A few years ago, Christopher Tolkien put out a book-length version of The Children of Hurin, a tale that takes up only one chapter in The Silmarillion. In the introduction, he explains that his father thought that three of the stories from his origin myth deserve longer treatment. When I read that I got scared. Three? Peter Jackson had just announced that he was going to turn the Hobbit series into a trilogy, and I became very concerned that Christopher was working to provide Jackson with the material for a third trilogy. Although I dislike every place where Peter Jackson and his two co-writers deviate from the book in their Lord of the Rings series, I can still watch those movies. But The Silmarillion is an even better book in my view and way beyond their capacity to understand, and I didn’t want to have to deal with the bitter choice of either hating or not watching a new trilogy of films.
But I do watch the LotR trilogy from time to lengthy time and cringe when I see again what they did to Aragorn and Faramir. And it’s been a disturbingly long time since my last reading of Tolkien’s original. So as I visit Middle Earth again (the real Middle Earth: the one that springs from books) some things are really standing out as having been driven from my consciousness by that pesky Kiwi and his gorgeous but shallow vision. In writing what I hope will be the first of several posts about The Lord of the Rings this fall, let me get some complaints out of the way by reviewing some of what’s missing in the movies.
The first thing that jumped out at me as I started turning the pages was Frodo’s classical learning. Gandalf isn’t just an old friend who brings fireworks to the Shire now and then; he’s a teacher, and Frodo has learned from him. Frodo knows history. He knows Elven language. When they begin to discuss the Ring and its evil nature, Frodo immediately starts talking about sacrifice and about the courage he will need. Elijah Wood stumbles into his virtues, but the real Frodo has studied ethics with his master.
I was extremely disappointed when the movies came out that there were hardly any songs. But, to my shame, I had forgotten just how many there are. It’s the rare two-page spread that doesn’t have some verse on it in those first hundred pages or so. Hobbits sing while they work, while they eat, while they walk, while they muse. Jackson’s hobbits laugh and pick wax out of their ears, but they don’t seem to sing.
And if they don’t sing, they certainly can’t have any mystical experiences with songs. Frodo speaks poetry as if inspired at one point. He, Sam, and Pippin receive bits of translation in the melodies they hear from the elves they meet traveling through the Shire. Surely Tolkien had the Corinthians’ spiritual gifts in mind during these passages. But Jackson’s hobbits have no mystical, holy inspiration. And of course there are no elves traveling through the Shire, no barrow wights, no Tom Bombadil.
Obviously I’m a little upset all over again about the movies, and I’m doubly upset about having to think about how upset I am about movies while reading one of my favorite books. But it’s not all bad. I read just the other day that Christopher Tolkien, who currently administers the rights to The Silmarillion, dislikes Peter Jackson’s films and will never give his permission for another trilogy. And at least I have distinct faces for Merry and Pippin in my mind now – although Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd are quite a bit plumper in my imagination.