Thursday, June 08, 2006

Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings

At the risk of turning this into some kind of fanboy nerd blog, I wish to broach the subject of The Lord of the Rings one more time. I have a few things to say now that I've finished reading the novel entire. Okay, so I haven't read all of the appendixed material. I am working on it, though.

On to the analysis:

I must say, along with most of the previous commenters, that I really like the film adaptations and I think that it will take some time before anyone could possibly rival Peter Jackson's productions. That being the blanket statement for what I liked about the films, I will now move on to what the books did much, much better.

For me the number one thing the books do better is characterization. I agree with Jon: for the most part, the movies cast and portray the main characters rather well. But the books gave an added measure of depth to the characters and bonded the reader to them much more effectively. Take Faramir, for example. In the movies we learn that he's a fairly effective military leader and that he has some deep family issues. Then we see him tempted by the ring, mercilessly using death threats to get Frodo to reveal who Gollum is, and veering Frodo from his path. In the book we see Faramir as a noble captain of Gondor. He is beloved by all of the men of Gondor, especially those who serve under him in the army and the city guard. He is thoughtful and clever. He threatens Gollum's life not to force Frodo into telling him anything, but because Gollum had discovered their secret place. Faramir is bold, brave, strong, etc. He's everything Boromir got portrayed as, but a bit wiser. I felt like the Faramir in the movie was kind of desperate and whiny. Even at the end when he's making eyes at Eowyn (much better in the book) he seems like a 14-year-old at his first EFY dance.

This analysis on Faramir applies to many of the other characters (though I think I felt more strongly about the misportrayal of Faramir than the others--nobody else was quite as mishandled, except perhaps Aragorn). Merry's and Pippen's characters suffered in the name of comic relief. It would have been much more worthwhile to show them join Frodo as true friends who did not wish him to go alone than as bumbling fools who were stealing vegetables. I suppose they did that in order to show a contrast in their characters when compared to the end of the story. I just think there were more effective ways to do it. For example: leaving in the chapter on the scouring of the Shire. That chapter more than anything showed the growth of each of the hobbits. Frodo had forsaken violence and sought peace to heal his wounds; he extended mercy to all, even Saruman. Merry and Pippen had become leaders of hobbits, even in a military capacity. Sam became revered and looked to for leadership, but maintained his humility in spite of it. The whole chapter completed the portraits of the four hobbits and showed us what they became.

I also felt like the Ents could have been portrayed better. I agree with Jon: the way they had to be tricked into fighting the war in the movies was lame. The way the Ents resolved to fight in the book was much better. And just because they take a long time to say things doesn't mean they speak excruciatingly slowly. Reading the way Treebeard and Quickbeam spoke in the books, I could not hear some slow-speaking snail of an orator. They took a long time saying things for the same reason Tolkien took a long time saying things: they saw all of creation in the quantity and details of their words; to them, creation was beauty.

Aside from characterization, there's really only one other broad thing that I think the movies could have done better. The movies definitely captured an epic feeling, but it wasn't the same as the epic feeling of the books. The movies presented an epic adventure. The books presented an epic mythology. I felt drawn into this world of Nordic lore, kind of touching my own roots. It was like Beowulf, but readable. I actually liked the songs and the minute details, characters like Tom Bombadil and such. It really created a world within the book that seemed to be connected to Nordic legend. It drew me in. The movies created a world, but I did not feel connected to it. It lacked a sense of heritage, if that makes sense.

This is a long post, but I must voice one last complaint that nobody else has mentioned: Aragorn as the healer. This was one of my favorite chapters in all of the novel. I nearly cried a couple of times as Aragorn showed his merciful side and took time to visit the sick and afflicted and heal them. I already knew Aragorn was a Christ figure, but this sealed it in so well. He had shown himself as a captain in battle, one who descended among the dead, one who inpired awe in his majesty. At the end of the battle he showed himself to be compassionate, loving, and charitable. It was powerful.

Those are my main points. Responses? Agreements? Disagreements? I eagerly await the coming discussion.



Nick said...

I agree about the loss of the epic feeling, though it manages to glimmer through in a few spots, like during Elrond and Gandalf's conversation, and when Aragorn sings some of the old songs.

I mentioned this in the other LOTR post (it's not showing up in the recent comments column), but I finished reading the Silmarillion after the trilogy and the Hobbit. That book really gives the trilogy a huge mythology to draw from. Its amazing how broad it is- there must be hundreds of different characters, places and stories he came up with, some of which are mentioned in the trilogy books, and even fewer in the movies. It gives the trilogy almost a sense of authenticity and historicity since the mythology that came before is so distant and almost fairy-tale like.

Anyway, I highly recommend the silmarilion as well.

Nick said...

Jared- You mention that you think Aragorn's character was mishandled. What exactly did you think they got wrong with his character? Or was it just with the healing thing? (with which I agree most wholeheartedly- they could have put that in instead of the cheesy faramir/eowyn montage- they could even have done a quick montage of it and still be semi-effective)

In the book, he seems jollier (as in jolly-er) and more willing to laugh whereas in the movie he seems so solemn and grim. I don't like how the movie implies that he has somehow turned from the path of becoming the king, like he chose to be "just a ranger" instead of going down to gondor and claiming the throne. He was much more confident in the book- he knew who he was, and though he wasn't quite sure about how it would all unfold, he wasn't so.....reluctant to lead and be king as it seems in the movie. I realize that movie characters need their shortcomings and faults in order to be interesting, but the book already gave him some to have to invent more.

That all said, I still really like the Aragorn character in the movie- just could've been a little more....what I said above.

erin said...

I'm glad you took the risk, Jared, and broached the subject again because (I'm singing this next part) I have read them now. I really like what both of you said about the differences. I agree that the movies could have shown Merry and Pippin as being more competent and watchful of their friend. I thought that Sam was the best translation from book to movie...and I think I cried more over Sam than anyone else. I thought that Frodo suffered a little in the transition a little--kind of like Faramir--in that in the entire third movie (if I remember--it's been awhile since I've seen it) he seems to be growing more and more suspicious of Sam and bound by the ring. In the book it seemed shocking that Frodo would take the ring for his own (not absolutely, but it sure wasn't expected...except that I'd seen the movie already) but in the movie you could kind of feel that coming on. In the book Frodo seemed a much more noble ring-bearer, I think, though maybe a little more pessimistic about ever really accomplishing the whole deal...but again, it's been awhile since I saw those movies. I liked the books much more than I thought I would. Other than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, these were the only fantasy books I've ever read, and I really liked them. It's funny, but even though there are talking trees and dwarves and elves, I found myself thinking, Why do they call this fantasy? There's nothing that unrealistic about...except...oh, well, never mind. I think it's kind of like what Jared was saying--how he was drawn into it. I think it's because the characters behaved in a way that was so understandable...even if they were weird creatures, you hardly notice because they talk just like your neighbors.

Jared said...

Nick- Your second paragraph in your second comment to this post says exactly what I feel about the handling of Aragorn's character in the movie. I don't like that he was reluctant to assume his role as king and that the importance of his role as a Ranger was diminished. I like in the Return of the King book that Butterbur comes to the realization (out loud) of how important the Rangers were to their area. I like in the Fellowship book how Aragorn begins to act more kingly simply by entering the realm of Gondor. The movie kind of made him wimpy in that aspect.

Erin- I agree with you on the Frodo topic as well. His character was not as grossly mishandled as Faramir's and Aragorn's, but I think the book portrayed him better. And I don't think that was Elijah Wood's fault--I though he did a fantastic job--I think it was the screenplay adaptation that changed him. Frodo would never have dismissed Sam! And as an aside, I didn't feel like they were as gay in the book as in the movies. The books made me feel like they were the truest of friends. The movies gave it a kind of Brokeback feeling.