The Power of Paternity in the Hobbit Trilogy

Some critics give Peter Jackson a bad rap for his trans-cinematic films of J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic novels, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but his intense focus on the relationship between paternity and power in the Hobbit films constitutes a unique focus that lends itself to a fascinating reality of origination that is in dire need of a revival in American culture.

What is this need? What is the reality of origination? What is the fascinating relationship between paternity and power? These are some questions that I shall attempt to answer here, if but briefly.

Generally in our current American culture, there is a great confusion over the role of maternity and paternity in general human flourishing. Some people report that general human flourishing comes at the expense of being maternal or paternal. For example, some businesspersons are in the business of choosing business over the family life. Some businesses flourish at the expense of devotion to the family life. Some people report that general human flourishing comes at the expense of a combination of maternity and paternity. For example, they will say that family life is most apt when it consists of a lack of a father, or a lack of a mother, or a duo of fathers, or a duo of mothers, or some other alternative to this natural combination of mother and father. Whatever the case, there is a great confusion over if there is a most suitable combination of paternity and maternity in order to bring about the greatest human flourishing.

Amidst these confusing times, director Jackson writes a varied version of the fantastical works of professor Tolkien that has an intense focus on the nature of a part of this confusion, paternity. He turns The Hobbit into a cinematic trilogy that follows a number of bloodlines in tension with one another. One of the bloodlines is the Woodland Elves. Their king, Thranduil, keeps to himself his kingdom’s power, encasing his realm in a state of irresponsibility. Indeed, when the time arrives that Thranduil must ward off the enemy, he commands his people to do so only from his own land. The king does not care that the warding will force the enemies into others’ lands. Each to his own land, as it were, and there resides in the Elvish kingdom a distance between one another. The same distance between King Thranduil and his neighbors resides between himself and his son, Legolas.

King Thranduil’s attitude towards his neighbors sets up for a tension between himself and his son when the girl that Legolas is fond of challenges the king’s irresponsible command. The she-elf has the care of neighbor in mind. Now, her character is also made-up from the books. But, her character serves an interesting purpose in that her challenge to the king forces Legolas’ hand to challenge the little intimacy that he has with his father. If he chooses the girl, he potentially loses his father’s respect. If not, then he loses the respect of the girl and her higher calling to a greater responsibility.

Ultimately, Legolas chooses the higher calling, to which afterwards his father opens himself up to reveal something that he has repressed from his son: their mother’s loving character. A closer intimacy is drawn between the two. Legolas finally has the closeness with his father that he has been searching for.

This paternal-son relationship may be contrasted to two others: Bard the Dragon Slayer and his son, and Azog the Defiler and his son.

Bard the Dragon Slayer is not so-titled “the Dragon Slayer” by his effort alone. The combination of he and his son make it possible in the film. As Smaug, the last mighty dragon of Middle Earth, charges forth towards the unstable bell tower upon which lie Bard with a broken bow and the last arrow that is able to pierce the side of the beast, the son acts as the stand that upon his shoulder Bard places the arrow to be shot. The two are like a slingshot that no part of which cannot function properly without the other, the rubber string and the the Y-shaped frame. The son fears for his imminent death, and the father calls to him to be courageous against the Goliath-dragon. The father steadies his son so that the arrow may be aimed perfectly. And the father relies on the son, who in turn trusts the father that all will turn out well. The intimacy is so bare-bone that it cannot be wholly found in the relationship between the Elvish king and his kin. Yet, the power of this intimate relationship lends itself to the destruction of tyrannical figures. If the son did not trust the command of the father (and, instead, gave in to despair), then the tyranny of Smaug would have been victorious!

There is something mysterious about a trusting father-son relationship that can enact great changes and amplify the power of something, for better or for worse. The claim is not so much that this same result could not be brought from any other kind of relationship, but none so natural lies in any other besides the relation between a father and his son. When it is absent, an analogous relationship must be manifested from somewhere else for a flourishing to occur, but it will not be as potentially beneficial as this kind of paternal relationship. Jackson manifests this point in the final paternal relationship that I should like to analyze now: the paternity between the evil Azog and his son, Bolg.

This relationship is probably the most fascinating to me because it shows how evil is amplified tenfold with the a father and a son at its helm. Azog the Defiler leads legions of the antagonistic enemies in the film. His son leads by his side. The two manifest one of the most dominating forces in cinematic literature. One cannot help but admire the ugliness of a strong antagonist that rivals the evilness of, let’s say, a Darth Vader or a Joker. But this enemy is a dual leadership of father and son who have a common goal and a common head – the evil One, Sauron the Great, and his intention to gain power. Sauron uses the strong bond between a father and a son to manifest his intention to be the most powerful being in the world. Again, there is something about a strong bond between males and their originating males (fathers) that lends itself to a great power to change and to protect the conditions of change. For example, when Sauron summons Azog to another task other than his personal death wish of the King Under the Mountain, Azog entrusts his personal hatred of dwarfs to his son, Bolg, in order to finish what he had started. Azog thereby protects his task from failure while taking on another responsibility of the evil One. As the bond between father and son is strong on the light side, so it is true that such a bond can strengthen the purposes of the dark side. The benefits reaped of the relationship become naturally potent.

Considering that the power of paternity can have a great role in the outcomes of great strives for good and evil, the casting away of such a focus occurring when one proposes an alternative to natural origination and development can ultimately lead to a road of unreality. With a confusion of both roles of paternity and maternity together, they become confusing in their own rights. Hence, the need to show the courage and power of both. Peter Jackson primarily handles the paternal side of things! And he does so marvelously with a take on both good and bad and the power that paternity can contribute to each. His movies, although vastly different from the books, are still wonderful in their own rights as cinematic works of art that are relevant to the modern American landscape of our culture today.

A New Weeper

Rarely was it ever that before the coming of the incarnate Christ, the depiction of weepers in literature were anyone besides the noble class whose context would be so-worthy of a weeping, most especially a heroic tragedy.

St. Peter in Tears by Bartolome Esteban Murillo in A.D. 1655.

The weeping of the less-noble Peter the Apostle thus directly contrasted to the majority of literary works popular in (at least) Europe and the Middle East. The emotion of weeping was humanely universal but not universally depicted. And this phenomenon changed with the coming of Catholicism.

This subtle change of a literary focus lends itself to a larger change of societal focus with regards to “a good of order of societal structure.” Now “a good of order” may be distinguished from “a good of desire” inasmuch as it may be admitted that humans have desires, and the generic term given to the object of a desire is a “good.” A “good of order,” on the other hand, refers to a system set in place to satisfy particular desires. Historically, cultures and societies have upheld certain desires as the highest satisfactions according to their respective objects. Consequently, their good of orders have been established in order to achieve what they most value. And many societies have competing good of orders according to their differing views on 1) the highest possible satisfactions and 2) the proper objects corresponding to these satisfactions. Thus, a society that values heroism will have a good of order set in place to satisfy the most intense desire for heroic action (i.e. the noble class). Their heroism consists in protection and defense. Their every action becomes significant somehow to the good of order of the given society at hand. A habit of this phenomenon leaves no one questioning the existence of their own good of order under which they serve and live, for who would question the popular desires of a society without a great amount of influence, credibility, or intention?

Christ questioned. He wondered. He influenced with a power – one might say, an omnipotence. And given that there are certain satisfactions that are universally intense all around (like the sexual act), there are certain societies that will always remain analogous to one another. Christ incarnated the universal desire to be dignified in and through Himself. His way of living penetrated all societal good of orders to show not a societal difference between peoples but the sameness of the desires universally and their respective objects that are properly attained in a context of the good of order that is Heaven. And his twelve followers, that is, the Twelve Apostles, fell in love with the wonders and mysteries of this new good of order that campaigned for the dignity of the person!

Peter the Apostle, one of the twelve, was so enamored with this new good of order, that he assured the omniscient Christ at the Passover that He would not be dishonored by Peter’s actions. And yet, Sacred Scripture says (in two places) that after Petrus (Peter) denied his being associated with Christ,

egressus foras ploravit amare Matthew 26: 75, Latin Vulgate,

egressus foras Petrus flevit amare Luke 22: 62, Latin Vulgate,

“…he went out and wept bitterly.” Matthew 26: 75Luke 22: 62.

Peter had denied Christ and with Him the new good of order that had changed his worldview of person-hood. Peter had despaired against this new good of order. He had failed as a leader of it. He had become inconsistent between his knowledge of how to live with respect and dignity and his actual living. And, most emotionally, he probably thought that he would never have a chance to ask of Christ’s forgiveness before His undignified death. Peter would neither be noble like the heroes of old nor possess their carthargic ending. He was a hero not of the noble good of order but of the universal good of order that was (and is) Heaven. And he would have to become a leader of this new good of order on earth in some other way besides the way of the nobles.

Christ had invited him to become a leader (and not any of the nobility of the time). The “Christian Hero,” in being initially invited and initially cowardice, is thus radically universal and different from the heroes of old (similarities might reside in other aspects besides the aspect of failure, namely the aspect of martyrdom). But a “hero” like Peter would not appear to be so-heroic according to the general orders of old. If he was to be heroic, he would probably not think as much during his weeping, his regret, his agony, his frustration, his shame, his hatred of himself. He was, by all appearances, stuck in a direction-less state of mind. Where would he go? What would he do now? I imagine that his experience is not wholly un-relatable to us. I imagine that he was in his own head, that the Devil didn’t even visit him for fear of breaking him out of his own head, that he immediately looked for mercy but found no immediate solace. I imagine that he was so bitter at the whole situation and wanted neither to see anyone nor to have anyone see him, and that he felt (and wanted to be) alone. He was a human, and like all humans, he was fallen and imperfect (sometimes without an immediate redeeming quality). Peter was a witness to the true state of humanity in its dark side.

An interesting way to discuss this aspect of Peter’s story is to observe various artistic works of Peter’s weeping. Which ones are good, and which ones are not? Why? Are there any that capture more dramatically the significance of Peter’s story in a historical and literary context? I have provided some images below:

La Douleur Saint Pierre by James Tissot between A.D. 1886 and 1894.
St. Peter Weeping by Diego Velazquez in A.D. 1617.

In addition to these paintings, one might also consider Peter’s weeping in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ.

The Tears of St. Peter by Domenikos Theotokopoulos (a.k.a El Greco) between A.D., c. 1587 and 1596.
St. Peter the Apostle weeping in front of the Blessed Mother. This painting is by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri in in A.D. 1647.

On Individuality and Literature

Writing about Gerard Manley Hopkins recently has inspired me to write about the nature of individuality and its relationship to literature in a specific historical context of Victorian England.

“Individuality” is a very fascinating reality. It is often juxtaposed that St. Thomas Aquinas argued that the reality is unknowable, while Bl. John Duns Scotus argued that it was somewhat knowable. Father Bernard Lonergan, a profound 20th century writer, helps explain what both were getting at when they were thinking about the notion of individuality.

Individuality is something that cannot be known by our intellect – it can only be experienced as a something unintelligible. We can employ frameworks to understand individuality. For example, we can say that “this table is not that one,” in which case we have experienced the individuality of the table, and by a spatial reference, we distinguish between this experience of this table and an experience of another table. By distinguishing two experiences, we have come to know (by our intellectual operations) that there are in fact individual tables in front of us with individuality. But, according to Fr. Lonergan, we have not explained the nature of individuality that is universal to all tables, for if we did so, we would no longer be explaining individuality (i.e. what makes something not another). Hence, St. Thomas Aquinas observed the fact that we can only experience individuality (we cannot know it in itself). Bl. Scotus disagreed and said that we grasp the this-ness and/or that-ness of this or that as a glimpse of the universal This-ness of everything. Still, what we have grasped is not This-ness in and of itself but a distinction between this-es and that-s in our experience of them. Bl. Scotus was not so clear on clarifying this matter, and so it is hard to tell exactly whether he knew of this distinction. Consequently, it is not easy to know whether Fr. Hopkins was clear on the matter either. Certainly, it may be argued that he experienced the experience of individuality enough to give it a special name of “inscape.”

But inscape does not so much refer to the mere experience of individuality as (in Fr. Hopkins’ most common usages) a special inspiring experience of individuality with regards to nature and its Creator. The era in which Fr. Hopkins lived needed to find the lost Creator. And how can one do so when the means to doing so have been hidden away by the political and artistic movements in the early-modern and modern eras? Fr. Hopkins’ love of inscape directly provides a solution to the problems of his time, since a frequent focus on the distinctive individuality of nature as inspirational of living with purpose in life could help others seek and find what was lost – the sight of the Creator of nature. Moreover, artistry could be defined in, let’s say, a Romantic way as the inscapes of nature inspiring the inscapes that are the poems and their content of poets’ imaginations. This definition aligns with the Romantic interest in the inspiring and wondrous nature of nature. At the same time, it adds a Catholic nuance to the Romantic way insofar as one considers the Source and Creator of that which is naturally inspiring and wondrous. Experiencing an individual thing of nature can, by its being experiential, be full of patterns and distinctiveness that, by its being distinct, can inspire a lovely gratitude towards that which seems lost in an environment that is full of man’s machinery and pollution and sameness. After all, man’s machinery is all the same, is it not? Fr. Hopkins’ love of individuality exemplifies a refreshing difference from the bleakness of the lives of those living in his age (and in ours as well).

Originality and genius also stem from one’s ability to be distinct and different, as a love of individuality would inspire one to do so. And, that which is not of a kind but is a this and/or a that, regardless again of its being of a kind of this-es or that-s, is on a frequent basis inspiring to the poet who describes the individuality with attraction and unity, as indeed things as individual are by their being distinct, attractive and unified in their being different from the dull sameness of everyday living in the Industrial parts of Europe and the world. Whether or not one judges that individuality as unintelligible or not, one certainly experiences it in numerous particular ways every day that provide us with numerous occasions to find refreshing difference in a world that reeks of the opposite.

Historically, it may be noted that Fr. Hopkins poetry anticipates a popular trend in the modern and post-modern world to be different for the sake of difference. But, Fr. Hopkins does not intend to be different for the sake of difference; rather, his intentions in writing reside in a very specific context that includes the political and artistic movements of his time, his love of individuality, and I’m sure many other more minor things as well. Fr. Hopkins’ theory of poetry provides a very intentional focus that replenishes the heart desiring to flee the mundane-ness of life, especially in an Industrial context. I have written of this phenomenon elsewhere, and I only wish to bring to light a very fascinating set of connections between the philosophical school of nominalism (with their love of individuality) and the literary movements that occurred in Victorian England.

Please see my post on Gerard Manley Hopkins for more insights into the matter!