Looking back at The Fellowship of the Ring
Now that The Two Towers is in theaters, I suppose I should
actually write some comments on the extended edition of The
Fellowship of the Ring, which I saw around Thanksgiving at my
sister’s apartment. In short: I liked it. It looks great, it sounds
great, and it tells an exciting story. (Not the same story as the book,
but that’s another matter.) The extended edition adds about a half-hour
of extra footage, most in the form of a prologue about Hobbits and the
gift-giving scene at Lothlórien, but also in extra lines in several
scenes. It’s pretty seamless: aside from the obvious additions, I rarely
could tell when something was new.
Some have called the extra footage unnecessary and the extended edition
inferior or suited only to obsessive fans of the book. I don’t know about that, myself.
Granted, it makes a long movie even longer, but I don’t see that it mucks up
the pace any. And the gift-giving, at least, strikes me as one of those things
that shouldn’t have been left out in the first place—unless Mr Jackson is
planning to change the ending of the fight with Shelob in the third movie.
Still, I can’t help but point out, as I have before, some of my big
frustrations with the movie:
- The big argument during the Council of Elrond seems like an unnecessary
attempt to add more drama.
- In the book, Gimli travels to Rivendell because the dwarves have lost all
contact with the colony attempting to reclaim Moria, which had been in the hands
of orcs and other evils for centuries and which even the Hobbits have heard about.
In the movie, no one seems to be aware of any problems with Moria, except
possibly for Gandalf who doesn’t want to go there but never explains why.
- Lothlórien, a place of beauty, peace, and rest in the book, seems
more ominous and creepy in the movie. Similarly, Galadriel is described as
beautiful, wise, and kind, not pretentious and spooky.
I can understand a lot of the changes Mr Jackson made (speeding up Frodo’s
departure from the Shire, skipping Tom Bombadil, having Arwen fill in for Glorfindel),
but these three bug me because they seem so unnecessary.
Tolkien, enemy of progress?
You perhaps recall David Brin’s
Star Wars screed a few years back. Well, with the next movie
coming out, Salon
has excerpted his
Lord of the Rings
essay. It’s a good read, and it raises some interesting points, but it also
gets some of the facts wrong. (As an example: he speculates what the book might
have been like if the southerners and easterners who fight for Sauron had merely
been duped—but in the book they by and large were duped, and in the end
those who surrender are shown mercy.) Mr Brin is primarily interested in making
his own point about the Romantics versus the Enlightenment, so he ignores
some of the nuance in the books themselves.
Which doesn’t change the fact that Mr Tolkien did view progress with
heavy skepticism and wasn’t much of a fan of democracy—or government in general;
the Shire exists largely in a state of friendly anarchy before Saruman’s influence.
In his two-part article, Andrew O’Hehir goes
into some detail about Mr Tolkien’s background and some of the book’s shortcomings.
I’ll address just one here: the relative absence of women from The Lord of the
Rings. A lot of this comes from Mr Tolkien’s Victorian attitudes regarding
the proper spheres of men and women, but there are hints that his own feelings are
more modern than those presented in the book. Consider Éowyn. The (male)
characters tend to discuss her as though her only characteristic were her great
beauty, but the events in the book itself suggest otherwise. Aside from Gandalf,
no character in the book even fights, much less defeats, a more powerful enemy
than Éowyn did at the Battle of Pelennor Fields.
Similarly, if we look back a few thousand years, we’ll find Lúthien,
whose love for the human Beren was so strong that she ended up getting the better
of Sauron and later his boss Morgoth (granted, she wasn’t alone in either case,
but her participation is still more than any other character can claim). Her
tale is referred to several times in the book, and her name even appears in the
movie (although the only information given is that she loved a mortal and later
I will grant that these are exceptional cases. Most of Mr Tolkien’s female
characters act from the background. Galadriel, for example, is one of the
more influential characters in the battle against Sauron, but hardly any of
her efforts involve direct conflict. Now, if Mr Tolkien were a contemporary
author, this would be less excusable, but since he grew up around the turn
of the century and was something of an anachronism
even then, I’m willing to cut him some slack.
Addendum: Salon has posted some
to Brin’s essay. Unlike my response, these actually talk about the essay, and
are worth checking out. A sample: “Leaving aside his laughably cartoonish compression of
Western history into a page-long feel-good story of progress and enlightenment, Brin
shows an inability, or unwillingness, actually to read what Tolkien wrote. It’s not
just that he gets obvious plot details wrong—which he does—but that he has, perhaps
intentionally, missed the whole point.”
Second addendum: On the subject of the role of women in
The Lord of the Rings, check out
“Men Are From Gondor,
Women Are From Lothlórien”, which I would have cited above except I
didn’t find it in time.