“Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what it is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.’
The last instalment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy delivers on everything a reader expects.
The first half of the novel concerns the great battle that has been building throughout the trilogy. We see the big picture of the battlefield, but also what happens to the characters we care about. This creates a powerful feeling of participation. As an outside observer, we get a chance to see and understand everything that’s happening on the battlefield, with all the implications. But also it feels like we’re right there, with the characters. Sometimes the narration focuses on single characters and events – Théoden’s death, Éowyn’s duel with the Witch King, the fall of the Dwarf King – and that’s when the feeling of participation is stronger.
Tolkien’s familiarity with both medieval and more recent wars it’s pretty obvious. He knows exactly where to look to create the most impactful picture. He knows about the feelings, but also the movements of a battle. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields moves realistically, but also not exactly how we would expect, especially when it goes near the characters. I particularly liked the few episodes of quiet in the midst of the battle, which occasion more intimate look into the characters.
Battlefields are never easy to handle in a novel, but Tolkien achieved the task beautifully.
The second half of the novel focuses on the last leg of Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mouth Doom. This is only a few chapters, but some very intense ones. Tolkien believed Sam to be the true hero of this story, and here’s where you see it in full. He acts spurred by a sense of duty and by love, expecting nothing in return but the safety of the person he’s protecting. This is true for Frodo too, of course, he acts spurred by the knowledge that his sacrifice (because at this point he expects to die) will save lots of people, including lots who he loves. But in Sam we see greater selflessness, in my opinion, because it’s more on a human and less on an epic scale.
The last part of the novel is a beautiful celebration of everything good there is in the story. It’s refreshing to see everything go a good way after so many harrowing events.
The Hobbits’ homecoming is part of this concluding events, and truly this was the first time I appreciated it in full.
The Hobbits’ homecoming feels like a stretch of the story – I know many readers feel this way. But this time I saw it as a necessary part, what brings the story full circle. The Hobbits did great deeds abroad, and they were instrumental in defeating the greatest of evils. But their true growth as characters is in their ability to bring that experience home, to make it relevant to their own life and the life of the people around them. The greatest of experiences doesn’t mean anything if we don’t transform it into something useful to the people most close to us and to us. Only when the big adventure becomes the ability of everyday life, only then it becomes meaningful.
And of course, there are all the Appendices. Many readers of the readalong didn’t read them, but I think it’s a great disservice to the story. There are so many stories to know in these appendices. The history of the Dwarves, for example (one of my favourite parts) or of the Rohirrim. The conclusion of Arwen and Aragorn’s story, so sad after such a glorious conclusion in the novel. The detailed history of the Númenoreans.
I’m so happy I joined this readalong. Such a long time from my last read, this was almost a rediscovery of The Lord of the Rings.
And you know what I thought after nearly two months of reading when I came to the last page? I thought, “I want to start it all over again!”
Filming The Lord of the Rings
When we first heard about Peter Jackson’s project to film a trilogy based on The Lord of the Rings, all the Tolkien’s fandom went into a buzz. It seems like this is happening all over again with the recent announcement that Amazon will be producing a multi-season tv series from the trilogy. Initially, it actually seemed as if they were making a series based on The Silmarillion, although most recent rumours in the fandom talk of a new adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. It looks like things are still quite hazy, but hey!
Tolkien’s fandom is once again in fibrillation. Me, I hope we’ll get what we got with Peter Jackson’s trilogy.
Twenty years ago, there was a lot of distrust about the planned film trilogy and readers started to take down the films even before we saw any frame of it. To a certain point, the trilogy is still criticized by fans today, fans who thinks the story wasn’t translated faithfully to the screen.
In many respects, I agree with this, but I’m among those that appreciate the film trilogy for what it is, which is not The Lord of the Rings as Tolkien envisioned it, but a fan’s interpretation of a beloved work.
Besides, I think we should keep in mind at least two things when we appraise the film trilogy:
- It’s impossible to translate a story faithfully from the page to the screen, if by ‘faithfully’ we mean ‘exactly how it is in the novel’. Novels and films are two very different media and what works beautifully for one might be disastrous for the other.
- The message the films send out doesn’t necessarily match the message the novels send out. In fact, I think it doesn’t. And that’s fine with me. Stories that live beyond their creators’ life take on a life of their own (and that’s why they become immortal), and this happens because readers can make the story their own every single time. Far from being damage, this is actually the richness of this kind of stories, which become ever more layered and evolve as their readership evolve. Every new reader gives something to the story, the same way the story gives something to them.
To me, Peter Jackson’s interpretation of The Lord of the Rings is one more layer to the story, a different angle to it. Which I may or may not agree with, but still means richness to the story rather than damage.
I mostly love the film trilogy. Sure, there are choices I don’t particularly agree with. Changes had been made for both medium and narrational necessities. There are episodes completely cut off the story, again from narrational and technical necessities. But as a fan, I recognise Peter Jackson as another fan who loves the story like I do and comes at it with respect and love, knowing both the strength and weakness of the medium he uses.
Many fans regret the cutting off of several episodes, most of all Tom Bombadil, Treebeard’s Lodgings and the Scouring of the Shire. It is indeed a shame. I told about my feelings on the Hobbits’ homecoming above and regarding Tom Bombadil. I was impressed by the power of this episode when I reread it. But I mostly agree with Jackson in taking them away. Tom Bombadil is such a complex episode that it’s difficult to grasp it even in the book and transportation on screen might have seriously damaged it, in my opinion. As for the Scouring of the Shire, viewers already moan about the ‘multiple endings’ of the film trilogy. And what’s more, I don’t think this part of story agrees well with the new message of the film trilogy, which is less of a choral story and more of a hero story, where Aragorn takes centre stage, pushing the Hobbits and their message more on the side.
Great debate surrounded the role of women in the story and the expanded screen time of both Éowyn and especially Arwen. I should say here that I don’t particularly feel bad about women’s role in Tolkien’s stories. Sure, there are very view in the main works (there are none in The Hobbit) but Tolkien’s stories are so universal that I don’t feel excluded. What the characters go through and what they learn from their experiences is as relevant for me as a woman as it is for them as male characters. But I would also like to point out that there are many other tales where women are very well represented, and they all are powerful characters which the male characters are hard-pressed to handle and never actually try to hinder.
Tolkien’s characters are all very strong, whoever they are.
I actually like the way the role of women was expanded in the trilogy because it felt natural, and it added to the story, particularly concerning Arwen. She barely appears in the novels, and her story is explored in the Appendixes instead. I think Jackson made an excellent choice when he included the material of the Appendixes in the story itself because we would know nothing about that beautiful story if he hadn’t. And here, all the material is treated with great respect… which we only have to look at what was done in The Hobbit to see that nothing can really be taken for granted.
The same thing can be said for Saruman. He only appears in one chapter in the books, but he’s a constant presence in the films, which in my opinion was a great intuition handled with skillfulness.
Other elements were altered in the films to adjust to a viewer’s handling of the story as opposed to a reader’s, as well as to adjust to the new message of the film. Mostly this regard characters who appear in the films in a very different guise than in the books. Théoden, Éomer, Grima, Denethor and especially Faramir are all very different characters in the films than they are in the books. I mostly appreciate the new interpretation of the film (I like both Théoden in the films and in the books, for example, even if they are two widely different characters), with the only exception of Faramir who in the films is nothing as the powerful character he is in the books – and I’m really sorry about that.
Reinventing the books: the case of the Rohirrim
I’ve mentioned in a previous review of how my heart goes to the Rohirrim in the books. It also goes to the Rohirrim in the films, although we’re talking of two different renditions of the same people. The way the Rohirrim are handled in the film beautifully displays how Jackson handled the entire adaptation.
There is no arguing that the Rohirrim are incredibly more complex in the books. They have a powerful personality as a people, and they are clearly modelled (it is no secret) on the Anglosaxon people of the Middle Ages. Their way of thinking, feeling and acting comes off the page in such a strong manner that it cannot help but impact the reader very profoundly.
Most of this gets lost in the films in terms of narration. The individuality of the Rohirrim as people with their own customs and lifestyle is only partially in the films, although the incredible visualisation – which is indeed characterisation – partly gives back that feeling.
In the films, we don’t see the way the Rohirrim think and deal with strangers in their own way (they mostly do what all other peoples do), we only see part of their understanding of being a human being and a warrior, we don’t really see their relationship with the unknown. But we do see them and the environment they live in. Their individuality is gain back by the looks of them, the colours that characterised them, the music that accompanies them. These film devises manage to largely complement whatever gets lost in translation from the books.
Something that I truly like about the film trilogy is that it sounds like the books very much. Literally. The films are littered with exact quotes from the books, even if they may have been mixed and shifted.
One such episode is the coming of Gandalf to Edoras. The confrontation between Gandalf and Théoden is almost entirely a quotation from the books with only a few original lines added. Not a transportation of the episode to the screen exactly as it is in the book, but more a choice of important lines from that episode and from others, rearranged so that it will make sense in the action of the film and will still sound like the books.
And this is the basic philosophy of the film trilogy, in my opinion. To keep everything it was possible to keep from the books and transform it into a different medium.
To me, it’s mostly a successful operation. I truly hope Amazon will do the same.
THE WAR OF THE RING
The Passing of the Grey Company
The Muster of Rohan
The Siege of Gondor
The Ride of the Rohirrim
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
The Pyre of Denethor
The Houses of Healing
The Last Debate
The Black Gate Opens
THE END OF THE THIRD AGE
The Tower of Cirith Ungol
The Land of Shadow
The Field of Cormallen
The Steward and the King
The Scouring of the Shire
The Grey Havens
Annals of the Kings and Rulers
Annals of the Kings and Rulers
A Tale of Aragorn and Arwen
Annals of the Kings and Rulers
House of Eorl
Annals of the Kings and Rulers
Annals of the Kings and Rulers
The Third Age
The Tale of Years
Chronology of the Westlands
Writing and Spelling
DISCLAMER: Of course, none of these images belongs to me. I’ve only collected them in order to share my feelings about the story, but every image belongs to its own creator. The great many of them come from Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, but classic works of the most famous Tolkien’s illustrators (I’ll just mention Alan Lee and John Howe as an example, but there are others) also appear, together with illustrations created by less known Tolkien enthusiasts.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies