Annunciation, Good Friday, & Tolkien Reading Day

Today is a very unique day. It is Friday, March 25th, which normally, in the Catholic tradition, is the celebration of the Annunciation. (The feast of the Annunciation celebrates the moment the angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her she will conceive and bear a son: Jesus Christ.) This year, however, it is also Good Friday. Incidentally, this alignment is not so strange, as in early Church history the two days were held to be one and the same. In this alignment, Christ’s conception and the salvific nature of his death are closely bound. The joy of the one is inseparable from the sorrow of the other and vise versa.

Today also happens to be Tolkien Reading day; a day centered around the date of the destruction of the Ring and the fall of Sauron. Given Tolkien’s devout faith, his selection of this date is not hard to understand. In ‘On Fairy-Stories,’ he describes the birth and death of Christ as the fulcrum of history; and the moment at which Truth and myth align. In these critical moments of salvation history, particularly in the alignment of birth and death, may be seen a concrete example of Tolkien’s idea of eucatastrophe: the joy as poignant as a flood of tears. This is arguably the goal of his fairy-stories, to reach the pinnacle of evangelium, the sublime sorrow and delight of the entrance of Grace into the story, which echoes the same of the Annunciation and Crucifixion. In this, the ‘pre-Christian Christian myth’ Tom Shippey describes is clearly seen. The great sorrow of Frodo’s fall, the loss of self which follows his acceptance of possession, is immediately followed by the release from said bondage in its destruction. In a closer parallel, in this moment the reader is shown the fall into sin and the refining fire of redemption, which leads to the ultimate salvation of the West.

Contemplating the implications of all this, on this day of all days, is a weighty endeavor. The exercise highlights the wonderful applicability of Tolkien’s work, which leads to ever greater insights into the writing, our life, and the world through the incipient recovery which follows.

May you all have a great Tolkien Reading Day, a blessed Good Friday, and a Joyful Easter!

A bit of poetry…

I have always found the character of Ulmo fascinating, particularly as a contrary perspective to the other Valar. Therefore, when the Grey Havens Group threw down the poetry gauntlet, Ulmo’s side of the story became my primary focus. After becoming familiar with the rhyme scheme and structure of Tolkien’s “Light is Leaf of Lindentree,” I thought I’d try my hand at something similar. I figured I’d share in case there might be some merit in what I’ve produced; and perhaps I will return to its composition in the future.

Ulmo gazed in frozen wonder
on vision below of songs made
in turbulent roll of thunder,
on seas of harmonies heaving,
a wild concert of hymns which swayed
heart of him whose spell fell under,
the mighty ainu whose voice shall wade
in deeps and heights of song weaving.

But down among the waves new-formed
fire and smoke rose, in swift reply,
as in a tortured dance performed
destructive alchemy seeming.
And dark cold sunk to ossify
a spray of foam up lept deformed.
Harsh crystal and cruel steam awry
anguish bought and tears new-streaming.

Simmering seas and frozen swells,
heats and colds unmindful broken,
in violence none may dispel,
brought Ulmo swiftly angering.
Unseeing eyes in rage woken
sought Melkor, whose singing like spell
had shattered harmonies woven
with discord crassly battering.

But quick Eru was to halt him
and prompt the marvel to reveal,
“See Melkor hast not made ruin grim
but snows and clouds and rains shining,
of envious desire a new ideal
that to my glory greater hymn
might raise the Ainur as they kneel
and fill my Theme with joy twining.”

“See how the fire’s rage brightly sears
yet thy song’s pure form remains true.
In twisted curls the tune appears
up to thy brother embracing,
and with his breath of winds make dew
to fall in gentle wave of tears
where two unite and powers brew
new friendship beyond replacing.”

“Know now thy brother Manwe best
through Melkor’s might and challenge bought,
from storm, and tide, and brief tempest,
new works beyond compare springing.
In biting cold rimed flake is wrought
to fly the airs and find its rest
on shore or branch or ice is caught
the delicate limpet clinging.”

Diagnosing Black Breath

Of all dangers and maladies in Middle Earth the Black Breath is perhaps the most mysterious. Tolkien does not describe the condition extensively in The Lord of the Rings, but what little he provides is highly specific. The workings, symptoms, and healing of this sickness are largely left up to the reader’s interpretation of key clues, the vast majority of which are found in “The Houses of Healing.”

This chapter closely chronicles the cases of Faramir, Éowyn, and Merry, revealing different aspects of the Black Breath in each. Outside this chapter, the only other clear examples are Frodo and Sam, and perhaps Theoden. With regards to treatment and cure, more detail may be drawn from “The Steward and the King,” the end of Book One (Frodo’s initial bout), “The Field of Cormallen” (Frodo & Sam), “Homeward Bound” (Frodo’s phantom pain), and “The Grey Havens” (Frodo’s continuing illnesses). Most of these scenes, however, deal with the highly unique case of Frodo, which is justifiably the most virulent case, incurable by normal means. Therefore, in order to study the curse in its more typical form, this post will be limited to the three cases of this chapter.

Little is told of Merry and Éowyn’s hurts, beyond the physical, immediately following their confrontation with the Witch King. Rather, their supernatural wounds are slowly revealed as they are brought to the Houses of Healing. In this journey, Merry’s ordeal demonstrates the early stages of the Black Breath and its apparent symptoms. His exhaustion may be easily explained away as a byproduct of the battle and the physical trauma he’s experienced, but other cases refute this simplistic view. There are many other cases of the ‘Black Shadow,’ as it comes to be known in the city, whose progression is marked by a slow descent “into an ever deeper dream…[passing] to silence and a deadly cold” followed by death (LotR 842). To Merry, the climb to the Houses is a “hateful dream” in which the light slowly fades, leaving him “walking in darkness…leading to a tomb” (LotR 840). Whether it be the fall into unconsciousness due to shock, exhaustion, and pain or the sleep of the Black Breath is unclear, but for the last thought. This macabre fantasy is mentioned by Merry twice: first with reference to the encroaching darkness and finally when he asks Pippin if he is “going to bury” him (LotR 841). These thoughts horrify Pippin, leading him to enlist Bergil’s help in what is now understood to be a dire situation.

This episode demonstrates the dual nature of the Black Breath. It attacks its victims physically and psychologically, pulling them into the darkness of either realm.

Another detail, seen earlier with Frodo, is the deadening of limbs caused by contact with the Nazghul. Merry’s right arm no longer functions; it is lifeless, and cold. Éowyn’s sword-arm is similarly afflicted. Upon examining his patient, Aragorn notes that this “is the chief evil” (LotR 848). It is implied that this symptom is more dangerous than any other and is the chief cause for the continued decline of each of the patients.

The Lady of Rohan and the hobbit often speak in their troubled sleep, seemingly indicating some level of delirium or fever dream, though no fever is noted for either. Notably, Faramir burns with fever, but unlike the other two, does not speak. Each fall into silence, and a “grey shadow [creeps] over their faces,” much like Frodo’s earlier near fall into the wraith realm (LotR 842). Again, the easy or skeptical response is to deem these symptoms as the typical results of trauma: of one falling into unconsciousness or coma. This conclusion is perfectly justified given the level of injury each character has suffered, but ignores what is revealed by the treatment of Aragorn.

Upon studying Faramir, Aragorn notes the wound inflicted by the Southron dart is healing. So too, observing Éowyn, he finds her “arm that was broken has been tended with due skill” (LotR 848). Aragorn is here to treat something else altogether.

Aragorn treats each of his patients following the same pattern: calling to them by name, bathing their hurts in hot water steeped with athelas, and having each breathe deeply of its vapors. In each case, the treatment has an immediate effect.

Faramir wakes suddenly, acknowledging Aragorn as his lord and king (LotR 848). Though he is weak from long illness, the danger is largely past. Éowyn wakes only after Éomer calls her, but immediately questions her cure, desiring the “saddle of some fallen Rider” to fill and “deeds to do” but denying hope or life (LotR 850). Her case is particularly dangerous. Merry is treated in the same manner, and immediately awakes asking for food and the time. In typical hobbit fashion, he speaks lightly and jests with Aragorn and Pippin. He, in large part, is fully healed but for the physical wounds that need time. When advising the Warden, Aragorn predicts the hobbit will be up and about, though needing help, as early as the following day (LotR 852). Whether by virtue of his limited contact with the Witch King or his unique physiognomy or cheerful demeanor, Merry’s is the easiest case.

With Faramir and Éowyn, however, it is necessary to study both Aragorn’s advice to the Warden and the discussions at their bedsides.

Faramir has been suffering under a tremendously high fever for at least two days. It is questionable when he contracted the Black Breath. He has lived under the shadow of Mordor in Ithilien as a Ranger, fought in both Osgiliath and the causeway forts and the long retreat across the Pelennor. He has also had to contend with his father’s moods and demonstrative lack of affection. All of these factors are listed by Aragorn as contributors to the virulence of the Black Breath (LotR 846). This indicates, that much like the Ring, the Black Breath functions in some part by increasing negative emotions, desires, and fears in those infected. It is also implied that long exposure to the Nazghul or similar corrupting forces leads to a long incubation and deeper fall into the abyss.

This is proven in the case of Éowyn, where Wormtongue’s twisted truth is shown to be but another form of the Black Breath. She has suffered at the side of Theoden, watching hopelessly has he falls into ruin, while she can do nothing, stuck in “the body of a maid” but with the “spirit and courage” to match her brother’s (LotR 848). She has lived a life of duty, denying her own desires, while seeing her efforts fail and the kingdom rot before her. Wormtongue’s bile is as much for her, as it is for Theoden. Yet Theoden is healed by Gandalf, and Éowyn left in shadow. The darkness is already there when she fights the Witch King. She leaves Rohan “without hope…[searching for] death,” believing that her only worth may be found by spending herself utterly (LotR 785). Because of this Aragorn greatly doubts his ability to heal her.

Éowyn’s physical wounds may be healed in the House of Healing, and her mind recalled by Aragorn, but if she wakes to despair, “then she will die” (LotR 849). The wound runs much deeper, and has only to be exploited by the Nazghul. Further, Aragorn warns the Warden not to tell Faramir immediately of his father’s madness and death. Both these factors, as well as the apparent ease with which Merry recovers, indicate another necessary component in the healing process: having the will to live. Granted this is critical in any recovery, but seems doubly so in this case as the malady attacks each psychologically.

Looking at these three cases, the Black Breath appears to trap its victims within their heads. They are left with the darkest aspects of their existence, drained of hope and will. There may be physical attributes caused by actual contact with the Nazghul, however the numbness of these cases is merely a reflection of the interior creeping numbness, rather than the chief danger. Also, certain people, as with most diseases, are predisposed, leading to particularly lethal cases. Ultimately, it is a disease that is only curable in those who hope, and love, and will to live.

P.S. Curiously, if Theoden’s cure is studied, it follows the same pattern as those described above. He is called by name by Gandalf out of the close darkness of his halls. Then he is instructed to “breathe the free air” (LotR 504). Much like the three cases above, Theoden awakes enervated, noting that “it is not so dark here” and his dreams have been dark (LotR 504). Though, at this time, Theoden has not had any contact with the Nazghul, many of the hallmarks of the disease (explored above) are clearly evident. The primary difference in his cure is the lack of Athelas and the healing hands of the king.

Of Threats to the Valar and Maiar

The Silmarillion Film Project is an entertaining thought exercise, which explores the endless opportunities and seemingly insurmountable difficulties of adapting The Silmarillion to the small screen. As stated in their welcome page, the effort is purely a planning endeavor, marked by discussion and creativity on all levels. The easiest way to familiarize oneself with their work is to start listening to the podcasts; they are very entertaining and have the feel of the best discussion groups.

Episode seven of the hypothetical first season, centers on the creation of the Lamps and setting up a potential red herring in Ungoliant. However, the podcast begins with a fascinating metaphysical discussion on the nature of the Maiar and Valar. They are able to take on corporeal form, yet they are still creatures of Spirit, who presumable may dematerialize and materialize at will. Therefore what danger or fear of harm can they ever experience? Can they be physically harmed? Mentally harmed? Or only spiritually harmed?

This is obviously a critical question that requires answering when adapting the Valaquenta and the Quenta Silmarillion, as so much of the story focuses on the efforts and failings of both the Valar and Maiar.

The Ainur take on physical form after the Music of the Ainur, as they descend into Arda, thereby becoming the Valar and Maiar. In taking their form, they imitate the Vision of Ilúvatar, creating an image of the World as they understand it, while not being of the World (S 21). In the Valaquenta, fittingly, it is explicitly stated that the forms of the Valar are “a veil upon their beauty and their power” (S 29). Like a veil, their perceivable form is unnecessary, and may often cloud their divine nature. Their form is as clothing is to humanity, “they need it not” and as a person “may be naked and suffer no loss of being,” so to with the Valar (S 21). Their form makes them present to the Children, but does not define them or their nature.

This would seem to imply on the surface that a purely physical attack would be meaningless. On the other hand, one may be horrifically scarred by such an attack, even if it only tears or stains one’s clothes or even strips them away entirely. This is the trauma of abuse, or rape; a psychological terror which may hold the key to the nature of the Valar and Maiar.

Morgoth is a unique case, previously discussed in the post “The Nature of Morgoth”. He alone of the Valar has been wounded and experience physical pain, at least so far as is told in the published Silmarillion. In his confrontation with Fingolfin, Morgoth is wounded nine times and “the pain of [those] wounds [cannot] be healed” (S 154). He has invested himself in Middle Earth, become of its nature, able to be wounded but unable to be healed. His case is unique.

Or is it?

During the First and Second Age, Sauron is a shape shifter, able to take any form at will. This ability is most clearly on display during his battle with Huan at Tol-in-Guarhoth, where he changes no less than three times. On that occasion, he is defeated by the great hound, but is shown to be reluctant to “[forsake] his body utterly” (S 175). His “dark house” is no more than a mask, according to Lúthien, who taunts him saying, “thy naked self shall endure the torment of [Morgoth’s] scorn” (S 175). His body is his projection of how he wants the world to see him. Upon escaping, he changes into a vampire bat, yet its throat is torn and bleeding. No pain is ascribed to Sauron here, yet his corporeal form is definitely damaged. Perhaps, like Morgoth, becoming too much of the world, he also has gained this singular curse.

During the Second Age, Sauron is depicted as both domineering Dark Lord and the benevolent Annatar. In either form (if indeed they be two), he is apparently “fair and wise” (S 287). He is able to pass himself off as either the benevolent “Lord of Gifts” or the cowed supplicant before the throne of Ar Pharazôn, and later the high priest and wily advisor. Granted, again, it should be reinforced that Sauron has become worldly and invested himself wholly in the physical realm, but the Akallabêth does give some clear answers.

With the breaking of the Ban, the Valar cede power of Arda back to Ilúvatar. The seas are bent and the isle of Númenor sunk, and Sauron with it. From this point on, Sauron only manifests as the Eye, a form of terror and hate. He is “robbed…of that shape in which he [has] wrought so great an evil, so that he [can] never again appear fair to the eyes of Men” (S 280). It is noteworthy here, that in the preceding sentence, his survival hinges upon the fact that he is not “of mortal flesh” (S 280). It is true that trauma and actions against this flesh have repercussions, which may cause spiritual and even lasting scars to his ability, but again, pain is not mentioned.

The clothing metaphor is most apt when discussing what may threaten a Valar or Maiar. If Sauron and Morgoth are suitable examples, it is easily seen that destruction of their form eliminates that form from their ‘repertory.’ They lose something of themselves. Just as a certain type of clothing may restrict or facilitate certain actions, so too the forms the Valar and Maiar take either restrict, facilitate, or shape their abilities in that particular form.

This may be seen in both Morgoth and Sauron. It is excusable, however, to distrust their example as they are worldly and fallen spirits, who have their own unique traits. Gandalf, perhaps, is the answer.

The Istari are maiar, sent by the Valar in the Third Age to aid in the fight against the growing might of Sauron. They are perceived to be old men, though they do not die. In the book Unfinished Tales, the Istari are described as “clad in the bodies…of Men, real and not feigned, but subject to the fears and pains and weariness of earth, able to hunger and thirst and be slain” (UT 406). By virtue of this explicit description, it may be assumed these last traits are not intrinsic to the Maiar and by extension the Valar. Yet the nature of Gandalf, particularly with regards to his reincarnation, may prove instructive.

When Gandalf returns he is consistently mistaken for Saruman, not because he necessarily looks like Saruman, but because he no longer looks like himself. Éomer warns Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli of Saruman, who “walks about like an old man hooded and cloaked,” much like the man spotted spying on their encampment at the edge of Fangorn who, by dint of not being Gandalf, must be Saruman (LotR 432). Later, the company comes upon a ragged old man in the wood, of similar dress and stature. They, like the reader, are led to believe these two are one and the same. Indeed, Gimli repeatedly admonishes Legolas to halt the man. The four speak, during which the white robes of the old man are revealed. Immediately the three companions jump to attack, believing Saruman to be before them. The flames consuming Legolas’ arrow reveal Mithrandir definitively.

When he reincarnates Gandalf returns in a new form and his friends do not immediately recognize him. His old body is consumed and eliminated, and he returns as “Saruman as he should have been” (LotR 484). If his flesh is simply raiment, to be removed and put on again, why the new form? As an istari, he is bound to the flesh and its associated pains and needs. That flesh is destroyed by the Balrog. Why doesn’t he just return in a new form matching the old?

As Unfinished Tales states, Gandalf is the one and only istari to remain true to their mandate from the Valar. Gandalf is the head wizard, supplanting Saruman in position and power, as seen when he confronts Saruman and Saruman is forced to both obey and his staff is broken. In his new form his power is revealed, and his divine nature lies closer to the skin; he “[shines]…as if with some light kindled within” (LotR 489). He has “forgotten much that [he] thought [he] knew, and learned again much that [he has] forgotten” (LotR 484). Gandalf the Grey is the scholar, the diplomat, the troublemaker. Gandalf the White is the knight, the banner, the leader enflaming hearts to deeds of great renown. In each guise, he is imbued with skills, knowledge, and power necessary for the role.

While none of this exactly defines what a threat to either Maiar or Valar may look like, it seems to establish what they have to lose. Though, as stated in the Ainulindalë, they are not limited to or defined by their form and simply are regardless, it is justifiable that the primary threat to them is the loss of their physical form. It is unclear if the Great Powers may simply take up again a lost form, as Morgoth, Sauron, and the Istari are unique cases, but by their example the forms they take have intrinsic value. Whether the form is lost or not may not matter. What matters is its forcible removal, a violation, when seen in light of the clothing metaphor, akin to rape or physical abuse. The possible wounds of the Valar and the Maiar, while not causing physical pain, cause tremendous emotional, psychological, and spiritual agony, which may be manifested in their physical form.

Contemplating Mathoms and Possession

Tolkien begins The Lord of the Rings in a very particular way. The “Long Expected Party” serves two purposes: to reference the “Unexpected Party” of The Hobbit and to establish one of the central themes of the novel.

The first chapter of The Hobbit functions as an introduction on many levels. Readers are presented with the figure of Bilbo and the staid, comfortable life of hobbits, seemingly an inauspicious start to an adventure novel. Bilbo is also subjected to a long series of introductions, both literally and figuratively. This chapter marks the beginning of his transformation, one which is largely completed by “The Long Expected Party.”

The first chapter of The Lord of the Rings describes the combined birthday celebrations of Bilbo and Frodo. The primary purpose of this party, as Bilbo finally admits to Gandalf, is to “give away lots of birthday presents, and somehow make it easier to give [the Ring] away at the same time” (LotR 34). The shadow of the Ring lies over the entire chapter and should color all preceding festivities. But this brings up the rather curious nature of Hobbit birthday customs: in place of receiving gifts, they give them.

Hobbits give presents to their guests on their birthday; usually items of little worth and often simply mathoms. Tolkien defines mathoms as items for which a hobbit “[has] no…use for, but [is] unwilling to throw away” (LotR 5). Mathoms accumulate quickly, as “in Hobbiton and Bywater every day… [is] somebody’s birthday…so every hobbit… [has] a fair chance of at least one present…a week” (LotR 27). More often than not, these gifts simply end up gathering dust or in Michel Delving (the mathom house). Another common use for mathoms is re-gifting, often making the full circuit of the Shire. This act must be the customary practice as Bilbo is particularly noteworthy for keeping “those that he received” (LotR 37).

In the case of this particular party, however, the gifts are exceedingly good, from Dale and the Mountain. They are exquisite, intricate, possibly even magical; and definitely something to be treasured. So extraordinary are these gifts that there are even some guests who pass through the line multiple times so as to receive more than one.

Bilbo’s gifts stem from a true spirit of generosity and giving of oneself. He even admits that he has spent the last of his reward from the Quest for Erebor in order to give so lavishly. Celebrating the Christmas season, this message is particularly poignant. In this hobbit tradition, the true nature of generosity and a proper disposition towards possessions is shown. Granted there are those who return, grasping for more, but generally the practice shows a desire to share joy and love rather than material goods.

There is much more to be seen under the surface, however, and is even explicitly shown in the hobbits. Possession has a dual nature, both positive and negative. It is this dual nature which Tolkien explores as the central theme of The Lord of the Rings.

The dual nature of the word possession is immediately recognizable. According the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word is defined as “the act of having or taking into control…something owned…domination by something” ( The term originates from Latin roots meaning “occupancy…to have in one’s control,” meanings which take on a much more sinister meaning in the modern usage ( In his capacity as both linguist and philologist, Tolkien definitely was aware of this word’s apparent duplicity.

There is a danger in possession. Eventually one always has to ask, who possesses whom? This is one of the root themes of Tolkien’s work, not only in The Lord of the Rings, but throughout the entire Lengendarium.

“The Long Expected Party” is a study in the nature of possession. The reader is shown the generous, fun, and rather care-free attitude of the hobbits towards gifts. At the same time, they’re shown the dark (though certainly not as dark as these matters will become) underbelly with both the ‘returning customers’ at the gate and the establishment of Michel Delving (hoarding). Possession of another kind is evident even in the gorging at the day long feast.

All of this acts as the prelude to the climax of the chapter: Bilbo’s struggle to relinquish the Ring. The Ring is shown to be both the precious possession and the ultimate possessor. It has the power to change the personality and even affect the actions of the possessed. Bilbo’s anger and unwitting struggles to place the Ring’s envelope on the mantel are proof of this. He may attribute these actions to himself, but these are the clues which totally unnerve Gandalf, and set him on the course towards discovering the true nature of Bilbo’s ring.

This is one of the most important themes of the book, if not the most critical to its fullest understanding. In the dual nature of this singular word, the reader is constantly confronted by one question: is the Ring acting on the world? Is it a passive bystander? Or is it subtly twisting the actions, desires, and passions of those around it to achieve its own ends?

In Review: The Battle of the Five Armies, Extended Edition

The extended edition of the third Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies, continues the level of excellence of the previous extended cuts. Unlike the Lord of the Rings’ extended editions, those for the Hobbit films are seamless, beautifully integrated and often add crucial elements to the plot. BotFA EE is a great example of the extended edition done right, the additions are near imperceptible and often left me questioning if a scene was new or had been there all along. As with the two before, this is the film as it is meant to be seen.

That being said, in many cases, the problems of the original theatrical cut are similarly extended and even amplified. Most additions are a serious attempt to flesh out the events of the film and knit them more tightly together, but, as should be expected, there are moments of shear absurdity which have been reinserted much to the detriment of the action.

Now on to the specifics; if you do not wish to have the extended footage spoiled for you, I recommend stopping here. As explained above, it is likely I’ve missed many and possible invented a few which were in the theatrical cut; the scenes described below simply represent those which stood out to me at this time.

As with each of the preceding prologue scenes, this one is also slightly extended. I noticed a number of times Smaug passes over the city prior to the main attack, as well as further shots of the actual attack. Though barely a few seconds, these glimpses of the oncoming dragon help to establish the urgency of the opening scene and heighten the suspense of the inevitable attack and ruin of Esgaroth. As an aside, I still believe the inflation of the Black Arrow to a super weapon is a mistake, particularly at this moment when we see Bard shooting at Smaug with no chance whatsoever of having an effect. Though this is perhaps true in showing his desperation, it makes his heroism devolve into silliness.

The scene in Dol Guldur where Gandalf is tortured by an orc is implausibly extended by giving the orc knowledge of the Three Rings of power of the Elves. The scene further devolves by showing the Ring of Fire, leading to an attempt by the same orc to cut off Gandalf’s hand. As Galadriel enters Dol Guldur, a brief glimpse of Nenya is seen. While it is marginally important to establish the Elvish Rings and who bears them, this device (of a too knowledgeable underling) is absurd. Though it mirrors the knowledge and greed of Grishnakh in The Two Towers, it seems silly such would be allowed under the very nose of either the Nazghul or Sauron.

The scene continues with Galadriel bearing Gandalf away. He has passed out and Galadriel’s kiss awakens him. The fight ensues, with the entry of Saruman and Elrond unchanged. Radagast’s appearance is given a brief glimpse of the sled’s approach prior to arrival. Galadrial states that Dol Guldur is draining Gandalf’s life; and then uses her ‘scary voice’ to make Gandalf and Radagast leave. The battle overall is extended with more footage of fighting and the temporary destruction of the Nazghul. There is slightly more time spent with Sauron before he is banished. After which Elrond suggests that Gondor should be warned and a watch set on Mordor. Saruman more explicitly states that Sauron may not regain power without the Ring. All of this is visually spectacular, but serves little purpose; besides the last bit which should increase suspicion of Saruman (and where he stands in his fall). At Rhosgobel, Radagast gives Gandalf his staff. In a seemingly throwaway line, he explains that the top needs ‘twiddling’ in order for it to function properly as Gandalf rides away.

Brief shots and audio lend further ambience to the arrival of the refugees in Dale. These shots help to establish the dire straits they are in due to lack of food, water, and warmth. The elves arrive, and an added camera pan shows the extent of their army.

There is more explanation given on the nature of the mithril coat as Thorin gives it to Bilbo. This is followed by an expanded discussion of honor and keeping one’s word between the two of them. The conversation devolves into Thorin’s dragon sickness mutterings, of which there are more.

As Bilbo makes to leave Erebor to bring the Arkenstone to Bard and Thranduil, he encounters Bofur. Perhaps meaning to mirror the scene in the cave (On the Doorstep) in AUJ, Bofur thinks Bilbo simply desires to flee, to be anywhere else. He informs him that Bombur is next on watch, and he will take some time to wake. The scene is rather touching given the comradery which has now been established in the films. Unlike the book, in which Bilbo tricks Bombur into allowing him to take Bombur’s watch, this scene creates a brief moment of conflict and potential for regret. It poses a dilemma for Bilbo more bluntly (which has been well established in this film) of whether he betrays his friends by this action.

In the revelation of the Arkenstone, Thranduil delivers a surprising line, declaring that Ecthelion of Gondor would pay a fair price for the stone. I appreciate the name drop, but this is silliness. Gondor has been in steep decline by this point for almost two thousand years. According to the Tale of Years, they’ve been forced out of Ithilien only forty years prior to the events of The Hobbit. There slim to no chance their economy is strong enough to purchase a stone without price; particularly given the precarious military position they find themselves in.

At the final negotiation at the gates of Erebor, there is some more pacing and meaningful glances as Thorin plays for time and the appearance of Dain. From this point on, the battle of the Five Armies begins in earnest. In the extended edition the dwarves and elves actually do skirmish. The dwarves show off their cool anti-air weaponry and we get our first glimpse of dwarvish war chariots. The appearance of the were-worms ends the fighting.

The vast majority of the extended scenes used in BotFA come during the battle itself. There is significantly more fighting, and plenty more gore. In particular, there are a lot more decapitations and dismemberments, which probably account for the R rating.

There are more trolls in the battle. Thranduil actually fights a significant portion of the battle from his elk steed. The war chariots are shown to good effect; though over the top, they seem to fit. Bofur ends up riding one of the blind/chained trolls, using it as his own personal tank. Bombur’s fighting is used as comic relief. Dain and Thorin’s meeting in the battlefield is fleshed out, where they plan their next move in more detail. Getting to Raven Hill is shown to be much more of a challenge, and, thankfully, a greater and more believable distance. Balin, Kili and Fili, and Dwalin use a goat chariot to break a way through the orcs. They end up riding down the frozen river (as seen in some trailers). They are chased by an armored troll, which Bofur takes out with his previously mentioned ‘tank.’ This was unbelievable and crazy in the extreme. We get a brief glimpse of wargs chasing, before Dwalin, Fili, and Kili cut the traces and ride their goats the rest of the way (as seen in the theatrical).

Perhaps by way of apology for inflicting us with him, we are shown Alfrid’s demise. In the scene Gandalf is having trouble with Radagast’s staff, and is dutifully twiddling with the top, while confronted with a troll. Alfrid has conveniently hidden in a catapult, which fires him into the troll’s mouth, killing both. This is satisfying in a way, but in reality is a stupid waste of time. There is no need for more Alfrid!

It may be in the theatrical edition, but it bears repeating that Bilbo asks the question on everyone’s minds, “Where exactly is North?” I still hate the hack job they’ve done to the geography!

Bifur, otherwise known as the dwarf with an axe in his head, fights a large orc by head-butting. This lodges the axe into said orc, almost dragging Bifur and many of the others over a cliff. Bifur is freed of the axe in this manner. This seemed a throw-away crowd pleaser type scene, considering I had to look up which dwarf this was in the first place!

Thorin’s battle with Azog begins a little earlier, as he meets him on the stairs of Raven Hill and then fights others before the final confrontation. The arrival of the bats is expanded, showing a bit more of their role in the battle at large. Though it may seem impossible, the Legolas insanity is worse in the extended edition. As before, he hitches a ride hanging from a bat. However, as he goes up the hill, he hangs upside down, slicing his way through a column of orcs the bat conveniently choses to fly near. Tauriel is shown fighting her way up to Raven Hill. Again, the distance and the danger in getting there is fittingly increased.

As hoped, and predicted, there are brief additions to Beorn’s part in the battle, as well as the Eagles. They are two brief moments, but do establish him as a formidable foe, and actually show their arrival to be a turning point in the battle at large, as it should be.

Very little is actually changed about Thorin’s last battle. The next major addition is a scene showing Thorin, Fili, and Kili lying in state and the coronation of Dain as king under the mountain.

Overall, the extended edition of The Battle of the Five Armies does not change my overall negative feeling towards the last installment. In many ways it worsened them. However, it is a beautifully done film, which feels more complete than the theatrical version; as if this is the true movie, and that was the abridged. That is how each of the extended additions have felt for The Hobbit. They should be (and in my opinion) are the definitive editions. The wrinkles and holes in the plots of each are virtually non-existent, and the splicing between original and extended is near perfect. Though I still have many issues with the film (which for me mar it near irreparably), this is the finale the film trilogy deserves.

In Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Extended Edition

I had high hopes for the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, given how well the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey turned out. Surprisingly, AUJ’s extended edition felt like the film as it should be, superseding the theatrical version in every way. Almost every addition added to the film lent clarity to the adaptation and how it was moving towards the future films.

To my mind, an extended edition should do a number of things: add significant length to the film (ideally seamlessly), clarify the vision of the film (and future ones), and add fun and/or interesting information or action. Generally speaking, it should coexist with the theatrical version without superseding it or feeling gratuitous. The extended edition of An Unexpected Journey did all of these, barring the last.

The extended edition of The Desolation of Smaug does an exemplary job, but does not, in my opinion, replace the theatrical cut. It adds information, and cut scenes which it makes sense were cut. There are a few added scenes, particularly shorts ones, that seemed should have been part of the original cut, but ultimately don’t add as much as similar scenes which were cut in AUJ and were subsequently reinserted in its extended edition. In particular, the additions to DoS are almost completely confined to additional lore drawn from The Lord of the Rings Appendices. There are some welcome extensions from The Hobbit text, as well as some expository scenes which further define cinematic choices.

So the general verdict is that DoS, EE is definitely worth watching, but except for a few scenes, I’d stick with the theatrical cut for most viewings.

That being said, here follow the additions as I caught them, and some general commentary. If you have not seen the extended cut yet, and would like to be surprised, stop here!

As in AuJ, the prologue of DoS has been significantly expanded. First, Thorin is in the area of Bree because he has had word that his father Thrain was spotted in Dunland. Not finding him there, Thorin heads up the Greenway to Bree. There is a flashback of the battle of Azanulbizar, where Thorin is unable to find the body of his father. Gandalf mentions Thror’s ring, regarding its location. He also states that he had urged Thror to move on Erebor, not Moria. This starts a trend towards emphasizing the importance of the Lonely Mountain in the extended cut, and particularly hinting at the relationship between Smaug and Sauron.

Gandalf’s comedic deception of Beorn when introducing the Company is wonderfully translated from the text. It is inserted following the night in Beorn’s house, when the Company finds that he is outside chopping wood and effectively barring their escape. They come in twos and Gandalf’s wordplay is in full force. It added some much needed characterization to Beorn.

As the Company readies to leave for Mirkwood, Beorn and Gandalf have a much expanded conversation off to the side. He speaks of news of Dol Guldur and the Necromancer, and the likelihood that this enemy is Sauron (implied). Beorn also mentions that the dead walk in the High Fells. Continuing the future geographic confusion of TBotFA, these lie to the north, and Angmar also extended to include the Wilderland between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood. There is a brief cut scene showing the burial of the witch-king. This is further building the case that the Nazghul were once living men, died and are just now being raised by Sauron. It fits the Necromancer title, but ignores both ring-lore and the nature of the Nazghul. Talk of Sauron’s return, couched in the nature of the Necromancer follows. Gandalf counters with Saruman’s assertions that Sauron may not rise again. All of this lends urgency and purpose to Gandalf’s otherwise seemingly random foray to the High Fells, and later to Dol Guldur. It is a rather heavy-handed expository conversation, but really does help piece the plot together.

At the borders of Mirkwood, Gandalf not only warns the Company not to stray from the path, but also to beware the enchanted stream. Also, before entering the wood, Durin’s day is mentioned, and its exact date is known (this knowledge a repeated addition throughout). There is mention of the need for air, which helps to establish the suffocating oppression of the forest. The enchanted stream is featured. Even the vapors from it have an affect, creating drowsiness and disorientation, which largely cause Bombur’s fall into the stream. They cross over vines. Once crossed, Thorin spots and shoots at the white stag. He misses. Bilbo states this is bad luck. Immediately following, Bombur falls. Many scenes follow of carrying him through the forest.

Bilbo flicks a cobweb rather in the manner of Pippin in the Fellowship film. It is cut so this occurs soon after the stream crossing. Though drawn to do this while under the stupor of the wood, this blatant self reference and stupidity is irksome. However, it does explain how the spiders find them. There is a bit more shown with regards to the enchantment of the forest, and they are explicitly shown leaving the path. The Company often hears voices. Whether this is to indicate the elves, or the spiders, I cannot tell.

Barrels out of Bond has been needlessly extended, with more orcs and more elvish gymnastics.

In Esgaroth, there is a brief scene extending the introduction of the Master in which he eats rich (though visually disgusting) food and discusses Bard with Alfrid. They plot how to suppress the people and imprison Bard, going so far as to suggest laws specifically against bargemen.

When Bard and the dwarves arrive, there is quite a bit more time spent in their efforts to reach his home. They are found and a short, semi-humorous, battle ensues in the marketplace. The people help to hide the bodies of knocked out guards, which helps to establish their liking for Bard that is evident in the third film. In particular there is more of an introduction for Hilda Blanca (who I don’t remember ever having a name in the films, I had to look it up).

Alfrid is seen listening in to the people and Bard talk of the dwarvish prophesy. He shares this information with the Master, and helps reestablish the books conniving Masterly plot. In the Thrice Welcome scene, someone is asked to vouch for the Company. Bilbo steps forward. If you ask me, why the Lake Towners would listen to him, and not dwarves is absurd as he is a stranger too (who’s going to vouch then for Bilbo?!).

After the Company leaves for the Lonely Mountain, the dwarves left behind approach the Master for help. They are refused. The Master is shown before this discussing the win-win situation he is in: either he gains much gold or the dwarves die and are off his hands. I liked that this mercenary element of his character was re-instituted, though it is implied in the theatrical cut.

In the approach to the Mountain, there is a brief addition, showing Balin describing the Desolation of Smaug. There is also a brief glimpse of the thrush flying across the landscape.

Gandalf’s journeys through Dol Guldur are tremendously expanded. In a suspenseful and rather disturbing series of shots, he is followed, later he’s following, and finally attacked. It is revealed when Gandalf finally corners his attacker that this is Thrain. He is terribly insane. As in The Two Towers film, Gandalf basically does an exorcism. In a flashback it is revealed that Azog took Thrain’s ring, cutting off his forefinger. Hearing of Thorin, Thrain warns against retaking Erebor. Thrain explicitly binds Sauron and Smaug together. They are in league with one another, which is the danger Gandalf is working to prevent, in the text. However in the film, this danger is severely downplayed, and much is made of the Mountain’s strategic location and contrived relationship to Angmar, particularly in the third film. Therefore these scenes appear to conflict with the drive of the movies’ plot. On the other hand, the ties between Dol Guldur and Smaug do help, significantly, to explain why Smaug knows of the Ring and also of events in the outside world he’d otherwise have no knowledge of (ie. Thorin Oakenshield and the importance of the Arkenstone).

There are some brief additions throughout the last act of the film, which help to lay the groundwork for the dragon sickness which will be so prevalent in the third film. Also, perhaps having seen the third film now, it may be understood the that bizarre scheme to bury Smaug in gold is a plan derived in and out of Thorin’s madness, rather than any strategical sensibility which would easily spot the stupidity of such a plan. I may stretch things here, but it does make this disaster of a plot twist somewhat palatable, though only just.

Long story short, DO watch the extended cut of The Desolation of Smaug. Most major additions are confined to Beorn, Mirkwood, the Master and Dol Guldur. They are fascinating, and reveal much about the intended direction of the film-makers. I don’t feel the extended edition is the definitive version, as for most the added information would just confuse. For someone familiar with the wider breadth of Tolkien’s work, however, it helps a lot to understand the context of the film’s story, how it diverges and why. It doesn’t necessarily excuse changes or distortions, but helps make sense of them. Though the additions are seamlessly added, ultimately they are not fully necessary and the theatrical cut in much more tightly constructed.