You know what would have been a really good idea? Taking notes while I was watching the movies recently, immediately after I’d finished reading the books. Alas, I was too swept up in Middle-earth–how does one get too swept up in a movie they’ve seen literally dozens of times? NO IDEA–and thus, I took literally no notes other than some capslock screaming about Sam, which, I mean, I do every day anyway, so that’s not really helpful. There were a few things that stood out to me that I knew I wanted to talk about, so let’s dive in!

Aragorn & Arwen
Art by Akita-sensei

Generally, I’m going to like the book more than the movie, for pretty much every adaptation, and there are very few instances where that’s reversed. I’d almost say that I love the book & movie for Lord of the Rings the same? They exist in such different realms in my brain. Weirdly enough, I’ve only read the trilogy three times, and the third time was last year. I read it as a child, and then very sporadically, a few chapters at a time, over the next several years, before finally rereading it in its entirety and somewhat together, in the last half of 2020. The movies, however, I’ve probably watched at least two to three times a year since their release? Thus, I’ve grown up with the LOTR trilogy as my favorite movie, but the books haven’t always been my favorite. And, even still, while The Silmarillion pops up in my top ten favorite books of all time, no other Tolkien books do, and I don’t know that they ever will. That’s not to say that I don’t love the books because I do, very much, don’t worry. It’s just a weird dissonance in my head where I love both equally, but in very different ways.

One of the things that I appreciate a lot about the movies is Aragorn’s character. He’s very similar, but there’s a pretty huge thing missing in the movies–he’s not arrogant or proud. In the books, Aragorn is kind of annoying at times. He not only believes that he deserves to be king, but that it’s his right, and he’s pretty loud about that. He accepts the mantle almost immediately after they arrive in Rivendell, and he goes around shouting about his heritage to anyone that will listen. There’s no hesitation at all on his part, and anytime he encounters other powerful characters, he’s quick to throw around his kingly birthright. It’s honestly a bit disconcerting, and I found myself sighing loudly at him a lot while reading the books.

In the movie, however, Aragorn is pretty humble. He gets all shy and havo dad, Legolas when Legolas tries to basically defend his honor against Boromir. He quickly defers leadership to Gandalf, he refuses to make any huge decisions without consulting the others, and he outright says nope to Elrond about literally all of it for nearly three movies. And honestly? I prefer this version of Aragorn. He’s sweet and unassuming, and he nestles himself into the Fellowship without making any big waves. Yes, he does eventually comb his hair and don regal armor, but that’s only after a huge character arc of change and growth.

I get why Tolkien wrote Aragorn’s character like he did. At the time, that was the kind of kingly figure that many stories had, and that many readers wanted. And, to this day, it’s not like I don’t like Aragorn’s character in the books. I understand him, and I appreciate his arc. I just kind of like what Jackson did with him better, and wow, that felt so sacrilegious, am I about to burst into flames?

Frodo & Sam
Art by Hari Conner

Something that will never, ever make sense to me, though, is Frodo telling Sam to go home. That’s just–what? I would have been confused if this happened in the books, too, but it doesn’t, so it’s even more confusing when it happens in the movie.

Look, it really doesn’t matter if you’ve never read the books, Frodo telling Sam to go home is so stupid. It just literally doesn’t make a lick of sense. In no universe would Gollum be able to poison Frodo that much that he would tell his oldest and dearest and most beloved friend to leave him. And even if Frodo did consider it, he wouldn’t tell Sam to go home while they were in freaking Minas Morgul! I don’t care what you think about Frodo, he’s not cold-hearted like that. Sure, maybe Gollum could have accomplished it, but at no point would Frodo have thought, hm you know what makes sense, telling my best friend to go home while we’re in enemy territory. I may have a weird love for Sauron, but even the ring couldn’t have swayed Frodo to do something so out of character. And even setting aside the fact that telling Sam to go home while climbing the stairs of Cirith Ungol is just nonsense, Frodo just wouldn’t want Sam to leave him at all. Frodo knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that he can’t accomplish this impossible task without Sam. Say what you will about their light-hearted musings about a future story about themselves, but Frodo’s part in that conversation is so telling. He knows that he needs Sam to go on, and not in some awful way, but because he loves Sam, and he knows that Sam is going to continue holding him up, and he also just wants a friend.

Yes, I do like what Jackson did with Aragorn, but I hate the scene when Frodo tells Sam to go home because it’s unrealistic for their friendship, and it’s rude to Tolkien fans for ever daring to put tension between the greatest friendship of all time.

While we’re here, let’s chat about how Jackson glorified war, as well. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is about ten pages long? Maybe a little bit less, but it really doesn’t take up a whole lot of space. The Battle of Pelennor Fields & at the Black Gate are also pretty short as far as the whole scope of the story goes. Much of the attention is paid to the preemptive work to get themselves ready, and then the fallout after the battle. Sure, Tolkien pays attention to what actually happens in the battle, and he lists out some wondrous deeds by our favorite heroes, but he also speeds right through it and then deposits us back in Frodo & Sam slowly making their way through Mordor. And if that wasn’t indicative enough, Tolkien called LOTR a “high romance”. He had no intention of the story being about war at all. Even after he was gone, the Tolkien family was very adamant that it wasn’t a story about war, either, but rather a story about the individual characters and their relationships with one another, with how the war in their life was affecting them. Middle-earth has suffered a lot of war, yes, but the stories are never specifically about those wars, but the characters suffering from them.

And it’s really a bummer that Jackson then turned his lens so firmly on the different battles. I get it, too. I understand that war sells, and that Hollywood wanted a big production, and heck, you’ll hear it right from me! Helm’s Deep is probably one of my favorite scenes ever when it comes to movies, and I’ve long told myself that I get one battle in the rain in my books because holy hell is it badass and can only be done that spectacularly once. But, at the same time, as I’ve rewatched the movies in the last few years and thought about how much Tolkien hated war, it makes me sad to see it so glorified in the adaption of his story.

Andúril
Art by Stevie Dutson

I know that this last point is in direct conflict with my previous statement about how Jackson glorified war considering we’re talking about a sword, but the legend behind Andúril is a lot more classic lore for Tolkien than it is talking about war, and you just know he geeked out about getting to give his swords names and cool stories.

But Andúril in the movie? Yeah, that’s way cooler. The shards of Narsil are reforged at the damn Council of Elrond in the books, and Aragorn flashes it in everyone’s faces when they reach Edoras, and this kind of goes hand-in-hand with how I like his character better in the movies. I like that he’s more reserved about it in the books, that he pays the sword its due respect and a little bit of fear. I like that we get this huge moment when Elrond travels through the night across Middle-earth to bring him the sword and basically give him one last go big or go home speech. I like that there’s so much importance cast over Andúril, that it’s almost more than just a sword, and that weight in the movies is what makes it so badass.

And that is the end of the first week of Tolkien month! I’ve got a lot of fun topics geared up to discuss this month, as well as three reviews–please pray for me that I’ll manage to get all of them done. There’s some shouting about Morgoth, which we all should have expected, as well as an announcement at the end of the month that I’m hella hyped about, so I hope y’all are buckled in and ready for some adventures!

Posted by:Mary Drover

she/her | yoga teacher | Tibetan Buddhism | part-time witch | full-time author | astronaut in a previous life

7 replies on “How Does the Movie Compare?

  1. I’m reading both these books now. The Silmarillion. Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism by Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs. Then, I will read The Two Towers.

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  2. I agree that the books and movies kind of exist separately for me! I’m the same that I’ve read the books far fewer times than I’ve watched the movies, so the movies are what come to mind first for me. But when I really allow myself to dive into the world of the books (like now), I remember how much I love them too.

    Yess I love the movie version of Aragorn too—his humbleness and reluctance makes him feel much more relatable than mr. “divine right to rule” in the books lol.

    I really like what you said about Jackson glorifying war, since that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently as I learn more about Tolkien’s life. As epic and fun to watch as the battle scenes are in the movies, it seems to go against how Tolkien viewed those scenes. I think Tolkien always took such care to celebrate the smaller moments of heroism, like Sam sticking by Frodo all the way across Middle-Earth, and while the movies highlight that too, they place such emphasis on the war heroism that the impact isn’t quite as great. Anyway, this is super interesting and definitely something I’m going to keep thinking about!

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    1. They’re so similar, but they really do exist separately, and I think it’s that way for a lot of people. They’re almost different levels of media? Like, the books are full of such elevated language and insane lore, but the movies are also so powerful and beautifully done. They’re both incredible, but in such different ways.

      You’re so right, he really did place more weight on the small acts of heroism, often for those outside of the actual, physical battles, and that’s so important to remember when thinking of LOTR. I mean, sure, I love Help’s Deep & Pelennor Fields so damn much, but, at the end of the day, the true heroes–at least, as Tolkien saw them–very rarely saw typical battle.

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