I Watched “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy…Again

Over the last two weeks Lyndsay and I have been making our way through The Lord of the Rings films. I used shrug off people who were so vehemently opposed to the liberties that Peter Jackson took with the story. In my mind it was still a good story and that all the basic elements of the book was included in the movie: there’s a ring that is bad, some unlikely persons are going to destroy it, the bad guys try to stop them, great friendships among individuals of different races are made, they achieve their quest in the end. Don’t get me wrong! I love Tolkien’s epic tale and I don’t mean to belittle it. But I thoroughly believed that Peter Jackson did a bang up job.

But upon watching it again recently I started to think to myself “ya know, there are some changes he really didn’t have to make.” For example, there is a part in The Fellowship of the Ring (the book version) when Frodo is stabbed by the leader of the nazgul. Strider and the other hobbits attempt to hasten their trek to Rivendell so that Elrond might be able to heal Frodo’s wound. On the way an elf of Rivendell named Glorfindel comes to their aid. Glorfindel is one of the first glimpses we get of the elves in the book and he makes a great impression. Well in Peter Jackson’s film the same thing happens only it it the female elf, Arwen, the love interest of Strider, who comes to their aid. Perhaps it would have been too cumbersome Jackson to introduce a new character just for the purpose staying true to the book, but throughout the films they make a much bigger deal of Arwen than Tolkien actually does. Yes, it is true that in the book Strider (or Aragorn) longs to be united with Arwen, but that is hardly the point of the tale nor is Arwen’s role very profound.

There are times when lines are taken from one character and given to another in Jackson’s version. This would not be too scandalous except that sometimes the lines are taken from good guys and given to bad guys (such as when the lines of Gandalf to Eowyn of Rohan concerning her sad nature are taken and given to Grima Wormtongue, a disgusting man who is trying to bring about the fall of Rohan so that when all is said and done he can have Eowyn for himself).

One scene in the film adaptation of The Return of the King that greatly frustrated my friend Daniel Dean and now frustrates me is when Gandalf finally faces the Witch-king of Angmar (who is in fact the aforementioned lord of the nazgul). Gandalf is utterly frightened and furthermore the Witch-king breaks Gandalf’s staff! I’m not certain if this confrontation is even in the book (Daniel or Steve help me out here), but I do know that Gandalf’s staff is not broken. That was a liberty that went too far. A wizard’s staff in LOTR lore is the symbol and source of his strength and power. In essence, in the movie when the Witch-king broke Gandalf’s staff, he stripped the wizard of his power and strength. Hogwash! And that is a theme that plays out elsewhere in the film: the idea that some of the heroes are weaker than Tolkien meant them to be. The heroes that Tolkien created in LOTR are larger than life heroes of mythical proportions. Aragorn never doubts his worthiness or ability to become king of Gondor in the book the way he does in the film. And when the time comes for Aragorn to take the Paths of the Dead, the film portrays him as frightened and uncertain. The purpose of his going to the Paths of the Dead is to summon a group of undead oath-breakers who broke their oath to one of Aragorn’s forefathers, Isildur, and were thus cursed to roam the earth until Isildur’s heir summoned them to fulfill their oath. In the novel, Aragorn is confident that he can go into the Paths of the Dead, command this great undead army and lead them in battle. He has to qualms about doing so. In the film he does not even seem sure that they will answer his summons or let him pass through the Paths of the Dead alive.

I still enjoy the films and I will no doubt watch the trilogy again some time in the future. I understand that scripts for films are a completely different animal from novel manuscripts. I further understand why Peter Jackson made some changes and omissions. But there are some liberties that simply did not need to be taken.

Josh H.

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