From the Movies to the Books
I just finished reading Lord of the Rings for the first time last weekend, and I had a few thoughts and random observations to share. I know there are a ton of Tolkien fans out there, and many of them will vehemently disagree with many or most of my assessments. Disagreement is fine, even vehement disagreement, and you should post your thoughts below in the comments!
Before I begin, I want to provide some background. My first taste of Tolkien was the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated television special of The Hobbit. I was about seven or eight when I watched it, and it did not go well. Gollum scared me to tears and was the subject of a fun recurring nightmare that would last a few months. After that, I didn’t go near Tolkien until Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring came out in 2001. But that was it. Done–Game Over. I was a fan for life. I loved the movies and impatiently waited until the next one was released.
So, a decade since the last movie was released, I decided to finally sit down and read the actual book. I didn’t read the appendices and I haven’t read any other work by Tolkien yet. But here are my thoughts:
A Trial of Patience and Perseverance
I almost didn’t make it. I almost gave up towards the end of The Two Towers when Frodo, Sam, and Gollum were trudging towards Mordor. I thought it was the weakest part of the movies, and I thought it was the weakest part of the book as well. HOWEVER, all of the long wandering and dreary landscapes was made worth it when they came to Shelob’s lair. The sense of fear and dread in the book was so much more suspenseful and effective than in the movie. Remarkably, spending millions on CGI couldn’t inspire the knot in my stomach I felt when reading that chapter. Tolkien really had the upper hand on Jackson when it comes to illustrating the darkest corners of Middle Earth, as I thought the book description of Moria was just as compelling and also superior to the film adaptation.
One of the things I found most surprising was how quickly things started to move during certain passages, particularly when Aragorn was involved. He knows how to get stuff done, and I was really happy when he showed up in Bree. The chapters before that featured only the hobbits were definitely interesting and I liked Tom Bombadil as much as the next person, but I’m not sure I could have stuck with it if I hadn’t known all the action and drama that was coming.
The Women and Princes of Middle Earth
Much has been written about the (lack of) presence of women in LOTR, so I won’t address it too much here. Considering just how little we ever got to read about Eowyn and Arwen in the books, I’d say Jackson did a much better job of illustrating the depth and strength of those characters. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t already primed to notice Arwen in the books, I would have overlooked her presence entirely.
When reading The Return of the King, I found myself pretty disappointed that there was no mention of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth in the movies, because he was a pretty cool character in the book. Of course, there’s no way for the movie to include every character and facet of such an epic novel, but I would have liked to see a bit more of the human-to-human politics fleshed out a bit more in the movies.
Time for a Change of Pace
I could go on and on, but I’ll try to wrap this up. I really loved the book, and I felt a profound sense of satisfaction when I flipped the final page. I’m glad I stuck with it, and I’ll definitely revisit Shelob’s lair in the future. But for now, I’m giving myself a bit of a break and reading Mindy Kaling’s excellent, excellent memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). After that, I think I may give C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters a try.
Tell me what you think in the comments, and start some (friendly) arguments people!