I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a fan of The Hobbit film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. Whereas Jackson (or at least the people working alongside him who reined in some of his more madcap suggestions) made a valiant attempt in the Lord of the Rings films to stay as true to the books as possible, with one or two disappointing exceptions, he apparently decided that The Hobbit wasn’t good enough the way Tolkien wrote it. So Jackson jazzed up the story to make it a box office hit, leaving fans with a bloated trilogy.
I could go on about the various things that I thought were done badly – the Necromancer/White Council storyline, Azog (he’s supposed to be dead by the time the events of The Hobbit are occurring.), Tauriel (Why is she even there? There is no such character in the book!) and the awkward elf/dwarf love triangle just to name a few of the major ones – but the one thing that I considered an unforgivable error on Jackson’s part was the needless alteration of Thorin Oakenshield’s dying speech.
Thorin’s Death Speech Misses the Point
In the film The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, Thorin is mortally wounded after a fierce battle with the goblin Azog. When Bilbo finds him on his deathbed, Thorin asks forgiveness for his rash anger towards Bilbo. Bilbo, wishing to comfort his dying friend, says that sharing the perils of the dwarven company was more than any Baggins deserved. That matches the book, but then come Thorin’s final words to Bilbo in the film:
“Farewell, Master Burglar. Go back to your books, and your armchair. Plant your trees, watch them grow. If more people valued home above gold, this world would be a merrier place.”
This speech is no doubt lovely. In terms of form, many might argue that it’s even lovelier than Tolkien’s original, since it is short and sweet and doesn’t end so abruptly. It speaks to the things that many of us hold dear in our own lives. It references the simple life towards which everyone should strive.
But it entirely misses the point.
In The Hobbit by Tolkien, the farewell scene, if less intimate because of the implied presence of Gandalf, is no less touching and infinitely deeper.
“Farewell, good thief,” [Thorin] said. “I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate.”
Bilbo knelt on one knee filled with sorrow. “Farewell, King under the Mountain!” he said. “This is a bitter adventure, if it must end so; and not a mountain of gold can amend it. Yet, I am glad that I have shared in your perils – that has been more than any Baggins deserves.”
“No!” said Thorin. “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!” [Emphasis added.]
Throughout the entire trilogy of Hobbit films, Jackson implied and in some cases blatantly showed that the gold in Erebor was somehow evil. Frequent references to “Dragon Sickness” and comments from various characters such as Balin and Gandalf about the evil of gold made this even more apparent. Perhaps Jackson intended that only the gold over which the wicked and greedy Smaug had so long brooded was transformed into something that corrupted susceptible minds with greed, but Tolkien makes a different point altogether.
He does not say at all that the gold itself is evil, as Jackson implies in the film. Rather, Tolkien emphasizes that it is the greed behind hoarded gold that causes such grief in the world – grief that “not a mountain of gold can amend.”
What Tolkien Taught Us About Gold
Gold itself is not evil and does not cause evil. It is nothing more than a metal found in the earth. It can be fashioned and used for different purposes, both good and evil. Only when gold is valued above all else and greedily amassed, does it become an issue. Even then, it is the sin of man in hoarding it rather than the presence of the gold itself that is evil. This is the point that Tolkien makes in The Hobbit and which the final version of Thorin’s speech in the film so sadly misses.
In Tolkien’s version of his speech, Thorin realizes, upon his deathbed, that his greed nearly cost him one of the most valuable things he could have possessed: Bilbo’s friendship.It no longer matters to him how much gold and silver he has piled underneath Erebor. He only wishes to part in forgiveness from a true friend. Bilbo echoes Thorin’s revelation, even though he did not overly value such riches in the first place, when he says that a mountain of gold could not make up for losing his friend.
Thorin, like Tolkien, does not really believe that gold itself is evil. Jackson does him an injustice by suggesting otherwise. In fact, the dwarf realizes that the greed of hoarding the gold was the true evil. He believes that the true riches of a simple life – home, food, cheer, song, friendship – are made infinitely richer by the absence of greed over earthly riches, thereby making for “a merrier world” for all.