Sidebar: The New Elves In Town
I wanted to take a brief pause in the chapter by chapter revisits to address the addition of two major characters to “The Hobbit” films that do not appear in the books. Let’s go with the known character first.
When Peter Jackson announced his intention to do two films (being “The Hobbit” and a “bridge” film to LOTR) it was due to his desire to bring as much of Tolkien’s writings – whether published originally or posthumously – to the big screen. In 2009, however, the idea of the bridge (or extra) film was scrapped in favor of doing The Hobbit as two parts. It was then that I guessed that Legolas would make an appearance. It would be perfectly in keeping with Tolkien’s cannon to have the Elf-prince present during the events of this story.
Though Legolas had not yet been conceived by Tolkien while writing of Bilbo’s adventures, he would have been alive and well at this time and serving his father, Thranduil, in the Woodland realm. In fact, given the slow progress of Elf aging, he would appear almost identical to the sixty-year older version of himself as seen in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. If Orlando Bloom was available and interested in reprising the role, then having him along for this ride was no-brainer. And I seriously doubt that many of the fans of this franchise would have a problem with it.
That being said, I was a little taken aback at Bloom’s performance because I had not considered that this version of Legolas would be somewhat different than the swashbuckling Elf we came to know and admire in the later trilogy. In those films, there was character growth over time. Legolas became much more accepting of Dwarves, for example, than most of his race. Indeed, the gravity of the Fellowship’s mission strengthened his connection to the peoples of all races outside of Mirkwood.
But, if you recall the scene of the Council of Elrond at the mid-point of The Fellowship of the Ring, Legolas is quite stoic and stand-offish – particularly is relation to Gimli. It’s this characterization of him that we are given in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. And, I suspect he will be much the same in the final film.
Here, we see him as an Elf who harbors some sort of anger or resentment, choosing to distance himself from the others. The motivation for this disposition is not yet revealed to us. Though it may never be known I suspect that it may have something to do with his relationship to his father and Jackson may give us some insight next time around. Though I doubt there would be any resolution to these feelings. So, at this point, though Legolas still thoroughly demonstrates those mad skills as a warrior that we’ve come to appreciate he isn’t very, well, likable. And, I admit, this took some getting used to.
Now, the other possible source of his gruff demeanor may have to do with the other new character here – one of the female persuasion. I refer to, of course, Tauriel.
Where do I start? First, by way of full disclosure, let me identify myself as a big fan of Evangeline Lilly having watched her for years on “Lost”. So I am pre-disposed to be excited about any appearance she makes in just about anything. That said I had sort of mixed feelings about the creation of this new character out of whole cloth. I understand the desire of Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens to get some estrogen into the mix as there are absolutely no female characters of any mention in Tolkien’s book.
Recall the elevation of Arwen’s role in the LOTR movies. In fact, a review of the Appendix material on the Extended DVD of The Two Towers reveals that they had gone so far as to film scenes of Arwen fighting at the Battle of Helm’s Deep before the sequence was rewritten (gratefully) out of the final film. I think they ultimately felt that it was changing the character too much (which I agree with). However, here they had an opportunity to create something original. And certainly no one could complain about an existing character getting changed.
Boyens puts it this way: “She’s our redhead. We created her for that reason. To bring that energy into the film, that feminine energy. We believe it’s completely within the spirit of Tolkien.” Of course, when I first read that quote I didn’t think she meant Tauriel was literally going to have red hair. A bit odd for a Middle-Earth Elf to be sure, but it does make her stand out. Lilly (a big Tolkien fan since the age of 13) at first had some reservations about the character but her concerns were largely assuaged by Jackson, Boyens and Fran Walsh saying “[they] know that world so well. They’re not going to create a character that is not true to Tolkien’s world.” She also describes Tauriel (whose name means “daughter of the wood”) as “slightly reckless and totally ruthless and doesn’t hesitate to kill.” Lilly sees her as a nonconformist, saying that her relative youth (600 years young) makes her brash and impulsive.
Lilly does bring a lot of grace and athleticism to the character and, as head of the Elven guard, she can stand toe to toe with Legolas for daring, courage and general bad-assery. On the whole, I think she does quite well with what she’s given. Whether or not Tauriel’s value to the overall story is born out will depend on the swing of her character arc in the final film.
So, where does she fit in here? Well, it’s clear that the invention of Tauriel was probably the deciding factor in making this a trilogy instead of two films. She complicates matters because she is responsible for luring Legolas out of the forest to the shores of Laketown (which I will go over in the next chapter revisit). There also seems to be an unexplained relationship with Legolas that isn’t exactly “romantic” but seems more than a typical male-female friendship that goes back to when they were kids. Thranduil at one point tells Legolas that she has warned Tauriel not to give him false hope. There is no elaboration but both Lilly and the filmmakers have emphasized that there is nothing between the two.
Not to get sidetracked but there is something worth noting about this relationship. Tauriel puts it plainly in one of her conversations with Thranduil that he wouldn't want his son to bind himself to a "lowly Silvan Elf. The Silvan Elves (or “Wood Elves”) are of a lower station than Thranduil and Legolas who are Sindarin Elves. Most of the Elves in Mirkwood are Wood Elves but the Sindarin Elves (or Grey Elves) are of a lineage akin to Galadriel and Celeborn. So, it appears that Thranduil is concerned that his son should not develop feelings for Tauriel because although he is fond of her he doesn’t consider her as appropriate “marriage material” for him. We may get more explanation in the next film.
[At this point, I’d like to make note of a correction that was necessary for a post I did some time ago called “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn, Part One”. Originally, I had mistakenly identified Legolas as a Silvan Elf, rather than a Sindarin (Grey) Elf.]
In any case, the Elven King and his son are comparatively speaking of “royal” lineage compared to the Elves that he rules. To examine their background you need to look at the history of the Eldar as recounted in The Silmarillion. The Sindar trace back to the First Age. Thranduil's grandfather, Thingol, once ruled the Sindarin Elves in Beleriand. The Nandor, or the Wood Elves of Greenwood the Great (later Mirkwood), are the forest’s original inhabitants and are of a race that never crossed the Misty Mountains. After Beleriand’s destruction, Thranduil headed east and settled into his current situation as ruler of the Nandor. All of this history is quite extensive and complicated – so much so that I’ll leave it at that.
So, as we shall see, Legolas and Tauriel will become integral parts of the Dwarves’ adventure, including their escape from the dungeons of the Elven King which takes place in the next chapter.