A comparitive look at the Lord of the rings books and movies

Yes, I know, it has been done like a million times – and yet somehow I feel like there is no other way for me to kick off my blog on fantasy than with a post on the lord of the rings. I am quite firm in my opinion that J.R.R Tolkien was the most influential fantasy writer the past millennium, maybe even in history, but that is debatable.

I am one of the fortunate souls who could watch Peter Jackson’s movies on the lord of the rings without having read the books first. I am saying “fortunate”, because once I started with the books, I realized that I might not have enjoyed the movies as much as I did had the order been reversed. Nevertheless, I really like the movies (Lord of the Rings… NOT the Hobbit, those movies are trash). I am trying to handle the lord of the rings movies as a “movie universe” in itself, and I keep the books separate in my mind. That way I still have a chance of enjoying both :)

So to sum up: I enjoy both the LOTR books and movies, but still there are a few things that I wish they didn’t change in the movies. Some changes/additions I can handle, but some not.

So what were the things that Jackson did in the movies that I feel subtracted from the original story?

Timeframe

In the movies, it appears as if Gandalf leaves shortly after Bilbo’s party in haste, goes to Gondor, and comes back in haste, sending Frodo off in the middle of the night with the ring.

  • In the books, it was more like 17 years that went past since Bilbo’s party and Frodo being told by Gandalf to leave the Shire.
  • Gandalf suspected for most of those years that the ring was the one ring, but he wasn’t sure, and with the benefit of not growing older or dying, Gandalf was content to leave it there and see what happens.
  • Even after the “final test” with fire proved that the ring was indeed the one ring, months still went by before Frodo finally left the Shire. There was really nothing close to the sense of urgency that the movies portray.

The hobbits

  • Frodo didn’t leave Bag End and came back after the journey, he sold it to the Sackville Bagginses and moved all his belongings out of Hobbiton under the guise of retirement, so as not to rouse suspicion and talk when he left.
  • Merry and Pippin didn’t accidentally stumble into the adventure, they knew from the start that Frodo was going to leave, and they decided to go with him of their own accord.
  • Frodo never abandoned Sam to follow Gollum. He always suspected Gollum of deceit and betrayal and never really trusted him.

Aragorn

The character Aragorn in the movies is a ranger who doesn’t believe in himself or his destiny. He know is is a true heir to the throne, but he is afraid to take that role. He is afraid of the ring and the power that it might have over him. Through guidance of the elves and Gandalf he finally steps up to the plain and becomes who he was born to be.

  • In the books, Aragorn was never afraid to be king, he was merely biding his time as he has exceeding long life (being Númenórean and all).
  • There was a prophecy since the fall of Isildur that when the ring was found, the sword will be forged anew and the king will return. All the Dúnedain were waiting it out as rangers in the wild for the prophecy to be fulfilled, serving the free people of middle earth as silent guardians.
  • The sword wan’t reforged just before the battle of Minas Tirith… it was reforged before the fellowship set out from Rivendell, and Aragorn had it with him the entire time.

Faramir

  • The “unfortunate” brother of Boromir has been completely misrepresented in the movies. He is pictured as a hurt, frail young man trying desperately to earn his fathers love.
  • In the books, on the other hand, he comes across as an almost larger than life character. He uses wit and wisdom to talk the truth out of the hobbits and finds out everything about the ring. He can easily be seen  as the wisest man in the books, probably wiser than even Aragorn.
  • He is a fierce warrior, well respected as captain and leader. Leading as well as serving his men.
  • He never caught Frodo and Sam and he didn’t take them to Osgiliath. He merely kept them for one night to learn all about them, and then let them go.
  • He totally won the battle for the heart of Eowen, who could not be tamed by any man…

Theoden

  • The king of Rohan in the movies is a stubborn angry man. In the books this is not so.
  • Yes, he was very weak and frail at first, being poisoned by Wormtongue’s words for so long. But after Gandalf heals him, he becomes strong again. Proud, but wise, and not stubborn at all.

Denethor

  • The steward of Gondor in the movies is like a spoiled child. Totally inept in everything and just an ass.
  • In the books, he is also quite an ass… but not because of being inept or afraid. In fact, he comes across as quite a powerful, insightful, wise person. He has a palantir with which he spies out the works of Sauron all the time, and yet Gandalf says that he is to powerful for Sauron to control through that way, that’s pretty powerful.
  • He knows what goes on in his land, can see things that happen hundreds of miles away. Feels things in the spirit etc.
  • He does prepare the city for battle and has quite a good battle plan in general. Sometimes even ahead of Gandalf in strategy.
  • In the end, after losing both sons, he looks into the palantir and gets deceived by Sauron (not controlled), and then finally he basically succumbs to total defeat and therein madness. His end is tragic.

Elrond

  • Elrond in the movies seems pessimistic with men, and does not want his daughter to marry a man, giving up her Elven birth rite.
  • In the books, Elrond is very much pro-man. He knows that the age of men has come and the age of the elves have passed. He has been fostering the firstborn heirs of the Dúnedain for centuries in Rivendell, and he practically raised Aragorn as his own son. He even calls Aragorn “my son”.
  • Elrond himself is not even a full-blown elf, his “surname” is  Half-elven, because he is of mixed blood, both elf and man.
  • Elrond in the books has no objection to letting his daughter marry Aragorn. He is grieved by his daughter’s decision to marry Aragorn, as it means that they will be separated until the end of the world. But yet he never tries to influence her decision, or blames either her or Aragorn. He supports them in their decision.

The quest

  • Gimli never suggested that they travel through the mines of Moria, it never even occurred to him. It was Gandalf’s plan from the beginning, but Aragorn was against it.
  • There were no elves at Helms deep, Haldir and his elves did not show up just in time to (almost) save the day. And Haldir did not die here. In fact, Haldir did not die at all in the books… to me this is reckless, how can you kill a character that could potentially have lived for ever?
  • Saruman wasn’t killed at Isengard. In a way this does make sense in the movies, but I feel this was a step too far. In essence, the only thing that happened at Isengard after Helms deep, was that Gandalf broke Saruman’s staff (like in the movie), and gave him a chance to convert to the side of good. Saruman refused, and was left rather powerless. Then later he went to take over the Shire… but that’s beside the point.
  • The ghosts never showed up at the battle of the Pelennor Fields (Minas Tirith). In fact, they didn’t fight at all, they drove a lot of the reserves of Corsairs away with fear and aided the Aragorn and the men of the west to overthrow the corsair ships that were going to Minas Tirith. By the time the ships arrived, the ghosts were already gone. This is so much better than the movies… I really disliked the idea of the battle being won by ghosties in the movie.
  • The captain of the Nazgul did not shatter Gandalf’s staff. In the movie this happens and it was sad to me, because in my mind I thought Gandalf was stronger than him. In the books this never happens, in fact, they never fight, they are interrupted before they go at it. But based on previous mentions in the books, I would say Gandalf the white would have won in a battle, even if he couldn’t kill the nazgul.

The ents

  • The ents decided of their own accord to fight against Isengard and Saruman, they were not driven to it by the hobbits.
  • On a side note, Treebeard is a really cool character in the books, and the ents quite entertaining

Then of course, there are certain other things that I liked better in the movies:

Fight scenes

  • The fight between Gandalf and Saruman in Orthanc is not shown in the books, not actually even mentioned. One might even think there was no fight at all, but it makes more sense that Gandalf would have resisted. The fight scene in the movie was pretty cool.
  • In the book, the last stand of Boromir is “off screen”, in other words, you never see it. Aragorn just arrives there to see Boromir dying on the ground. In the movie, this was such an epic scene, that final battle.
  • The “cleansing of king Theoden” by Gandalf in the books consist of taking him outside and showing him the sun… I know right? Not very dramatic. I really liked the “battle” for Theoden in the movies a lot more, where Gandalf contests with Saruman for control of the king. Was a cool scene: “I will draw you Saruman, as poison is drawn from a wound”.

Helm’s deep

  • In the book, the whole Helm’s deep siege lasted one night, and was then over, this was rather short and not so intense as in the movies. To me, Helm’s deep in the movies was quite awesome and enjoyable, so I can’t help but feeling slightly underwhelmed by the account in the books.
  • There were no women or children at Helm’s deep, only men of war. So in the movies they had a lot more to fight for and defend in a sense.

Denethor running off a massive cliff while burning

  • This doesn’t happen in the books. Yes, Denethor does burn himself, but for the most part is killed by the smoke, and it happens in the tombs of the kings.
  • In the movies, they make Denethor such a terrible character, that by the time this happens, you literally cheer on the fact that he is burning alive and falling off a massive cliff. Now I feel like a bad person :(
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