Thursday, December 17, 2015

Kili and Tauriel in Retrospect

As we arrive at both the 1-year anniversary of The Battle of the Five Armies and the 1-month anniversary of its Extended Edition, I think enough time has passed that we can look back on the Peter Jackson Hobbit films with a more objective eye. Whether we love them or hate them, the films have always sparked controversy among Tolkien purists, and one of their most infamous controversies is the romantic subplot involving Kili the dwarf and Tauriel the elf.

It's easy to understand the backlash that this subplot has received from fans, seeing how I was among those who initially cringed at it. Not only was it never in the book, but it also featured a character who was never in the book and it took up a lot of screentime that could have been spent on elements that were from Tolkien's original tale. It's said that the studio pressured the filmmakers to shoehorn Tauriel and the love story into the movies, and although I still think that her romance with Kili is unnecessary, I have come to wonder if it's really as trite and implausible as I once found it.

First of all, I'm not against adding an original, major female character to The Hobbit. The book has pretty much no women in it, which would be conspicuous in a modern-day film, and since many characters from the book were totally re-envisioned in the movies anyway, creating a whole new character alongside them doesn't feel like that much of a crime. When you get down to it, the biggest difference between Tauriel and the film versions of the dwarves, Radagast, and Azog is that Tauriel was given her name by the screenwriters instead of by Tolkien. I never took issue with her, just with her and Kili's romance.

Looking back on that subplot now, I'm willing to consider that it's more complex than I first gave it credit for.

While their relationship is technically a romance, it's a romance that never really gets off the ground. The whole thing is just about Kili trying to convince Tauriel to give him a chance while she keeps trying to deny that she feels anything for him. It's largely one-sided, they don't exchange sappy love dialogue, and they don't even kiss until after it's too late for them to be together. I think the reason I cringed at their relationship the first time I saw The Desolation of Smaug was because I was so bugged at the film for including it at all that I blew it out of proportion.

Consider this: shortly after Desolation came out, I tried an experiment where I went through the Kili and Tauriel scenes over and over in my head but kept replacing Kili with other dwarves from the Company. The only changes I made to the scenes were some adjustments to the dialogue so it would better suit the replacement characters. Some of the other dwarves filled Kili's shoes better than others, but one that I actually found those scenes working really well with was Ori.

Now, that wasn't because Ori is an irresistible dreamboat full of charisma  which, let's face it, he's not. The reason those scenes worked so well with him was because he was so childlike that it made Tauriel's kind and protective behavior towards him come off as motherly instead of romantic. It made it seem like she befriended him in prison because she felt bad for him and then came to admire how innocent he was, not because she was attracted to him, and it made it seem like she followed him to Lake-town to help him because she wanted to preserve his innocence in the midst of all the evil that was growing in the world, not because she had fallen in love with him.

While I was recently thinking back on how much more interesting a relationship like that would have been, it occurred to me that maybe Tauriel's relationship with Kili in Desolation actually was supposed to be like that. She says that Kili's promise to return to his mother is "pure," and when she explains her decision to follow the Company and the orcs to Lake-town, she describes it more in terms of taking a stand against evil than in terms of saving one dwarf. Maybe she first takes a liking to Kili not because of who he is, but because of what he represents to her in the grand scheme of things.

It's probably not until Kili asks if Tauriel could have loved him that she starts to wonder the same thing. Since love is unheard of between elves and dwarves and she knows how irrational Kili can be, she tries to let him down easy. That rejection obviously hurts him, but being young and hopeful, he refuses to let go of the idea. I think the reason why Tauriel's so sad at the end of their goodbye scene in The Battle of the Five Armies is because she feels that Kili's only setting himself up for more heartache over her, and she doesn't want to be the thing that ruins his optimistic outlook on the world. I really don't interpret it as her being sad that she can't be with her romantic interest that she's known for one day.

Furthermore, I think that Thranduil's speech to her about how she doesn't really love Kili is supposed to be what makes her realize that she does, hence the reason why she's in such a state of shock after he says it. Not all love is romantic love; Tauriel's feelings for Kili could be anything that's strong enough to make her want to save him from Azog's ambush, and they could be anything that's strong enough to devastate her when she fails to save him. It's possible that kissing Kili after he dies is her way of admitting that her love for him could have become romantic somewhere down the line, if it wasn't already.

Bottom line, I think that Kili and Tauriel's subplot is mainly about, again, what they represent in the grand scheme of things. It's not about their relationship; it's about whether or not any relationship between any elf and dwarf is possible, and ending it with the realization that such a thing is possible is actually a halfway decent setup for Legolas and Gimli becoming friends in The Lord of the Rings. Kili and Tauriel's romance presents the idea without them getting much chance to act upon it, and then Legolas and Gimli's friendship takes that idea to the next level by having them maintain a bond after forming it. I think that Kili and Tauriel were meant to pave the way for Legolas and Gimli in the movies rather than steal their thunder.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this subplot, or maybe the screenwriters really were trying to make lemonade out of lemons with it and their efforts just took a year or two to stand out. In either case, it's nice that Kili and Tauriel's story is presented in a way that leaves it open to more than one interpretation.


  1. Fantastic piece again; Carefully written and very insightful. I think a lot about this plot - where it works and where it takes work to make it work - and although, correct me if I'm wrong, I understand you said you don't really read the movie guides or companions, there are some words in there that help greatly to understand what the film-makers were trying to do and achieved.
    One of the best comments, as he seems to always offer, is from John Howe; Where he describes his take on it.
    John Howe: "The relationship between Tauriel and Kili is like one of those love stories where people think they are falling in love when, in fact, they are actually falling out of love with everything else around them, and the only sympathetic face is someone who they would never choose in any other circumstances...So, it's a kind of 'almost-love-story' with the potential to be tragically moving"
    This is one of my favourite ways in which it can be portrayed. By these two characters falling out of love with their world (Kili with his Uncle Thorin, who is changing for the worse in every step closer he gets to the mountain - also making a harsh decision to leave him behind in Lake-Town, and Tauriel with Thranduil who shows less and less love as each day grows darker in her home. As well as losing her friendship with Legolas of which she is told by Thranduil to not pursue further, making Tauriel say, "There's no love in you").
    Overall, this relationship can be more complex if a person wishes it so and there are many small bits of information, not all in the films, which can help someone who is like Thranduil, Not showing much care to a theme of love of which they hide away from and which has an obviously overriding, conclusive factor of which the works of Tolkien heavily impose in his tales; Tragic Love and how tragic love can only really be seen in the finer details of the looks, feelings and thoughts, expressed through words by the people who are tragically in love.

    1. Thank you very much; I'm glad that you enjoy my essays so much.

      I do read some of the movie guides and companion books, but I try not to lean too heavily on them when interpreting the movies because I feel that the movies should be clear enough on their own. While I have heard that quote from John Howe before, I think I misunderstood it up until now. I took it to mean that Kili and Tauriel subconsciously saw each other as a way to rebel against their races' old ways but they mistook that intrigue for love. When Thranduil told Tauriel that she didn't really love Kili, she realized that he was right but still tried to save Kili out of altruism, then she and Thranduil both realized in the end that some love had formed after all.
      I like your interpretation better, since it's more likely that Kili and Tauriel were just looking for someone friendly to talk to in Mirkwood and didn't share that close of a bond at first. And I am curious to read up more on Kili and Tauriel's relationship now that I've taken what I can from watching the movies.
      Thanks again for the insight.

  2. No problem, It was a great essay worthy of the eyes of people who have their own thoughts and opinions on the stories within the movies but also love nothing better than to find new and favourite ways in which to view them.