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!

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