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Two points about the movie and book

Kris Rhodes

Registered User
Dec 17, 2001
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In a minute, I am going to start a thread called "What was *not* wrong with the movie" in which I am going to respond to some of the criticisms that have been leveled at it. I thought it was a *great* movie. And in its own way, I thought it was plenty faithful to the book, though it may have interpreted the book differently than I do on some points. I strongly believe there can be many different ways to be faithful to a book when adapting it to other media - because the transition from media to media *requires* a shift of perspective and a moving and shaking of the elements of the book. It just can't be escaped. If you go for an absolutely literal interpretation, you will be in danger of losing the major themes and the power of the storytelling present in the book you are adapting. Something has to give - and it may be any number of things that give, and in each possible case, equal faithfulness ot the book is being shown though the final products may differ quite a bit.

But here in *this* thread I'll go ahead and explain what I thought was not so great about the movie.

Aside from the silliness of the wizards' duel, and a slight amount of forced emotion (in what I thought was actually generally a very emotionally intense and honest flick), there were two things about the movie which I felt showed that the movie at least to an extent missed the point of what LOTR was all about. That's pretty strong, and I should say this can be attributed to a difference in opinion or interpretation. That said, I must also confess to a strong intuition that in these two cases, I am definitely right about the books and the movie is definitely wrong.

The first thing I thought was bad was the handling of Saruman. In the book, Saruman at least has a rationale, an excuse, for desiring the power of the ring - to bring about the good intentions of the Istari secretly, under the Enemy's nose, using the Ring's power, while nevertheless openly siding with the power behind the ring, the Dark Lord Sauron. In the LOTR mythos, it is this original intent for the good which is twisted by the Ring's power toward the evil, and which eventually unveils Saruman as fully twisted and finally a servant (at first unwilling and unwitting but in the end fully and openly) of Sauron.

Now, that's good stuff. And it gets at one of the points of the whole work - that the power of evil is not that it can *make* you evil but instead that it *twists* the good into the evil. The power of evil is (or can be) subtle and often lies hidden for a long, long time before it is finally unveiled for what it truly is.

It twists you at the level of your very being. If you are overcome by it, you may yet seem to yourself and all others to be a creature of Light for a long time afterwards. Even if the power of evil is defeated in you, the struggle will leave its scars and your life is touched by that struggle forever after. (Bilbo Baggins.)

Unfortunately, in the case of Saruman, the movie missed this point. Interestingly, it seems to have *gotten* the point in the case of some of the other characters (Bilbo, Boromir, perhaps Galadriel) albeit the movie was much less subtle than the book on this point. But by *not* getting the point in the case of Saruman (the most blatant example in the book) the movie tends to hide that point despite itself. In the movie, the Saruman character actually provides a *counterexample* to this point - because rather than being a good creature twisted to evil by a desire for the power to accomplish the good, Saruman is instead shown in the movie to simply *be* a bad guy. There's no question of his allegience - he is a servant of Sauron. (No explanation given in the movie!) There's no question of his desiring to accomplish good aims, he simply seems to think that siding with Sauron is the only way to continue to have power in the world. The movie Saruman thinks *only* in terms of survival and power, and that is not at all how the book Saruman was portreyed. That may be what he became, but the point of the book was to show how and why he became that.

Okay, that was number one. Number two is a little harder to explain.

In my opinion, one of the major themes of Tolkien's work in the Hobbit and the LOTR was the notion that personal and historical greatness comes, not from causing and moving great events, but rather from *being a participant* in great events and being moved *by* them - and in that participation, continuing to act honorably and well. (A very british sentiment one might say! But perhaps a lesson many Americans dearly need to heed.) In other words, the protagonists in Tolkien's books aren't shown to be great persons by the decisions they make and the actions they take to move history - but rather they are shown to be great in that they *find themselves moved by* or *find themselves to be part of* what Samwise called a great, neverending Tale - and in that participation in great events, the characters maintained themselves in an honorable and ethical fashion.

In the three volumes of LOTR, Frodo makes hardly any single decision! And the ones he does make are either basically foregone conclusions, or they do not *really* matter as to the outcome of the whole thing. (Of course, his eventual decision to go it alone is an exception but not as much of one as you might think. Really, he knew it was what he *had* to do - his actual decision was almost foregone, it was simply that he needed to exhibit the compassion and bravery necessary to assent to that necessity.) I think this was Tolkien's intention. It's part of the mythos's notion of Hobbits - that they are hardly to be noticed, making little or no bother and making little or no impression on the world around them, yet they have a world in which they live and in that world, exhibit a central core of integrity and honorability. (Comments similar to those of this paragraph can be made about Bilbo in the Hobbit.)

But Frodo is shown to be, not just a good person, but a *great man* (sorry for the gender-biased term, I couldn't think of a better one) in both the personal and historical sense, not because he moved events along a great course (that was going to happen whether he acted in them or not,) but because in being moved by those events, he exhibited honor, bravery, compassion, and ethical integrity.

I'm not saying his participation made no difference - it is probably *because* of his participation that things turned out so well in the end. But this does not detract from my point - rather it touches on another of Tolkien's themes - a very christian theme which I will call the Mystery of Grace. I won't go into that right now, however.

So anway, the thing is, in the movie, Frodo (and others) kept *deciding* things and *determining* what must be done. I really felt this was outside the spirit of the book. But it is a subtle point and I had to do alot of thinking to understand what it was that bothered me in this respect. And upon even further reflection, I realized that some elements of this theme remained in the movie even as it is - Frodo's decisions are usually of the "knowing what I have to do" sort even in the movie, and so as I commented about his decision to go it alone in the book, these can be understood to be not as much an exception to the theme as they may seem to be. The decision was in a sense already made for him, and his assent to that decision, though a decision in itself, required not a *self-determination* of what must be done, but rather simply the bravery, honor, or whichever trait is relevant to lay hold of that decision which has been *laid out beforehand* for you to make. Makes sense?

But still, I have to kind of search for that kind of meaning in the movie, whereas in the book I felt it was practically laid right open before me, so that is something I thought was a little dissappointing about the movie.

Those are my only two real problems with the movie. They get at the very point of the book, and so I assign some importance to them. Plot details, and yes *even some differing aspects of characterization* I am not concerned about, or at least not as concerned. As long as all "changes" are in the spirit of Tolkien's themes and message and the story he wanted to tell, I am fine with them. But when the movie starts to mess with the actual themes (and hence the real story) I think there are things amiss.

Still a great movie, though. And basically still a great telling of the LOTR story - though I may disagree with the interpretation and I may think reflection was lacking at certain points.



LOTR Purist to the end
Aug 20, 2001
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Well Kris,

Thank you for your opinion and the way you laid it out. I found that even though I honestly had to get up and go get some rootbeer at the scene of the Ford when Arwen is holding a "dying" Frodo, (it bothered me that much) I found the distortion of Saruman the worst travesty of the characters.

His "Age of men is coming, elves waning, let's stand up as wizards and rule ME with the ring", conversation was totally missing from the movie and that showed Saruman's true intention. Though he was indirectly doing Sauron's will he was not directly in league with him. Saruman wanted the ring for himself. The movie grossly mis-interpreted this important theme. The duel was awful and his power to bring down Caradhras was also needless and untrue to Tolkien's Saruman.

Just commenting on something you said: "If you go for an absolutely literal interpretation, you will be in danger of losing the major themes and the power of the storytelling present in the book you are adapting."

I found that to be just the opposite. Many times a literal interpretation would have made more sense and would have added to understanding the story rather than coming off as cheesy with a lot of holes in it. Some scenes would have benefited by taking a more literal interpretation. For a few examples: I think that making it true to the book in the cases of:

1) Aragorn states who he truly is in Bree
2) Council of Elrond (and no I'm not talking about including all the history talk)
3) Saruman and Gandalf's encounter at Orthanc
4) Scenes at Lorien

Just staying true to Tolkien in these cases would have cleared a lot of confusion and clutter that I experienced from the movie as a Tolkien fan, never mind as someone who didn't know Tolkien. The movie really fell in the story line by not developing these scenes in a more literal sense the way Tolkien intended.

Good points about the "deciding" and "determining" things too.


Registered User
Nov 26, 2001
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Back to the core:

"PS. I think the the nature of evil in the book and the movie should be compared."

This is imitation of Cato's famous ending has met it's thread here I hope! Only if Thorin you would just keep your loud dwarven mouth closed for a while. You have attacked the same enemy in all the other threads never mind if it was there or not. You have slain the beast successfully: There are major mistakes what comes to following the plot and character building of the Lotr.
That of course is not quite different from me bringing this topic up in PS., stress what I feel important:

What is evil?

Shippey points out that Tolkien and the Inklings were very focused on nature of evil and that is one of the main theme's of the Lord of the rings ( Shippeywrote an exellent book on Tolkien's work, I just finished it).

Tolkien was a devoted christian and a christian (Boethian) view is that since God is good there can be no evil. So evil is lack of something. It is nothing, if not lack of goodness.

On the otherhand in life Tolkien (as many today) confronted something that is very hard to describe as anything else as utterly evil, concrete evil that can and must be fought.
That is basically dualistic view on world - there are two sides in battle with each other. Many pagan myths describe this kind of fight. Most clearcut division is from Manikeanism in which it is actually hard to tell the battleing sides from one another.

If Tolkien had complitely embraced the christian view on evil. He would have concluded that evil should and can not be fought by arms. He and his heros would have been pacifists. And indeed Frodo seems to end up like one. But then that would have been a mere personal salvation leaving those that are weaker behind. That was unacceptable and therefore Tolkien had to fight evil with arms.

And still all violence is futile in his book. The arms alone are doomed to loose. But then only a person that has no evil in his heart - ie. no lack of goodness - could resist the temptation at the mt Doom. And ultimately there is no such being. Also this attempt was futile and ....
MAJOR SPOILER ...Frodo claims the ring as surely as anyone.

All through the book Tolkien never takes sides on the nature of evil: It is hinted bothways. The ring might have an evil will that overtakes the bearer and others. Or the ring is merely a device that brings up the darkest twists of it's holders mind. Tempts.

Kris points out that in the film Saruman is bluntly just a bad guy. I agree. That is the impression.
In the book I agree that Saruman is not bad, nor are his intentions bad. He merely follows the reasoning of the jesuit brotherhood: Ends sanctify the means.
He wants M-E to become a grand place, orderly, affluent and controlled - and best controlled by him. For isn't he the only one with enough skill, knowledge and ration to do it. Saruman thinks he can do good with the ring. Or what he sees as good.

Another word of Shippeys on the ring:
He describes it as "addictive". So it is first very good enchancing users powers and as all ends are met with it the user will get attached to the ring. But ultimately the ring will be the only thing that matters, the original dreams and wishes are forgotten or twisted and all that is left is desire for the rings power.

That is the kind of effect movie shows in Boromir, suggests in Gandalfs gloomy appearance when he waites Frodo to come and pick the ring from the floor. Showing it by Galadriel and suggestind the temptation of Aragorn as well. But Saruman it fails to portray correctly. Saruman is not twisted nor subdued by Sauron, nor does he fear Saurons might. Saruman is destroyed by the evil within. The temptation of the power to do what he sees right. And finally just temptation for power. Movie makes one think that Sauron is an outside evil being that we fight, Saruman has been fighting Sauron and therefore been good, and now he is bad because he joins Sauron - simplistic.

Saruman is being slowly twisted inside out until he becomes evil. He is killed and nothing is left.
Also Ringwraiths are pure Tolkien evil - at the same time creature's to be fought against and still nothing - merely an absence of any creature of this world. again not giving a hint if that is an evil creature or - a shadow, a void.

I would like your opinions on how well the film carries this dualism of evil in Tolkien's work.

Often Hollywood presents us with pagan images of evil to fight:
For example Terminator is excellent example of an all evil creature. Embodiment of evil that the good guys must destroy. As simple as that. Another one is Alien. Very often this simplification happens to heroic stories in fims. It seems to be easier to visualise evil than make it show through the characters and good acting I believe. Did this happen in The FOTR?

Sorry this message is so long.
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