Category Archives: LOTR


Book four was a too-brief visit with Frodo, Sam and Gollum. They met dumb dead Boromir’s brother, Faramir, and chilled at his secret clubhouse for a while. Then, despite the warnings and protests of everyone, they walked to the evil, glowing, city of Minas Morgul. After watching a military parade from behind a rock, they climbed up the mountain, where Gollum had lead them: into the lair of Shelob the giant spider. They all had a nice fight, and Frodo got stung right in his stupid neck. Then his paralyzed body was captured by orcs and hauled away. Bad day for him. And while he tried to rescue Frodo, Sam wore the Ring – to be invisible – and he wore it for much longer than anyone else in the books did (he’s still wearing it now!), with very little ill effect! No big glowing eye. No soul-crushing sense of foreboding. Perhaps Sam should bear the Ring in the future? Nah.

This was all great stuff. And, here, Peter Jackson’s movies stuck very close to the book. The movies did a great job with Minas Morgul – it comes out looking like an evil version of Oz’s Emerald City – green and dramatically-lit and misty. I’d like to see a whole movie set there! Do they have a market? Who fixes the potholes? Is there trash service? Does it glow like that on the inside?

Book five takes us back to the windy, word-filled world of Men: the men of Rohan and the men of Minas Tirith, as they prepare to fight their big battle against Sauron’s forces outside of Minas Tirith.

While Aragorn and the men of Rohan ride towards the big battle, Aragorn suddenly decides he needs to take side trip, through the Paths Of The Dead. Everybody’s like “No, don’t”, but he’s all like “Destiny. BRB.” So he takes a small company of his buddies and walks through a long scary tunnel to pick up an army of ghosts. Gimli cries. Legolas is too cool to be afraid of human ghosts. After that, Aragorn picks up some more Men for his army, they fight some briefly-described battles. They defeat some invaders to get their boats and Aragorn dismisses the ghosts, “Kthxbyeeee”; and then he arrives at the big battle outside Minas Tirith just in time to save the day.

I like the Jackson’s handling of Aragorn’s side quest much better than Tolkien’s. Jackson (who reportedly hated the whole Army Of The Dead thing but left it in for fans) trims it down to one job: get the army of dead to help fight in the big battle. Don’t bother with the little side battles. Don’t bother with more Men. Just get the ghosts to help him with the fight. But to make it worth watching, he has to raise the difficulty. The premise here is that the dead are under an ancient curse that only Aragorn can lift, and he offers to release them if they’ll fight on his side. In the book, the dead meet Aragorn outside the cave, near a special rock, hear the terms and come along with no argument. In the movie, they meet in an underground City Of The Dead, and there’s much argument, and much peril. The dead threaten to kill the whole party, king or not. And it takes some persuasion to get them to come along. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie.

I think the reason for the difference is that, for Tolkien, this is an actual world war. There’s a main evil empire and its evil and deluded far-flung allies are fighting the forces of good on multiple fronts. Just like in, for example, WWI, in which Tolkien served. There’s a big battle coming up, but there are battles everywhere else, too. Tolkien’s Aragorn uses his side trip to smack down some of Sauron’s allies in the south, which frees those areas from the invaders and also frees up some men to help in the fight at Gondor – which Tolkien then zips through in just a few pages. But Jackson is only interested in the one big battle at Gondor – which he shows in a long, epic scene – I don’t think he even mentions the other fronts. So Jackson’s Aragorn’s side quest is entirely about getting aid for that one fight.

And, how fun is it when the ghosts pour off the ships and start chopping up orcs? It’s very fun. Tolkien’s pathetic ghosts never make it that far! Sad. I like ghosts who chop up the evil host of Mordor.

In the meantime, there’s some drama with the King and his son, Faramir. Pippen is bored, then scared. The Rohan king dies.

Merry and Eowyn meet the Nazgul captain. He’s like “Nice sword, McFly. *Pppffhht* Sucks to be you ’cause no man can kill me. Says so right here in my employment contract. Look says right here : ‘No man can kill me’.”

And she’s like “I’m no man! I’M A WOMAN. W-O-M-A … *STAB YOU IN THE FACE*!”.

“Curse you, foul loophole… *HISSSSSSsssss….*”

Everybody talks a lot. There are more songs. Etc..

Get back to Frodo!

Game: Jackson

Just finished the first half of the second volume of the Lord Of The Rings (so… the third ‘book’). The second book ends when Frodo and Sam leave the party and head out for Mordor on their own. The third book is about what everybody else does after Sam and Frodo leave. And it starts with Merry and Pippin getting grabbed by orcs. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli give chase. Gandalf is out running errands.

This is the part where Jackson’s movies really start to deviate from the books. In the books, the Theoden and Wormtongue episode is just a few pages long and feels rather inconsequential – just another pit-stop on the journey. Wormtongue gets just a few lines before Gandalf dispatches him with a couple of stern speeches. But in the movie, Jackson makes the encounter interesting by giving Wormtongue a lot of screen time and letting the awesome Brad Dourif play him: he skulks and lurks and schemes and whispers and sneers. And he’s great at it. More importantly, he gives us a reason to enjoy seeing Gandalf eventually take him down. This Theoden guy, some boring old king, that we just met comes out of his stupor? Who cares? But that deliciously evil dude! He totally steals the scene. And Gandalf crushed him! Point: Jackson, with a strong assist by Dourif.

Eowyn is the only woman in this book, and she barely exists. She gives Aragorn some sexy eyes, and then gets left in charge when all the men leave. But that’s more than Arawen got, back in Rivendell; she was barely scenery. And the poor Ents… all their lady friends wandered away eons ago, yet they still pine for them.

Then we’re off to the centerpiece of the second movie: the big battle at Helm’s Deep. There is no Elvish army at the battle, in the book. Nor is there any dwarf tossing. Nor does it take a full hour. Tolkien’s battle is quick, and rather muddled and anti-climactic. It’s basically won by a moving forest of vengeful trees (the Huorns). Everyone rides off to Isengard. Point: Jackson.

Merry and Pippin hang out with the Ents. That’s a fun section. But it seems too short, in the book. They meet Treebeard, tell their story, he gets the other Ents together, has the meeting, and then they’re off. That episode ends with all the Ents looking out over Isengard, ready to attack.

Because that’s what Tolkien is really pushing for: everybody get to Isengard! To annoy a defeated Saruman! In the book, Saruman’s a mystery. We only meet him once, and that’s after he’s been defeated. He and Wormtongue come to the front door to vainly scold Gandalf for a couple of minutes. Gandalf’s like “meh”. Everybody leaves. The movie at least shows him (played by the excellent Christopher Lee) and Gandalf having their book-one wizard fight, so we have a reason to dislike Saruman personally when he’s finally brought down in book two. In the book, the fight is just a sentence or two in Gandalf’s explanation of why he was late meeting the rest of the party. Point: Jackson. Though honestly, they both could have done with more Saruman – this whole book, hundreds of pages, is about people rushing to fight him. But we only hear rumors of him, mostly from Gandalf. And we don’t actually see Saruman until he’s been defeated.

In the book, we learn about how Saruman was defeated when the Hobbits recount their adventures to Gandalf. They’re sitting around, smoking pipes or whatever, and we get a couple pages of flashback. Jackson does it better; he ditches the flashback idea and shows all that happening in the Merry/Pippin storyline, as it happens. The Ents show up at Isengard, carrying the two Hobbits; they go about smashing and flooding and burning and generally ripping the place up with Saruman watches helplessly from his tower. Lots of fire and explosions and smoke. Very smashy. And then, eventually, Gandalf and the others show up and marvel at what happened. It’s a small narrative change: instead of ending the narrative when the Ents arrive at Isengard, just keep the film rolling and show them then attacking and destroying it! That’s fun! Then, cut away to Gandalf and the rest as they journey to Isengard, having already missed all the Ent action – which we got to see, too! When they do show up, we get to share in the smugness of the Hobbits – where y’all been? You missed the fun! Point: Jackson.

Book four gets back to Sam and Frodo, starting off where book two ended. Thus, the whole third book thus feels like an interruption of the real story. You were enjoying this tale about a magic ring and Gollum (who we still haven’t really met) and elves? Cool. Now, let’s spend a few hundred pages running in the wrong direction with a new set of characters, to beat up a wizard you don’t have much reason to care about! Horses!

And that’s why this was always my least favorite of the books. But somehow, Jackson found ways to make an entertaining few hours out of it. Game: Jackson.

Lord Of The Revision

It’s been fifteen years or so since I last read The Lord Of The Rings. In that time, I’ve seen the Peter Jackson movies a half-dozen times. And, it turns out, my memories of the movies have replaced my memories of the book.

The movies dropped the Fatty Bolger character, cut out a scene where the hobbits spend a night with elves, dropped Frodo’s decoy house, dropped the conspiracy among Frodo’s friends to figure out what he’s up to, completely changed the nature of their interaction with Farmer Maggot, added a chase scene to get to the ferry, and apparently moved the town of Bree to just across the Brandywine river (which cuts out a tricksy forest and Tom Bombadil – which is as far as I’ve read so far).

Which is not to fault the movies! Because a lot of that stuff is fairly inconsequential, and skipping it in the interest of just getting on with things doesn’t hurt how the movies work. After all, it takes the book 100+ pages just to get across the river, and another couple of chapters after that to get to Bree. If the movies stuck to the book, it would take hours of screen time just to meet Aragorn. But, since I only remembered Jackson’s streamlined version, a couple of times I’ve found myself wondering if maybe I’m reading some kind of new expanded edition of LOTR!