Since The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug comes out on DVD and Blu-ray today, I thought I would comment on that element of the movie which has received possibly the most comments: Tauriel.
A fair amount of (primarily digital and therefor metaphorical) ink has been spilled over Tauriel, the female Elf introduced in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. While there are some very well-reasoned defenses of Tauriel, most of the anti-Tauriel sentiment is limited to, “She isn’t in the book so she’s bad and terrible and we hate her!” Case in point. (Note: I do not want to kill Tauriel nor do I even remotely condone the terrible application of that most annoying of memes.)
However well-intentioned (?) these complaints may be, they fail to present compelling arguments against Tauriel’s inclusion in the film.
1. She adds nothing to the plot.
Compared to LotR, The Hobbit has a relatively simple plot. It focuses solely on Bilbo and his journey with the dwarves. The straightforward nature of the plot creates an excellent opportunity to delve into other material, which I applaud Peter Jackson for addressing. But isn’t the history of the dwarves, the introduction of Radagast, the Necromancer, and the return of the Witch-king enough? Do we really need to add another character who does nothing to enhance the plot?
While I do tend to be a purist, I’m not completely opposed to new characters. Bard’s children, for example, are no where to be found in the book. Indeed, nothing at all is said of Bard’s family (I was always under the impression that he was unmarried, but maybe that was just me.) The creation of three children for Bard makes sense, though. They make Bard more sympathetic, help to humanize the people of Laketown a little more, and raise the stakes for Bard.
The argument may be made that Tauriel enhances the characters of those with whom she is mostly closely associated: Legolas, Thranduil, and Kili. While I do admit that Aidan Turner (Kili) and Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel) have excellent on-screen chemistry, I don’t see her presence adding anything to Kili’s character. I would have much rather seen the relationship between Kili, Fili (his brother), and Thorin developed, since we have seen little of Dwarvish families.
2. Her name bugs me. A lot.
In the research I did, I came across a number of translations of her name. Michael Martinez, whose work I have admired for years, translates it as “forest maiden,” so we’ll go with that. Seriously, Jackson? A Wood-elf named “forest maiden”? Is that the best you can do? (Interestingly, I couldn’t find any direct evidence that David Salo, the Tolkien language scholar, was involved with The Desolation of Smaug. Coincidence?)
Considering the care and attention to detail that Peter Jackson and his team has displayed before (Hadhafang, Arwen’s sword, comes to mind), I find this highly unimaginative name disappointing and honestly a bit silly.
3. She’s kind of a Mary Sue.
(If you don’t know what Mary Sue is, allow TV Tropes to enlighten you.) This comparison is pretty much unavoidable for anyone who spent time reading LoTR fan fiction or RPGs in the 2002-2004 era. In other words, thousands of teen and tween girls wrote themselves into stories in which they were the love interest for Legolas. So, creating an original character that serves as a love interest for Legolas is a red flag.
However, this isn’t the only Sue-ish trait that Tauriel displays. TV Tropes has a handy List of Common Mary Sue Traits to which I will refer. For the sake of space (and also in all fairness), I’ll only mention the most blatant characteristics.
- Unusual hair relative to canon. Elves very rarely have red hair and a Silvan Elf has never been stated to have red hair. In fact, the only Elves who have even been mentioned as having red hair were Noldorin Elves of the First Age. Specifically, three of Fëanor’s sons who inherited it from their mother and maternal grandfather. Tolkien states that red hair is “a very rare thing among the Eldar” (Peoples of Middle-earth, 366).
- Unusual skills and/or traits. Tauriel is depicted as being both a fighter and a healer. This was actually unusual among Elves. Typically healers not only abstained from war but also from hunting. (Morgoth’s Ring, 213). While Elrond is indeed depicted as being both a warrior and a healer, this isn’t a cultural norm.
- Wish fulfillment. No, I’m not trying to say that Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, or anyone else involved with the screenplay has a thing for Orlando Bloom/Legolas. But of lot of girls did and still do. Creating a character that serves as his love interest feeds into that.
- Relationship with multiple canon characters. Both Legolas and Kili are in love with her. Legolas is in love with her against his father’s wishes (although it’s unclear if Legolas is aware of his father’s opinion). Kili is in love with her despite the rather bizarre occurrence of an Dwarf falling in love with an Elf. Oh, and Tauriel is also “favored” by Thranduil, possibly even raised by him.
Yes, there are a lot of Mary Sue traits that Tauriel does not have, but she possesses enough to make her character suspect.
4. She distracts from Legolas (not to mention Bilbo).
Throwing Tauriel into the mix dilutes Legolas’s character. Not only do his action sequences become less impressive (which admittedly an unimportant downside), but his character is also rendered (more) bland. His relationship with Tauriel isn’t developed in any meaningful way (although it may be in the third film) nor is there any relationship apparent with Thranduil. Why couldn’t Legolas have been the one to defy his father’s wishes specifically to aid the outside world? Not only would that have made Legolas more interesting, but it’s just more efficient storytelling (at least as far as films go).
Tauriel and co. swooping in to save the Dwarves from the spiders also undermines Bilbo’s heroism. In the book, Bilbo almost single-handedly saves the Dwarves from the spiders in Mirkwood. While the film does portray this (in an all-too short scene, in my opinion), it doesn’t show all of it. The only way he is ultimately able to save the Dwarves is by running off by himself and drawing the spiders after him. While he does have the protection of the Ring, this is still a meaningful step in his character arc–one that was neglected in the film.
5. She’s the apex of the dreaded love triangle.
Okay, so, not all love triangles are bad. It can be a legitimate source of tension and even character development. Aragorn/Arwen/Éowyn is an intersting, albeit somewhat mild/unimportant, love triangle.
But love triangles are just a…thing now. Twilight is the big culprit here, of course. Hunger Games also comes to mind (although I don’t object strongly to that one), as well as who knows how many other novels written for teenaged girls. In short, they’re such a common trope now that it’s annoying to see one shoe-horned into a film.
One thing I do want to mention here is that Evangeline Lilly, much to her credit, actually fought against having a love triangle (thanks to The Mary Sue for the link to this article). Apparently it was added in after principal photography because the studio wanted it. This makes me wonder why Lilly’s contract wasn’t honored, but a discussion of Hollywood’s morals is completely outside the scope of this post.
6. Any of my future Elf cosplay are ruined.
As mentioned above, Tauriel has the unusual (for Elves) trait of long red hair. This is kind of weird, considering Evangeline Lilly isn’t a red-head (unless she actually is a ginger and I just don’t know it). Well, I happen to be a (natural) red-head too. My hair isn’t as long as Tauriel’s, but it is pretty long. Forevermore, if I cosplay as an Elf, everyone will think I’m Tauriel. This causes me to sigh from the depths of my being.
I may not be a fan of Tauriel, but all things considered, I do find this highly amusing.
Photo Credit: petradr