Who’s awake at four in the morning and overthinking minor details in Desolation of Smaug? Hint: it’s me.
During a heated encounter between Thranduil and Thorin—regarding dragons, precious gems, and honour—Thranduil bursts into a fit of rage. His face briefly appears disfigured as he speaks; deep scarring smearing his skin, his left eye cloudy and dull. The moment quickly passes and he pulls away, returning to his unscathed state.
“Do not talk to me of dragon fire. I know its wrath and ruin. I have faced the great serpents of the north.”
Whilst the intended dramatic effect worked a charm, we’re yet to be presented with a canon explanation. There was no mention of such scarring in the books, so—as can only be expected with a following such as Tolkien has garnered—fans were quick to speculate.
In the director’s commentary, Peter Jackson does openly mention that Thranduil’s implied past with dragons was not mentioned in the books. He added this to the story himself, putting it forward as justification for the elf’s isolation and unwillingness to lend his assistance to the dwarves.
Perhaps whilst in battle with a dragon he was scarred irreparably, and is now forced to hide the mutilation through ‘glamour’ (an illusion used by elves to conceal imperfections, as they are known to pride themselves on their striking beauty. The use of glamour has not been directly referenced in Tolkien’s universe, but being an impeccably common fantasy trope, it fits the bill). This could mean several things:
• In his bout of upset, Thranduil lost focus and his disguise unwillingly fell.
• The illusion merely isn’t strong enough to conceal his scarring in moments of confrontational anger or panic. This may relate to a future point regarding “fëa” and “hröa”.
• Or, as is my preferred theory: to place emphasis on his words, and perhaps to prove his credibility on the matter, Thranduil intentionally dropped his façade, allowing Thorin a glimpse into the true horrors of coming face to face with a ferocious dragon.
On a slightly different note, Thranduil’s battle scars may have healed through time or spells, and not have been permanent at all (although it has been thrown around that dragon’s fire is the only thing incapable of healing through elvish means…I digress).
• In canonical Tolkien lore, whilst under extreme amounts of stress, elves’ hröa (the physical body) may be affected by their fëa (the soul), sometimes manifesting as a change in physical appearance or health. In this case, Thranduil was dwelling on his memory of battle, thus, it manifested as the physical appearance of his war scars.
• Or, he intentionally cast an illusion to make his war scars reappear before Thorin—once again, to emphasise his point.
Of course, another less in-depth theory is that he didn’t actually suffer this injury, but he conjured it for emphasis nonetheless. He doesn’t appear to be vision impaired for the rest of the movie, and he is one Middle Earth’s fiercest warriors, after all.
With that nerd rant done and dusted…what do you think?