As I indicated in Part 1 of this series, I truly love Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings set and am a movie fan in general.
That being said, great books are always better than great movies. (although some mediocre books make great movies which are better than their source). There are lots of reasons for this, the primary being that movies just don’t have the canvas to depict all that a book portrays. You have, at most, 3 hours to cover everything. With books, you have all of the time you need (within reason). One of the best adaptations I’ve seen, the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version of Pride and Prejudice, was a mini-series. They didn’t have to leave out much. In Lord of the Rings, among the many things cut were Tom Bombadil and the Old Forest, the Scouring of the Shire as well as pretty much all songs, poems and stories. The more reflective thought and introspective scenes tend not to make it into movies as well. They are different media and they’re doing different jobs. I’m simply arguing that books do a better job. The Two Towers did not primarily consist of the battle of Helm’s Deep; you would be led to believe otherwise when watching the Jackson version.
His movies are drama fueled action set-pieces. I like them, but that is a shell of what Tolkien has given the world. It’s as if someone cooks an amazing meal with perfectly steamed asparagus with light lemon butter, tender steak that melts like butter (ignore this if you’re vegan), cut new potatoes sprinkled with olive oil and tarragon and lovely Cabernet; once this is done, you take those ingredients and reconstitute them as hamburger and fries with a coke. Now I like hamburger and fries with a coke, but, given the choice, I’m eating the former. Yet the frightening statistics we have about reading suggest that most settle for the hamburger.
Rather than simply spout my opinion on this, however, I’ll turn to Tolkien’s words. I think the arguments that Faramir puts forth on celebrating the culture and beauty of Gondor over celebrating fighting skill translates well into the comparison of degenerating into mere action:
For so we reckon Men in our lore, calling them the High, or Men of the West, which were Númenóreans; and the Middle Peoples, Men of the Twilight, such as are the Rohirrim and their kin that dwell still far in the North; and the Wild, the Men of Darkness. ‘Yet now , if the Rohirrim are grown in some ways more like to us, enhanced in arts and gentleness, we too have become more like to them, and can scarce claim any longer the title High. We are become Middle Men, of the Twilight, but with memory of other things. For as the Rohirrim do, we now love war and valour as things good in themselves, both a sport and an end ; and though we still hold that a warrior should have more skills and knowledge than only the craft of weapons and slaying, we esteem a warrior, nonetheless, above men of other crafts. Such is the need of our days. So even was my brother, Boromir: a man of prowess, and for that he was accounted the best man in Gondor. And very valiant indeed he was: no heir of Minas Tirith has for long years been so hardy in toil, so onward into battle , or blown a mightier note on the Great Horn.’ Faramir sighed and fell silent for a while.
Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-02-15). The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings (p. 323). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
Faramir sees his culture diminished because they come to love war and valour for their own sake. He would see them love something more:
‘For myself,’ said Faramir, ‘I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves. War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness , nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Númenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.
Tolkien The Two Towers (pp. 314-315).
Mere action, even good cinematic action, is no substitute for the world presented in song, poem and thought that only a book provides. It gives us time to reflect, take in and make our own. We have the ultimate DVR – pause, repeat and pick-up wherever and whenever we want.
If you only know the movies, you’ll never experience
…Aragorn had been singing a part of the Lay of Lúthien which tells of the meeting of Lúthien and Beren in the forest of Neldoreth. And behold! there Lúthien walked before his eyes in Rivendell, clad in a mantle of silver and blue, fair as the twilight in Elven-home; her dark hair strayed in a sudden wind, and her brows were bound with gems like stars.
Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-02-15). The Return of the King: Being theThird Part of the Lord of the Rings (p. 411). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
The movies will never know Tom Bombadil jumping and dancing along the hillside singing:
Hey! Come merry dol! derry dol! My darling! Light goes the weather-wind and the feathered starling. Down along under Hill, shining in the sunlight, Waiting on the doorstep for the cold starlight, There my pretty lady is, River-woman’s daughter, Slender as the willow-wand, clearer than the water. Old Tom Bombadil water-lilies bringing Comes hopping home again. Can you hear him singing? Hey! Come merry dol! derry dol! and merry-o, Goldberry, Goldberry, merry yellow berry-o!
Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-02-15). The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings (p. 156). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
The movies will never let you experience Sam’s joy:
And when the glad shout had swelled up and died away again, to Sam’s final and complete satisfaction and pure joy, a minstrel of Gondor stood forth, and knelt, and begged leave to sing. And behold! he said: ‘Lo! lords and knights and men of valour unashamed, kings and princes, and fair people of Gondor, and Riders of Rohan, and ye sons of Elrond, and Dúnedain of the North, and Elf and Dwarf , and greathearts of the Shire, and all free folk of the West, now listen to my lay. For I will sing to you of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom.’
And when Sam heard that he laughed aloud for sheer delight, and he stood up and cried: ‘O great glory and splendour! And all my wishes have come true!’ And then he wept. And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.
Tolkien, The Return of the King: (pp. 273-274).
There is so much more but let met leave it at this: Long live the written word!
Lord of the Rings @ Amazon