Thursday, 19 December 2013
The Desolation of Smug
I went to see the second episode of The Hobbit last night. A vast improvement on the first one, I thought, despite having more padding than a fat bloke on a bouncy castle. Good holiday fun.
But being an English and Cultural Studies Lecturer, my mind turned to metaphor and wordplay. The film's subtitle is The Desolation of Smaug (he's the dragon). Being of an entirely predictable political bent, and never being one to turn down the opportunity to overwork a metaphor to death, I decided to see the film as a political allegory.
We can call it The Desolation of Smug. In charge: sinister forces in draughty Gothic architecture. There are some other sinister but slightly more louche characters living in faded grandeur and dismissive of the concerns of the downtrodden masses. Their primary concern is to repel any hard-working immigrant arachnids and dwarfs crossing the borders of their territory in search of a better life. Everyone's in thrall to rather revolting notions of heredity and breeding.
They're like the Elvish version of Downton Abbey.
The main enemy is a rapacious hoarder, Smaug, who doesn't believe in investment, redistribution or taxation. He's got a lot of money and he's keeping the lot, despite the obvious damage this is doing to the economy.
The local town is a ramshackle dump in which its ragged inhabitants live in hovels. No spare rooms there (and shifting fantasy universes slightly, wait until Iain Duncan Smith finds out about Uncle Diggory's Spare Oom). No doubt the schools are 'free', the libraries closed and childcare nonexistent. The environment is thoroughly degraded:
There are references to 'shirkers' and more than one character remarks that greed is socially destructive. Racial disharmony abounds. Our hero is a 'burglar' and his character is not improving the longer he possesses the ring he stole/found. Middle-earth is not, I fear, a Big Society sort of place.
As I said, I rather enjoyed the film once I'd decided it was biting social satire. Before that, I was with Hugo Dyson, the academic who once interrupted Tolkien's reading of a fresh chapter of The Lord of the Rings with the immortal line 'not ANOTHER fucking elf!'.
Update: on second thoughts, there's another political line to take. While the head wood-elf is a selfish Little Mirkwooder, basically a pointy-eared UKIPer, Legolas and Tauriel are horrible Blairite Liberal Interventionists, arguing the case for Elvish interference in the legitimate aspirations of far-away peoples of which they know nothing. If it's ugly and speaks a guttural language, they'll stick an arrow in its head with little regard for political or cultural context. No negotiation, no peace talks, just arrows arrows arrows.