Fish

The World of Men

The Dwarves have boarded the barge. Bard has taken on the risk of his life and his livelihood to help the Dwarves cross the lake by way of Lake-town. An impenetrable fog lies over the lake making it impossible for the Dwarves or Bard to navigate clearly and safely through it. The fog also gives an atmosphere of mystery, sailing into the unknown as it were. The world of Men and their kingdoms on land differ greatly from the town they are about to enter. 

Warring impressions

Bofur: “Watch out!” 

Thorin: “What are you trying to do, drown us?”

Bard: “I was born and bred on these waters, Master Dwarf. If I wanted to drown you I would not do it here.” 

Bard navigates the barge with a single ore through the fog. The stone ruins of Esgaroth they encounter are a reminder of a time long past, when the city was not only built out of wood, with wooden pillars sunk into the bed of the lake.

The stone pillars show heads of serpents and dragons giving us an insight into the community that used to thrive here many years ago. They are the single proof of a people’s existence before Lake-town had even begun its wooden construction. It may point to the variety of different races from the world of Men that now inhabit Lake-town. At least that is how I interpret it.  

Seeing them almost crash into a stone pillar, Thorin automatically concludes it to be an attempt on their lives. They don’t know Bard, so, therefore, they cannot trust him. He could be just leading them into death or incarceration again. They cannot know for certain.

Bard, for all his sense of fairness, when it comes to the Lake-town’s trade with the Woodland Realm making him look like a reasonable and law-abiding man, with his comment appears as someone more threatening than initially thought. He didn’t say he wouldn’t drown the Dwarves, he just said he would have done it someplace else.

Lippy Lakeman

Dwalin: “Oh, I’ve had enough of this lippy Lakeman. I say we throw him over the side and be done with it.” 

Bilbo: “Bard, his name’s Bard.” 

Bofur: “How do you know?”

Bilbo: “Uh, I asked him.”

Dwalin expresses his wish of solving the tense and uncertain situation with violence. As already seen, Dwalin does not exhibit patience or reason for that matter. Dwalin’s haughty behavior brings Bilbo to inform him of the bargeman’s name. Bilbo seems offended by the Dwarves’ disinterest in the man who took a risk to help them.

Bilbo brought up nice and proper, makes an effort to learn Bard’s name. It is the humane, the compassionate, the interaction friendly side of Bilbo that separates him from the rest of the company. If it could be done he would have taken upon himself to solve every situation with a friendly exchange of ideas. However, in times of trouble, he finds other less legal and more devious ways to help his company. 

Friendly interaction comes so naturally to him that he is surprised at the question Bofur poses. It is only logical to try and establish a good relationship with the man who is helping them. Dwarves, being Dwarves, conduct themselves in a very distrusting manner toward Bard. The perception of the reality, being on a barge crossing the lake rather than swimming it or going around it seems to escape them. 

Uncertainty

Dwalin: “I don’t care what he calls himself. I don’t like him.” 

Balin: “We do not have to like him. We simply have to pay him. Come on now, lads. Turn out your pockets.” 

Dwalin: “How do we know he won’t betray us?”

Thorin: “We don’t.” 

Balin: “There’s uh just a wee problem. We’re 10 coins short.” 

A business deal is a business deal, no need to make anything personal. Dwalin, however, seems to take everything personally. If it were up to him, everyone he doesn’t like he would harm or kill just to have them not bug him anymore. Great in a battle situation, bad in a negotiation or a rescue mission. 

In a situation like this, having taken the Dwarves on the barge, Bard can decide to take their money and tip them over or leave them in front of the gates to fend for themselves. The Dwarves cannot be sure of his thoughts, not even money can guarantee them a safe passage. Nevertheless, they gather their coins together leaving them short.

Company treasurer

Thorin: “Glóin, come on. Give us what you have.” 

Glóin: “Don’t look to me. I have been bled dry by this venture. What have I seen for my investment? Naught but misery, grief and… Bless my beard. Take it. Take all of it.”

Glóin, as the unsung treasurer of the group, is very stingy with his money. There is nothing on this journey that happened that gave him any sense of hope, a matter of fact it only made him worry more. Up until now, he had only experienced trouble and misery of the long walking journey they have taken upon themselves. It doesn’t appear worthy of any of his coins anymore. He may have expected it to be different, more leisurely, less fraught with peril. 

But then for all his complaining, he looks upon the Lonely Mountain with the rest of the company remaining stunned with its proximity as well as its magnificence. Their home isn’t that far away anymore, in fact, it is closer than they thought. With that single sighting of the mountain, all his hope and all his money go to paying the bargeman for his service, for without him they wouldn’t have caught sight of anything except a relentless pack of Orcs.

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Guards ahead

Bard: “The money, quick. Give it to me.” 

Thorin: “We will pay you when we get our provisions but not before.”

Bard: “If you value your freedom, you’ll do as I say. There are guards ahead.” 

Bilbo’s cough distracts the Dwarves from their stunned viewing of the Lonely Mountain. The time has come to pay the bargeman. Thorin states his condition upon which Bard will receive his money. This, however, does not work. He put the fate of the quest in Bard’s hands for a short amount of time and he has to abide by his rules whether he likes it or not. And he doesn’t. 

Thorin takes pride in taking charge of his own destiny, not realizing that when relying on someone else’s help he cannot but relinquish the control over his own fate if he is to accept the help offered. Bard, knowing exactly what lies ahead, warns Thorin of the possible loss of their freedom, giving Thorin the incentive to follow his lead. 

Hiding under fish

Dwalin: “What’s he doing?”

Bilbo: “He’s talking to someone. He’s pointing right at us. Now they’re shaking hands.”

Thorin: “What?”

Dwalin: “The villain. He’s selling us out.” 

Bard: “Quiet. We’re approaching the tollgate.” 

The barrels once again come to the Dwarves’ rescue, only this time they cannot maneuver them or decide on their fate. They have to let the bargeman do what he can for them. They cannot know what Bard has in store for them, so any interpretation of the conversation they see him having with another man can be misleading. 

What they perceived as Bard selling them out having pointed at the barrels was actually Bard directing where the fish he wants need to be stored. With the coins that the Dwarves have given him, he can buy enough fish to hide every one of the Dwarves under. 

This is something the Dwarves never thought about. A very practical solution to their need for invisibility. A smelly solution, but still better than relying on blind luck. 

Peter Jackson’s revenge

The fish dumping scene was something of a sadistic move on director Peter Jackson’s part. For the good of the story he needed Thorin and Dwalin to be hidden away by fish. Dori and Ori were chosen carefully to participate in the scene. He told them before shooting, before they could ever smell the fish that he had a close up for them, and, of course, they being actors in want of some alone screen time, jumped at the chance. It only dawned on them that it might be a trick when they neared the stage where the scene was being shot. 

Why Dori and Ori? Well, because Peter Jackson thought them very protected and maybe a little spoiled, in need of a grounding experience. The thrill of the trick for Peter was the phobia that Ori (Adam Brown) has of fish in general. So the fear in his eyes as the fish are being dumped on him is as pure as it can possibly be and it comes from the actor himself and not the character trait of Ori’s. There was dry heaving on set when this scene was shot, the sounds of which were later incorporated into the soundtrack.

Inspection

Percy: “Halt! Goods inspection! Papers, please! Oh, it’s you, Bard.” 

Bard: “Morning, Percy.” 

Percy: “Anything to declare?”

Bard: “Nothing, but that I am cold and tired and ready for home.” 

Percy: “You and me both. There we are. All in order.” 

Alfrid: “Not so fast. “Consignment of empty barrels from the Woodland Realm.” Only, they’re not empty, are they, Bard? If I recall correctly you’re licenced as a bargeman. Not a fisherman.” 

It all looked as though Bard was free and clear, having known Percy for a while and him overlooking the fact that the barrels aren’t really empty as it is stated on his transport sheet. Had it not been for the ever meddling Alfrid he could have entered Lake-town without any problems. 

Following the letter of the law, Bard is technically in the wrong, having transported fish in the barrels when they were supposed to be empty. However, we as the audience want the Dwarves to pass unnoticed as much as we want to have Alfrid stop his meddling. Even though he is in the right, his entire sleazy attitude coupled with his appearance makes him an instantly unlikeable character. 

The Master’s business

Bard: “That’s none of your business.” 

Alfrid: “Wrong. It’s the masters business, which makes it my business.” 

Bard: “Oh, come on, Alfrid, have a heart. People need to eat.” 

Alfrid: “These fish are illegal. Empty the barrels over the side.” 

Braga: “You heard him. In the canal. Come on. Get a move on.” 

Bard: “Folk in this town are struggling. Times are hard. Food is scarce.” 

Alfrid: “That’s not my problem.” 

Executing the law may seem the proper thing to do, Bard’s argumentation makes it wrong. The existential situation in Lake-town is dire, people are in need of food as well as all other existential provisions. Therefore, saving the fish for the people even though they might be illegally brought into Lake-town feels like the right thing to do. Who among us wouldn’t help the less fortunate in this way?

Concerns of the Master or his lackey are not people’s needs and struggles, as it turns out. To them, their own livelihood and their own concern over gathering as much treasure as possible is their highest priority. 

Rule through fear

Bard: “And when the people hear the Master is dumping fish back in the lake, when the rioting starts, will it be your problem then?”

Alfrid: “Stop. Ever the people’s champion eh, Bard? Protector of the common folk. You might have their favor now, bargeman but you won’t last.” 

Percy: “Raise the gate!”

Alfrid: “The Master has his eye on you. You’d do well to remember: we know where you live.” 

Bard: “It’s a small town, Alfrid. Everyone knows where everyone lives.” 

Bard makes a good enough argument for Alfrid to stop dumping fish back into the lake. The ruling class doesn’t want any rioting happening on their watch. If it came to protests it would mean that the people were fed up with the system as it is and need a change to happen. However, if the ruling class keep the people in line through fear of persecution, then their rule might never be brought into question, keeping the status quo. 

Let’s meet the Master and his town on the Long Lake. Follow me to my next post. 

Featured image by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

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