The Quest of Erebor: A Critical Reflection on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films
I am not going to make a list of all the ways the films are different from the book. I am not going to dismiss them as garbage either. There are lots of ways to tell a good story. I just don’t think Peter Jackson’s films tell the story they advertise. I think the films ought to have been called “The Quest of Erebor.”
The Quest of Erebor
“The Quest of Erebor” was a little story originally intended to be Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings, but removed due to space constrictions. It was first published in Unfinished Tales, and amended in the History. The story was once subtitled, “Gandalf’s account of how he came to arrange the expedition to Erebor and send Bilbo with the Dwarves" (Anderson 367). It casts a big picture look at how Bilbo’s quest affected Middle Earth history from Gandalf’s point of view.
The Hobbit Films
The Hobbit films rely heavily on this appendix for a couple of reasons. First, it treats the events of The Hobbit as Lord of the Rings prequel as opposed to its own stand-alone story. This is convenient for the films, which cater to an audience arguably more familiar with The Lord of the Rings than The Hobbit book. Secondly, Gandalf in The Hobbit is different character than the Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. Corey Olsen says in his book Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, “The Gandalf who shows up at Bag-End in Chapter One of The Hobbit is not exactly the same character who helps to host Bilbo’s farewell party in Chapter One of The Fellowship of the Ring. A lot happens to the guy in the seventeen years of real-world time that came between those two parties” (14). This is to be expected—after all, The Lord of the Rings is much darker, and its characters reflect that. Finally, Gandalf and Thorin appear as major characters and Bilbo’s role is de-emphasized. This appeals to the current trend in action/adventure films that emphasizes the powerful hero with a dark past as a main character.
Events in Both
“The Quest of Erebor” includes or mentions several scenes which do not appear in The Hobbit book, but do in the films: Gandalf meeting Thorin in Bree (Anderson 369, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), Gandalf entreating Thorin to accept Bilbo on the quest (Anderson 373-375, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), and the White Council’s attack on Dol Guldur (Anderson 370, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies).
Impact of Characters
There are also several impacts on characters in “The Quest of Erebor” that are reflected in the films besides the greater emphasis of Gandalf and Thorin. First, Thorin is much more antagonistic and contemptuous about the idea of taking Bilbo on the quest. After Thorin meets Bilbo, to Gandalf, “’Thief!’ he snorted. ‘He is as honest as he is silly. His mother died too soon” (Anderson 375). These sentiments are depicted especially harshly in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, until the end when Bilbo saves Thorin’s life. Secondly, in “The Quest of Erebor,” Gandalf is less mysterious as he explains all his thoughts and everything he knew—or didn’t. He says about his decision to send Bilbo, “Well, you know what I decided to do; and it may sound less absurd now than it did then. It seemed so absurd then, even to me, that I laughed at myself, and wondered what made me consider such a plan” (Anderson 372). He, himself, is uninformed. Finally, there is also greater discussion about whether or not Bilbo belongs on such a quest. Thorin says to Gandalf, “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” (Anderson 373). Gandalf provides some support for his arguments, but he also is unsure about his reasoning beyond, “This queer notion of mine was not a joke, it was right” (Anderson 374). The answer is less confident than the book, which places complete faith in Gandalf’s prophetic insight, while “The Quest of Erebor” reveals how little Gandalf knew at the time.
The inclusion of the events that occur and are discussed in “The Quest of Erebor” in The Hobbit film series alter the story enough that it is hardly justifiable to name the series after the book. They become a Lord of the Rings prequel, emphasizing the warriors and wizards instead of telling the story of an ordinary person on a quest that draws out his great courage. I don’t know where Tauriel came from, though. She wasn’t in “The Quest of Erebor” either.
Anderson, Douglas A, ed. The Annotated Hobbit. By J. R. R. Tolkien. Revised and Expanded
Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. Print.
Olsen, Corey. Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. New York: Mariner Books, 2013. Print.