Bard the Bowman: Why His Portrayal Surprised Me

Years ago (probably 2004 or 2005), I remember thinking about the potential of a Hobbit movie. I remember thinking, “But who’s going to be the hot guy? Every movie nowadays has to have a hot guy. The dwarves certainly won’t work, and it’s not likely that Bilbo will work.”

That’s when it dawned on me–Bard! Of course he’ll be the hot guy. Yeah, he comes in pretty late in the movie, but he still fits the bill. He’s heroic, he’s a mortal man (and thus can be shown to be hot, unlike dwarves and most Elves), he doesn’t have a romance but you could give him one. He seemed like the logical choice (aside from giving Legolas more of a role, but that’s a different story).

Warning: spoilers ahead, both for DoS (if you haven’t seen it yet) and what will most likely happen in TaBA.

Ordinary Hero

That’s why I was very surprised with Bard’s portrayal in The Desolation of Smaug. There’s no hint of a romance. He isn’t made out to be particularly appealing to womenfolk (although he isn’t ugly either–certainly not like the Master of Lake-town or his right-hand man). He has three kids, which typically isn’t heart-throb material. He does hide the dwarves and Bilbo, but only after they offer to pay him. Overall, he’s certainly not not another Aragorn, Éomer, or even Boromir. He’s much more of an ordinary character.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not displeased with Bard’s portrayal. I actually liked that they gave him a few kids (even though a family is never mentioned in the book). It makes him much more sympathetic and gives the audience another reason to want him to succeed. I also liked seeing a more prosaic part of human life in Middle-earth. Although I love the sweeping epic nature of LotR and Tolkien’s other writings, it’s good to see some daily living.

The Bad Part

The part that did bother me about Bard was his low status among the people of Lake-town. It’s a little ridiculous that people jeer at him because his ancestor failed to kill the dragon. Did the descendants of Claus von Stauffenberg, the mastermind behind a failed attempt to kill Hitler, endure ridicule from other Germans? Unlikely. (Okay, I admit that this is a kind of weird analogy, but it’s the first one that came to mind. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go watch the 2008 film Valkyrie.)

I wonder why these choices were made when the movie was being written and filmed. Was this just another example of Jackson’s sometimes excessively melodramatic storytelling? Possibly, but it doesn’t seem to add to the audience’s experience much. Did it make it that much more important for Bard to kill Smaug when the time comes? People making fun of you would probably be the least of your concerns when your family, your home, and everyone you’ve ever known is at risk of being destroyed, so I don’t think that cuts it. Is it a way of explaining how Bard has come down in the world, even though his ancestor was a king? Possibly. Remember, Bard’s more lowly status was an invention of Jackson, so that may not be it.

Why?

In my personal opinion, Bard is made fun of because Jackson wants Bard to feel doubt. Not unlike Aragorn, who is frequently consumed with doubts about his skill and strength in the films, Bard must feel that he may not be capable of killing Smaug.

Is this reasonable? Yes and no. Yes, because everyone has doubts about themselves. It makes Bard more relatable that he has (or will have) the same. No, because I don’t think doubt will be the first thing on Bard’s mind when Smaug attacks. While I’ve never been in an emergency situation myself (certainly not under threat of a dragon burning down my town), my understanding is that you don’t think–you react. I think it is most likely that Bard would do the same. Whether his ancestor failed in the past or not is irrelevant–both to him and to the audience. The only important thing is the present, not the past.

Photo Credit: ylmworkshop

  4 comments for “Bard the Bowman: Why His Portrayal Surprised Me

  1. Josh
    December 29, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    I’d say that he was made fun of because the audience is supposed to feel some level of doubt towards the simple solution of firing an arrow in the sweet spot on Smaug. Because this is one of the more unrealistic elements of the story, Jackson included this element to give reasonable doubt as to Bard’s ability to slay the dragon, so that those who don’t know how the story ends are left in wonder.

    • Emily
      January 2, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      That’s an excellent point, Josh. The black arrow is also much more impressive looking in the film. I’m sure Jackson’s concern was that it would seem too easy for Bard to kill Smaug if he used just a regular arrow.

  2. Ellie
    July 7, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Finally! A site that doesn’t use the irritating Disqus :)

    This character is one of my faves in the trilogy. I didn’t take alot of notice of Bard at first I was glued to Thranduil then I became obsessed with Thorin. I’m still crazy for Thorin but I’m really beginning to like Bard. He’s a good guy, he’s a hero but doesn’t shout about it, and he’s startlingly handsome as well. He’s a family man, loves his kids and has a fair and loving heart. He’s not a hot young laddish stud like the likes of Kili, but he’s just adorable. He’s at the top of my handsome Tolkien characters list for sure.

    • Emily
      July 19, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      Glad my blog makes it easy to comment! :)

      I definitely agree that Bard is a solid character in the movies. I like that they took him in a different direction than I expected. He’s much more approachable than Thorin and even Kili. I do like that he has a family, too! I think PJ did a great job.

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