rushthatspeaks: (Default)
[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
(or, reason #53413231 that I will be ignoring the existence of whatever Peter Jackson has decided to do this time)

Ruth and I were sitting around this evening talking Tolkien, as we do, and it occurred to me that one of the reasons I can't handle the LotR movies is that, as a lot of people including Le Guin have said, LotR is an epic centered around walking.

It became a meme that you can't simply walk into Mordor, except that you can, you do, and that's the only way you get there. One step at a time. When the Fellowship have horses or ponies, they lose them (except Shadowfax, who is a character as well as a mode of transportation); when they have boats, they can't use them to cut time off the actual journey, because of a waterfall, but only to cross the river, or not as the case may be. They never have wagons. Frodo, specifically, must walk and walk and walk; I think it's significant that the members of the Fellowship literally move faster after the Fellowship breaks, with the run across Rohan and the acquisition of more permanent horses and, later, Aragorn's ships. But Frodo walks, and has to choose to walk every step of it. The beginning sequence, before he knows he is taking the Ring to Mordor, is a microcosm of the later journey, where he walks as far as he can with what help he can gather, is wounded beyond bearing, walks out of his own endurance, and is, at the very last, carried when he can go no further. Which is basically what happens again later.

And as I mentioned, the Fellowship, when they are with Frodo, and later Gollum, also have to walk, and every step is also a choice for them: the choice of the Ring, and what to do with it, and whether to try to take it for themselves. Everyone Frodo meets has that choice. Every step.

I realize it would be very hard to center anything movie-wise around walking, because it's very hard to show walking, the slow grind of it, the days and weeks on the road. The thing is I'm not sure Jackson was trying to, or wanted to, and I think it's very important thematically.

Especially since, and I'm sure other people have thought of this too but I hadn't noticed it, in The Hobbit? Bilbo rides.

He's thrown on a pony, and from that point on he moves from pony to pony to goblinback to eagle-claw to pony again to barrel to boat to pony and the party doesn't walk without transport very often or for great lengths of time; probably the longest walking bit is Mirkwood which is singled out in the text as being dangerous and eerie and creepy and weird. Bilbo gets carried along-- compares himself to baggage pretty often-- and his claiming of agency is shown in his increasing help with the selection and acquisition of various kinds of transportation as the journey moves onward. At the crossings of Anduin Frodo rows, but Bilbo clings to a barrel which he cannot even steer. He picked out the barrels and saved everybody with them, but he's never been the one who can decide where things are going.

He picks up the Ring during one of the few moments he's on his own two feet, but he had no choice about getting there and he doesn't have much about how to get out. And, in resonance with the way events carry Bilbo onwards, the Ring is not a choice to the people around him. Gollum wants it back, of course, but he is left behind, and-- and this is very odd when you think about it-- when the dwarves find out about the Ring, none of them ever try to poke into it to see more about what it does, or whether they can find a maker's mark, or anything of that nature. Even though they are dwarves, and one might expect them to be curious, or to ask Bilbo for at least a proper look at it. Bilbo is also very much more successful than Frodo at keeping the Ring concealed. This is probably at least partially because the Ring has not yet awakened at that point from its long sleep in Gollum's possession, and one also suspects it wouldn't want a dwarf to get wise to it anyhow (less chance of getting anywhere but a treasury, with a lock), but we know that the dwarves who are Bilbo's companions could have been played by it, because of what we see the Arkenstone do to Thorin-- and the Arkenstone possibly isn't even magical. It's because of the nature of power in the book, really, that this doesn't happen. Bilbo is carried along by events and can influence them by his choices, until, at the Mountain, it becomes his turn to do the carrying. Frodo makes events, until, at the Mountain, it is his turn to be carried.

Frodo walks. Bilbo rides.

When I heard they were splitting The Hobbit into three movies, I am afraid I gave up hope that anyone had noticed this about the pacing, and since the way Bilbo gains agency and self and ability to change the world despite being the baggage swept along in the rear of the train is my favorite thing about The Hobbit, well. Almost certainly avoiding that, then, unless I manage to hear that they've not blown this theme.

Date: 2012-11-18 05:00 am (UTC)
zeborah: Vuvuzela concert: This is serious art. (art)
From: [personal profile] zeborah
When I heard they were splitting it into three movies I gave up hope that anyone cared about anything other than milking it for all the brand is worth. :-(

Date: 2012-11-18 10:31 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Yeah, I can see LOTR as three movies, or maybe even four and a half, but the Hobbit? And it's so chatty too -- you really get the feeling it's being told, and to children, with all the asides and interpolations and omnatopeia (sp) and explanations.

Date: 2012-11-18 05:29 am (UTC)
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu
This is a super-excellent insight, may I quote/link for the chapter 2 post? I'd noticed Bilbo's lack of agency in the departure, of course, but I hadn't remembered the rest of the book well enough to see that pattern.

Date: 2012-11-18 10:24 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
This is lovely. I really like it.

- Wasn't it Lewis who said that he thought LOTR more than any other book captured what it must have been like to be on a medieval pilgrimage? I liked that. Lots of walking, yes.

Date: 2012-11-18 01:00 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
I can't remember offhand whether it was Elrond or Gandalf who said "against the Nine Riders we will set nine walkers," but it's not just Tolkien and we readers who are aware of that distinction, it's the characters.

You can't "just walk into Mordor," but two or even nine people couldn't have ridden in, at all.

Date: 2012-11-18 01:40 pm (UTC)
veejane: Pleiades (Default)
From: [personal profile] veejane
I remember in discussion of LOTR #3 (which to my eye had the most false-notes for a book-purist, as is probably unavoidable given #1 and #2) having a long talk about how boring some of the Frodo sections of Return are, how they don't have a lot of shifts in tone or mood. It was, after all these years, kind of a surprise to be able to say, "Well, Frodo's story feels like a deathmarch, because it is."

The repetitive nature of trudging onward toward his presumptive death helps the narrative narrow the focus and shut down the realm of Frodo's emotions bit by bit. As we see him wear down to a little exhausted nub, we're basically being shown how hopelessness can come to seem reasonable, without theatrics or even any consciousness of the shift in mental state. It's dull and small and incremental, because that's how that happens. If you could take a plane to Mordor International Airport and cut out all the boring parts, you wouldn't have your story.

Date: 2012-11-18 12:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I had never made that connection; thank you!

Date: 2012-11-18 01:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I saw in a trailer yesterday that Frodo will appear in the Jackson travesty Hobbit movies. A mere 28 years before he was born.

I wish he'd go and desecrate something else for a change.

What I hate the worst is the poisoning of the conversation -- it won't ever in our lifetimes be possible to talk about Tolkien without somebody bringing in these movies and talking about Jackson's choices.

Date: 2012-11-18 02:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah--at least, not without setting the limit at the start, which is also annoying for setting limits on a conversation.

Date: 2012-11-18 09:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I feel this way about the Narnia movies, which have (so far) been epic-ified (complete with huge battles and chanting music) to make them feel Lord of the Rings-like. It totally changes what those stories *are*, and now there will be many people for whom those movies represent the whole of what Narnia is.

Date: 2012-11-18 10:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, it should have been apparent to the meanest intelligence that they'd be inappropriate for movies.

Date: 2012-11-18 09:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wow, that's a wonderful observation, about Frodo walking past endurance and then being carried, first in microcosm in The Fellowship of the Ring and then at the end, too.

I didn't enjoy The Hobbit as much as you evidently did--maybe because I read it as a kid (or maybe it's just a taste thing), whereas I loved The Lord of the Rings. The Jackson LoTR movies didn't match what was in my head (or only did in small bits and pieces), but I was able to appreciate them as variations on the LoTR theme. But I can't imagine all that cinematographic firepower being applied to the Hobbit (which is going to be stretched into three movies? Seriously? Why not seven, then, or ten?)

Date: 2012-11-18 10:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
A brilliant observation, and I wonder if it works for epic vs. romance. Certainly Roland and Beowulf do a lot more walking than Sir Lancelot or Amadis. In fact, the essence of romance is the chevalier--can't have one without a cheval. Whereas the earlier epic heroes are apt to walk open-eyed into danger.

I think that part of the difference with the treatment of the Ring in The Hobbit is that Tolkien himself hadn't discovered its significance--or so he said.

Date: 2012-11-19 09:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm currently re-reading The Hobbit, in the annotated edition, which also includes the changes made from the original edition to the edition printed after the release of The Lord of the Rings. One of the biggest ones is that Tolkien entirely rewrote the end of Bilbo and Gollum's interaction in order to make it consistent with LotR, and I think there are probably things about the Ring that didn't get rewritten and don't quite make sense in the later context.

Date: 2013-11-11 08:09 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Very interesting point! I would expand it to explain many of my problems with the Hobbit film: Frodo walks, Bilbo rides, Peter Jackson teleports.
Radagast is in Mirkwood. Then he is on the other side of the mountains, having somehow located Gandalf. The Blaargh orcs are on one side of the pass, which is rendered impassible by storm giants; then they are on the other. The story is a journey, in which people have to painstakingly cross space... But here Peter Jackson goes showing us that space is arbitrary -a mere plot contrivance- and so the plot becomes a contrivance.


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