So, after waiting until there would be no crowds at the movie theater, I finally went and saw The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies last night. I have loved The Hobbit series almost more than The Lord of the Rings Trilogy so far, so I was super excited to see the conclusion to this saga. Especially since, except for Bilbo talking to the dragon under the mountain, I remember exactly zero things about how the story ends in the original book, and I was waiting to watch the movie before I re-read it so I wouldn’t ruin it for myself.
Now, this isn’t a movie reviewing blog, but still: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. In all honesty, you won’t understand a thing I’m saying unless you’ve seen all the movies anyway. I’m here to examine, not summarize. And we’re going to examining the made-up, female elf character Tauriel, who is not in the books at all. So go watch all of the Hobbit movies (if you haven’t already), and then come back and keep reading. I promise they’re worth it!
Tauriel was made up by Peter Jackson to break up the sausage fest that was The Hobbit. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson at least had some female characters (Arwen, Eowen, and Galadriel) that he could take and expand the parts of. But The Hobbit is about a bunch of dudes travelling and encountering/fighting other dudes throughout their journey. There were no women for Jackson to give more importance to, so he did something drastic. Something that shocked and angered some of the true Tolkein fans out there…
He made one up.
Tauriel is a common Silvan elf, which is completely different from all the elves we’ve encountered before. She is not royalty, and is considered “more wild, less wise” than the royal elves (Elrond, Galadriel, Legolas, Arwen, etc) we knew. She is the Captain of the Guard for the elves of Mirkwood, where Legolas is the prince.
Now, I loved Tauriel when we first meet her in The Desolation of Smaug. She is a very prominent character. She is not just an accessory to the scenes, but an important figure that helps drive the story. She is the one who saves Kili from the spiders, and from the orcs during his escape. She also saves Legolas from an orcs’ arrow by shooting the enemy’s arrow in midair, and capturing the only live orc for the elves to question. She is the one who decides to leave Mirkwood, in direct violation of King Thranduil’s orders, which draws Legolas out as well– he would not have left otherwise. Tauriel is also the one who saves Kili from the poison of the Morgul shaft, thus saving him when no one else could. While there is still the stereotypical love triangle between Tauriel, Kili, and Legolas, all in all Tauriel is a strong female character in this film.
Now we jump to the last movie, The Battle of the Five Armies, and the strength of Tauriel all but disappears. In the beginning, she starts out well enough. Tauriel is the one who gets Bard’s children and the dwarves together and into a boat to leave Lake Town when the dragon attacks. She gets them out safely, and refuses to follow Kili because her loyalty is with Legolas. She also refuses to let him come with her, as she recognizes that his people need him. She accompanies Legolas to scout Gundabad, most likely out of her desire to protect the world and kill all evil. When Legolas and Tauriel see the second orc army that Bolg has amassed, they race back to the Lonely Mountain to warn everyone.
It’s here, at the climax of the entire saga, that everything falls apart. When Legolas and Tauriel return, Tauriel sees that Thranduil, King of the Wood-elves, is about to abandon the dwarves to the orc army. She stands up to him, points an arrow right at him, and tells him she will not allow him to abandon the dwarves to certain death. Quite brave, right? I was cheering in my seat that she finally stood up to the man who never thought she was good enough, or wise enough, simply because she was a commoner. But then all that bravery goes to waste, because Thranduil simply cuts her bow in half, and Legolas has to step in between Tauriel and his father and save her. That’s the first time Tauriel must be saved by a man in this movie. It happens two more times. Legolas and Tauriel go to Ravenhill to try to save Thorin, and Tauriel gets distracted by the danger Kili is in. She tries to save Kili, but is only able to kill a few orcs before Bolg knocks her out.
But wait, Kili to the rescue! He fights Bolg for Tauriel while she watches helplessly, but is ultimately killed by Bolg in front of her. It is apparently only through her great love and anger at the loss of Kili that Tauriel summons up her strength, and flings herself off a cliff, bringing Bolg down with her. Except Bolg is ok, and Tauriel gets knocked out again, so her sacrifice was for naught. Legolas sees Bolg advancing on Tauriel, and does some crazy, unbelievable stunts that only Legolas can do to come to her aid. Legolas succeeds in killing Bolg, and we last see Tauriel distraught over Kili’s dead body, trying to come to terms with the love she lost before she even recognized it.
The point is, Tauriel went from an amazing character and female role model in The Desolation of Smaug, to a helpless, lovelorn female puppet in The Battle of the Five Armies. Whereas in Desolation, she received just as much fighting action screen time as her male counterpart, Legolas, in Battle, Tauriel fights orcs for about a minute of screen time, versus Kili and Legolas fighting for upwards of 10-15 minutes on screen to save her. In an interview, actress Evangeline Lilly expressed her own surprised at how little fighting her character Tauriel has in the final movie, considering that her character had been set up to be an action hero:
“I thought I would be doing a hell of a lot more fighting than I did. Tauriel saw next to no action. She killed a couple of orcs on her way to save Kili, and that was it.”
While Tauriel’s character arc starts out strong, she gradually weakens throughout the story to conclude as a lost woman who asks her liege (Thranduil) to kill her to save her from the pain of losing the man she loved. At the end of this story, her character is devoid of strength, both physical and emotional. She only serves only as a wake-up call to Thranduil, to remind him what true love is.
This isn’t to say I hated Tauriel’s final scene- it was a piece of superb acting by Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel) and Lee Pace (Thranduil), and it was touching and meaningful. The problem is that Tauriel went from being a strong, independent female character to an incompetent, weak mess – all because of love. That final scene would have been fine, if Tauriel could have actually fought for herself, and for Kili. Even if originally Bolg knocks her out and Kili has to save her, why couldn’t Tauriel kill Bolg to avenge Kili’s death while Legolas continued helping Thorin because he realized Tauriel could take care of herself? Why did Legolas still have to come to her rescue? Why did this excellent warrior suddenly suck at fighting, but the two men can totally handle it? Why couldn’t the woman be a hero, no matter how small, just this once?
So there it is. For me, Tauriel started out so promising. In The Desolation of Smaug, I saw a strong, female character who was both feminine and fierce, courageous and loving, strong and sensitive. And then The Battle of the Five Armies came out, and I literally sat in that theater and watched her crumple. She crumpled up not only in strength, but in her importance and her worth to the story, even if it was just her own story. Whatever happens to Tauriel in that fictional world, I hope she finds her strength again, because she was one badass chick.
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