Ruth and I were sitting around this evening talking Tolkien, as we do, and it occurred to me that one of the reasons I can't handle the LotR movies is that, as a lot of people including Le Guin have said, LotR is an epic centered around walking.
It became a meme that you can't simply walk into Mordor, except that you can, you do, and that's the only way you get there. One step at a time. When the Fellowship have horses or ponies, they lose them (except Shadowfax, who is a character as well as a mode of transportation); when they have boats, they can't use them to cut time off the actual journey, because of a waterfall, but only to cross the river, or not as the case may be. They never have wagons. Frodo, specifically, must walk and walk and walk; I think it's significant that the members of the Fellowship literally move faster after the Fellowship breaks, with the run across Rohan and the acquisition of more permanent horses and, later, Aragorn's ships. But Frodo walks, and has to choose to walk every step of it. The beginning sequence, before he knows he is taking the Ring to Mordor, is a microcosm of the later journey, where he walks as far as he can with what help he can gather, is wounded beyond bearing, walks out of his own endurance, and is, at the very last, carried when he can go no further. Which is basically what happens again later.
And as I mentioned, the Fellowship, when they are with Frodo, and later Gollum, also have to walk, and every step is also a choice for them: the choice of the Ring, and what to do with it, and whether to try to take it for themselves. Everyone Frodo meets has that choice. Every step.
I realize it would be very hard to center anything movie-wise around walking, because it's very hard to show walking, the slow grind of it, the days and weeks on the road. The thing is I'm not sure Jackson was trying to, or wanted to, and I think it's very important thematically.
Especially since, and I'm sure other people have thought of this too but I hadn't noticed it, in The Hobbit? Bilbo rides.
He's thrown on a pony, and from that point on he moves from pony to pony to goblinback to eagle-claw to pony again to barrel to boat to pony and the party doesn't walk without transport very often or for great lengths of time; probably the longest walking bit is Mirkwood which is singled out in the text as being dangerous and eerie and creepy and weird. Bilbo gets carried along-- compares himself to baggage pretty often-- and his claiming of agency is shown in his increasing help with the selection and acquisition of various kinds of transportation as the journey moves onward. At the crossings of Anduin Frodo rows, but Bilbo clings to a barrel which he cannot even steer. He picked out the barrels and saved everybody with them, but he's never been the one who can decide where things are going.
He picks up the Ring during one of the few moments he's on his own two feet, but he had no choice about getting there and he doesn't have much about how to get out. And, in resonance with the way events carry Bilbo onwards, the Ring is not a choice to the people around him. Gollum wants it back, of course, but he is left behind, and-- and this is very odd when you think about it-- when the dwarves find out about the Ring, none of them ever try to poke into it to see more about what it does, or whether they can find a maker's mark, or anything of that nature. Even though they are dwarves, and one might expect them to be curious, or to ask Bilbo for at least a proper look at it. Bilbo is also very much more successful than Frodo at keeping the Ring concealed. This is probably at least partially because the Ring has not yet awakened at that point from its long sleep in Gollum's possession, and one also suspects it wouldn't want a dwarf to get wise to it anyhow (less chance of getting anywhere but a treasury, with a lock), but we know that the dwarves who are Bilbo's companions could have been played by it, because of what we see the Arkenstone do to Thorin-- and the Arkenstone possibly isn't even magical. It's because of the nature of power in the book, really, that this doesn't happen. Bilbo is carried along by events and can influence them by his choices, until, at the Mountain, it becomes his turn to do the carrying. Frodo makes events, until, at the Mountain, it is his turn to be carried.
Frodo walks. Bilbo rides.
When I heard they were splitting The Hobbit into three movies, I am afraid I gave up hope that anyone had noticed this about the pacing, and since the way Bilbo gains agency and self and ability to change the world despite being the baggage swept along in the rear of the train is my favorite thing about The Hobbit, well. Almost certainly avoiding that, then, unless I manage to hear that they've not blown this theme.
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