Are Tolkien’s dwarves heroes ?

After some hesitation, I went to see Peter Jackson‘s film « The Hobbit« , first of a sequel of three movies to be continued in 2013 and 2014. Amongst all the things I’d like to say about it, I’ll start with the one which really bothered me : how Peter Jackson imagines J.R.R. Tolkien‘s character Thorin Oakenshield.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). "The Hobbit", by Peter Jackson.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). « The Hobbit. An Unexpected Journey » © 2013 Warner Bros.

If you haven’t read Tolkien’s book and therefore don’t know what’s wrong, you might notice that the guy on the photograph looks just like another heroic phantasy hero. But he oughtn’t look like that, because Thorin Oakenshield is a dwarf, and more so an important and very old dwarf. But he has no long beard, and no pointy hat. In fact, he doesn’t look like a dwarf at all, not like Tolkien describes the little folk.

Peter Jackson’s Thorin replaces Aragorn of the Lord of the Rings movies as a short brother of that hero. In the Hobbit movie, the ‘dwarf’ has become just some (human) hero who happens to fight some (inhuman) monster, the Pale Ork, a hideous creature imagined by Jackson, because a hero needs a villain.

Here is what J.R.R. Tolkien writes about dwarves : « (…) dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much. »

A tree branch as a shield 

You might sigh : « Do stop criticising with your book in hands, this is artistic licence … ». Agreed, but what about the oaken shield transformed into a ridiculous tree branch by Jackson, with which Thorin defends himself against the Pale Ork ? Does this look very heroic to you ? And that’s the problem.

Jackson’s ‘dwarf’ Thorin is shorter than a human, but that alone doesn’t make him a dwarf. But he is not a hero either : he fights with broken tree bits. Not much is left of Tolkien in Peter Jackson’s Thorin Oakenshield character, one of the main figures of the Hobbit story. The appearance and character of a dwarf are gone, what does come instead ? Some really bad taste sunset scene with Galadriel the elve and the magician Saruman, two characters who doesn’t even appear in Tolkien’s Hobbit book. Let’s hope that the sequel will get a little bit closer to Tolkien’s story.

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