Spiders. Why did it have to be spiders?
I'm not so good with excessive mouth parts.
Again our party has left a home of refuge to head into darkness, only this time on their own volition and perhaps better prepared for what they face ahead. Or better prepared in theory.
The dwarfs repeatedly display impetuous behavior to their folly, with Bilbo stepping up in the guardian role Gandalf gave to him. The dwarfs waste the last of their arrows in excitement on seeing deer, though they are all to blame for leaving the path. But Bilbo finds the boat and devises how to retrieve it, rescues the dwarfs from the spiders, like Gandalf at the goblin caves, remaining free when the dwarfs again are captured in the dark. Not only that, but the dwarfs begin to look to Bilbo for direction and planning, as they would of Gandalf.
The goblins and orcs are a twisting of elves by Melkor, one of the Ainur of Middle-Earth and something of an analog for Lucifer, who was jealous of Eru's creation. So the goblin tunnels exist as a sort of reversal of the elven homes. Instead of trees, art, light, and beauty, we get darkness, twisting tunnels, caverns, and cruelty. They both, however, have laughter and song, but of diametrically different natures. The Mirkwood was once an elfhame, still is, but the elves there are lesser and darkness closes in on all sides. This is the corruption of the Greenwood, the Necromancer's power like a sickness on the lands and the inhabitants, bringing a darkness in which the sun is more than just light but life, hope, and desire.
"It was not long before the grew to hate the forest as heartily as they had hated the tunnels of the goblins, and it seemed to offer even less hope of any ending. But they had to go on and on, long after they were sick for a sight of the sun and of the sky, and longed for the feel of wind on their faces. There was no movement of air down under the forest-roof, and it was everlastingly still and dark and stuffy. Even the dwarves felt it, who were used to tunneling, and lives at times for long whiles without the light of the sun; but the hobbit, who liked, holes to make a house in but not to spend summer days in, felt that he was being slowly suffocated."
The dark river they encounter has always felt like the Lethe to me, a river associated with forgetfulness and oblivion. True, the river Styx is the one with Charon and ferry passage, but we are in a fantasy world that has created its own mythology separate from any we have known. They are perhaps sneaking into the underworld, crossing the river without paying the toll, and trespassing against its king.
This chapter marks the first time we get any of Bilbo's music, and frankly it's some of my favorite so far, for all that Tolkien says "Not very good perhaps." The songs are teasing, playful, and feel like children's rhymes. They fit very easily into a number of tunes familiar from children's songs. I can easily imagine it being chanted as a clapping game or a jump-rope song.
On to the movie, where there is a little bit of blending between Chapters 8 & 9.
Ok, I get why the Mirkwood isn't really, well, murky. It's just a lot easier to see the action when we're not in complete darkness. It is however, beautifully presented (except for the obviously fake oak leaves when Bilbo climbs the tree). But again we get the weird time dilation where Jackson has elongated some parts and compressed others. In this case, we completely lose the bit with the river (and the subsequent attempts to carry Bombur), and their shortages of supplies. It feels as if we traipse into the forest to very shortly run into some spiders that only Hagrid could love, and then into the custody of elves, without out that creeping unease or despair that the Mirkwood inspires nor the almost fae experience with the Wood-elves. Hallucinations don't really replace it.
The spiders? Those were done well. Really, there isn't much more I could ask for that part. Well, except for "What the bloody hell is Legolas doing here?" And why the hell does he have those freaky blue contacts? He has brown eyes in Lord of the Rings.
The wearing of the ring giving Bilbo the ability to understand the spiders is a neat work around. We also get a bit of preamble on the corruption of Bilbo by the ring, which in my opinion, occurs rather fast even in light of the Lord of the Rings foreshadowing.
I do feel like Jackson robbed Bilbo of his growing heroism here. He literally bumbles through things, avoiding trouble by accident, or saving himself in a ring-induced blood rage. Bilbo performs admirably in the chapter, and we get none of that, or his song, here.
One thing that is very much noting is this passage here:
"In ancient days they had had wars with some of the dwarves, whom they accused of stealing their treasure. It is only fair to say that the dwarves gave a different account, and said that they only took what was their due, for the elf-king had bargained with them to shape his raw gold and silver, and had afterwards refused to give them their pay. If the elf-king had a weakness it was for treasure, especially for silver and white gems; and though his horde was rich, he was ever eager for more, since he had not yet as great a treasure as other elf-lords of old. His people neither mined nor worked metals or jewels, nor did they bother much with trade or with tilling the earth. All of this was well known to every dwarf, though Thorin's family had had nothing to do with the old quarrel I have spoken of."
So that whole "Thorin is an overwhelming ass towards elves" bit that I've complained about here and there? Based on a bit of lore that never should have applied to Thorin & Company.
I find Lee Pace's Thranduil to be incredibly dragonish when he meets with Thorin, which fits in well with the greed themes throughout the story. Particularly with his hands so tightly at his side or behind his back, his movements become very serpentine. Overall, I rather like Pace's performance, especially in once he hits full diva in the later chapters. But yes, the eyebrows are a bit startling. Thorin's bit through all of this? That dwarf has a surplus of pride, arrogance, and meta-knowledge. Because of course he knows that Bilbo's still free to find them.