If Thorin’s movie version seems to be going down the path of insanity and complete hostility, it isn’t all as scandalous as we may be led to believe. “I will have war!”, in fact, may be more revealing of Thorin’s good traits than seal his character as a negative one. Since the film Dwarf King is far more complex and intriguing than his book persona, we can expect his development to be on the complicated (and perhaps misunderstood) side. The Battle of the Five Armies is where the Dwarf lord takes control over his inherited kingdom and, in spite of being seriously outnumbered, tells Men and Elves that he chooses to fight them.
The viewer is thus quick to despise the character, to label him as an anti-hero worthy of punishment because he prefers war to negotiations and peace. Only a bad guy would do that after all, right?
Not always so…
We judge it this way because our world is now built on a different kind of politics and values, where all efforts are expected to converge towards peace. However, Thorin is more like the men of the past and – above all – a leader with a duty. He belongs to the era where kings had to be skilled in warfare and do everything in the interest of their lineage and people. Leaders had to take and face decisions in a different way, especially when a kingly inheritance was involved. It is his loyalty to Erebor and to his entire kin that makes him take this stance. Thorin, the righteous bearer of the crown, was the one to take on the mission of reclaiming an ancient homeland. He was the one to dare fight a dragon – known as nothing less but the greatest calamity of their age. He took the kingdom back and got to face yet another challenge: that of Men and Elves asking for whatever they believed was theirs.
There is no fairness in the situation: Thorin’s company counted only thirteen warriors. Bard’s men were numerous, while Thranduil had a whole army. With all these troops coming to his gate, all armed, there is obviously no good start for a peaceful negotiation. What they were basically asking for was war – unless the Dwarf king was intimidated enough to give freely what they desired. Neither Thranduil nor Bard had ever tried to claim any part of the treasure while Smaug was alive. Never dared to face the dragon, while Thorin did so, full force ahead. Their complacent attitude is suddenly replaced by this burning desire to have a necklace back, respectively a part of the gold to help their people survive. With the Dwarves having actually fought for the treasure, it is completely righteous and well deserved to have them rule over it.
We may get into endless discussions about who owned what in Smaug’s treasure and how those items got there, but it wouldn’t be too useful in the given context. The essential part is that we have a stark inequality: countless armed Men and Elves versus a handful of Dwarves. We have a tactic of intimidation and blackmail. Both Thranduil and Bard accept Bilbo’s treacherous gesture without complaint, without any trace or morality in this business. They do not see it as the unfair advantage that it is. In these circumstances, a king’s only decision can only be in favour of war. Bard and Thranduil seem to completely ignore Thorin’s status, mission and victory. He may not be the dragon slayer, but he engaged Smaug and tried his best to annihilate him. He fulfilled his promise – that of giving his people their real home back. He re-established Erebor as a stronghold on the side of Good, in the soon-to-be-desperate fight against Evil. The two leaders fail to realise that. They aim to strip the king of his honour and wealth and to reach their goals in manipulative and treacherous ways.
Thorin is accused of not keeping his word, but does his word still carry the same weight as his so-called allies are knocking on his door all ready for battle? In his dialogue with Bard, Thorin has a truthful and powerful reply to each of his claims and accusations. “Perhaps it is because I’m expecting to be robbed” and “What choice did we have but to barter our birthright…” speak volumes here.
Their expectation to enter the mountain freely and take what they please is far from being realistic. Bard’s desire to “seek fair settlement” is a fairly exaggerated claim, considering that the Dwarves had an agreement beforehand with the Master of Laketown and he gave them his permission to go to the mountain, albeit without giving them appropriate weapons or any other help. Basically he sent them to their death, since no one expected the Dwarves to come out alive. The deal they had can no longer be valid, in spite of Bard’s claims. “You brought upon us only ruin and death” is an unfortunate consequence, not Thorin’s conscious action. In response, Bard threatens that he will attack.
Thorin does the fair thing – the only decision a leader could take in that moment, to benefit the precious honour of his kin. He knows he can get help from his cousin Dain and his army and that would make the opposing forces comparable and bridge the gap. Ultimately, he does not choose war because he is greedy and stubborn, but because he knows he can face the enemy.
Bard’s arguments are being taken down one by one and all he is able to say in the end is “because you gave us your word” However, Thorin gave his word when he expected (and believed in) a fair deal, not a treacherous one. The Men had never valued his life, nor the lives in his Company. Thranduil’s arrogance places him at the same level, where he has no consideration for others. In the light of these facts, Thorin stands tall as a brave leader who clearly knows how justice should be dealt.
Alina H. is a freelance writer who earned a MA in Comparative Literature and Anthropology, took mythological study seriously, at the same time developing a long lasting passion for J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings. She does go to conventions at times and has a blast.