Character Profile: The Master of Lake-town


– The greedy ruler …

Like many of the non-principal characters in The Hobbit, the Master of Lake-town is not explored in much detail – nonetheless, he emphasizes a very important concept in the novel – greed.

The Master of Lake-town is quite simply … the Master of Lake-town (the clue is in the name). An individual who is both a good speaker and an excellent merchant. He rules over the inhabitants of Esgaroth and has a good “business relationship” with Thranduil – transporting goods in barrels along the Forest River between the two habitations.

Master of Lake-townIn the novel, this character has always struck me as being a sort of greedy and somewhat corrupt leader – with no firm morals; frequently changing sides depending on where his own best interests lie.

It was fantastic of Peter Jackson to put Stephen Fry in the shoes of the Master – capable of delivering the right amount of self-centeredness to the character, with a touch of humour. Fry’s performance certainly didn’t disappoint, and (along with Bard) is the main highlight of the Lake-town sequences in The Desolation of Smaug.

In the novel, some friction does exist between the Master and Bard, yet the film strongly emphasizes this issue – creating a strong contrast between the good-natured Bowman and the wicked (though certainly not evil)  Esgaroth ruler.

Master of Lake-town (painting)

Jackson continues to provide more depth to this character through a newly-crafted individual – Alfrid. Played by Ryan Gage, this character strongly reminds us of Gríma Wormtongue in The Two Towers, as the villainous adviser to King Théoden.

Grima THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUGBut again, Alfrid is certainly not evil, rather  he conforms with his Master’s egoistic ideas and is willing to execute commands in order to gain for his own profit. Therefore, both characters are pitted against Bard and will do anything to thwart his plans in order to suppress a ‘revolt’ in the city.

As with the rest of the characters, I’m looking forward to seeing how the Master will fare in There and Back Again and whether his story will conform with the interesting facts revealed in the book … 😉


14 thoughts on “Character Profile: The Master of Lake-town

  1. Admittedly, I’m not a Tolkien expert and also am not a purist at all, but I didn’t really care for Fry in the role of the Master — I thought he lacked all bombast — but something that bothered me more was the way that his henchman Alfrid was portrayed as disabled. The hunchbacked villain is a stereotype from another century and made me sad. Can you tell me if that’s an original detail from Tolkien?

    1. I deeply respect your opinion. I guess I’ve had a soft-spot for Stephen Fry since the days of Blackadder – which may have contributed to my expectation in seeing him portray the character.

      Truth be told, the character of Alfrid does not appear in the novel. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to create a new individual in order to support the Master’s motivations and overall characteristics, whilst at the same time provide an “appropriate” physical barrier to thwart Bard (or any of the good side)’s plans – a henchman under the Master’s orders …

  2. Alfrid is another addition to the second hobbit film, just as Tauriel’s love story, Thranduil’s burn marks, and many more. I think Jackson was trying to add a modern twist on Tolkien’s work, which somewhat deviates from his previous films, which do go along well with the books! (overall) As a movie-goer I enjoyed the story, but as a die-hard Tolkien fan, I felt slightly betrayed because of the hollywood aspects added. However, the role of the greedy master and Alfrid is a story that was somewhat accurate. Lake-town was controlled by a “steward” like man who had the ability to capture the town’s economic ability(almost comparative advantage) to control trade along the river. It can be imagined that the master has a servant, who is somewhat reminiscent of Grima Wormtongue(though not as evil, but maybe equally ambitious?) This story was a stretch for me, but I can imagine Tolkien creating this type of political control for Lake-town since it is a similar story line to Gondor’s stewardship and Grima’s control of King Theoden of Rohan. Maybe it is an omage’?

    1. Yes I agree that Peter Jackson has allowed himself too much liberty with The Hobbit (compared to the LOTR trilogy). Nonetheless, I’m willing to give him a chance and I’m sure he will manage to pull it off with the last film – tying up all the pressing issues.

      Yes, Film 2 seemed to deviate from the book a lot more than Film 1 but with all the “changes”, we’re seeing a Peter Jackson adaptation – implementing newly crafted scenes into Tolkien’s story – sometimes, giving more breadth and realism to otherwise undeveloped characters or locations in the novel.

      As to Alfrid, perhaps yes, it’s a gentle nod towards certain parallels with Rohan – some similarities between the two cities/inhabitants do exist; though I doubt Peter Jackson’s intention for Alfrid was merely just as an homage – I’m sensing something more is coming – but who knows? 🙂

  3. Sometimes adding a “side kick” to a character brings a little more life to his or hers story. I think it was interesting seeing Bard in Lake Town, because we got to “know” his enemies or issues a little better. Compared to characters like Tauriel, Alfrid doesn’t bring any major changes to the story. He simply adds a little extra dialogue and annoyance. The Lake Master was just funny. Stephen Fry suits very well in the hobbit, that is a far lighter story than LOTR.

    1. Stephen Fry is Stephen Fry! He’s brilliant and funny – but still manages to portray the necessary “gravitas” to a character.

      You are very correct about Alfrid (unlike Tauriel) doesn’t change the general storyline – even though he too is an “invented” character.

  4. Stephen Fry was originally supposed to play Bilbo’s father, right? I didn’t like the Master that much. I expected a much more evident political plot concerning Bard and the Master, however, that is not present. I hope to see some extended stuff later this year.

    I’ve read something about someone comparing the introduction of Lake-town to that of Edoras’, and therefore putting the enchanted Théoden and Gríma side to side with the Master and Alfrid. Even though their goals are completely different, they got that right.

    I’m eager to see what happens to the Master and Alfrid after Bard saves Lake-town, and whether Braga serves his master or has his own personal goals.

    1. As to Bilbo’s father, I believe that was first given to either Adam Brown (Ori) or Ryan Gage (Alfrid), but I could be mistaken.

      Yes, I’m also interested in Braga and see whether his story will continue to evolve in the third film or not …

  5. I respectfully disagree with you, sir. I thought that Alfrid was certainly evil (capturing an innocent man who had done nothing was obvious abuse of power – and borrowed power at that) and I thought he was heavy-handed and entirely unnecessary as a way to point out the corruption in Lake-town. I think the movie would have done better without him; and actually, that’s the first choice of Peter Jackson’s that I strongly disagree with in the films. But thank you for a thought-provoking article.

    1. Everyone has his own opinions, no worries! Though I still think Alfrid is not “evil” – in the usual sense. He certainly is a bad man, but evil? I guess we’ll have to see where his character leads him to in the next film …

  6. I was so excited when I saw Stephen pop up on the screen – I hadn’t realised he was in it, and I almost leapt up, did a fist-pump and shouted ‘Yesss!” when I realised he was.

    But I didn’t, because, you know. Theatre etiquette. 😉

    1. Haha! Lovely reaction to Fry’s appearance! Although I was expecting him to be in the film, I was still over-excited at seeing him as part of the Middle-earth cinematic Universe 😀

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