearly destroyed. And the Elves have their privileged existence, this almost spiritual existence, and the dwarves have to really fight for their place. And so they do it by aggrandizing their environment.”

And what happens when you drag dwarves into a hobbit hole, such as Bag End?

“Dwarves don’t belong in a cozy, domestic situation. They belong in giant halls and on a battlefield. And so, to be in a kind of cottage-y, strange place, it was all very useful, the aggravation at being brought here to take this little strange person on a quest, which is monumental to them. This little fellow that he’s being forced to take on board is such a big frustration.”

So why do we need that pesky little hobbit anyway?  It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who read my post from last week that Thorin will be more balky about taking Bilbo:

They’ve used a lot of the appendix in Lord of The Rings. I think there’s two versions of this chance meeting between Thorin and Gandalf which happens prior to this story, which I’ve certainly used. We’ve discussed the hobbit, and why we need to take him. But in terms of this story, it does unfold as we go along that we need a hobbit to go in to try and find the Arkenstone. Because the dragon will not recognize the smell of a hobbit, whereas he knows very well the smell of a dwarf. And there’s a possibility that they may be lighter on their feet, and more able to get in there. But it’s kind of a loose project for Thorin to accept, I don’t think he’s ever bought that.”

While I expected conflict between Thorin and Gandalf, the next few quotes twist it in a direction that is almost opposite of the book:

I think he needs Gandalf to go on the quest, and if Gandalf says they’ve got to take this hobbit, then fair enough. ‘Cause he can’t really do it without him, because Gandalf has the map and the key, and he’s kind of hoodwinked into doing it.  But all the way along, there is this antagonistic relationship between Thorin and Gandalf. I think Thorin is trying to prove that Gandalf isn’t correct, and most of his assumption is that he’s trying to usurp his leadership. When Gandalf isn’t there, Thorin really becomes a leader, and when he turns up, he has to be subservient, and it’s not something that he likes at all.”

I never got the impression in the original story that Thorin minded Gandalf’s occasional leadership, in fact the reverse seemed to be true. For all his irascibility, he had little problem following Gandalf’s lead, or even Bilbo’s lead, if he came up with a better plan than Thorin had. While it actually makes sense that a strong leader would have issues sharing power, it’s also somewhat futile to ask for help and then be chaffing every time you’re given direction on how to proceed. On the other hand, it does sound like the way the less passive and more openly suspicious Thorin in “Quest of Erebor” would behave, if he had gone on the journey, instead of the one from Bilbo’s tale 🙂