A Writer’s Review: Lessons from The Hobbit

Lessons from Stuff I Didn’t Like

Image courtesy of Screen Junkies

Characters become anonymous unless you give them appropriate stage-time.

Fili and Kili are young dwarves. Thorin is the king and definitely the leader. Bombur is fat. Balin is kind, old, wise, and has good eyesight. Bilbo is our hobbit, Gandalf is our wizard, and Bard is the guy who shoots the dragon. There’s also some guy who turns into a bear.

Of the immense cast of characters, these are the ones who left any lasting impression. The size of the adventuring group makes the dwarves, as individuals, fairly anonymous. Then, when Fili and Kili die, they are jotted off in just a couple sentences. Even with Bombur and Thorin, who are touched on regularly, there’s no sense of intimacy or development. Balin is the only dwarf that I felt any sort of connection to—and this seems to be because of his willingness to help Bilbo as he crept back toward the dragon’s lair, as well as his show of sympathy for Bilbo earlier on. Showing sympathy for other characters may well be one of the most powerful humanizing tools in developing a character!

I don’t like how hollow these characters rang in the end, and would have appreciated more time spent on fleshing them out—if only slightly.

Emotional titles alone are non-descriptive.

Emotions were often summative. We are told that a character is sad, angry, hungry, or whatever else, but we receive no other details; while I understand, I do not comprehend. I would have appreciated time spent imbuing these emotions with physical symptoms that I could feel vicariously.

Action needs detail to avoid becoming a blur.

The action scenes, while fine, were blurs. We are told about repeated stabs and dead spiders, or about bursts of light in the dark, or about a major attack—but in such cursory detail that we understand what happened without ever taking part in the (potentially thrilling) scene. As if to prove this, Tolkien even has Bilbo knocked out in the final battle.

Passivity from lead characters in climactic action can be unsatisfying for readers.

The risk of multi-climax was understandable, and by knocking out Bilbo in the final battle, the arc of the plot comfortably shows its peak at the death of the dragon. However, that peak is unsatisfying because we are led to believe it will be followed up by even greater battles and struggles.

I like that Bard killed the dragon, and that Bilbo had to do with it only accidentally. The non-main character completing the heroic act gives a sense of a broader world—but Bilbo’s passivity was just too much for me. Bilbo sends a message about the dragon’s weakness, yes, but he does so entirely on accident. As knowledge won by Bilbo’s culminating heroic act (his willingness to talk to the dragon and even trick it), this “boon” seems like it deserves something more.

Page 3 continues with my favorite lines from the book.