Lord of the Adaptations
Films: Director Peter Jackson, along with his fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens, adapted The Lord of the Rings into three epic fantasy adventure films: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003). This film series is among the highest-grossing of all time, and won 17 out of 30 Academy Awards nominated in total. The final film in the trilogy, The Return of the King, won all 11 of the Academy Awards for which it was nominated, tying it with Ben-Hur and Titanic for most Academy Awards received for a film.
Books: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, an epic fantasy novel published as three volumes in 1954-55. It is the third best-selling novel ever written, with over 150 million copies sold, and ranks third on Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels.
Pro: Most film critics consider the trilogy to be both a great entertainment and artistic achievement that is a faithful adaptation of Tolkien’s books.
Con: According to J.R.R. Tolkien’s son Christopher, “The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing…. They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25. “
Frodo, The Youth
Films: Elijah Wood was 18 years old during most of the filming of The Lord of the Rings. His fellow hobbit cast members were all older than him: Sean Astin (Sam) was 28, Dominic Monagham (Merry) was 22, and Billy Boyd (Pippin) was 31. When he is introduced in the film, he appears to be a very young hobbit who spends most of his time at play.
Books: At the beginning of the story, Frodo is a 33-year-old hobbit who has just come of age in hobbit society. But by the second chapter, he becomes a 50 year-old middle-aged hobbit for the remainder of The Lord of the Rings. He was the oldest of the hobbits in the Fellowship: Sam was 39, Merry was 37, and Pippin was 29.
Pro: Youthful actors are more popular with modern audiences, and their camaraderie was easier to portray by actors who are close in age to each other. Peter Jackson cast Wood as Frodo because he “has emerged, I believe, as the most talented actor, in his age group.”
Con: Casting a younger actor as Frodo makes the character less wise and learned than he comes across in the books. It also makes his sacrifice in leaving his comfortable life in the Shire less palpable because he is to young to appreciate the life that he is giving up.
Sam, The Best Bud
Films: When Sam is introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring, he appears to be one of Frodo’s close friends, for there are scenes of the two drinking and socializing together before embarking on their quest. Although Sam usually addresses Frodo as “Mr. Frodo”, at times of stress he will call out “Frodo!” or the two will embrace each other. It is not until The Two Towers that Sam reveals, to Faramir, that he is a gardener.
Books: Samwise Gamgee is introduced to the reader as being the gardner at Bag End, as was his father before him. Being Frodo’s employee or servant. Sam always addresses Frodo as “Mr. Frodo” or “Master.” At times of stress or joy, Sam will burst out in tears.
Pro: Since modern audiences would not understand or accept a servant-master relationship, the films must portray the two as friends.
Con: The servant-master relationship is an important element of the characters’ relationship and hobbit culture. Changing it smacks of political correctness.
Merry and Pippin, The Pranksters
Films: Merry is fond of practical jokes, pranks, and getting into scrapes. In fact, Merry and his cohort Pippin are somewhat of a menace to the inhabitants of Hobbiton with their high spirits and practical jokes, with Merry being the instigator of the mishaps.
Books: Merry is portrayed in the first few chapters of Fellowship of the Ring as a mature-minded hobbit, with Frodo giving him the responsibility of finding Frodo a new home in Crickhollow and organizing Frodo’s move.
Pro: Merry’s mischievous character warms the film audience more quickly to Merry and dramatizes the change of his character over the course of the three films, as provides more opportunities for humor.
Con: The “Pippification” of Merry trivializes the character and makes him less distinct from Pippin.
Gandalf, The Befuddled
Films: Although the hobbits see him as an authority figure, the wizard, in his incarnation as Gandalf the Gray, is sometimes quite befuddled by events and is overruled or put down by some of the film’s other major characters. When Gandalf realizes that Frodo possesses the One Ring, the wizard becomes flustered and says he ask the head of his order, Saruman, what to do. Gandalf smiles weakly when Saruman then chastises him for not having the wit for not recognizing the One Ring sooner. Later, in Rivendell, Gandalf tells Elrond, “we can ask no more of Frodo”, but Elrond admonishes the wizard, “the Ring cannot say here, Gandalf!” Finally, when blocked by snow on the Misty Mountains, Aragorn, Boromir, and Gimli all favor an alternate route through Moria, against Gandalf’s wishes. The wizard says, “Let the Ringbearer decide!”, and Frodo sides against Gandalf.
Books: When Gandalf sends Frodo and Sam off when he discovered that Frodo possesses the One Ring, it is Saruman who summons him to Orthanc. Gandalf becomes impatient with the Saruman and does not tell him that Frodo has the One Ring. Later, at the Council of Elrond, Gandalf insists that the Ring be taken away to be destroyed, for “it is not our part here to take thought only for a season, or for a few lives of Men, or for a passing age of the world.” Finally, when blocked by snow on the Misty Mountains, Gandalf insists on going to Moria against the wishes of Aragorn. When the wizard says, “Let the Ringbearer decide!”, Frodo sides with Gandalf.
Pro: Gandalf’s conflicts serve to dramatize the danger that Gandalf sees ahead and the sympathy that he has for Frodo.
Con: As a angelic spirit sent to Middle-earth in human form to aid its people against the return of Sauron, Gandalf should always be an authoritative and commanding figure. This change diminishes his character.
Aragorn, The Self-Lothing
Films: Despite being the heir to the throne of Gondor, Aragorn has no interest being king. According to Elrond, “he turned from that path a long time ago.” Because Isildur failed to destroy the Ring three thousand years prior, Aragorn fears that he possess the same weakness as his ancestor. It was only after being touched by Boromir’s and Theoden’s love for their respective peoples that Aragorn decided to come to Minas Tirith to reclaim the throne of Gondor.
Books: After the North Kingdom was devastated by the dark forces of Angmar, Isildur’s heirs continued for sixteen generations under the title Chieftain of the Dúnedain. Aragorn was so proud of his heritage that he carried the shards of Isuldur’s sword, Narsil, in his scabbard as an heirloom. Aragorn saw the discovery of the One Ring as a sign that the time had come for Isildur’s heir to reclaim the throne, and it was only his loyalty to Frodo and the quest to destroy the Ring that prevented him from going to Minas Tirith immediately. One of Aragorn’s chief reasons for reclaiming the throne was that Arwen’s father, Elrond, would not permit her to marry any Man who was not king of both the North Kingdom and Gondor.
Pro: Aragorn’s concerns about the corruptibility of power dramatizes the evil influence of The One Ring and gives Aragorn a stronger character arc.
Con: This change diminishes Aragorn as a Arthurian-like figure seeking to fulfill his destiny. Besides, it’s silly that he refuses to claim a throne that is rightfully his because of a mistake made by an ancestor three thousand years ago.
Aragorn, The Ninja Ranger
Films: Aragorn dresses in dark clothing and carries a common sword and a bow. (He doesn’t receive Anduril until departing upon the Paths of the Dead).
Books: “Aragorn had Anduril but no other weapon, and he went forth clad only in rusty green and brown, as a Ranger of the Wilderness.”
Pro: The dark colors makes Aragorn look more mysterious and menacing.
Con: This change is an invention of the costumers and does not represent Tolkien’s work.
Gimli, The Comic Relief
Films: Gimli is a source of comic relief throughout all three films. The films contain a number of humorous scenes at Gimli’s expense, including poking fun at his short height and long beard, and references to dwarf tossing.
Books: The dialog has relatively little humor.
Pro: The dramatic pacing of films is such that comic relief is needed to alleviate tension. Also, humor helps the audience warm to Gimli’s character.
Con: The script would require additional dialog written by the scriptwriters rather than by Tolkien, and this comedic dialog trivializes Gimli’s character.
Gimli, The Hatchet Man
Films: Gimil wears an ornate Dwarvish helmet and three axes: a tall walking-axe of Ereborian design, with its crescent-mooned blade and two throwing axes – one a smaller version of the walking-axe, the other a hatchet. In Moria, he also avails himself of a mighty double-headed battle axe of Morian design.
Books: When departing with the Fellowship from Rivendell, “Gimili the dwarf alone wore openly a short shirt of steel-rings, for dwarves make light of burdens; and in his belt was a broad-bladed axe.” No mention is made of him carrying additional axes or wearing a helm. In fact, when he outfits himself for battle at Edoras, he is described as not needing a coat of rings because he already has one; however, he does choose a cap of iron and leather, suggesting that he does not already have a helm.
Pro: Presumably the helmet and additional axes helps to make Gimli come across as a tough warrior.
Con: This change is an invention of the costumers and does not represent Tolkien’s work.
Legolas, The Big Booted
Films: Legolas wears “mossy greens and greys” along with “fetching knee-high lace-up boots.” He also carries two filigreed throwing knives attached to his quiver.
Books: Legolas was clad in brown and green at the Council of Elrond. When departing from Rivendell, “Legolas had a bow and a quiver, and at his belt was a long, white knife.” While the Fellowship attempts to cross the snow at Caradhras, Frodo notes that “the Elf had no boots, but wore only light shoes, as he always did.”
Pro: According to one of the costumers, high boots help make the Elves look more statuesque. And, to modify and old adage, two knives are better than one.
Con: This change is an invention of the scriptwriters and does not represent Tolkien’s work.
Note: Many fans believe that Legolas was dark-haired, not blonde as he is in the films. However, Tolkien’s writings are inconclusive on this point.
Boromir, The Blonde
Films: Despite wearing a wig, Sean Bean sports blonde hair. He also visibly wears a shirt of mail under his red tunic
Books: Like other men of Numenorean descent, Boromir had dark hair. Also, Gimli was the only member of the Fellowship setting out from Rivendell to “openly a short shirt of steel-rings.”
Pro: If both Aragorn and Boromir had dark hair as in the books, it would be too hard for the audience to distinguish them.
Con: This change is an invention of the hairstylists and does not represent Tolkien’s work.
Sauron, The Formless
Films: Sauron as been formless since the Ring being severed from his finger at the end of the Second Age. However, Saruman warns that he will soon take shape.
Books: Sauron did indeed have a form during the War of the Ring. According to Gollum, who was imprisoned in Barad-dûr and apparently saw Sauron with his own eyes, “‘He has only four [fingers] on the Black Hand, but they are enough.'” Tolkien wrote in one of his letters, “Sauron should be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic.”
Pro: The threat that Sauron will soon take form (and therefore be an even greater danger) adds urgency to the events.
Con: Not only is this an unnecessary change, it contracts what is said in the films: Aragon says as he approaches the Black Gate in The Return of the King, “Let the Lord of the Black Land come forth! Justice shall be done upon him,” implying that Sauron has a form with which to “come out.”
Films: Frodo and Sam’s travels from Parth Galen to Mount Doom are intercut with scenes involving the other characters in both The Two Towers and The Return of the King (similarly to how The Empire Strikes Back, to use a familiar example, switches between the scenes of Luke in Dagobah and those involving the other characters).
Books: Their respective storylines are separated into lengthy “books.”
Pro: According to screenwriter Fran Walsh, the books’ separated storylines “is a narrative structure that lends itself to literature much more than film. When Tolkien was writing the book, intercutting wasn’t something that was so prevalent in literature – though it is starting to be now, and partly I think because of the influence of films.”
Con: Intertwining the storylines would drastically interfere with the story’s timeline and ruin many of the surprises that occur when what group of characters does not know what happened to the other.
Many Songs and Poems Cut
Films: Most of the songs and poems from the books are eliminated. Aragorn sings two songs: Lay of Luthinin in Fellowship of the Ring and his Coronation song in Return of the King. Merry and Pippin also sing a drinking song at The Green Dragon in the extended version of Fellowship of the Ring.
Books: There are approximately 20 songs and additional poems throughout the three books.
Pro: According to Peter Jackson, “It’s a difficult thing to work into the dramatic telling of the story.”
Con: The songs and poems give the story much of its depth and charm.