Playing Thorin, or: Pitfalls and rewards of taking on an iconic Tolkien character, part 2 [guest post by KatharineD]

[Second part of the discussion of TORn / Tolkien fan reactions to Richard Armitage’s casting as Thorin Oakenshield, picking up the story in 2011 and contributed by guest poster KatharineD — Serv.]

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pledge-drive-logo-200x200If you appreciate the work of TORn — an all-volunteer group that has brought us several pieces of intriguing Richard Armitage material, including interviews — why not support their fundraiser? They have auctions for LOTR / Hobbit memorabilia running at eBay, OR you can donate (they have bling to share).

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PressConf-05a[Right: Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner, Wellington press conference, February 2011. Source.]

Suspicion on TORn remained strong as “dwarf boot camp” began at the beginning of 2011. However, a change became apparent. A TORn reporter at the first joint press conference in February, 2011, noted that Richard spoke little but had “a notably deep voice, exactly right for Thorin, and real gravitas.” When a video of the event went online, it was clearly most Ringers’ first look at Richard as himself, and his voice won great approval, as well as his “kingly demeanour.” His anecdote about his role in a production of The Hobbit in his youth was the first glimpse of RA as a fan of Tolkien in his own right. This information was remarked on constantly over time as more lengthy interviews began to appear — “Hey guys, he’s one of us.” High praise, indeed.

Hobbit-PreProduction17[Left: Richard Armitage: Hobbit preproduction vlog #1. Source.]

Many Ringers started to thaw out around this time and decided to give RA the benefit of the doubt. That press conference also clearly showed that the dwarves were bonding well as a company and had established a great rapport, a perception that lent balm to the weary souls who’d waited so long for the filming to begin. The camaraderie among the cast portended well for a happy, successful film shoot. When the first production vlog came out in April, 2011, RA was roundly lauded for learning Maori expressions to make his speech, and Tolkien fans basked in the first glimpses of their beloved Middle Earth.

In an interview for Project magazine in July, 2011, RA expressed how thrilled he was to be taking on Thorin, and it was obvious to Ringers that he didn’t see this as just another job. They were looking for signs that he was taking it seriously, and his dedication came through loud and clear. To quote a comment on the boards, “even if you disagree with the casting, you gotta love this man’s enthusiasm for the project.”

5-Thorin-FirstPic[Right: First reveal of Richard Armitage as Thorin. Source.]

On July 17th, TORn got the world-wide exclusive first photo reveal of Thorin. He made quite an impact — the costume and sword were very well received, as well as his fierce look, but those who saw a long grey beard as non-negotiable were nonplussed. I’ve come to understand that beards are a thorny issue in Tolkien’s world. Get it wrong at your peril. Many Ringers were only appeased later on, when Richard mentioned (in the Official Movie Guide) his own headcanon for his lack of a long beard — as a mark of respect for the indignity his father and grandfather suffering in having their beards singed by Smaug.

December, 2011, saw the first trailer release, with the delightful reveal of Thorin leading the company in song. An instant thumbs up all round came from Ringers for the fireside scene. Now that a clear look at Thorin action was possible, however, two distinct camps emerged. One was beyond delighted at the prospect of a “heartthrob,” majestic, virile dwarf on their movie screens; the second lamented the so-called Hollywood need to pander to audiences with a younger, good-looking version of Thorin.

In February, 2012, a year after Tolkien fans had had their first longer exposure to Armitage, a brave soul started a thread, “What’s Everyone’s Take On Armitage’s Thorin Now?” The majority of replies were positive, even from those who would have liked to have seen an older actor play the character. RA continued to impress Ringers with his insightful interviews (especially the in-depth sit down with Collider in October) right up to the premiere in late November 2012. One commentator wrote: “It has become a real pleasure to read or listen to this actor” and another remarked, “Armitage seems much more earnest and intellectually driven in his interviews than most other actors I know of. He must have been an absolute joy to work with.” It was clear that Armitage had read Tolkien widely and had researched tirelessly in preparing “his” Thorin.

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HobbitAUJ-567Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), after the escape from the goblins, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Source.

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Now came the real test: the performance itself. Tolkien fans are one of the hardest audiences on the planet to satisfy. Every deviation from the source ran the risk of being considered an outright travesty. Ian McKellen, reprising his much-loved earlier performances as Gandalf in the LOTR films, had nothing to prove to anybody. Fans considered Martin Freeman so perfectly cast as Bilbo that his characterization would have had to have gone badly astray to be thought of as a failure. In contrast, RA had it all to prove, and he arguably had the most to lose or gain out of all the cast. In the plaintive words of one TORn poster: “Please, Mr Armitage, don’t mess it up!”

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HobbitAUJ-447Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), learning from Elrond about Orcrist’s origins, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Source.

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As the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey rolled out around the world, reviews started to pour in to TORn. Naturally, everyone had an opinion. Many were very pleasantly surprised by how layered an individual Thorin had become on Richard Armitage’s watch. This dwarf was a far more fully realized character than they had found in the pages of Tolkien’s book. Whole discussion threads examined Thorin’s hair and glorious, majestic aura (which tended to be a female conversation, with the menfolk gently mocking from the sidelines).

Even then, however, a couple of very vocal Ringers proclaimed RA’s performance as “one-note” and “wooden,” much to the disbelief of those who gloried in every emotion that poured from Thorin’s expressive eyes. In quite an interesting discussion on the nature of “good” acting, some argued that one person’s “wooden” was another’s beautifully understated interpretation of a character. Others preferred bigger gestures to telegraph moods and emotions.

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HobbitAUJ-602Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) turns to face his foe, Azog, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Source.

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Some commentators felt the choice of an actor who portrayed a visually “younger” Thorin (through no fault of RA’s) missed an opportunity to show a dynamic, older protagonist on screen. These fans expressed dismay once again that Hollywood always skews performers young to draw sympathy from the audience. Some disliked Thorin’s epic charge out of the burning tree, calling it a “Braveheart” moment, and a number found the Thorin/Bilbo hug at the end a clichéd set piece. These were as much or more criticisms of the film than they were of Armitage.

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HobbitAUJ-678Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) embraces a somewhat stunned Bilbo (Martin Freeman) at the conclusion of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Source.

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Overall, however, many Tolkien fans at TORN felt RA gave a truly surprising performance — not one that necessarily reflected how they originally envisaged Thorin to be, but nonetheless a performance of great nuance and complexity. His Thorin went beyond the stubborn, cantankerous dwarf Tolkien had described, and offered viewers a relatable character to cheer for (at least at this point in the story)!

Some pertinent quotes from various Ringers:

“The story he conveys with just his eyes is amazing, and not easy for an actor to do. He may not be old, but his expression is very ‘old’.”

“He added depth, pathos and stormy vibrancy to a thin (comparatively) book character.”

“I love Thorin’s intensity, his voice…Its a great characterisation of a figure in the book that was (for me) an indistinct cardboard cutout.”

“Armitage lets us see Thorin thinking and processing, not just his irritation and imperiousness.”

“I never had much feeling about Thorin in the book, so to have this complex, multidimensional dwarf come to life on screen was the shock of my film life.”

“I knew nothing about him before I sat down to watch AUJ … and he just totally blew me away.”

“An actor who acts quietly with every part of himself.”

As these comments demonstrate, RA won over the vast majority of his detractors through a combination of acting ability, thorough preparation for the role, and his own quiet determination to do the part justice.

Few fandoms exert the reach and influence of Tolkien fans, among whom expectations run incredibly high. Woe betide anyone who tampers injudiciously with the rarefied world of Middle Earth. The reaction to RA’s decision to take on the role of Thorin Oakenshield and the potential for distrust among fans of the character can be most closely compared to the potential for riling up Whovians via the casting of Peter Capaldi as the twelfth doctor on Doctor Who, or even more recently, the vehemently negative responses to Ben Affleck’s myriad perceived shortcomings as the new incarnation of Batman. Although Richard wasn’t fighting off a previous screen version of his character, he had to encounter and speak to the vivid imaginations of untold Tolkien lovers all round the world, whose devotion stretches back as long as 75 years.

All of us, however — Armitage fans and Ringers alike — await the continuation of RA’s memorable portrayal of the complex, regal Thorin, which will unfold a great deal more of his story in the two films that await us.

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Now I want to ask everyone who’s been around for the duration:

Were you aware of the TORn reactions to RA? How did you feel? Frustrated/ angry/smug/bemused?

Did you read the TORn message boards or stay well away?

Were you concerned that RA might not be able to pull off Thorin, even if only in the eyes of Tolkien fans?

Would it have altered your impressions or enjoyment of his performance if the majority of Ringers had spoken out and given it the ‘thumbs down’?

Comments are, of course, encouraged from any and all readers, not just old-timers!

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[In October, 2013, KatharineD wrote a postscript to this piece, published here. –Serv]

~ by Servetus on August 29, 2013.

79 Responses to “Playing Thorin, or: Pitfalls and rewards of taking on an iconic Tolkien character, part 2 [guest post by KatharineD]”

  1. […] [For the rest of the story, picking up the narrative in February 2011, see part 2.] […]

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  2. Richard deu beleza e um olhar doce ao coração machucado de Thorin… Perfeito!

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  3. I already answered most of the questions in my comment to Part 1 — but I will add that I stayed and still stay well away from any TORn thread that seems critical of RA’s Thorin.
    I never doubted for a moment that Richard’s performance would be fantastic. All of his previous roles have offered opportunities for him to show exactly the qualities that Thorin would have to portray. Nobody could have convinced me otherwise!

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    • Well, I will say, there’s a great deal of love for RA over on the boards recently if you want to ignore all the early stuff. Some of its every bit as glowing and praising as you’ld find on an RA blog such as this- kind of like an RA Army outpost, if you like! RA said himself that he felt all his other roles fed into to Thorin, didn’t he?

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  4. “An actor who acts quietly with every part of himself.” I LOVE that description! I didn’t become a fan until after The Hobbit had been released, so I’m finding all of this backstory very interesting. thanks for a lovely article 🙂

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    • It was gratifying to read all the different ways RA’s performance was perceived- there were many more quotes I could’ve added, but I wanted to show that audiences did indeed pick up on the small gestures and expressions. Richard would be pleased I’m sure, in the same way he noted that his performance as John Thornton was properly understood by his fans right from the start. Thanks for the comment.

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    • The same hold for me. Thanks for the story, and I would say to people saying his acting was wooden, that, as RA himself pointed out, they only have eyes and mouth for acting. Even their hands were covered with prosthetic, not many chances of using them to act (and we know how well RA acts with his hands). So yes, “An actor who acts quietly with every part of himself.” perfectly describes RA/Thorin in TH.

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      • I can just imagine how hamstrung he felt not being able to use his hands in a delicate way as he’s described, since its a part of him we’re always drawn to on screen.

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  5. K-As with everyone’s blog we all have the right to our opinion. I most assuredly loved this blog. I used to be an avid fan of TORn. Not so much anymore. Although they do get a lot of first hand and good information, I find they tend toward the Hertz attitude and everyone else is Avis…I’ll take Avis…thanks, they try harder and are much friendlier and willing to listen to the odd opinion. Remember the reason Howard Johnson invented chocolae ice cream is not everyone liked vanilla.

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    • It certainly can get heated over there- all those strong opinions butting up against each other. It all matters so terribly much- this is Tolkien, after all. In the course of my reading I was constantly astounded by the small details that were considered absolutely essential to the telling of TH. There are still a great many lingering resentments dating back to LOTR days, so I’m sure TH trilogy will provide fodder for discussion for many years to come.

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  6. First of all, thank you KatherineD for a very interesting article. I came from the RA fandom and had never come across TORn until Armitage was cast as Thorin. Personally I never had any doubt that RA would be a triumph as Thorin but I could understand some of the Ringers concerns. It is always stressful when a well beloved book is brought to the screen as the potential for ruin will always be present. And for those who had imagined Thorin as old with a long flowing beard RA ( and especially that head shot) must have come as a shock.

    A large body of fans will inevitably bring their own personalities – it sounds like there were the Ringers who were open and comfortable enough to have faith in PJ’s vision, there were those who expressed disquiet but were able to alter their view ( I loved the story of the fan who vehemently opposed RA and then reported back that they could find no reference to Thorins age in the book – good for them for being honest) and then there were those who were so concrete they were never ever going to be happy with RA’s performance. It’s a shame they feel the need to continue to justify their bias with unkind and unfair comments but that is more about their psyches than RA’s performance.

    Having seen the film, I cannot imagine that the older actors mentioned could have coped with the physicality of the roles. Brian Blessed is a wonderful actor but I strongly doubt he could have run up and down every mountain in NZ as RA did. I’m not sure there are many 70 year olds who could. I wondered how McKellan kept up and his role was not nearly as physical as RA’s.

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    • Thanks for the detailed comment, Bollyknickers. Ringers cover most demographics, I would say, perhaps at the well-educated end of the spectrum, so there’s plenty of scope for differing points of view. Some people are fairly easily swayed to another point of view, while others stick steadfastly to what they believe.
      I think in this case, matters were complicated by the fact that TH followed on from LOTR trilogy. You had Tolkienites who were now broken down into sub-sections : fans who thought PJ was God and could do no wrong; fans who thought PJ wasn’t quite to be trusted to get things right; fans who wanted del Toro to direct a slightly different vision of Middle Earth. Into all that stepped Richard Armitage….
      You mention the fan who was vehemently opposed to RA- he was very eloquent in his disapproval, let me tell you. Turns out he was a young man the same age as my older son who is also something of a diehard- so it’s certainly not just the generations who’ve been exposed to the book the longest who hold somewhat intransigent points of view. In fact my son is fairly benign on the subject, but still maintains RA’s Thorin was too young.

      As to older actors like Ian McKellen, I think they probably made judicious use of stunt doubles.

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  7. To answer your questions: I was aware of some of the TORN reaction to RA, I was not entirely surprised, a bit sad, but hoped RA and PJ would change minds, I rarely read the message boards, but I have on occasion, I do visit the TORN website regularly. I was never concerned RA wouldn’t pull off Thorin, I had no doubt of his ability as an actor, or his screen presence. It would not have altered by experience at all if the Ringers had given RA a thumbs down for Thorin. I would have been concerned about the success of the film if that had happened, and the effect on RA’s career, but wouldn’t have affected my enjoyment of his Thorin. I would have been sad for RA, since he is a Tolkien fan himself if the reaction had been primarily negative from the fans. But he won the day!

    I make my own judgement regardless of what anyone says, pro or con. I know from LOTR days some Ringers will never be happy with all the cast, or with the films if they don’t follow the books 100%. They have a right to their opinion. We can agree to disagree.

    I believe, as you point out, that they have a great respect for RA now as a fellow Tolkien fan. I also think the good opinion of RA from several TORN staffers that had met him also had an influence on fans before the premiere of the film.

    Thanks for a great part 2. Enjoyed reading very much.

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    • Thanks for commenting on both parts. It would be nice if RA did read some of the great comments from Ringers on his performance, because that would surely be more meaningful to him coming from knowledgeable fans rather than film critics- especially if he knew exactly what was said about him in the beginning.
      I didn’t mean to imply, by the way, that anyone’s approval of RA’s performance should depend on the good graces of the TORn members, I just wanted to throw a few ideas out there for discussion.
      It’s just occurred to me that Game Of Thrones might be a suitable comparison on the topic of well-loved books being put on film. If anyone has knowledge of fan discussions over there I’d be interested to know. I know Sean Bean was a fan favourite for Ned Stark before casting went ahead.
      RA definitely won respect as a Tolkien fan himself, and he did it without shouting it from the roof tops. He just quietly went about his business talking about the book and his character, and the knowledge and passion just shone through.
      The interviews with Greendragon from TORn were fantastic- lots of female love on the boards for those ones!

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      • Hi KatharineD – I also watch Game of Thrones and have read all the books. You are right to suspect that not everyone in that fandom likes the TV adaption. Elio from Westeros, one of the biggest fan sites for the books and now the TV show certainly does not and is very open about it, here’s a link if you’re curious: http://www.westeros.org/GoT/Features/Entry/Reviewing_Season_3_Part_1

        But again, I do go to the fansites once in a while, but I have my own opinion of GoT, some changes from the books I like, some I accept as inevitable, and some frankly I don’t like. As a fan of Sean Bean’s also, that’s how I got involved in watching GoT and reading the books. Yes, Sean Bean was a favorite for Ned, but not a favorite of everyone.

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        • Thanks for the link but I can’t watch it- I haven’t seen season 3 yet! I did get spoiled for the rough outline of what happens in ‘Red Wedding’ unfortunately, but that’s all I know.
          I discovered Sean in LOTR and will be forever grateful for discovering his Sharpe series- oh boy, I love him in that.

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  8. I so enjoyed this duet of articles! I watched AUJ not knowing who RA was. I just knew that I felt an UA, an Unexpected Attraction to a Dwarf, lol. But I was busy with Christmas and never investigated the casting of AUJ. It wasn’t until I randomly chose to watch North & South in Feb (I think) that my attraction made sense to me.

    All that to say, I was completely unaware of the flap about the casting. I am a Tolkien Fan Light, loved the LOTR Trilogy movies and read them only after seeing the first of the movies because I couldn’t wait 3 years to find out what happened. I had read the Hobbit when I was a child and seen the cartoon version but not really thought much about it since. As I said, Tolkien Fan Light…

    I just know I enjoyed The Hobbit thoroughly, and regret not seeing it in 3D or at the higher film rate. I am now a 45 year old mother of two with a huge crush on RA who can hardly wait for the final two installments. I have even passed my love of The Hobbit on to my 7 & 9 year old girls.

    Thank you again for 2 very enjoyable posts!

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    • Glad you enjoyed reading, Micinlia. Now you see your reaction is exactly what some of the Ringers were dreading- one is emphatically NOT meant to find dwarves attractive – mind you, there are plenty of people over on TORn who feel the same way you do, and found the courage to say so. As someone said, ‘where does it say dwarves HAVE to be ugly?’

      I’d definitely recommend 3D 48fps for your next viewing- I saw it in 2D first because I wasn’t sure I’d like the new format, but I loved it, even with 2 pairs of glasses perched on my nose!

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  9. Thank you for your interesting posts KatharineD. Somehow I had missed the first part and have gone back to read that too.
    I remember feeling so excited for him that he had won the role. I never for one moment doubted that he would nail it, that he would bring the same depth to Thorin that he had brought to his previous chaRActers.
    I will be forever grateful that Peter Jackson recognised it too, and very proud that Richard has won over so many Tolkien fans with his performance and knowledge of Middle Earth.

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    • Hi Mezz- how are you? I’ll be in touch soon. Had you read the book before RA was cast? PJ must have known he was going to get flack for his decision, so good on him for going ahead anyway. I really don’t think he helped matters by saying early on that Thorin was going to be a heartthrob to rival Aragorn or Legolas! I guess that was an early sop to audiences who wanted to know why they should bother with a film about dwarves…

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  10. Here’s a perspective from someone who was not a Tolkien fan, had not seen the previous trilogy and only knew RA as a hottie. Don’t hate me please: I had my doubts whether his casting was successful. I read TH last summer while filming was almost over, and he was in my mind as the embodiment of the character. He made perfect sense to me, with all the vlogs and stills shots that I had seen of him as Thorin at that point. But then again – I was not laden down by expectations. My doubts referred to whether he’d be given the chance by the die-hard fans to inhabit the character. Despite not following the discussions on TORn, I imagined from my own experience with Tolkienites that they’d be very critical – and I was worried how a sensitive artist’s soul would react to that. From what I knew, he’d resist outside influence and insist on his own interpretation, based on his own intense reading of the available material, and thus create a credible interpretation of Thorin. But with the best of intentions and the most masterly of performances, the fans can still reject an interpretation, if they want to. And Armitage was aware of that (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/12/12/the-hobbit-richard-armitage-spooks-peter-jackson_n_2283938.html) Quite a burden to carry… Could be stunting.
    I think the publicity machine behind the films was very clever, though – they very carefully included RA in the vlogs, giving him opportunity to speak and display his knowledge of Tolkien. He was constantly backed up by PJ as the only possible embodiment of the role. And by acknowledging the criticism and modestly reaffirming it through the way he described his initial reaction (“why would they cast a 6’2″ bloke as a dwarf”), he basically beat the critics at their own game. I suspect there was some clever publicity strategist involved, too… (Sorry, very lengthy for an amateur…)
    Once again thanks for a brilliant insight. Thank you for the hard work, Katherine.

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    • Loved the lengthy comment, Guylty, and the article you linked. I honestly don’t think I’d read that one before- when I looked at the date, it must have come right in the midst of the media blitz. As if we’d ever forget, but that article was a great reminder of why we love RA- so endearingly honest, to the point where you want to yell ‘stop, you’re giving too much of yourself away’.
      Knowing that RA was very aware of negative reactions towards him, it would’ve been all so easy to second guess his performance and keep thinking ‘ what can I do to please the Tolkien fans?’ Good on him for acknowledging he could only ever be ‘his’ version of Thorin, whatever others might think.
      I think your situation may have been quite unusual if you read the book before the movie came out but after Thorin’s look had been revealed- you had the benefit of a VERY clear vision in your head.

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  11. Great work Katharine for putting this all together. I’d previously read the posts here on Richard Armitage’s casting as Thorin and the responses/reviews to the film itself, but not much from the LOtR camp.
    I was not a Tolkien fan (maybe even an anti-fan)and knew nothing about The Hobbit. I saved The Hobbit for one of my last Armitage works to see once i was hooked and wasn’t thrilled with it the first time.Six times later,I’ve changed my mind and as you can guess,just can’t wait for DOS.
    After reading this though, and especially re-reading the hopes and wishes for what Serv’s readers all felt that TH would do for Richard Armitage’s career, I feel the same anxiety that you and I have been talking about for the last few weeks.
    I will say that I don’t think that so far, TH and the notoriety has changed his fan attitude in any appreciable way – not so far,and I think not ever.
    This is a dscinnect but I think his performance during the interviews cycles made him more of a favorite than the role alone did.
    Nothing for Richard Armitage and his fans will ever be as it was when he was cast as Thorin because he is so much better known now. But one thing seems certain: he won over the Ringers and I think we communicate with many of them on this and other blogs. So win win all around.

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    • I haven’t been around for the duration, so to speak, but I have to completely agree with Perry..It’s the real Mr. Armitage..that makes you believe, that makes you think that there are real, thoughtful, goofy, wonderful actors out there that are interested in more than the newest supermodel, the latest club opening and the hottest sports car. It’s not a lifestyle for him it’s a (oh gads, here I go) calling..

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    • Perry, I’d love to read more about your thoughts on TH- what made it better for you on subsequent viewings? Did you enjoy the movie overall, or just RA’s part in it? There’s a blog post just waiting to be written! I think you’re the only person I’m aware of who came to RA post Hobbit, which gives you a unique perspective on the whole thing. I’m presuming you haven’t even seen it at the cinema (gasp!)- what a treat lies in store for you in December-RA on the big screen.
      If all our combined wishes could power up a new role for RA, we’d be happy little vegemites (Aussie expression alert!), wouldn’t we? The Ringers were predicting big things for him post Hobbit as well, so it’s not just us.

      You’re right about his interviews, of course- he just has to be his normal, lovely self and everyone’s charmed. The Tolkien knowledge is the bonus on top.

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      • I ” haven’t’ seen it at the movies.

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      • I’m available for an interview on the subject. Do you have specific questions? I can describe what it was like reading the review and comments after Servetus’ first viewing in the theater?
        (remember when I told you your post about visiting Comicon contained a spoiler for me? Kili’s death?
        My second post ever drafted was a musing about whether I should read the Hobbit before DOS or not.

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        • An interview could be a good idea- let me get back to you on that. You know, your tv screen must be sick of the sight of RA by now, the amount of his stuff you’ve watched over the last what- 4 months? It’ll be running up a protest flag any day now. For a start, you’ve seen TH twice as many times as I have, and mine were all in the cinema! Do you keep a viewing log to keep track? Just kidding.

          Sorry about the inadvertent spoiler, by the way- gaaaah! Did you read the book?- best get that sorted before movie 3…..

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          • Whether I read the book will be part of the post or interview. There were some spoilers that I couldn’t avoid. After a while I decided not to worry about them.
            I now have some DVDs I didn’t have before, so I have access to more work. I watch Impressionists,Sparkhouse and Marie Lloyd on Youtube, but will get those on DVD eventually.

            I keep Spooks and Robin Hood on as background music.

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          • Re: Interview- I guess it’s a lazy way out for me- but it could be on Me and Richard to continue your piece, since you are a guest there on a regular basis. Up to you and Serv. See my email

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      • Re. your comment: ” I think you’re the only person I’m aware of who came to RA post Hobbit, which gives you a unique perspective on the whole thing” – Chiming in here – there are far more post-Hobbit RA fans than you would suspect. I had never heard of RA before the Hobbit.
        I have been a Tolkien fan for many years, but with The Hobbit I was very late in viewing it, never followed its making, and when I watched it was totally swept away by Thorin – and all this in spite of facial prosthetics and the German voice of the dubbed version. After a second viewing and allowing for some time to let the experience sink in, I investigated this actor and am an admirer ever since.
        So Thorin was a very nice surprise. The book Thorin never made much impression on me, the rendering PJ and RA gave him is so much more impressive and powerful.
        And although I came to RA through The Hobbit, I don’t think it is the role where he can best show his acting abilities. I am very curious re. future roles.
        And btw, not only our article is very interesting but the comments also! I guess I have also been one of the naive people who thought that actors simply try to make a good impression in interviews for their own sake.

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  12. I have to say that I did as I did with LOTR actually. I heard some of the comments but simply avoided watching or reading anything concrete until the trailer came out. I loved the books but I knew that the movies and the books would not necessarily jive and so I kept my worries down and waited. When I saw the trailer for AUJ I was so pleased and I knew that Peter had done it once again and I was very happy with what I saw. RA was wonderful and I had no problems with any of the dwarves. The die hard Tolkien fans are very hard to please. Going back to try and read LOTR again I was jolted to realize how utterly different it felt and I have accepted that the movies and the books are separate and I love them both and I feel the same about the Hobbit book and the movies that are coming. I believe we are going to love these movies just as we did LOTR and RA is going to be remembered for being Thorin for a long time to come just as Viggo will always be remembered as Aragorn. Differences? Yes they are there but RA took a character that was not fully defined and he breathed a fuller life into it and maybe the age could have been more but I think Tolkien would be pleased, very pleased with the way RA performed.

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    • I think that’s the sensible approach, Peggy- enjoy them both equally but separately. I read a comment on the TORn board from someone pleading for the nitpicking to stop- as they said, it reduces something you love to nothing more than negative thoughts if you let it.

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  13. Thank you, Katharine, for your insightful articles. I visited the TORN website to see if they had more information about RA or the Hobbit movies in general,not to seek its opinion. I was a new fan of RA’s before AUJ (Strike Back) and couldn’t wait to see him as Thorin. I don’t recall a negative vibe about him on the website. I did wonder how the site generated interest between movies. Did Ringers only talk to each other? The other thing that struck me while reading your article was the different standards used to judge the Bilbo and Thorin choices. Freeman admitted to never having read any Tolkien but was hailed as a brilliant choice for Bilbo. Ringers didn’t care that he didn’t know a thing about Middle Earth. However, your article pointed out that RA’s familiarity with Tolkien helped Ringers accept him in the role. The inconsistency is frustrating. I would prefer all actors be judged by what is on the screen, not their knowledge of the background material, no matter how revered. But I am gratified that in the end, most Ringers seemed pleased with RA’s Thorin He deserves it.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Kathy. TORn is a great website, and no, you wouldn’t have picked up anything negative on the news pages, it’s the forums that are open to different viewpoints. The website’s not just about the movies, although they’ve aways been a good source of info for latest news on all actors from LOTR and TH. As far as the forums are concerned, Ringers will never run out of things to say about Tolkien, believe me.

      I think the difference between Freeman and RA was that MF was a popular choice and quite well-known already as a decent actor, so he, rightly or wrongly, didn’t have anything to prove ahead of time- for him it was just about turning in a credible performance at the cinema. RA was behind the eight ball from the beginning (most Americans wouldnt have even known his name, let alone his previous work) and had to work extra hard to keep up. His knowledge of Tolkien certainly softened people up, but if he’d been bad in the role that would’ve counted for nothing. The whole issue was very emotive from the start.

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  14. I’ve been a fan for almost four years now. Ecstatic when I first heard he’d been cast in such a hugely popular project.
    Certain C19 members kept the forum well-informed of TORn reactions along the way. So I knew that there were originally lots of doubters. But I forgave them their ignorance. They didn’t know Richard, I was sure of it. I had no doubt he would throw his all into the role and blow the naysayers away. After all, he’d done Thornton, hadn’t he? 😉
    Seriously, I had every confidence that if he embraced the role (and it seemed he had), that he would be whatever PJ and he imagined this dwarf king should be. How would he mess up? Has he ever messed up a role? As far as I knew, he was a show-stealer and this was going to be no different.
    I loved hearing the praises come in both for his work ethic during production and for his performance after the movie began showing.
    It’s been a blast to watch unsuspecting hordes discover him! 🙂

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    • Congratulations Trudy, you fit perfectly into the ‘smug’ category I listed- you knew what the world had yet to discover! I’m sure there were days RA could’ve done with having you sitting on his shoulder whispering words of encouragement- ‘you can do it, you’re going to show them all!’ I love your magnanimity in forgiving the doubters’ ignorance.

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  15. Thank you Katharine for the two posts and the hard work you put in on them.

    Since seeing Richard before in 2005/06 in smaller roles that didn’t bowl me over it would take till 2010/11 to finally catch the RA bug. I knew that there where LOTR fans that where not happy about Richard being Thorin. Since I knew not a lot about TH or LOTR I really never really thought about it, just happy to see Richard working and in something big. During the filming I stayed away from most of the info coming out on the movie, I even was not sure if I would like the movie. It was Richard who bought me on board with the movie while watching it. I already knew and had had since Martin Freeman. Adian Turner and James Nesbitt and liked them in the shows I had seen them in. I judge a movie on what I think of it not what other people think. I am waiting to see the last two movies, and in some way I hope times flies.

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    • In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t know anything about the negative reactions, because I’m sure it would’ve worried me on some level. Now I’m fully involved in following RA, I think I’ll find it hard in future to stay away from whatever info is out there, so I think I’m in for whatever comes, good or bad.
      Thanks, Katie.

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  16. SInce I knew RA only watching TH and, even if a Tolkien fan, not having followed the filming and vlogs during the 18 months of working I can’t answer your questions. I don’t read TORn board, even if I check on daily basis their site. I’m really happy most of them changed their minds about RA. It must have been really hard for him, knowing so many people distrusted him. But I think to the desccription Martin Freeman gives of him in Tokyo press conference. And I figure RA biting the bullet and trying to give life to HIS Thorin. I’m sure PJ and Phillippa Boyens faith in him helped him a lot. I really admire RA for this. As Amy Hubbard pointed out: he is an hero on set and on real life.

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    • I guess as an actor you either rise to the challenge, or give up and go home. RA certainly would’ve been surrounded by positive energy on set, and the other dwarf actors have all spoken highly of him, so he didn’t have any convincing to do there. It would be truly awful if you were in a hostile work environment where no one believed in you, so thank goodness that wasn’t the case.
      Thanks for the comment, Micra

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      • Yes, the cast was a wonderful one, as anybody has told us. You really can feel how well they bonded. And reading tweets by some of them is almost moving. They really miss each other now and are grateful for occasions to reunite. I’m sure this situation helped RA a lot in his task. Apparently he convinced them as soon as he first spoke in Bag End! And Dwarves Boot Camp helped to built the bonds among them. Sorry for PJ that was forced to have surgery, but the delay was a very positive thing for all the ators to know and appreciate each other.
        Thanks to you for your hard work and the fantastic posts! 🙂

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  17. When two fandoms collide… I remember being terrified 14 years ago: Viggo who?! Not MY Aragorn! I was wrong and I learnt to trust PJ, I’m a fan, not a fanatic. Good posts and comments, I could add a few thousand words but I’ll spare you. One aspect that has been overlooked is, I think, the marketing and PR work; there is a Hollywood monster behind these movies and they have used all the venues to test and influence their audience, starting from TORN, so I’d take some of the comments with a pinch of salt. Also, everyone noticed that RA has been given the geek role to play in the interviews, I’m not implying that he’s lying but certainly that’s been cultivated to placate the fans (“The embers in the heart of Thorin grew hot again.” LotR, appendix A pg. 1114 in my edition: that sounded familiar but even I don’t remember it all by heart! That’s the marketing writing both questions and answers. Oh, and he got the “obscure trivia” not just quite right *runs for cover*).

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    • Hey, you sound like just the person to add lots of words of insight, so please feel free, Movie. If you disagree with anything here don’t hesitate to give your point of view. I’d like to know more on how you think they tested the audience for TH, since the Ringers clearly had a number of issues with the movie production.
      If you were looking for a geek to shine in interviews, RA was about it really, unless you dragged Christopher Lee around the traps. I don’t think the others feigned lack of knowledge about Tolkien- seemed pretty real to me! I’ll take your word on RA getting the trivia a bit wrong, but I do want to know who you wanted as Aragorn?

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      • Daniel Day-Lewis, as seen in “The last of the Mohicans”…sigh..but Viggo won me over.
        Let’s forget about RA for a moment (impossible, I know…). The LotR movies remained under the radar for most of their production and I think many were surprised by their quality and success, I certainly was. Discussions between fans were already endless and loud (many seem to think that “I scream, ergo I am) but internet and social media were less pervasive, there was less feedback.
        TH is another matter. Years in developing hell, legal problems, etc. and Hollywood hands over it. I think New Line/MGM/Warner Bros. are using this franchise as sure fire cash cow, that’s why I think that marketing had great weight in many decisions and I personally find the extend of merchandising revolting. RA aside, my opinion on the first third of the movie is not entirely positive.
        Casting wise, I had never heard of RA before TH, and I’m here so…, but, and don’t shoot me, I think that, aside McKellen and the other recurring LotR actors, they aimed for unknown, available and cheap. For Thorin they needed someone English, with a deep voice, fit enough for the fight sequences and taller than the other actors (because Thorin is taller than the other dwarves), not famous enough to dictate production times (like Freeman with Sherlock): there you go, with the nice bonus of a BBC4 demographic in tow. Then they had to sell him to the fans, probably using forums as well. Sorry, I’m just an old cynic who loves movies and good looking men.

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        • One of the most interesting things about these comment threads on KatherineD’s two posts, for me, is the talk about how much ‘grooming’ Mr. Armitage may have received when it came to the PR machine. Not just the stylist but trivia, introducing the voice at the right moment and placating the Ringers a bit with his first incarnation.
          I’m feeling a bit naive.

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          • me too, CarlyQ 😦 I know there is thought and purpose behind a lot of things that go into a movie, but this degree is unsettling. I’ll just stay in my blissful bubble, where RA is geeky by his own merit and PJ just shares his passions naturally 🙂

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            • Yah, Kelbel75, we’ll have sleepovers in your bubble and laugh about how someone with a history in musical theater and dance and who thought up a filthy meaning for the name Fili (and could only call the other one Kute), could possibly NOT be that geeky by his own merit….

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              • sounds like a great time to me! I’m in 🙂 after seeing the Hobbit and searching out things about Richard, it was a short snippet of an interview he did at Comic-Con where he geeked out about the Silmarillion, that won me completely over 🙂

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                • I have to say the frantic stumbling over the answer to what was in his pocket was one of my favorites… and the ‘a bit weird…in many ways’ loved that one. That mixture of earnest, honest, wide eyed enjoyment just has me shaking my head and pulling my skirt down (you know, cause my naive is probably showing)

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                  • “earnest, honest, wide-eyed enjoyment”, I think you just described my brand of fan-girling 😉 I definitely enjoy the intellectual discussions of delving deeper into things, but there’s something to be said for just enjoying things as they appear, instead of what they could possibly mean 🙂

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                    • It’s honestly not really a dichotomy. There are people in the world who both enjoy perceiving things as they appear *and* enjoy digging into them. At the same time.

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                    • Can you even imagine attempting as a director, regardless of how talented you are, or think you are, trying to make a movie that is exactly as written by an author, that you can’t talk to ask questions about what they meant by certain things in their book? Maybe as I write my Lady Oakenshield Stories, I should add an appendix that lists the people I want to play each character… (sometime in the far future.) Just shoot me now….I promise I will stand still…well maybe.

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                    • A lot of fanfic authors seem to do that.

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                    • Do you mean make their own interpretation of what they think Tolkien meant or what they wanted him to mean? Then refuse to accept any other interpretation. I think that’s why I’m so far out with my stories. I can’t follow canon. I respect Tolkien too much to try to explain, even to myself, his incredibly complex mind.

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                    • no, that lots of fanfic authors list the actors they see in their minds in their characters.

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        • Lots to think about here. You’ve got to envy the little bubble the LOTR cast operated in for the whole of principal photography- a luxury TH guys sure didn’t have.
          I really wonder how much Warners stick their oar in though, I mean they could’ve forced PJ to go to Comic Con this year if they’d thought it was essential for marketing DOS, but that never happened, even though most people had presumed they’d do a big push like last year.
          It may well be that most of the dwarf actors were fairly cheap- they certainly seemed thrilled to be cast though, and for a number of them it’ll undoubtedly be the highlight of their acting career. I think they chose very well personally, and the actors all acquitted themselves well (something TORn seems to agree on), so that might just have been their smartest move. One of the highlights for me is the unfeigned camaraderie of the company, both on and off the screen.

          It would be interesting to know who else made the short list for Thorin. If they were just looking for a fit, tall Englishman with a deep voice, then I’d say they really did well to score someone with value added bonus of singing voice, Tolkien knowledge and charismatic presence, who knows how to not bump into furniture- perfect.

          I just dd a quick check of news articles on RA on TORn, and I can’t find any interview exclusively with TORn staff until a quick chat at Comic Con in July last year. If Warners wanted to win over the Tolkien fans with their Thorin, they left there run pretty late.

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        • Love your cynicism, movie. I like to speculate on the business aspect of show business and what casting or production decisions are made “behind the curtain”. We never know the whole story until someone writes a memoir. As a fan, I tend to overlook how the sausage was made, and what goes on behind the camera can be as interesting as the end product. And I think you are right, with so much money at stake, all aspects of promotion are probably micro managed. Why do you think it was important for Thorin to be an Englishman? If Superman can be a Brit, then couldn’t an American be Thorin? Just wondering.

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          • I think because of the accent; Aidan Turner said in an interview that Durin’s line, being royalty, was supposed to be speaking “classic” English.
            No one is “naïve”, it’s perfectly fine just sit back and enjoy the show, I simply find very intriguing watching the “sausage being made” and sometimes one finds out that questions that started endless discussions have very simple, money related, answers.

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            • I too enjoy seeing all the price tags for different aspects of movies and even calculated how much Sean Connery was out for (supposedly) turning down Gandalf and breaking my heart. (my calculation- roughly 480 million) But in my minds wandering I never supposed the studio would provide info on dress and grooming, when to say what ect…I thought all of that must have gone out sometime in the 70’s when movie stars were recognized as mostly normal people. Even when it was suggested to me that Rob and Kristen were only back together for the final premier, I thought, don’t be ridiculous! Who would do that?
              So I do feel a bit silly that it Never Ever crossed my mind that someone might be holding his hand and giving him pointers.
              Naive.

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  18. Thank you for interesting posts, Katharine !:)
    Due to my unhealthy high level of Armitage Protection Mode (to tell the truth kicking and biting was coming to my mind 😀 ) I was trying to avoid TORn message board.
    I had all confidence in Sir Peter, he chose Richard,he wanted him,he saw Thorin in him. 🙂

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  19. You’re a good advocate for ‘in PJ we trust’, Joanna! The message boards should be relatively safe now- there’s a good body of RA defenders over there now!

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  20. I did see some initial TORN reaction to Richard A in the role. No worries; he’s a GOOD actor, with more potential, growing throughout his career. Perhaps an actor is “born” from the brow of Jupiter. But good actors explore their potential through dedication, training (if they have a brain) learning, and develop. (Just imagine if a big Hollywood star had been cast – I won’t specify the one in mind 🙂 )

    Being deep in Richard III studies (for a long time) very amused by comments by entrenched Ricardians vs. entrentrenched Tudorites on some blogs/FB sites. (Not sure how some moderators or admins let some people get to remain on sites, given the “epithets” they employ, Epithets is a polite term….)

    As for the publicity machine of PJ, this is a very intelligent and experienced producer/director. The gradual introduction of the actor via VLOGs was masterly, as was his proven faith in his actor.

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    • I don’t think RA could’ve done any more preparation for that part if he tried. Between brushing up on his Tolkien, learning Khuzdul, sword fighting, archery, hair flipping… I don’t quite know which of those he’ll get to use again, though!
      Good to hear its not just the Tolkien fiends with strong opinions- that mob go way back further than the 1930’s too. They’ve had much longer to argue the toss!

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  21. The problem with your sampling TORN is that as far as actual TOLKIEN fans are concerned, it is probably subject to a significant sampling bias. There are plenty of people there who absolutely glorify the first Trilogy and even though they might have been upset at the casting initially in the end find an excuse for any decision by Jackson…

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  22. I read as widely as I could manage to get what I hope was a fairly accurate feel for what was being said. How do you define ‘actual Tolkien fans’? Do you mean book fans feel drowned out by the numbers of movie fans on TORn? (not trying to put words in your mouth, just trying to tell what you’re getting at) If so, I can only go by the responses that were articulated on the boards.

    If you have a different point of view, please feel free to share it, Tyelko.

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    • I certainly felt there was a point when trying to discuss the finer points of Tolkien’s metaphysics and cosmology started to feel like fighting windmills. Even in failry recent points, you find people attacking in all CAPS any suggestion that there might be significant aspects of the books that Jackson disregarded or even turned upside down.

      The Tolkien estate is regularly crucified for their opinions and actions, never mind the role that Christopher Tolkien had in bringing us both the books his father wrote in his lifetime AND the works that gave us a wider understanding of Middle-earth at large and its history. Never mind that having walked in his father’s footsteps professionally as well, AND having been consulted by him in writing the books, he has a deeper understanding of the whys and hows than practically anyone else.

      More: He gets chided for not agreeing to allow a filming of the Silmarillion – never mind that in the form it is published, HE, not his father, wrote the book together with Guy Gavriel Kay. And he had the greatness to admit that not everything was quite true to his father’s intentions…

      The reason these people get so upset is because they know very well that with the rights falling into the public domain 70 years after the death of the author, Jackson has no chance whatsoever to do a movie on the Silmarillion as long as the Estate refuses to allow it. What they want is not “more Tolkien”, but “more Jackson”. I can’t see people as “Tolkien fans” who would rather skin alive his son and literary executor. There are certainly decisions by Christopher that could be seen as questionable – such as holding some of his father’s notes from academic scrutiny – but they are still understandable. In no case does he deserve the hate speech he gets on a fairly regular level on TORN and some other sites dominated by Jackson fans.

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      • That’s a different discussion altogether to the one I’m covering in this post. As a fan of Richard Armitage, posting on an RA blog, I’m concerned here solely with the reaction of members of TORn to his being cast as Thorin, and the eventual response to his performance. I have no way of knowing what the broader Tolkien community felt on the matter, or if they wished to see Peter Jackson make The Hobbit movie in the first place.

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        • And my point is that “the broader Tolkien community” is not necessarily found on a site where the primary orientation point is not Tolkien but Jackson.

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  23. […] discussing KatharineD’s great posts on Ringers, Tolkien fans and Richard Armitage [part 1 and part 2] and check out the Legenda. I imagine I’ll be back before then, but if not, Guylty will be […]

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  24. […]    When my article ‘Playing Thorin’ part 1 and part 2 was posted on me+richard recently, it received quite a number of interesting comments, one of […]

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  25. […] of TORn fans’ reactions to the casting of Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield and later, his portrayal of the character, may wish to follow the ongoing discussion of Thorin Oakenshield at TORn, which can be found here […]

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  26. […] followed up with two posts on "Playing Thorin" — Tolkien fan reactions to Armitage's casting and portrayal of Thorin Oakenshield. Many thanks to her for presenting here another timely topic that required an […]

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  27. Hi KatharineD!

    I don’t follow Me + Richard, but this article was forwarded to me over facebook by the person you referenced in this article (the guy on TORn who talked about his strong dislike of Richard’s casting and his lengthy posts about it.) He’s become a good friend of mine, even though I was one of those who disagreed with him. I think part of that is because I really respected his perspective and appreciated that his intention wasn’t to insult, but to express why he was bothered by the casting. Interestingly enough, over time, I have found myself agreeing with him on certain aspects, and he’s softened his views somewhat. Ultimately, my opinion is that Richard did a good job, but I would have liked to see more of Thorin’s anger and grumpiness on the surface. I’m also one of those who believe that the ending to An Unexpected Journey was not well handled. Thorin would not have hugged Bilbo. Maybe a pat on the shoulder, but not a hug.

    I wanted to say I appreciate that you were pretty fair in sharing both sides of the argument (although because I know the guy pretty well, “sheepishly” is not in any way an accurate descriptor of his conceding on the point of Thorin’s age.) I’m someone who enjoys my various fandoms, and I also think it’s important to not take it too personally when someone doesn’t like your fandom. In fact, as someone with an academic background, I think it’s very important to understand both sides of an argument. Helps you figure out where you stand. I’m a little concerned about trudystattle’s comment stating that people who were naysaying Richard were probably people who had never seen his work. I wanted to make a point that my friend had indeed seen Richard’s work, because he’s the kind of person who prefers to be informed when making an argument. Also, I found people posting on TORn in Richard’s defense who had barely seen anything he’d performed in. It’s easy to assume that only someone ignorant would dislike something you yourself like, but that’s not always the case.

    As a fan of Tolkien (I’ve read The Hobbit 5 or 6 times, first time as a child), I wanted to see The Hobbit be true to the spirit of the book. As someone who has grown up in and around the performing arts (My aunt was a professional stage actress for many years.), I had the understanding that these films will only be one interpretation of the book. Shakespeare has been done repeatedly with various interpretations, and some of the best ones are those that aren’t done in the classic Elizabethan Shakespeare style. As someone who is a fan of Richard’s, I wanted to be sure this was the right part for him, and I was looking forward to seeing what he’d do with the role. As… well, just me being me, I knew I didn’t want to be pandered to as a female viewer. I cared more that the actors fit the roles than that there was some fun man-candy to ogle on the screen. As I like to say, there’s some really good cake that doesn’t need icing to taste good, but icing by itself can be overwhelming. I still have concerns about Tauriel. I don’t want her to just be a token female character to appease female viewers, or just be eye-candy for the male viewers. As I’ve heard and read what many of the actors involved have shared, it seems they care more about their performances. I feel like we should too. There’s nothing wrong with critiquing actors. I think they realize it’s part of their job to be critiqued, and they need to know themselves well enough to know what they can handle when reading other’s opinions of their performances. I think that’s why many of them don’t frequent fan sites. But how we talk about our opinions does make a difference. And part of that is about being fair and respecting that not everyone will agree with us. Thank you for presenting a better balanced piece than I expected.

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    • Thank you for your lengthy, thoughtful comment- I’m glad you found the article to be ‘pretty fair’ in representing the whole story. I waded through many, many discussion threads while I was researching this, in an effort to glean the general thrust of what was being said at the time.

      Whilst I am, clearly, an RA fan, I never went looking to mock or dismiss anyone who spoke out against him, although I eventually wearied of reading other actors’ names still being trotted out long after the casting of the movies was over and done with.
      As I mentioned in one of the comments, like your friend, my son had a strongly differing impression for the correct age portrayal of Thorin from his reading of the book, and whilst he had no particular issue with how RA acted the part, he still holds fast to his opinion, and I respect that. I’m only too aware that Tolkien fans hold the book deeply in their heart, but I hope that most went to the cinema with a mind open to the possibility that RA’s portrayal would be an honest and worthy depiction of the character.

      The more I’ve heard from RA in interviews, and particularly recently on the Extended Edition extra features, it’s clear that he himself struggled with the apparent discrepancies between his age and how he perceived Thorin to be in the book. I sincerely hope that at some point early on he found a way to let go of his doubts and just ‘become’ Thorin, and didn’t feel troubled by it right through the filming process.
      Speaking personally, I’m not a fan who has absolute blind faith in the success of an acting role or of a movie, since there are so many factors that come into play, but I perceived that some RA fans felt stung by criticism of him, and felt the need to strongly display their faith in him.

      As to being pandered to as a female viewer, it’s my opinion that PJ did no one any favours by stating ahead of time that Thorin would give Aragorn and Legolas a run for their money in the heartthrob stakes- how NOT to get the character taken seriously. I also don’t suppose Richard would’ve appreciated the comment on the EE extras that the early version of his prosthetics and makeup wasn’t deemed to be ‘sexy enough’.

      I hope you’re looking forward to the next installment of the trilogy, and especially the changes we’ll see in Thorin’s character as the story progresses.
      Please feel free to carry on the discussion if you have more you’d like to add.

      Like

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