It pains me to admit this, but when I first read “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, I hated Thorin Oakenshield.
After I read it a second time, I still hated him.
And the third time. And the fourth.
There was just something about him that I didn’t quite get. He was nothing like Bilbo, all cute and cuddly and innocent. He wasn’t like Gandalf, powerful and clever. He wasn’t like Balin, wise and practical for the sake of the Company. He was just…Thorin. Rash. Arrogant. A gold-hoarder in some ways like the dragon he fought to drive out of the Mountain.
And that’s why I didn’t like him. He was the epitome of traits I had grown to despise.
Yet just like people in real life, I found myself starting to understand Thorin the more I got to know him as a character. And that all started when the first Hobbit film by Peter Jackson was released in theatres last December.
I was ecstatic over the movie. We Tolkien fans waited a long time after the Return of the King to see our beloved Hobbit become a live action film. When I went to the theatre and saw it, I wasn’t disappointed. The characters, the setting, and the story was everything I had hoped it would be.
But before I sat to watch the film, I expected to hate Thorin. I was going in as a Bilbo fan. (And a secret Thranduil fan. I mean, the guy is Legolas’ dad! What fangirl wouldn’t adore him?!) Then the first sequence of the film started. There was Bilbo and Frodo talking with Bilbo working on his book. And then Bilbo began telling the back story of how Smaug invaded Erebor and took over the Dwarven kingdom.
The back story of the Erebor invasion is mentioned briefly in The Hobbit. We get a glimpse of why Thorin had to leave (yeah, we know there’s a dragon somewhere in that mountain) but we don’t get as much detail about what happened that day except in other stories that Tolkien wrote. Out first glimpse of Thorin (in the book) isn’t in a detailed cinematic scene of him defending his home and losing everything or feeling betrayed by the Elves. It’s him showing up at Bag End with a bunch of Dwarves at a frantic Hobbit’s house.
I admit I hadn’t read much of Thorin’s back story when I read The Hobbit all those times. Yes, books like “Unfinished Tales” and “The Silmarillion” sat on my bookshelf, but being the busy person that I am, I really hadn’t taken the time to read them. Because of that, I never quite got to know Thorin as I should have.
After seeing the film, I decided to give Thorin another chance. I familiarized myself with what Tolkien had wrote about Thorin in tales besides The Hobbit. I re-watched The Hobbit film after it came out on DVD. And then I decided to read The Hobbit again, this time with familiarity of Thorin’s past. After I read The Hobbit, I looked at Thorin in a new light. Before, I only saw the rash and arrogant Dwarf who wanted his gold back. Now, I saw a hurt and sorrowful king who lost his family and kingdom. I finally understood the brilliance of Tolkien’s character and how his past connected with his (later) emotional turmoil. Instead of a villain or anti-hero, Thorin became more of a tragic character for me, and after I finished the chapter where Bilbo sees Thorin after the Battle of the Five Armies, (spoilers!) I cried. I was honestly sad about Thorin’s fate.
In the end, I knew I had always believed the phrase “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s an analogy that rings true in both literature and real life. The same thing goes with characters in a story. Often times, we judge a character by a few actions and think we have him/her pegged. Sometimes we’re right (Gandalf started off awesome and he was still awesome by the time The Return of the King ended), but sometimes there’s more than meets the eye. The more we dig into a tale, and into a character’s own personal story, the more we come to know why the character does what he or she does. We get to know them inside and out-the real person, the real character. Sometimes, a character can surprise us.
And after I’ve gotten to know Thorin Oakenshield, I’ve come to realize I don’t hate him after all.
And I’m going to bring LOTS of tissues to the final Hobbit movie.