I’ve always been a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. I read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” for the first time when I was like nine or something. They were the first real series I ever read. I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” considerably, so I had high hopes for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” I saw I the other night with a friend of mine. Overall, we both liked it. We weren’t blown away by it, but we did like it.
For those that don’t know, “The Hobbit” tells the story of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Frodo’s uncle), and the great adventure of his youth when he accompanied the band of thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield on their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon, Smaug. Smaug is, of course, a classic western-style dragon. Big, mean, and nasty. He’s got claws and teeth and breathes fire. He even speaks. Once, years ago, the Lonely Mountain was the seat of a great dwarven kingdom filled with wealth immeasurable. It is this wealth that attracted the dragon, and in one terrible day of fire and death, the dwarves were driven out and Smaug took over management of the mountain. 🙂
Thorin, who is heir to the throne under the mountain, is set on getting his kingdom and his treasure back. So, he sets out with twelve other dwarves and a solitary hobbit “burglar” to help him. Of course, in the beginning adventure, Bilbo has very few skills beyond maybe cooking and is an all-around sorry excuse for a burglar. Oh, there is also the great wizard Gandalf the Grey who kind-of comes-and-goes as he pleases—but he’s there to help the dwarves out here and there.
The company of dwarves plus a hobbit plus a wizard set out from Hobbiton in the Shire. They encounter numerous nifty creatures along their journey. First, there are trolls. Then, there are orcs and wargs (I think this first encounter with orcs and wargs is an addition by Peter Jackson), elves, stone giants, goblins, and a goblin king. Oh, and we can’t forget the legendary Gollum from whom Bilbo acquires the One Ring of Power. Overall, the Hobbit is an excellent modern fairy tale.
Like in “The Lord of the Rings,” Peter Jackson does do a remarkably good adaption of “The Hobbit.” Still, I have a few complaints. One, I did not like Radagast the Brown very much. He came across as too odd and jerky; his sleigh pulled by over-sized rabbits struck me as simply silly. It might entertain a five year-old, but I would hardly recommend Peter Jackson’s version of “The Hobbit” to the age group. Second, perhaps in some misguided attempt to appeal to the five-year-old age group, there were a couple ironic asides that I could have done without. Still, overall the movie was good. I liked the Pale Orc and his White Warg—I thought they were clever touches. I liked the scenes from Dol Guldur with the Necromancer and his minions even though Radagast was annoying. I’m still withholding judgment on the dragon. We get a few glimpses of him—not in his entirety, but a snatch here or there. I’m not quite sure if I like what I’ve seen yet or not.
Anyway, I’ll give the film four stars out of five.
In the interest of furthering human understanding on such an important topic, and in an extension of my previous Fantasy Monster Fights, most notably of the Vampire vs. the Werewolf, we must contemplate the result of a fight between a dragon and… well, anything else. Perhaps I display my biases here, but to me, a dragon is the ultimate killing machine. Or at least, it should be. I have always loved dragons. In my early childhood, I was a great fan of dinosaurs, and this naturally evolved into a love of dragons. Dragons rule! Hence, the name of my website: “A Toast to Dragons.”
Anyway, back to the discussion. What makes dragons so formidable? Well, I think good ol’ Smaug from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” said it best: “My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!” Truly, a devastating array of attributes. And if we go further, and draw from the AD&D tradition, dragons are also capable of spell-use. As if they needed it. What could possibly stand before one?
A vampire? I think not. A full blast of flaming breath would reduce one to dusty ash. A werewolf? Him neither. The dragon has the size and strength to rip him apart with ease. A zombie? Heck, I’ll give you fifty zombies; nay, a hundred, and I’ll still vote with the dragon. Oh, I forgot to mention that dragons can fly. So, it could be a thousand zombies, and as long as they were land-bound (which zombies generally are), they wouldn’t stand a chance. The dragon would just fly above them, and breathe fire, incinerating them in large swathes until all were gone. To be honest, the only creatures that I think would give a dragon trouble, or might actually beat a dragon, would be a demon. Like… like… Lubrochius, the Eater of Souls (hah! I had to get a plug in for my book somewhere! J ) And if you are pitting them against demons, you could just as easily pit them against an angel or a god. But that’s really stretching the monster resource bag. I mean, really? Must we reach into the afterlife to find a sufficiently powerful foe to contend with?
No, dragons are the apex predators. They are just too big, too strong, too well-protected, and too-capable with their breath and spells. Oh, again with the AD&D tradition, there’s also things like generating fear and such. But that doesn’t seem to be so much a magical ability, as it is the preponderance of common sense that overtakes a victim once he sees a dragon. It’s a dragon! Run for your lives!
And so, the dragon is and always shall be the undisputed ruler of all fantasy worlds. In my humble opinion, that is.
This post is kind of a continuation of my Censorship post last week. Let me clear up front, I don’t support legalized censorship of fantasy literature (or any literature, for that matter). What I do support is self-censorship. Keep that in mind as you read this post.
The genre of fantasy reaches out across many different mediums; there are fantasy posters, fantasy-based movies, and classic fantasy novels like “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien. My primary interest in the genre, here, is literature, though: we’ll leave discussion of fantasy art and movies and other mediums for another day. And that is an important point to make. There are movies, for example, which require profanity to be used. My favorite example is “Aliens” (although that’s Sci-Fi) with Sigourney Weaver. The movie would be pretty pathetic if Ripley ran around and called all the evil, acid-for-blood aliens such things as “ninnies and panty-wastes.” The movie just would not have the same impact. But I don’t think the same can be said of literature. In my opinion, a book that used profanity to the extent that the movie “Aliens” did would simply become boring. If profanity is to be used at all, I think it should be used sparingly. If every other word in the book is “f” this, or “f” that, it cheapens the emotional impact of the word and renders it virtually impotent. Your masterpiece becomes a pile of trash.
There are situations in normal literature (as opposed to fantasy literature) where profanity might be well-suited for one’s purposes. It could serve you well in dialogue if it is used for character development. But keep in mind, the same rule applies, here: use it sparingly. Dialogue in a novel is not necessarily going to be a verbatim recitation of what it would be in real life. A single swear word in a paragraph may be sufficient to provide the tone of the language and convey the character’s “sailor-mouth.”
With all the above said, there is a distinction between normal literature and fantasy literature. Normal literature is generally geared toward adults. Fantasy literature is generally geared toward adolescents and young adults. There are exceptions, of course—and many adults (I am one of them) enjoy fantasy literature throughout their lifetimes—but the primary audience of fantasy literature is a younger one. And I think it should be written with that in mind. To that end, I think the story should be relatively free of the most abrasive forms of profanity. In my own work (the vampire novel, Drasmyr—see “Publications” on the side bar, if you are interested), the strongest language I use is limited to damn and hell, which, nowadays, barely constitute swear words. Of course, as it is a fantasy world, I also allowed myself to throw in a few of my own inventions, like “By the Scythe-Bearer’s Sickle,” and so on. I know, I know—adolescents are all-too-familiar with any and all swear words I might think of, so why bother “cleaning” my writing for them? Call it a gesture towards hope. The literature we consume does affect us. If they read books with trashy language, I think the young will learn to use the language all the more. If the language of the book is clean, perhaps the dialogue of the young in real life will reflect that… to a certain degree, anyway.
Finally, let us return to “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien. Would it be the same book if Frodo and Sam kept saying, “Oh, *&#!, the ringwraiths are after us again!” It is a magnificent piece of literature that just about gave birth to the whole fantasy genre. And yet there is virtually no swearing at all throughout the book. There is a fairy-tale-ish feel to “The Lord of the Rings” that would be ruined by crass language. It is about wonder and magic, elves and dwarves, and other fancies of childhood imagination. I guess that is my largest point: a piece of fantasy literature is something of a fairy-tale writ large. As such, there is very little place, if any, for profanity or vulgarity of any sort. At least, that is my opinion on the subject. Yours, of course, may differ.