Wish She Could Be Part of Your World: On Tauriel-hate and Original Material
by Zoe Chevat | 12:32 pm, December 17th, 2013
It’s a poorly-kept secret that we here at TMS are firmly on the side of Tauriel, the original female elf character in The Hobbit franchise whose mere existence created waves of discussion across the Internet. But some do not share in our enthusiasm. In fact, if you took a look around the fan ‘net in the months preceding The Desolation of Smaug’s release, there has been a distinctly anti-Tauriel sentiment in the air. Hiding behind a desire to preserve the sanctity of the source material, many commentators objected to her addition on purist grounds. Other became concerned about her rumored involvement in a love subplot with Legolas and/or Kíli, further indicated by a secondary trailer for the feature in which King Thranduil appears to caution her against pursuing relations with his son. But now we have surer footing from which to look at Tauriel, warrior, love interest, healer, and forum discussion whipping-girl. The actual film containing her appearance has emerged, and with it, a host of questions, concerns, and a fair bit of mud that this reviewer is willing to sling back.
From the comments on some of our articles with Tauriel in them alone, you’d think she’d killed the fan community puppy. But to those who questioned how Peter Jackson would dare to throw an original character into the mix, I call sexism. Where were these objectors, I wonder, during the middle stretch of The Two Towers, when Aragorn was given up as dead by the other characters for several scenes, or Faramir did not immediately reject the Ring? Or in The Return of the King, when Elrond says that Arwen is dying? Or a hundred other places big and small, where Jackson and company have done, basically, whatever they feel like with the so-called sacred source material? Plot creation and narrative re-assignment of parts has served us both for good and for ill in the past, so perhaps it’s the idea of wholesale character spawning that got so many feathers ruffled.
Character invention seems like a violation of the prime directives of adaptation to many, and not without reason. The only problem with this objection is…Jackson’s already created original characters, and done it approximately twelve times over. The all-important dwarves who make up the company of Bilbo’s unexpected journey are named in the book, but with the exception of their leader Thorin Oakenshield and a few mentioned here and there as the “youngest,” the “fattest,” the one with the keenest eyes, which instruments a handful of them played, and the colors of their cloaks, are entirely indistinguishable from one another. Because having thirteen near-identical men onscreen for nine hours doesn’t work cinematically, the Weta Workshop crew have outdone themselves fabricating a distinct look, purpose, and personality for each dwarf. Ori, for example, is based on actor Adam Brown’s audition video… for the role of Bilbo. This is, in its most essential sense, character creation, from writing to costuming choices. So what’s the difference between these nearly new conceptions and an original elf? I can think of one big one.
The idea of an original female character brought with it an entire new category of issues for fans, which say as much about how we expect female characters to be treated in media as it does about our own prejudices. Chief among these concerns seemed to be that Tauriel would be shunted into the role of love interest, with her participation in any action sequences serving as a consolation prize for those of us who would ask for more. (I am happy to note that Tauriel is an excellent fighter, whose abilities in battle are never up for question, due to her gender, or otherwise.) This is a common enough problem for the lone female character in a cast exclusively composed of men, and one it seemed likely to have happened. But, though Tauriel is technically involved in a love triangle with Legolas and young dwarf Kili, it seems to be one that, thankfully, she has little intention in participating in. Careful observers will notice that she refers to Legolas as “friend” in Elvish, even when trying to convince him to go against his father’s wishes, treating him more as a comrade-at-arms than a potential mate. This could well be attributed to her place as a “lowly Silvan elf”, a social position that would prevent a relationship with a king’s son. Yet, though Thranduil makes Legolas’ apparent desires known to the audience, there is near to nothing said on the subject of what Tauriel desires.
What we do know, largely from her interactions with Kili, as well as her words to Legolas when following the Orcs to Laketown, is that Tauriel is a character who sees the larger picture. Though raised and participating actively in the closed, suspicious society of the Mirkwood elves, she longs for news of the outside. She also understands that there are things larger than the safety of Mirkwood’s borders at play, and urges her friend to help her in a fight that concerns them, though it would seem not to at first glance. This closed existence also explains her interest in Kili, who shows a willingness to talk to her about Dwarvish customs and his own life. (I, personally, could have done without that ‘down his pants’ exchange, but that’s perhaps a matter of taste.) Whether this interest is anything approaching romantic in nature is a subject to be resolved by the final film in the trilogy. What it is, however, is a trait consistent with Tauriel’s characterization that does not feel superfluous, or out of place.
It helps that Evangeline Lilly herself was against there being a love triangle, so much so that it was the sole condition of her accepting the role. As she states in this interview for Yahoo!Movies, there was no trace of a triangle during principle photography. Rather, it was a substantial part of reshoots in 2012, as something that the studio felt needed to be included. What that boardroom discussion looked like is something we can only speculate on, but Lilly does her best to play down the subplot in favor of kicking Orc ass.
Despite misgivings about falling into step with a common trope of female characters, Jackson’s instinct to include Tauriel in The Hobbit is coming from the right place. As Lilly said in another interview, it is unacceptable these days to send young girls into a theater for nine hours of entertainment without a single female on the screen. Howl that she is forgetting Galadriel, but her point is well taken. The two serve very different roles in the trilogy, and, without Tauriel, there really would be a lone woman, absent for all of The Desolation of Smaug save a single shot, and one who has not participated in combat in a series heavy with action. Tauriel’s inclusion is a concession to modern taste, and is the correct response for a filmmaker/screenwriter to have when confronted with a female-scarce source. She’s not perfect, but then, she is one character, and, as we so often discuss on TMS, one character cannot be everything we need her to be. It’s time to drop the hate, and look at Tauriel for what she is; a solid step towards better representation in an area long absent of the presence of women. I can only hope that this impulse, going forward, continues to serve both the audience and the character well.