Another Shadow of the Past: Exploring the Roots of Thranduil and Thorin’s Conflict
By John Evans
“If this is to end in fire than we shall all burn together,” boldly declares Thorin in Peter Jackson’s film The Desolation of Smaug. Faced with dragon-fire and the shadowy ruins of his ancestral home, the Dwarf Lord sternly towers above the obstacles in his way despite his size. But Thorin is by no means the only chieftain in this landscape of darkness and growing tension.
Thranduil, the Elven King of Mirkwood, expresses the same determination and strength to secure his people’s interest in the struggles to come. Both have an ardent love of treasure, both recognize the festering evil of the enemy, and both would rather burn than appear weak when confronted with peril. Many movie critics have called Thranduil an isolationist. His statements to Tauriel and Legolas after interrogating an Orc vividly depict an elf sire who would rather fence himself in from harm rather than boldly attempt to amend the problems of the world. This sentiment is similarly expressed by Thorin in the chapters leading up to The Battle of Five Armies in the book.
Many viewers of Peter Jackson’s next installment of The Hobbit Franchise might be shocked to see Thorin lock himself within The Lonely Mountain and shut his heart to the needs of Bard’s folk. We can only see how Jackson will adapt the growing hostilities between Elves, Dwarves, and Men. But the source materiel is already rich in angst and drama. The Dragon Sickness and the lust for power occupy the remaining pages of The Hobbit yet to be seen on screen. But this struggle of wills is by no means new. Thorin and Thranduil’s actions harken back to the very origins of Middle Earth.
Peter Jackson seems to attribute Thorin’s distrust of Thranduil to the Elf Lord’s refusal to assist the Dwarf Lords in their time of need. While this is in some ways an invention of the screen-writers, the pages of The Silmarillion offer another compelling reason for the tension depicted in The Hobbit. Tolkien’s description of King Thranduil often closely mirrors the reign of a much older ruler in Middle Earth’s History—King Thingal of Doriath. This imposing figure dwells in a realm isolated from the rest of the world by enchantment and is sometimes condescending towards dwarves and men. In the end it is this pride and lack of empathy that leads to his own death and the ruin of Doriath. One of Thingal’s most prized possessions is a holy jewel stolen from the iron crown of the dark Lord Morgoth—Sauron’s ancient master. This Silmaril is one of only three such jewels in Middle Earth and synonymous with the fate of the world. Another one of Thingal’s precious treasures is the necklace of the Dwarves known as the Nauglamïr which was given to the Elf King Finrod Felagund as a token of respect. Thingal hopes to set the Silmaril in the Nauglamïr in order to increase his splendor and mingle the beauty inherent in both works of craftsmanship. But unfortunately, the Dwarves also crave the Nauglamïr which they view as the work of their fathers. It is also implied they desire the Silmaril as well.
This tension is roughly analogous to Thorin and Thranduil’s love of treasure. Everybody craves the wealth of the Lonely Mountain just as everybody seems to want the Silmaril of Fëanor. Such envy and greed contributes to pre-existing conflicts, thus threatening the peace cherished by all cultures regardless of their background. Sadly, The Silmarillion informs us that both Thingal and the dwarf smiths cave into their pride and avarice. In return for their services, the Dwarf smiths demand the Nauglamïr itself as their reward. Unwilling to relinquish the necklace that now bears his Silmaril, Thingol descends into a black rage. Mocking the Dwarf smiths with his dying breath, his insolence costs him his life and the safety of his realm. At the same time the Dwarves are equally guilty. Shortly after the Elf King’s death, an army of Dwarves pillages Doriath and shatters the friendship that had grown between their people and the Elf sires of old.
The bloodshed and betrayal inherent in this telling story sadly leaves a bleak stain on the minds of Elves and Dwarves in The Third Age. The Wood Elves of Thranduil’s realm have every reason to distrust Thorin and his people. Unlike Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit, the book clearly indicates that Thranduil doesn’t know why the dwarves are in Mirkwood in the first place. For all he knows Thorin and his folk may be spies of the enemy. Afterall, the shadow of The Necromancer is already growing. Yet Jackson’s adaptation allows for greater drama. Thranduil not only knows why Thorin in his realm. The film implies he also desires a share of the treasure. In this same adaptation, Thorin’s desire for the Arkenstone mirrors Thingol’s obsession with the Silmaril.
Both precious objects invest the owner with greater political legitimacy as well as personal prestige. As a result the meeting between both powerful figures becomes far more important and addresses the peril of avarice and pride indicative to Tolkien’s mythos. Thorin can predict that his quest may end in fire, but only his conscience can douse the flames that compel his heart.
About the Author:
John Evans is an avid student of Medieval Literature and the writings of J.R.R Tolkien. He is a member of Doctor Cory Olsen’s Silmarillion Seminar and has been a proud supporter of Legendarium and the Mythgard institute. Along with these interests, he is the founder of the folk rock band Wrecked Haven, an amateur political theorist, and life-long writer of prose and poetry.