Let me say at the outset that I love Peter Jackson’s cinematic vision of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I own the extended edition on BluRay and have seen it all a number of times. So, I’m a fan. I am, however a deeper fan of the books and am saddened by Mr. Jackson’s perceived need to make the characters less heroic and exhibit less good. To be fair, Mr. Jackson isn’t alone in this; Adamson does the same in The Chronicles of Naria: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as he does in Prince Caspian. I presume that Messrs. Jackson and Adamson as well as others of their ilk arebelieve that to portray characters as unabashedly good, albeit, not perfect, is unrealistic and not believable to a current audience. Character, it would seem, must be downgraded to match the palate of the current movie going audience.
What drives me to make such accusation? Let’s look at some of the characters in the Lord of the Rings movie series:
While Ents are more reluctant to join the war (they are, after all, never hasty), they choose to risk themselves for their forests and the free peoples. In the movie, they decide not to join until Treebeard sees the damage to his trees with his own eyes.
Éomer is the loyal and obedient servant to King Théoden. He will not defy him as he must do in the movie.
Théoden is far more risk adverse and self-focused in the movie; when he sees the Red Arrow of war, he remembers his oaths and goes to war on behalf of his neighbor and ally, Gondor, without hesitation. In the movie, he questions supporting them when they have not supported him.
Aragorn is a reluctant leader unwilling to take on the responsibility that is his until crisis comes; in the book, he is patiently awaiting the day to take up his call and will do all to see to it that he leads his people well.
But now we come to Faramir. There are few characters in fiction more noble, gentle and wise as Faramir. What are some of this qualities:
He is a truth-speaker who would not mislead:
‘Dead?’ he said. ‘Do you mean that he is dead, and that you knew it? You have been trying to trap me in words, playing with me? Or are you now trying to snare me with a falsehood?’ ‘I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood,’ said Faramir. Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-02-15). The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings (Kindle Location 5303). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
Alas for Boromir! It was too sore a trial!’ he said. ‘How you have increased my sorrow, you two strange wanderers from a far country, bearing the peril of Men! But you are less judges of Men than I of Halflings. We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt. Not if I found it on the highway would I take it I said. Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow, and be held by them. (Kindle Location 5655) Tolkien, Two Towers
He is just and wise:
And I do not need any to teach me of our peril. Even so, I spare a brief time, in order to judge justly in a hard matter. Were I as hasty as you, I might have slain you long ago. For I am commanded to slay all whom I find in this land without the leave of the Lord of Gondor. But I do not slay man or beast needlessly, and not gladly even when it is needed. Neither do I talk in vain. So be comforted. (Kindle Location 5322) Tolkien, Two Towers
‘But whatever befell on the North March, you, Frodo, I doubt no longer. If hard days have made me any judge of Men’s words and faces, then I may make a guess at Halflings! Though,’ and now he smiled, ‘there is something strange about you, Frodo, an Elvish air, maybe. But more lies upon our words together than I thought at first. I should now take you back to Minas Tirith to answer there to Denethor, and my life will justly be forfeit, if I now choose a course that proves ill for my city. (Kindle Location 5386) Tolkien, Two Towers
He is a great captain of men:
‘But things may change when Faramir returns. He is bold, more bold than many deem; for in these days men are slow to believe that a captain can be wise and learned in the scrolls of lore and song, as he is, and yet a man of hardihood and swift judgment in the field. But such is Faramir. Less reckless and eager than Boromir, but not less resolute. Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings (Kindle Location 505). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
At last, less than a mile from the City, a more ordered mass of men came into view, marching not running, still holding together. The watchers held their breath. ‘Faramir must be there,’ they said. ‘He can govern man and beast. He will make it yet. (Kindle Location 1560) Tolkien, Return of the King
He is a gentle lover:
‘Then, Éowyn of Rohan, I say to you that you are beautiful. In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady have I seen till now in Gondor so lovely, and so sorrowful. It may be that only a few days are left ere darkness falls upon our world, and when it comes I hope to face it steadily; but it would ease my heart, if while the Sun yet shines, I could see you still. For you and I have both passed under the wings of the Shadow, and the same hand drew us back. (Kindle Location 4313) Tolkien, Return of the King
‘That I know,’ he said. ‘You desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn. Because he was high and puissant, and you wished to have renown and glory and to be lifted far above the mean things that crawl on the earth. And as a great captain may to a young soldier he seemed to you admirable. For so he is, a lord among men, the greatest that now is. But when he gave you only understanding and pity, then you desired to have nothing, unless a brave death in battle. Look at me, Éowyn!’ And Éowyn looked at Faramir long and steadily; and Faramir said: ‘Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Éowyn! But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the elven-tongue to tell. And I love you. Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Éowyn, do you not love me?’ Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her. (Kindle Location 4394) Tolkien, Return of the King
His nobility also comes through in his love, not of war, great captain though he is, but of his people and their art and glory of Gondor. Unlike his father, he willingly surrenders his office. I have, I know, beat this point to a dead pulp, partly because I do love this character so much. Also to give you a sense of his nobility if you haven’t read the books yet. The Faramir we find in Jackson’s movies is a mere shadow of this (no fault of David Wenham). Yes, Faramir gives in to sending Frodo on to Mordor after the evidence is so stark he could rationally do nothing else. It does not show the same strength of character.
Now, I do credit Mr. Jackson and Ms. Boyens and Ms. Walsh as doing this with eyes wide open. They knew that they diminished the character; their reason for doing so was to highlight the lure of the ring. They believed that if they allowed Faramir to withstand the temptation of the ring, that it couldn’t be realistically thought to have such a powerful allure. Yet, Tolkien knew of its pull. He understood addiction and what it could do to those he knew (veterans on pain medication). He is the one who noted that Bilbo was the first to give it up freely and how it transformed those who bore it. No, I believe Tolkien was clear on the power of the Ring and equally clear that Faramir, as Gandalf and Galadriel before him, withstood the test. Indeed, Galadriel was deemed strong enough, but not Faramir. Why? I think it is because we cannot have men be too good in our day. Elves can be strong; wizards can hold firm, but not men. We must identify with our heroes – Lancelot must fall and take Guinevere. We love our rogue heroes like Hans Solo and Indiana Jones. We love our anti-heroes – Tony Stark/Ironman & Bruce Wayne/Batman.
I would argue that we need our pure heroes as well. Not that everyone needs to be perfect, but we need to look for that person we want to be and our called to be. We want to know that there are those that can overcome temptation to let us know it’s possible and to continue to fight the good fight. We need both. So, on those rare occasions when the literary characters are a bit better than those to which we’re accustomed, let use leave the character alone and let it shine.