Cathecting to Oakenshield? or, a not-so-brief etiology of Thorinmania — ONE

[This got so long I divided it in half. Both are done. This part is prescheduled — I am running an errand that has an uncertain outcome — so it’s not being tweeted yet. Still haven’t learned how to schedule tweets. The second half will publish some time after I get back from the errand, because I need to reread it. I won’t be responding to comments till I publish the second half, but please don’t hesitate to leave them. They always cheer me up.]

I. The Ambivalence

You’ll have seen that the banner has changed. Here’s another cross-section of this:

Wanna play count the beard hairs? It looks like even Thorin Oakenshield does a tiny bit of beard trimming. Look at the margin of that mustache. I thought it was the beard, and what it enables Armitage to do, but that’s only a piece of it. Still hope to finish those posts.


I haven’t been wildly enthused about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, per se.

I think this has been no secret to people who follow this blog closely. It took fourteen months for The Hobbit to make it into the category cloud at right, which tracks the top forty blog subjects here, and “Thorin Oakenshield” is still several weeks or a month from managing that feat. As for Guy of Gisborne and Thorin coming into conflict and Thorin winning? I’d have to write about Thorin every day for the next two months at least and never mention Guy that whole time to make that happen. A doubtful outcome. Given what I think these figures mean to me metaphorically, that is admittedly a somewhat discouraging recognition.

I don’t despise the film. I’ll try to attend the premiere wherever I happen to be at the time, and/or travel to the nearest city to see it in 48 fps (which may be hard, due to limited release — I guess they’re not even sure the Wellington premiere will have it). I’m sure more excitement will develop on that level as the hype builds; I’m hardly immune to that, and it’s happened more than once that talking about something with all y’all has heightened the thrill — but my primary interest in it all long has been as a career strategy for Richard Armitage. I saw the LOTR films and enjoyed the first and third especially; I admire Peter Jackson’s vision and his skill as an interpreter, which made me able to reread the books with enjoyment, finally; but I’m not intensely involved with them or with J.R.R. Tolkien. Thus it was a matter of supreme indifference to me whether they made two or three movies, except as it impacted Armitage’s own desires to continue in that project or find new ones. I admit to idle contemplation of whether Black Sky is what Armitage got for agreeing to do a third Hobbit film, so that he knew about it despite his denial when asked his opinion in San Diego.

I’m just not counting the days in the blog margin.

I did feel guilty. I occasionally wondered whether this failure was yet another sign that I’m not a good enough fangirl. Or evidence that my interest in Armitage was waning.

But signs have appeared lately that all of the above may be changing. Is my Armitagemania entering a new phase? I noticed it around the time of ComicCon, to which I experienced a similar reaction to Jane’s. I’ve changed the banner because I saw signs the last three weeks that I am starting to cathect to Thorin, or at least, to one or two particular symbols of his.

I think it’s that I’ve in general figured out, during the many hours when I couldn’t write this summer, a rough trajectory of where my connection to Armitage’s roles fits in my own odyssey. In addition to what I say about Richard Armitage, I write mostly about four characters here: Mr. Thornton, Guy of Gisborne, Lucas North, and John Porter — who appeared in a magical trail for me during about the first five months of Armitagemania. Thornton was about work — I’ve started, and almost finished delineating that; Guy is about power and powerlessness — and I am starting to be able to deal with that in detail verbally now; although I’ve never written about it in much detail, Lucas was about processing trauma, which is why his eyes graced the header for so long; and Porter, whom I’d also like to write more about, was about the possibility of vindication vs destruction.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make this blog bear all the writing about all of that, or even if it’s necessary to do so. Or if I need to finish writing about Richard Armitage the person, now that I have an explanation for Armitagemania that makes sense to me, or whether I can let it go. I’ve said recently that I wonder what exactly this blog is doing for me.

[This is not fishing for positive strokes — don’t worry about me, and don’t feel you need to argue me into continuing, because it probably wouldn’t have any effect anyway — these are just questions I continue to ask myself.]

But it was pretty clear, at the very latest from the storms I experienced on Wednesday morning, that Thorin has joined ranks with the Big Four.


II. The Genealogy

[At left: the edition of the book that I owned as a child. I stumbled past it again on a dusty bookshelf in my childhood bedroom, this summer]

I need to come clean about my childhood and young adulthood experiences with The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (1937), as I have been a little disingenuous till now. I wasn’t as in love with this book as a child as Richard Armitage seems to have been.

In fifth grade, “Riddles in the Dark” (the chapter where Bilbo meets Gollum) was in the reading textbook. I remember thinking it tedious. (My favorite memory from fifth grade reading? The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I was still compulsively rereading Roots that year, had found a paperback copy at a rummage sale that cost a whole dollar, was systematically hiding it from my mother.) We also watched a film of The Hobbit in class that year, the 1977 animated version. Well before VHS, showing a film in class constituted a major effort for the teacher and an expense for the school. It was definitely clear to me at that point that it was considered a classic — and why. But according to the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or whatever, I was reading at a college level by fifth grade and the main thing I learned in reading class was how enervating it can be to read stuff other people think is important. You want someone to love something? Don’t assign it as homework.

[At right: the main image that stuck with me from the animated version I saw in fifth grade]

In sixth grade, The Hobbit was my DEAR book. Remember DEAR / SSR, U.S. readers of a certain age? I always picked a book I wasn’t especially dying to get to the end of for DEAR, because it only lasted for thirty minutes once a week and as a child I hated to get entranced by a story and then interrupted, especially in school, where I didn’t like having my concentration jarred. I kept books I was really hooked on in my backpack, because I was reading them every spare second, and wanted them quick at hand wherever I was. In contrast, a DEAR book had to be always, reliably, in the same place — a role played for me by books that I didn’t care about much. And I already knew the story from the film, the previous year. As a DEAR book, The Hobbit lasted me most of sixth grade, although I still understood and knew that it was a classic.

I didn’t remember Thorin Oakenshield in specific at all.

The physicist gave me his copies of LOTR to read when I had flu once in grad school. I still knew they were classics. I didn’t finish them but somehow the books stayed with me after our breakup and got stored in the part of my library that wasn’t stolen while I was in Germany. I didn’t look at them again, but a student of mine invited me to go see the first LOTR film in 2001, when it premiered, as a consequence of which I finally finished reading the books during a truly memorable case of flu in January 2002. I attribute my return to the books not just to Peter Jackson’s vision, but also to having been trapped in bed.

When Armitage was cast as Thorin, I bought a paperback copy of the work. Which I reread quickly and then lost. Then I bought a copy of The Annotated Hobbit. Which I put into a box when I moved my books in June 2011 that doesn’t seem to have come with me here. Then I bought an e-copy while writing this post. Which I seem to have inadvertently deleted. And I didn’t think to bring my childhood copy here with me, either.

There’s a pattern there.

I admit that I found even writing this section sluggish work.

I apologize.


III. An Unexpected Journey — Getting Started

Hopefully this will wake you up!

Roughly the same real estate as above,  but on Guy of Gisborne’s face. Richard Armitage as Guy, from Robin Hood 3.10. My edit of my cap.

The other week we were discussing whether we’d have noticed Armitage as Guy of Gisborne if he hadn’t been so beautiful. This isn’t really my question, because Guy wasn’t my first. He was my second, and though other factors were in play, I came to him specifically because of Richard Armitage. But even for people for whom Guy was the first, I have argued, the beauty vs talent question should be seen as a false dilemma. I can’t really apply this question to the Thorin data, either, because I wouldn’t have been looking at the output of the publicity machine for The Hobbit with anything like the awareness I am now had it not been for Armitage. (I suppose in that sense the The Hobbit publicity machine got something good from casting such a beautiful actor — people were definitely looking at him who might otherwise not have been interested, and that probably includes me.)


I have to concede that against my usual inclinations, initially my interest in Thorin was very heavily a look question for me, as tracing my growing interest in the role by paging through the blog reveals. I find this embarrassing, as I was initially extremely hostile to what I saw as a stupid debate over Armitage’s good looks as an obstacle to his performance, to the point of writing the only post I ever retracted. So yeah — I probably felt not only targeted — but culpable in that sense. Frustration even lent itself to persiflage a few weeks later. (That post, I think, is one of the funnier things I’ve written. I can still laugh while reading it even now, which doesn’t happen that often.) Yes: Armitage cantansthe voice got me above all else when I saw the trailer. But tracing back my posts on the topic, I found myself attracted first to the beard and hair, and then eventually found myself succumbing to dwarf desire.

That’s important. Thorin looks good. It’s not just the beard question, though I am partial, but also that burning energy in the eyes, and I’ve put that into the header because it does look good, but also to remind myself of something else. The eyes are going to be shorthand for another story — and the one that I want to remember throughout this year of transition. And yet it’s definitely not the whole story.

Is it ever the whole story? My head hurts.

I wouldn’t tell the story this way if it hadn’t been for exposure to Jung, but there it is. This is a synchronicity story.


To part two.

~ by Servetus on September 2, 2012.

50 Responses to “Cathecting to Oakenshield? or, a not-so-brief etiology of Thorinmania — ONE”

  1. That Thorin has something, doesn’t he? I love his whole look. Love his singing voice. That air of gravitas. Alpha dwarf. Am looking forward to seeing him on the screen, even if dear Sir Guy is not.

  2. Interesting. I read TH and LOTR fairly early and wasn’t impressed; there were other books, other writers, I liked much better. I read voraciously, and still started three times before I waded through them. Yet I take one look at Thorin and his journey matters to me. The eyes — yes, they are compelling.

  3. Nice job, Servetus! This is an excellent interior road-map: Thornton, Gisborne, North, Porter, Oakenshield.

    Thanks for including the link on synchronicity: I’d forgotten about Jung’s collaboration with physicist Wolfgang Pauli and his work interpreting many of Pauli’s dreams after … wait for it …. Pauli suffered a mental breakdown.

    Interestingly, on my last trip Stateside, I pulled “An Introduction to Quantum Physics” (French & Taylor) from the shelves of my home office and stuffed it into my Swissgear backpack just as I was leaving for the airport. I did wonder how you were going to hit quantum mechanics in your blog, but as usual, I am not disappointed. 😉

    • I dated a theoretical physicist for almost five years, and I think about that stuff *a lot* but I feel like I don’t understand it well enough to incorporate it here. Looking at it from Jung’s perspective makes it feel manageable.

  4. I’m not a Hobbit fan and am expecting I’ll have to make myself sit through the movie. But this weekend I went to see The Odd Life of Timothy Green (which is an endearing little movie and was actually filmed where I live) and got to see The Hobbit trailer on the big screen. It was thrilling to say the least, but it also confirmed what I knew all along — that RA would be able to completely transform himself. When you look at the screen you don’t see Richard Armitage – you see Thorin.

    • That movie looks cute, although I have to admit that the ads I have seen are so treacly that I’m a bit turned off.

      I’d have said exactly the same thing two years ago — this isn’t going to be a film for me.

      • I wouldn’t normally see that type of movie, but it was a treat for my daughter. What amazed me was seeing the scenery from my hometown. I didn’t realize parts of it were filmed here until I saw the scenes on the screen.
        Re the Hobbit book: some of my friends recommended I read it when I was a teen, but I was more into Merlin and preferred The Crystal Cave.

        • I enjoyed The Crystal Cave as well although I felt even at the time like it was a different sort of thing than Tolkien.

        • Oooh!! I remember reading The Crystal Cave and the Dark is Rising Series! Interestingly, both penned by female authors.

          I must have missed the pocket of years when the Hobbit was taught and shown in schools as we had no such film viewings in our school. 😦

          However, we had PLENTY of ‘Free to Be You and ME!’ and seemed made to watch this every year (to make sure we wouldn’t forget this slogan!?). 😀

          I’m just noticing what a stellar cast this included, but these are the images attached to my childhood education. I guess this is why I am this way. 😉

          • When the Dark Comes Rising, six will turn it back, three from the circle, three from the track …

            yeah, that’s permanently in memory, esp that book and the Greenwitch. Male protagonist for Dark Comes Rising. I read those dozens of times.

            One thing I remember from three different reading books in elementary is “Rikki Tikki Tavi”. My mother also made me memorize “If you can keep your head while all about you …” and so I had a PhD and had been working in the profession for four years before I came back to Kipling (despite the ubiquity of “White Man’s Burden” in pedagogical document collections)

  5. Glad to hear that Thorin is beginning to appeal to you, Servetus! So what themes does Thorin represent for you? Or won’t you know until you’ve seen all three movies?
    Funny thing is, I could take or leave the whole LOTR/Hobbit world until I heard that RA would be playing Thorin. I just trusted that Thorin would be a fascinating character because RA would be playing him. Also, the exercise of writing a fanfic about Thorin has helped to bring him to life in my imagination (not that I had any idea what I was getting into, when I started down that path!)
    To me, Thorin represents the idea that you don’t have to do everything yourself. You don’t have to save the world single-handedly, like James Bond. Some tasks are too big. You give it everything you’ve got, but if someone else has to carry the torch to the finish line, you did enough. It’s not necessary to be entirely good–all that’s required is to be good enough. So to me, Thorin is still a hero.
    In my mind, anyway, that’s how it works. 🙂

    • I started to try to answer this in the next post. Part of the problem is right now I only mostly have the image of Armitage as Thorin in my mind, not the book or the films — those will have to come next, assuming Armitagemania continues.

  6. MTA: The way I see it, Thorin is his own harshest critic. He blames himself constantly for not being a good enough leader, and so discounts even the good that he does accomplish because he’s so focused on his shortcomings. So I really feel for him.

    • that’s ominous.

      • That’s how I interpret RA’s comment that Thorin is “paranoid.” It’s insecurity about his leadership ability, born of his feelings of inadequacy, which he then covers up with bluster, inflexibility and an attitude of enormous importance. Really, down deep, I think he cares a lot and means well. But he’s bitten off more than he can chew. And then at the end, he wishes he could have just relaxed and enjoyed food and song and all that, but he never even knew how.

        • But I’m not trying to be ominous! It’s how I see Thorin as a result of imagining him for my own story. I’m not directing this at you, Servetus. I don’t want to make you feel bad.

          • It was just another instance of synchronicity. You had no way of knowing this, but at the same time you wrote that comment, approximately, I was talking to some friends who were trying to help me with a problem, and they said something along the same lines as a description of me — and they both agreed.

        • Yes.

        • Yes, in a sense, Thorin has Hamlet’s problem, a burden placed on him by a dead paternal figure and an impossibly heroic model to emulate. He cannot help but be insecure, overly responsible, uncertain of his abilities, without any chance of a “normal” life. (Adult child of an alcoholic, anyone?) Because many of us suffer from variations on the theme, that is why we find ourselves drawn to such troubled heroes.

    • Woah. This observation is genius. Thanks for tossing it into the ring.

      • If I hadn’t been spending so much time talking to you lately, I’d have shrugged this off. You must be grinning from ear to ear. 🙂

        • To be honest – I was FLOORED when I read this. It was just too convenient. Too damned perfect. I almost thought, ‘Did Servetus PAY saraLee to write this?’

          When you named the Top 5 Armitage characters above – my first thought was, ‘Huh. Too bad I’ve only seen Armitage as Thornton.’ But I could still follow the breadcrumbs you laid out for the remaining characters: humiliation, trauma, redemption… until I got to Thorin.
          What issue could a displaced dwarf have in common with Servetus?

          So when I read saralee’s comment, all I could think was ‘WOW’. Ask and you shall receive. And based on the timing, it is indeed some serious synchronicity in action. 😉

          • maybe it’s another possibility / window open to changing the story pattern. I’ve been through it with Thornton.

            • Wow. You are an EXCELLENT student, Servetus!! 😀

              • You think I am not listening, but really I didn’t get this far in life by ignoring everything that has been said to me. I just uptake it at my own speed. 🙂

                • If I didn’t think you were listening, would I be sharing so many stories? I was just impressed you jumped from Thornton to Thorin, bypassing all those characters I’d never seen in between! 🙂

                  It must be the great alliteration between Thornton and Thorin. 😉

                  • You’ve gotten me to think about my life more in terms of a science fiction novel where I am the hero as opposed to a morality play where I get booed off the stage. It’s been helpful, to put it mildly.

                    Concretely — it’s a problem that I can’t write cogently (and thus feel able to publish) about the journey at anywhere near the pace that it’s happening. I mean, I can either journey or write about it. I think I could make the case to you why that journey happened that way if I had — three more years? I have so many drafts, fragments, notes, titles, ideas — and I think I’m only going to get to a fraction of it before the blog stops accommodating what’s happening in my life. Part of it is deciding what’s important. Part of it is that it’s me + richard armitage so I also want to write about him. (I know it’s not about Armitage for you, but that is still important to me and not entirely incidental.) Part of it is that I’m also learning other skills by doing this — and they sometimes get foregrounded. And part of it is that I sometimes have big flashes of insight that are too painful to write about so I mark them but they don’t get put here.

                    • You can blame Jung and Joseph Campbell. Damned Hero’s Journey mythologists. 😉

                      Hopefully, you’ve discovered a theory to answer the original question of ‘Why Richard Armitage?’ that launched this blog.

                      And Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity wasn’t experimentally confirmed for over 30 years, so you shouldn’t rush either. 😉

                      This blog IS about you + richard armitage so an answer to the original question doesn’t eliminate the need for new and equally true answers like, ‘Because it’s FUN and makes you GLAD to be alive.’ 😀

                    • yeah — a sort of coherent answer hit me in the form of a few pieces finally fitting together around the end of June. I think my unconscious was afraid the world was ending. That’s the end of the blog, though, if I write that stuff; there’s also the question of making plausible to myself and the reader while that’s the answer, which is going to take some work; and on some level I’ll be doing something equivalent to what Armitage did to Lucas via Bateman in S9 of Spooks if I put it here — the equivalent of jettisoning an entire person — to realize it. So if I stick with the blog as a means of discussing it I may be here for awhile.

                      The other problem is the impending wave of Hobbit stuff. There’s no time to think a coherent thought already.

  7. […] back. Continued from HERE, where I was discussing the fact that Thorin may have made the Big Four into the Big Five. Below […]

  8. […] ONE and Part TWO of my journey towards cathexis to Thorin Oakenshield. This is the end, I promise, at […]

  9. I think one of the reasons i enjoy this blog so much is that i can so often closely relate to what you say. And although i think you are a little further along in the cathexis process than i am, i find much to agree with in this post. I found TH tedious at school, i haven’t seen any of the LOTR and i didn’t much care for what Peter Jackson did with one of my favourite books – The Lovely Bones. Even so, i knew from the moment RA’s role was announced, that this was a turning point in my favourite actors career. I jogged along for some time in a state of indifference (and occasional mild annoyance at the resulting RA drought), found myself becoming oddly attracted to the beard, swooned a bit when the trailer was released (yes – it was the voice that did it) and then almost hyperventilated with excitement at Comic Con. Was i taken in by the PR? Probably. In addition to RA, i have a soft spot for both Martin Freeman and Ian McKellan and every vlog i saw persuaded me that Peter Jackson is, in fact, a thoroughly decent, likeable and intelligent bloke who should be forgiven for The Lovely Bones. I doubt i would have taken any interest in TH if RA hadn’t been involved but now i find myself fervently hoping the films are as good as they look – not only for RA but for everyone who has invested their time and energy into them. And i have absolutely no doubt i will develop just a little crush on Thorin in time.

    • I think one thing the marketing for these films has done very successfully is to make us as spectators feel like we’re part of the time, too — almost as if those people in NZ needed our prayers and support and cheerleading. That also probably plays a role in my growing attraction to the film. Their message all along has been, we want your interest. (And yes, I know, they also covet my money!)

      Flipping through the book again this morning (bought another ecopy), I think one problem for me is how little of the interior lives of the characters are shown with the possible exception of Bilbo. It really is a children’s book in that sense. An adventure tale, a fairy story.

  10. […] Part One she shares her conflicting thoughts on the character, Part Two offers thoughts on the figure,  Part […]

  11. […] what gets me interested in Thorin despite my initial disinclination? Beauty. Sufficient beauty to let me tolerate painful thoughts. Or maybe it’s frightening […]

  12. […] have no idea (I’m still so unbelievably ignorant about The Hobbit) whether I put those pieces in order, but they are all scenes from the initial part of The Hobbit, […]

  13. […] an important factor, still. Sticking with Armitage forced me to change an entire history of interests, to look closely at stuff I had ignored, and to question the intensifying but challenging […]

  14. […] lot of the Armitage stuff that appeared. OK, OK. Despite my reservations, I especially liked the WETA workshop Thorin figure and still […]

  15. […] – totally unanticipated identification with Thorin Oakenshield that had been building since March but emerged toward the end of August in conjunction with a […]

  16. […] But I don’t know the Batman story beyond extreme superficiality. I know much less about Batman than I did about Thorin, and look how that worked out. […]

  17. […] I dress up as Thorin? For me, the question is best rephrased as, why would I identify with Thorin? Some of these identifications are highly individual — and if you read this blog through 2012-13 you know that I found the whole question of […]

  18. […] were on, certainly. I think I’ve become so involved in their fates myself, even beyond my identifications with Thorin Oakenshield as a character, that I’ve become very sensitive to their homelessness, their ragtag quality, but also to […]

  19. […] dwarves were on, certainly. I think I’ve become so involved in their fates myself, even beyond my identifications with Thorin Oakenshield as a character, that I’ve become very sensitive to their homelessness, their ragtag quality, but also to their […]

  20. […] humiliation, status and hierarchy; John Porter, with his need to rewrite his story at all costs; Thorin Oakenshield, and the search to regain something and his death in the attempt; Proctor and his wrestling with issues that I’ve spent a lot of […]

  21. […] of Mr. Thornton was there to address my vocational issues. Over the years, Armitage took roles, often archetypal ones, that addressed fundamental problems or questions of mine, over and over, in ways that made me wonder what pattern I was caught up in, watching him. And […]

  22. […] on how those images were designed and how Tolkien felt about them. It caught my attention because these are the editions of the books I own — my mom bought me The Hobbit at a rummage sale sometime in the 1970s and I got the LOTR […]

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