Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lord Of The Rings: Reviewing the book through the movie

There is LOTR, the movie and then, there is LOTR, the book. The movie will be watched more than once for its out-of-this-world (literally!) visuals, characters and of course, the story. The book will be read more than once for appreciating the beauty of written word, visualising the beautiful parallel universe created, learning some much-needed lessons, and more importantly, for trying to unravel all the riddles, big and small. 
It is very difficult to write a review of the book when the movie was so staggeringly successful -The movie, which did not follow the book to the letter; the movie which, in an attempt at commercial success, decided on compromising on the beauty and the purity of the book. 
Don’t get me wrong. I loved all the three movies – how can one not?! The places were spot on ( Be it the bleak Mordor landscape, the peaceful Shire or the beautiful Rivendell), the characters were almost perfect ( especially Legolas played by Orlando Bloom who still looks like an elf in disguise – I still think Aragorn, Arwen and Frodo could have been cast better) and the visuals were stupendous (how can anyone forget Gollum, the Oliphaunts, Balrog or even the Orcs?). However, the focus of the movie was totally different from that of the book. Through subtle omissions and additions, the feel of the story changed. 
Here are some I could think right off the top of my head:
  • Tom Bombadil’s absence: 
I have to admit that I didn’t particularly take to Tom Bombadil initially. Deep into the forest, in the middle of an unexpected trouble (from the forest itself, not the black riders), we are introduced to this Santa Claus –ish fellow, who can talk to trees and change weather through his singing. On re-reading the chapter however, it was clear that he was here for a purpose – to lighten the mood. We, as readers, had just been introduced to the black riders, and before we could start brooding about it, we are given some nonsensical songs (Hey Dol! Merry Dol! Ring a dong dillo!), and a hope to normalcy. 
  • Characterising Saruman: 
Saruman was made larger than life, almost literally, when the fellowship try to cross the mountains and they hear his voice asking the mountains to not let them pass, making them enter the mines of Moria. The book however, talks about “fell voices”, giving an scary and ghostly feel to the mountains, which were once occupied by evil kings much before Sauron. This simple explanation makes us realise that Sauron was not present since the beginning of time (in this world), and that there could be equally interesting stories in the past.
On hindsight, the book had one drawback which was taken care of by the movie. In the first book, Saruman is present only through Gandalf’s narratives, and even in the second book, he is introduced in person only briefly (One paltry chapter titled “The Voice of Saruman”). At least in this case, I prefer the movie, because we were aware of just how big a threat Saruman really was. 
  • The multi-faceted Merry and Pippin: 
Tolkien characterised (through Gandalf) hobbits thus:
"These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and discuss the pleasures or tables or the small things… if you encourage them..” 
By the end of the war, Pippin is a knight in Gondor, and Merry is a Swordthain of Rohan. They maintain their titles when they go back home. However, they had trouble waiting in Shire, for, unlike as depicted in the movie, Saruman manages to escape Isengard with Wormtongue, and plans his revenge by occupying shire with orc-like men. The hobbits, led by Merry and Pippin, fight with the men and restore it back to normalcy, while Saruman is killed by Wormtongue.
 It was heartening to read more about Merry and Pippin, even though it involved more fighting and destruction of the beautiful Shire. I’m sure the movie gave an alternate ending to shorten and simplify the story, but it reduced their importance, during and after the war. For despite their levity and silliness, they were brave and successful leaders – quite a rare combination. 
  • The bonding of Legolas and Gimli: 
Tolkien had his best brainwave when he decided to make best friends out of this unlikeliest of pairs. The friendship starts with Legolas defending Gimli to the guards of Lothlorien, and is strengthened through their mutual respect for Galadriel. These two then make a promise to accompany the other in his dream quest – Talking to the trees of Fanghorn for Legolas, and exploring the caves of Helm’s Deep for Gimli. This simple gesture symbolises hope (of returning after the war), forming unlikely bonds (between dwarves and elves), mutual respect despite the differences and changing instincts (Elves don’t like caves, and Dwarves are not comfortable in forests). 
  • Frodo Suspecting Sam: 
I’m still unsure on the primary motive for making Frodo doubt Sam before entering the caves of the giant spider, Shelob – For added dramatics, displaying Frodo’s increasing weakness or for showcasing Ghollum’s wickedness? 
Whatever the case may be, it compromised on the primary characteristic of the Frodo-Sam relationship – their unquestioned trust and affection for each other. It was heartening to know that neither Ghollum nor a ring could destroy something as simple and strong as that. 

  • Aragorn and Arwen’s romance: 
Maybe the romantic in me should have rejoiced on the extra screen time given for a couple which had almost no page-time. The chase sequence of Arwen with Frodo, though beautifully shot (that’s an understatement) still overshadowed the truth, where Frodo faced the black riders alone. Elrond opposing the marriage and Arwen dreaming about Aragorn with her son were borderline crazy. We get the briefest of glimpses on this relationship through a curious conversation between Aragorn and Galadriel (who was also Arwen’s grandmother). 
If a romance angle was indeed necessary, I wish the movie had focussed more on Faramir-Eowyn and Sam-Rose – the only two proposals in the book.  

  • The story of the Ents: 
Ents are Fascinating creatures, not because of their strength, but because of their passion. For example, with Ents loving the wild life, and Ent wives preferring the shrubs and gardens, the two got separated (Read this beautiful song written as a conversation between an Ent and an Entwife). When Merry and Pippin leave for Shire, Treebeard asks them to keep a look out for Entwives. This simple and heartfelt request makes us realise that the ring and Sauron were not a priority for him. The Ents were hoping for their happy ending – with or without Sauron in power. 

  • House of Healing: 
I was always surprised that Aragorn was accepted so unanimously by the people of Gondor. The truth, however, is slightly more complicated. They may have expected him as the king, but Aragorn was not ready to enter the city until he could prove his worth. And prove he did – by bringing the almost-dead back to life. Faramir, Eowyn and Merry were gravely ill when the healer mentions the prophecy that “the hands of the king are the hands of the healer”. Aragorn is thus summoned, who heals them back to life. 
A small scene maybe, but it potentially helped build Aragorn’s character. He was strong and brave indeed, but more importantly, he was compassionate, making him the perfect “king who returned”. 

  • The lack of music: 
The movie rang with the sounds of war and orcs. The pages of the book, on the other hand, swayed to the music of the songs of Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Bilbo, Legolas and Aragorn. There are silly verses, love stories, and historical events in these songs which are a joy to the senses. 

It is clear that Tolkien wanted the wars to form a tumultuous background and nothing more. Indeed, even the one at Helm’s Deep is only 9 pages long, while the attack of orcs just before the fellowship is broken is not described at all. This book is more about the triumph of goodness over evil, where the goodness is not expressed in terms of skills (like Gimli’s axe or Legolas’ Bow), but in terms of the purity of spirit. 
The winning characteristic of the book, though subtle, is how there is a hint of more. While the story of the ring is undoubtedly fascinating, one gets a feeling that in the history of this world, it is not the most intriguing one. I, for one, would be very interested to know if the Ents finally found their Entwives, how Gandalf got the third elf ring (If you didn’t already know that, gotcha!) and who exactly was Tom Bombadil. 
Like Tolkien says, the only major flaw with Lord of the Rings was that it got over too soon.


antbrain said...

Fascinating post especially for someone who loved the movie so much that I decided the book couldn't have been better!

Anupama Srinivasan said...

Excellent! Very well written!!

Archana said...

Thank you both - the book deserves to be cherished.

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