What Sort of Thorin Will We See in The Hobbit Film?
[Originally posted November 27, 2011]
I’ve had the contemplative vision of Thorin on my mind of late, the stately leader and moderately diplomatic king. But I thought I would revisit the original film image we were given some months ago, of a warrior, possibly unbound by the constraints of morality. This version looks like he would be tremendously difficult to reason with, were one to disagree with him.
When I read The Hobbit, the Thorin of the early chapters does not feel like the one of later chapters, and it is not simply due to the regular character growth that can be expected in a novel (such as Bilbo’s attitude boost). Thorin goes through a personality shift towards the end of the story, which one could argue was brought on by the “dragon-sickness” and the sight of gold. But the dwarf who was unyielding in his assertion (after the death of Smaug,) that not a coin of treasure be given out except on his terms, and who does not hesitate to go to war to make his point, hardly seems like the reasonably good-natured fellow at the beginning of the story (who puts up with occasional ignoble treatment, and breezily demands six eggs with ham the first night in Bag End!) He might have been a bit of a grump, but this Thorin somehow managed to remain calm even when Gandalf reveals the shocking information about what really happened to his father Thrain in the Dungeons of Dol Guldur. I challenge anyone not to flip out were they to find out such news right in the middle of dinner!
I did research on the character for my story A Quarrel of Oak and Flame, where I tried to strike a balance between these two presentations, as well as find a reason for what I view as a disjuncture. Going back to the source, Tolkien changed his mind on the ultimate fate of the character part way through writing the book; in earlier drafts, Thorin did not die in battle, nor was he possessed by an overwhelming greed for the Arkenstone (info via History of the Hobbit, by John D. Rateliff, a dork historian’s dream tome!) So there was no poignant death-bed redemption for the King under the Mountain (there was originally no Battle of Five Armies, and no Dain Ironfoot either, but that’s for another post). This original Thorin suffered all the troubles of getting to Erebor, but had none of the moral conflict which marks the later character as tragically flawed, and ultimately, more interesting.
Since I have not read complaints about Thorin’s character being inconsistent, I may be seeing more of a disconnect between the early and later chapters than many do. But I tend to believe Tolkien revised his estimation of Thorin’s threshold of tolerance long after the character was first conceived. In “The Quest of Erebor”, a story fragment written years after The Hobbit was published, Gandalf has a discussion with a far more forceful Thorin, before meeting Bilbo:
“Anyway, there is one that I have my eye on as a companion for you, Thorin. He is neat-handed and clever, though shrewd, and far from rash. And I think he has courage. Great courage, I guess, according to the way of his people. They are, you might say, ‘brave at a pinch.’ You have to put these Hobbits in a tight place before you find out what is in them.”
“The test cannot be made,” Thorin answered. “As far as I have observed, they do all that they can to avoid tight places.”
“Quite true,” Gandalf said. “They are a very sensible people. But this Hobbit is rather unusual. I think he could be persuaded to go into a tight place. I believe that in his heart he really desires to – to have, as he would put it, an adventure.”
“Not at my expense!” said Thorin, rising and striding about angrily. “This is not advice, it is foolery! I fail to see what any Hobbit good or bad, could do that would repay me for a day’s keep, even if he could be persuaded to start.”
“Fail to see! You would fail to hear it, more likely,” Gandalf answered. (“The Quest of Erebor” from The Unfinished Tales)
I’m curious just which Thorin we will be seeing most of in the film. Taking hints from an interview with Richard Armitage in The Scotsman (which can be viewed here at RichardArmitageNet.com), Thorin will have a good measure of darkness to him:
“With my character in The Hobbit, there’s this emotional explosion and suppressed anger, and I’m trying to work out whether I have that in me, or whether I’m going to have to imagine it. I guess there’s a dangerous place, my own darkness, that I don’t access in life but have the ability to go ‘alright, just for this role, I’ll open this door and have a peek’.”
If you have somehow arrived here without having seen any of Richard Armitage’s previous roles, you may not understand just how disturbing this statement is in terms of what Thorin might be like. Lucas North, Guy of Gisborne, Heinz Kruger…none of these guys would have the red carpet rolled out for them at the Pearly Gates. Gisborne, in particular, raised poorly suppressed anger to new heights. So it amazes me to think Armitage is questioning whether or not he has the level of anger and emotion he needs for Thorin. Hasn’t he had plenty of opportunity, via these roles, to work out the limits? Perhaps I’m misinterpreting the statement, and he’s thinking in terms of type, rather than intensity. But if not, then I expect this Thorin Oakenshield will be more emotionally charged than anyone (myself included) could have anticipated.
“The embers in the heart of Thorin grew hot again, as he brooded on the wrongs of his House and of the vengeance upon the Dragon that was bequeathed to him. He thought of weapons and armies and alliances, as his great hammer rang in the forge; but the armies were dispersed and the alliances broken and the axes of his people were few; and a great anger without hope burned him, as he smote the red iron on the anvil.” (“The Quest of Erebor” from The Unfinished Tales)