Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
The Hobbit is a trilogy of fantasy action-adventure films based on the book of the same name by JRR Tolkien. It was announced in 2012 to the girlish squeals of nerds everywhere . . . quickly followed by the wailing and the gnashing of our teeth once the film disappointed us.
First, let me put my nerd credentials out there.
The Hobbit was easily one of my favorite high fantasy novels of all time when I was a child. I loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well, but I liked The Hobbit better because it wasn’t as dark. It was a light-hearted, amusing, fun little story about a nervous creature called a “hobbit” and his adventure into the wild.
I loved this book. I also loved the “rings” film trilogy to pieces when it came out. I know Tolkien’s son hated the films, but I thought seeing everything I had imagined on screen was amazing. So when it was announced that a hobbit film was going to be released, I was psyched. I pulled out my old copy of the novel and reread it in preparation – as did many a nerd around the world.
And so, imagine my shock when the first film in the trilogy was so disappointing that I fell asleep in the theater.
Probably one of the biggest things I disliked about the film (aside from the overuse of CGI and Azog’s resurrection as the white orc – Azog was dead in the book and it was his son, Bolg, who came after Dain, not Thorin) was the fact that Bilbo, the titular character, had been shunted aside in favor of Thorin (Richard Armitage).
Bilbo is the main character (and his casting in this film was perfect. What a waste of Martin Freeman’s talent), and yet, all the focus is put on Thorin and his yellow brick quest to get his home back.
I’m a very well-read nerd (not a boast. I’m well-read because I was isolated and abused), so I’m something of a book purest. If a film is going to be an adaptation of a book, then it damn-well better honor the source material. This film’s depiction of Thorin (and all the dwarves) honored nothing of Tolkien’s vision.
(To be absolutely fair, the original Lord of the Rings Jackson films didn't completely honor the books either, but at least they were good films in their own right. Even if I were to separate Jackson's "Hobbit" films from the book and pretend the book didn't exist, they would still be crappy films on their own.)
In the book, Thorin is a cranky old dwarf who constantly bumbles into danger and must repeatedly be saved, either by Bilbo, by Gandalf, or both. Bilbo is, after all, the main character! Of course, he’s the one who does the saving!
Thorin and the other dwarves are not warriors – they’re miners! They do not set out from Hobbiton with swords and axes. Thorin wields Orcist for one chapter in which he kills a few goblins as the dwarves are fleeing for their lives, but he loses the sword soon after and doesn’t fight again until the battle of the five armies – during which he senselessly dies because . . . he’s not a warrior. He’s a homeless, raggedy, clueless prince (he doesn’t even know how to open the secret door to his own fortress! Elrond has to tell him!) who likely expected Gandalf to play bodyguard as he travelled with him to the Lonely Mountain.
What’s more, the dwarves have no plan to kill the dragon. Their only plan is to march up to the mountain, knock on the door, and – very likely – leave Gandalf to do the actual dragon-slaying. But Gandalf (in proper secondary character fashion) abandons Bilbo and the dwarves halfway through the quest, and it’s because of Bilbo that the dragon is ultimately killed – but Bilbo is the f**king protagonist!!! That’s how it’s supposed to be.
Book Thorin was little more than a grumpy, mean, greedy, bumbling damsel in distress. He didn’t care about restoring his family’s honor or taking back his land so much as reclaiming the treasure still there. There was nothing “heroic” or “noble” about him. He was not a fallen hero but a spoiled prince who regularly threw tantrums and treated Bilbo with nothing but disdain (though to his credit, he does apologize at the end of the book).
In Jackson's film, Thorin is depicted as a young, handsome dwarf version of Aragorn. He is a broody, fallen hero and warrior out to take back his home from the dragon Smaug. He's not a damsel in distress. He's a BAMF.
Yes, I know why they did this. It’s because it instantly makes the character of Thorin more likable and interesting to the film audience if he’s a broody action hero (he was decidedly not likable in the book, in my opinion, and he was anything but an action hero).
But this annoys me because it is in direct contradiction of the story itself. If Thorin is such a mighty warrior, why the f*** does he need a little hobbit to steal his treasure back and help him reclaim his throne???
Book Thorin knew he had no hope of slaying Smaug. He likely thought he’d use Gandalf as a distraction while Bilbo stole what treasure he could.
Film Thorin is supposed to be this broody, badass Not-Aragorn and yet needs the help of a tiny hobbit against a dragon???
Make it make sense.*clutches hands at sky*
But I’m not here to talk about Thorin – even though his depiction is one of my major gripes with these films. I’m here to talk about Tauriel and how and why she did not belong in this film.
Yes. You read that right.
I decided to discuss Tauriel because I've noticed how some people have tried to make this a feminist issue, and feminism in film just so happens to be my area of expertise.
So lets’ get down to it.
For those who don’t know, Tauriel does not exist in the Tolkien books. She was a pointless character, created solely to appeal to women, without an ounce of good writing to back her. In short, she was a classic example of the dreaded Strong Female Character trope.
The Strong Female Character trope is when – in an attempt to appeal to a female audience – writers create a two-dimensional female character who kicks a lot of butt, has a cringe-worthy romance, and exists purely to fill a quota.
Tauriel hits all the checkboxes. She’s a token. I know there's this little story about Jackson meeting Evangeline Lily, instantly liking her, and creating a role for her in the film, but whatever the reason for her appearance, it was poorly done.
That's not Evangeline Lily's fault. That's just the way it happened.
And it was completely unnecessary after we had Arwen and Galadriel and Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings, all pretty awesome female characters who were actually canon.
Again, it wasn’t Evangeline Lily’s fault that this character was disappointing. In fact, rumor has it she was told that her character would have no romance, only for the script to change later.
So, what, exactly is my problem, you're wondering.
It bothers me that there was a romance in this film, and it bothers me that Tauriel even existed to begin with because it’s not true to the book.
It’s one thing when a film is completely made up and it’s being produced, say, for children, and the writers completely overlook the little girls in the audience when it would be pretty damn simple to have female characters in the story. This is sexist (because it implies those little girls just don’t matter).
It’s another thing entirely when a film is based on an actual book, and the writers proceed to insert unnecessary characters for the sake of quotas. This is also sexist (because these characters are often two-dimensional trash, and women are given these breadcrumbs and told to like it).
I’m basically saying that there’s a difference between inclusion and pandering.
As a novelist who writes stories that largely don’t involve men, I don’t feel we should alter Tolkien’s work just for the sake of the audience (aka cash monies). Tolkien wrote what he wrote, and we should be true to his original story – just as I wouldn’t want someone to make a film out of one of my novels and insert a token male character (God forbid. I would crawl up out of my grave frothing at the mouth).
What I’m saying is, there’s a difference between being inclusive and forcing a crap-token character. No one would have to worry about “inclusiveness” and “diversity” if women had the same opportunities as men in the film industry. Then we’d just make our own damn movies and we wouldn’t need these crappy tokens.
As it is, though, I’m going to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they honestly want to solve this conundrum (and aren’t just trying to avoid looking sexist). Here’s a clue: creating a token fan fiction character is not the way to end Hollywood sexism.
You end Hollywood sexism by treating women like people. That includes women who write scripts and make films.
My complaints may come as a shock to anyone who is at all familiar with the feminist rantings in my articles, but what I’m saying here is actually in line with what I’ve always said: that there is a difference between a Strong Female Character (the trope) and a female character who is written strongly.
True. I’ve always resented that Curley’s Wife didn’t have an actual name in the Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men (she was literally referred to as “Curley’s Wife”) because she was little more than a plot device. That was an instance, however, where it would have benefited the story for the character to be presented as a human being and not an object that existed to move the plot along. Because it humanized Curley’s Wife, the classic film adaptation actually did a better job of telling the story than the book did!
I guess I’m saying that, because these stories are created within a society that’s already sexist, depictions of women in fiction require real discernment. If we lived in a society where women were treated like people, it wouldn’t matter if a woman was depicted as a token or an object in the background of an all-male story. Why? Because there would be ten thousand other stories where women were depicted as people, and these sh**y messages that we don’t exist outside stereotypes and we don’t matter wouldn’t be sent to women and little girls every day.
Sadly, we don’t live in that world.
Again, I’m not advocating ridiculous quotas. But if a book is only going to include one woman, at least present her as a f****** human being. The Hobbit failed on this account with Tauriel the Token.
I’ll explain further below.
I’ll go ahead and state the obvious: Tauriel and Kili’s romance was badly written.
After watching the beautiful romance between Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings (that’s right. It was beautiful, dammit), it was hard to look at this film and listen to the terrible lines of the characters (“Why d-does it hurt so bad!!!” “Because it was real.” Cringe.).
I know it sounds like I’m nostalgically obsessed with the LOTR films and nothing can compare to them, but it’s because those movies came first and they were just so much better. Everything was done better. Which is why it’s utterly baffling that The Hobbit was so awful and disappointing.
Kili and Tauriel’s romance wasn’t even interesting. It wasn’t moving. It was horribly written and not remotely realistic (even fantasy must have some realism to it, especially when it comes to relationships).
And the writers decided to handwave Legolas and Gimli by having Tauriel fall in love with Kili. This isn’t to say that love across social barriers isn’t possible. But when you go back to a prequel and make the story that follows it look wrong . . .? That’s what this romance did to Legolas and Gimli.
On top of the film giving a middle finger to the lore, I didn’t like the characters enough to even care when Kili died (Kili in the book was a very minor character, defined entirely by his youth), and the fact that Tauriel was in a love triangle with Legolas makes it even worse.
I realize they were probably trying to use Tauriel as a reason Legolas hated the dwarves, but we already had reasons for that within the world itself. Besides, real racism doesn’t have a reason. It’s completely irrational.
The dwarves held a grudge against the elves of Mirkwood because Thranduil held them prisoner. But why the f*** shouldn’t he hold them prisoner? They were trespassing on his land and refused to say why! That’s like coming home to find some dude eating Cheetos on your couch, and when you ask what he’s doing there, he refuses to say and keeps angrily eating Cheetos! YOUR Cheetos! What are you going to do? Call the police!
Thranduil likewise had damn-good reasons to lock the dwarves up. And when he kept them prisoner, they weren’t beaten or tortured or harmed. They were given food and water and kept safe and warm. Yet the surly dwarves hate the elves forever for this??? It’s completely irrational and crazy. To the dwarves, the elves locked them up because they were dwarves and not because they had legitimate concerns – as is evidenced when Smaug wakes up and wrecks Lake Town to a flaming pile, thanks in no small part to the dwarves.
Tauriel’s love triangle with Legolas and Kili was just a sad imitation of the love triangle between Arwen, Eowyn, and Aragorn.
I’ll be honest. When I heard Orlando Bloom was returning in The Hobbit as Legolas, I was excited. I feel Legolas was the best thing Orlando Bloom ever did in his career. I thought he pulled off the entire “elven disgust for dwarves” thing wonderfully.
His exasperation with Gimli in the LOTR trilogy was amusing, and I thought when he appeared in this film trilogy we might get some more backstory or character development. Something. Anything.
Instead, we got this unnecessary love triangle where Legolas has a crush on the captain of the guard and has to follow her around, watching in bitter disgust as she falls in love with a sexed-up, chiseled, runway-model dwarf.
It’s funny. It’s kinda what happened to Bloom’s character in The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Poor Orlando Bloom.
If Legolas’ appearance had given him more character development and backstory, that would have been fine. In fact, it did a little bit. We saw his relationship with his father, Thranduil (the “elvenking” in the book), and how strained it was due to the death of his mother. I would rather have had more of that than Legolas pinning over a fan fiction character.
Why did the story have to have a romance? Because the other films did? Because women can’t exist without chasing some dude? Because romance would appeal to a female audience? If the last two were the case, their sexism even while trying to avoid being sexist is . . . hilarious.
So for a character who’s supposed to be some kind of solution to a womanless story, Tauriel’s depiction is . . . pretty sexist. Her entire existence revolves around the men in the story, from Thranduil to Legolas to Kili. She has no goals and desires of her own. She doesn’t give a s*it about the threat of Smaug or staying behind in Mirkwood to continue her duty as captain of the guard.
Instead, all she cares about is Kili – following Kili, banging Kili, protecting Kili’s pathetic life. She forsakes her entire life, her people, and her duty for him. That’s not love. That’s sacrifice.
In every scene she’s in, Tauriel is talking to a male, talking about a male, or chasing a male. Her entire world revolves around d**k.
Do other women exist? If they do, she never talks to them. And if they did exist, she would probably talk to them about Kili. That’s all she exists for. No passing the Bechdel Test for Tauriel.
See, the token/quota thing doesn’t work. You can’t insert one female character into a cast of all males and expect it to not be sexist. If anything, it only makes the story look more sexist.
Again, I’m not saying the book The Hobbit was sexist for not having female characters. I’m a novelist and – again – I’ve written entire novels where male characters simply don’t appear. I don’t feel that’s sexist, and if anyone tried to tell me it was, I’d immediately think, “F*** you. I write whatever I want.”
I don’t hate men. I just don’t want to write about them, and I don’t see why I have to. My books are written for and marketed to lesbians. Men are not my audience, but if they happen to be reading my books, would it kill them to try and relate to female characters in a fantasy story? (Possibly, given the way they react every time female characters are remotely treated like human beings in movies and video games.)
And no. That is not hypocritical on my part. Films that are created for a general audience should include women because women are half the f****** population. I write for a specific niche. (This is exactly why translating a book to film is always going to be tricky.)
I’m sure that when Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings, he was not thinking about women reading his books. (It’s sad how little straight men seem to think of women at all if not in relation to s*x.) He probably thought a bunch of nerdy little boys like him were the only people who would care about his novels.
To be honest, I’m always surprised whenever a straight man reads (and enjoys!) one of my fantasy novels (written about and specifically for women), so it shows how much we writers know (jackshit).
Most writers are going to write for and about people like them. That’s the reality. So we don’t need diverse books.
We need diverse writers.
The point is, (there's a point in here somewhere) Tauriel and her romance with Kili was completely unnecessary and screwed with the world lore to boot.
I don’t hate Tauriel or anything, and she didn’t “ruin” the hobbit films for me (the films did that all on their own), but I’m not a fan of her either. Her insertion into a brief adventure story about some sorry-ass dudes trying to steal from a dragon was completely unnecessary, made little sense given the lore, and was indirectly sexist to boot.
I can acknowledge that as a radical feminist – a real feminist, not one of those clueless fifteen-year-olds on Tumblr who think wearing makeup and contracting STDs from multiple s*x partners is “empowering.”
Tauriel was an unnecessary addition to the films, but she’s not the major thing wrong with the films. Evangeline Lily is a beautiful, talented actress and Tauriel could have been a great addition had she been handled correctly. Sadly, she was not.
The Hobbit trilogy has many, many things wrong with it aside from one unfortunate token female character.