Mirkwood, once called Greenwood the Great or Wood of Greenleaves has now turned into a dark and menacing forest. There are no green leaves to be found. All the leaves that once decorated the trees have now turned brown and fallen onto the ground. The trees have become grey leaving one with the sense of not much life left in them.
Thorin: “The path turns this way.”
Dwalin: “This way.”
Bofur: “Air. I need air.”
Óin: “My head, it’s swimming!”
Kili: “We found the bridge.”
Bofur: “Bridge. Oh. We could try and swim it.”
Slowly but surely the company takes one step after another, walking in a line one behind the other, down the path that Gandalf told them to follow. The air in the forest has started to affect the minds of the Dwarves. They can sense there is no breathable air as much as there is the “swimming” effect in their heads. Their eyelids have fallen to half-mast and their eyes seem to be unable to focus properly.
They come to the bridge that Gandalf mentioned. However, the bridge had been destroyed. The stream in front of them does not seem to pose any threat to them. Therefore, the swim seems perfectly logical. It’s not a deep stream and it certainly does not look threatening.
Thorin: “Didn’t you hear what Gandalf said? A dark magic lies upon this forest. The waters of this stream are enchanted.”
Bofur: “Doesn’t look very enchanting to me.”
Thorin: “We must find another way across.”
Kili: “These vines look strong enough.”
Thorin: “Kili! We send the lightest first.”
Bilbo: “It’s all right. Can’t see any problem. There’s one. Everything’s fine. Something is not right. This is not right at all. Stay where you are.”
The vines ranging from one side of the bridge to another are a good alternative to swimming this enchanted stream. Kili, always eager to show off, takes a vine and places his foot upon it. This, however, is not something Thorin has in mind for him.
Firstly, he is a direct descendant of the line of Durin, meaning he needs to be protected so that in the event of Thorin’s death, he could take over the throne. He and Fili are more valuable in that way than any other members of the company. Secondly, Dwarves are generally not a lightweight race and with their packs and weapons on them, they are even heavier. Which only means that to secure the strength of the vines and its ability to help them cross, there needs to be someone lighter to test them.
As Thorin announces his unspoken decision to send Bilbo first, Bilbo’s expression shows his annoyance at it. Bofur smiles at him in a cheeky way to which Bilbo responds with an annoyed look on his face. They seem to take him for a guinea pig. One that could test the vines, and the waters if he fell in, so that the company would be able to pass safely. Still, not altogether equal to the rest of them.
Sense of wrong
As he swings across the bridge on the vines the water enchants him for an instant in that he looks upon its surface, seeing his reflection, staring back at him with a silly facial expression. It is plainly seen that the water has started to influence him. He reaches the other side of the bridge with a foggy mind but a clear message for the Dwarves, which they completely ignored. Bilbo can sense that something isn’t right.
Even in his foggy state of mind, he can sense a disturbance that has begun affecting him. The Dwarves, however, are already half-way across the water. Well, most of them. The enchantment’s effect on Bombur is much more severe, and heavier for the rest of the company, for he falls asleep on the vine and subsequently falls into the stream.
The white buck
Dwalin: “I can’t get a grip.”
Bilbo: “What are you doing? You shouldn’t have done that. It’s bad luck.”
Thorin: “I don’t believe in luck. We make our own luck.”
Thorin crosses the stream first with a look in his eyes that expresses alertness and a healthy dose of fear. On the other side of the stream, a white buck gallops into view. It appears magical, almost unreal. Bilbo stares at the animal in fascination, whereas Thorin uses his focus on the buck to raise his bow and arrow and shoot at it. The bow flies near the buck, not injuring it as it runs away.
What Bilbo means by bad luck is something of a curse that befalls any hunter who kills a white buck: the hunter or a member of his family will die within a year. Thorin, being a very practical and pragmatic Dwarf, and above all a realist, does not believe in anything outside his own influence. Although he had not killed the rare animal, his intentions were clear, and had it not been for his shotty aim, he would have claimed the animal’s life.
In the commentary track, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson explain that the white buck actually hints at the fact that those are Elvish lands they are walking. The shot that Thorin fires are the signal to the Elves that there is someone roaming their land uninvited.
Nori: “We need to take a rest.”
Bilbo: “What is that? Those voices. Voices. Can you hear them?”
Thorin: “I hear nothing. No wind, no birds. What hour is it?”
Dwalin: “I do not know. I do not even know what day it is.”
Thorin: “This is taking too long. Too long! Is there no end to this accursed forest?”
Glóin: “None that I can see. Only trees and more trees.”
Thorin: “There… This way.”
Óin: “Gandalf said…”
Thorin: “Do as I say. Follow me.”
The Dwarves have to now carry Bombur around with them on an improvised stretcher. No small feat of endurance. What impedes their progress is the ongoing influence of the forest’s illusion-filled air. They have become so disoriented they cannot even tell what time of day or what day it is. There is nothing in the forest that can give them any guidance in that respect. Any semblance of the structure of the day is lost on the company.
The scene was shot in a way that would bring the audience closer to the company’s state of mind. Richard Armitage, playing Thorin, had stated that he played his part in the forest as if he were high, imagining what he would feel like and behave like if he were high. For the shooting of the scene that wasn’t an impossible thing to imagine given the set that was built for the forest.
The mushrooms, the fungi, the flowers as well as trees were painted in trippy, psychedelic colors, meaning bright and intense yellow, neon green, red that made the forest seem as if it were straight out of a hallucination. In post-production, the creative team decided to dampen the bright colors and give the illusion of a dark and unwelcoming place.
The colors used had to be that bright on stage because it firstly helped the actors immerse themselves into their illusions and secondly, it was easier to dampen them later in post-production than to brighten them had they opted for something subtler. However, in the finished scene, the colors can be seen only enough to give the illusion needed for the audience to believe the Dwarves were suffering.
Bilbo can hear voices that no one else can. As he touched the spider’s webs in curiosity, so the voices were heard. Bilbo cannot make out what they are saying, even if he could he probably would not understand the words they uttered.
Bilbo: “Wait. Stop! We can’t leave the path! We must stay on the path!”
Balin: “I don’t remember this bit. None of it’s familiar.”
Dori: “It’s got to be here. It can’t have just disappeared.”
Dwalin: “Unless someone’s moved it.”
Ori: “It’s not over here neither. Look.”
Dori: “A tobacco pouch. There’s Dwarves in these woods.”
Bofur: “Dwarves from the Blue Mountains no less. This is exactly the same as mine.”
Bilbo: “Because it is yours. Do you understand? We’re going around in circles. We are lost.”
With all their disorientation, unbalanced thought processes and overall hallucination problems, the company has lost the Elven path that Gandalf strictly forbade them to lose. Now, there is meager if not no chance of finding the path again, and finding the exit out of the forest. As they move through unmarked, winding paths, not recognizing anything or finding the tiles that mark the path, they come across the same tobacco pouch that Bofur had apparently lost not long after they entered the forest.
Bilbo is still clear-minded enough to set their confusion straight as they discuss the possibility of there being other Dwarves from the Blue Mountains.
Thorin: “We are not lost. We keep heading east.”
Óin: “But which way is east? We’ve lost the sun.”
Dwalin: “I thought you were the expert.”
Bilbo: “The sun. We have to find the sun. Up there. We need to get above the canopy.”
Thorin: “What was that? Enough! Quiet! All of you! We are being watched.”
The irritation and frustration that has seeped into the Dwarves’ minds along with air borne illusions has now brought their feelings to the boiling point where they turn against each other. They are not able to properly pound on each other because of their lack of strength and reality in this place, but still they try to do damage to one another.
Bilbo, among the violent gathering, looks up at the canopy, finding a solution to their orientation problem. The voices appear again, but this time Thorin hears them concluding that the company is being watched.
The word “attercop” has a few definitions that all make sense in the context of the Dwarves. “Attercop” refers to a spider in the animal world and an ill-natured person in the human world. However, in the Old English from which Professor Tolkien drew his inspiration, the word would be literally translated into “poison-head”. In the context of the Dwarves in the forest, it could refer to the poison of the air that seeped into their minds as they journeyed through the forest.
It would make sense for the spiders to refer to them in that way since the Dwarves have been loopy for a while now, and having watched them for a while they can attest to the poison that has influenced their mind and their behavior.
Over the canopy
Bilbo: “I can see a lake! And a river. And the Lonely Mountain. We’re almost there! Can you hear me? I know which way to go! Hello? Hello. Oh, no. Oh, come on.”
While others are on the ground trying to come to grips with themselves, Bilbo climbs a nearby tree in his efforts to give himself and the Dwarves an orientation, a direction they could follow. As he comes out of the canopy, he takes a deep breath, clearing his head immediately. He finds himself in the presence of beauty, for from out of the canopy blue butterflies fly out and around Bilbo.
It gives a perfect juxtaposition of the two dominant colors, the blue of the butterflies and the reddish-brown of the leaves of the canopy. It is almost a dream in which Bilbo finally awakens. The illusion-like state that had enveloped him until now, has lost all influence as soon as his nose breathed in the air above the forest.
He can see the direction they must take and is thrilled to tell it on to his company. However, something again feels wrong. The crackling under the canopy coupled with the Dwarves’ lack of answer gives him cause for concern. He can feel something happening under the canopy but confirms it only when he tries to move his foot. The spider web around his foot annoys him as much as it angers him. As he tries to move he falls over his own feet, plummeting down through the tree branches, landing in a spider web.
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