A Radagast Reveal
Date Posted: 2012-12-30
Tolkien Fan Level: 9
Film Format Seen? 3D 48 fps
Will view again in a different format? Yes
I so admire, in this first 'chapter' of Peter Jackson's new HOBBIT trilogy, the cinematic use of Gandalf's 'kindred spirit', his 'good cousin Radagast who lives near the borders of Mirkwood' (sent by the White Council, in Tolkien's writings, to keep a close southern watch on the sinister site of Dol Guldur's dark tower, which the Council believes, in Jackson's film, is occupied by some being, perhaps even a mortal man, dabbling in the arts of black magic, or sorcery). I admire Jackson's addition of Radagast, for we are able to see so little of the Brown Wizard in either of Tolkien's most popular printed works ('The Hobbit', 'The Lord of the Rings'), in which he never appears 'on stage', but is only spoken of as acting 'in absentia'.
It has always been very much a possibility, by the lights of Tolkien's descriptive canon (certainly not far-fetched), that this simple lore-master of beasts and herbs, the Brown Wizard Radagast 'Beast-tender' (Quenya: Aiwendil 'Bird-lover'), in any faithful filmic adaptation be portrayed (or by his outward expression at least appear) as a bit odd or eccentric. Never appearing on-stage in 'The Hobbit' and showing up only in references to his absence in 'The Lord of the Rings' (which gives only a few brief and not wholly complimentary allusions to his skills and judgement), Radagast of Rhosgobel ('Brown-hedge') is one of the most elusive of all Tolkien's characters. Note even his marked absence in Jackson's 'White Council' scene β just as he is absent from Tolkien's 'Council of Elrond'; though we are told there that he was 'never a traveller, unless driven by great need' (which, of course, fits perfectly his characterization and requirements in Jackson's films!). The humble Radagast is, in Tolkien's writings, somewhat careless of detail, if not a little dim β and he's gullible. After all, he unwittingly causes Gandalf to be captured by Saruman (by whom the Brown Wizard is 'taken in' or fooled) and equally unwittingly arranges for the Grey Wizard's escape from Orthanc. Even so, Tolkien and Jackson tend to exalt the humble, and both storytellers cast Radagast simultaneously as one who is faithful, loyal, and who delivers on his promises: it is 'honest Radagast', after all, whose emisarries deliver Gandalf from bondage and so foil Saruman's plot, a crucial factor in the victory of the West in the war against Sauron. According to John D. Rateliff, it was certainly Tolkien's intent at one point for Radagast to play a larger role in Bilbo's adventures. Exactly what that role, or what new episodes, would have been (or how these might have fit into the larger story) cannot now be guessed, Rateliff says ('The History of The Hobbit', pp. 268-280, 287-292). But for months rumors circulated that Peter Jackson intrepidly was planning to do just that for 'The Hobbit', in his brilliant ongoing contributions to the intended nature of what was for Tolkien always by artistic proxy to be his 'ever-expanding' legendarium (It was Tolkien's hope that others, adding to what he himself admittedly had only 'sketched', might follow him to help amplify his legends into 'a majestic whole' and pass them on from one generation to the next; that is, part of his legacy of 'a mythology for England' was to allow or to 'leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama' to stand as tellers of his tales to future generations β and it's precisely to that 'common endeavor' that Jackson & Company have lent their talents, seeking to faithfully and passionately do their part to promulgate Tolkien's mighty myth throughout the world; see Tolkien's 'Letters' No. 131) . . . After his involvement with Gandalf's escape in 'The Lord of the Rings', Radagast vanishes altogether from the narrative, and his fate is one of the very few loose ends in an otherwise tightly-knit story. More ominously (and this likewise may portend events for Jackson's HOBBIT trilogy) when messengers from Rivendell reach his home at Rhosgobel in Mirkwood to bring him word of Frodo's mission they find it abandoned, and (perhaps significantly for Jackson's upcoming movies) he does not, at the end of 'The Lord of the Rings', appear at the Grey Havens to take ship back to the Undying Lands of the High Eldar, Maiar, and Valar-gods. Jackson, in this first HOBBIT film, gives Radagast a slightly bolder and braver aspect than does Tolkien. But that Jackson's movie-Radagast is able to both see (without the aid of any 'ring of invisibility' or 'power') and wage battle with the undead Witch-king is 'spot on' by the metaphysical 'laws' of Middle-earth β for the Istari, or 'Five Wizards', are very much attuned to both 'the Seen' and 'the Unseen' realms of Tolkien's universe.
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