I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a fan of The Hobbit film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. In fact, many of my friends will poke at me with the topic (in good-natured fun) just to see me bristle up in ire.
Whereas Jackson (or at least the people working alongside him who reined in some of his more madcap suggestions) made a very valiant attempt in the Lord of the Rings films to stay as true to the books as possible, with one or two notably disappointing exceptions, it seemed as though he decided that The Hobbit as written by Tolkien wasn’t good enough the way it was and needed to be “jazzed up” in order to make it a box office hit. Hence, we ended up with the aforementioned 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 unforgiveable error on Jackson’s part was the needless alteration of Thorin Oakenshield’s dying speech.
In the film The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, Thorin is mortally wounded after a fierce battle with the goblin Azog but is found by Bilbo before he passes away. He asks forgiveness for his rash anger towards Bilbo, just as in the book; and Bilbo, wishing to comfort his dying friend, says that sharing the perils of the dwarven company was more than any Baggins deserved.
But Thorin’s final words to Bilbo in the film are thus: “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 than that found in the film but is also 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 meant for it to be that only the gold over which the wicked and greedy Smaug had so long brooded was turned to something that would corrupt 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 which causes such grief in the world and yet “not a mountain of gold can amend” that grief.
Gold itself is not evil and does not cause evil. It is merely a metal found in the earth which can be fashioned and used for different purposes, both good and evil. It is when gold is valued above all else and is greedily amassed that it becomes an issue; and 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 also sees, even though he did not overly value such riches in the first place, that all gold and silver are worthless in the light of losing his friend, and he even says that a mountain of gold cannot amend the seemingly evil end to the adventure.
But Thorin makes the most important point of all, and so I will place it here to be read again. “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world” [emphasis added].
Thorin, like Tolkien, does not really believe that gold itself is evil. Instead, he realizes that the greed of hoarding the gold was the true evil. And 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.