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I have had to check out of Ricochet for a while because I was assigned to write a book, which is cool but to get anything done on that project I needed to take a break. I came back to the site and started reading posts and sure enough that made it impossible for me not to write up a post myself. A post by @LoisLane really inspired me to write I post I have been thinking about for a very long time you can find her excellent post and fascinating comment thread here
The Lord of the Rings movies differed from the books in many ways, which is to be expected since a movie and a book are very different mediums. For instance at the “Breaking of the Fellowship” I think it was vital to the movie to show Boromir fighting for Merry and Pippin and Aragorn “avenging” Boromir. I saw the Fellowship of the Ring three times in the theater and each time the audience was on the edge of their seats as Boromir redeemed himself and they erupted in applause when Aragorn dispatched the Uruk-hai that killed Boromir.
Tolkien handled that situation perfectly in the books too and he did not need to “show” us anything, but that was because is was a book and not a movie. Other decisions that Jackson and Co. made are debatable but understandable I think due to the medium that Jackson was working in. Did Gimli, Merry and Pippin need to become so strongly comical in the movie? Did Jackson merge Gimli, Merry and Pippin’s heroism well with their comic turns? For me in the movies Gimli was basically two characters, Merry had a well-done hero’s journey and Pippin was ill-used by Mr. Jackson. Despite my quibbles with how those characters were used I understand the choices made by Jackson because of the needs of a movie. Even Arwen and Legolas are understandable in that to have the payoff of Arwen and Aragorn uniting in marriage at the end of the movie you need to see her in the movies. While I find Legolas super hero turn to be personally baffling I get the idea that Jackson really wanted some stunning visuals in the battle scenes and thought that an Elf could do things men could not do. So we see Legolas as a super hero, who inexplicitly lost a killing contest with Gimli who was not a super hero, but most people loved Legolas in the movies so what do I know?
What constantly bothers me about the movies is Jackson and co.’s inability to understand the clear Christian themes in the books or even the ability to recognize those themes causing them to butcher some of the most important characters in the books. In what follows I will focus on Frodo and Sam, Faramir and Gollum. I could bring in other characters too like Aragorn, Gandalf, Theoden and Eowyn to name a few but I think the ones I name make the clearest examples for the case I am making.
Frodo and Sam
When I first read the books at 13 I was blown away by how amazing the books were and I was totally lost in the world that Tolkien had made. At the time I was working on being confirmed in my church because my parents had told me that if I got confirmed I was free to choose to go to church or not. I wanted to be confirmed so I could choose not to go to church. So when I first came to books I was not Christian myself but I was not ignorant of Christianity either. When I first read the Two Towers my heart thrilled at the confrontation in Shelob’s lair as Frodo faced down his greatest challenge to date, from the book,
Slowly the eyes crept nearer.
“Galadriel!” He called, and gathering his courage he lifted up the Phial once more. The eyes halted. For a moment their regard relaxed as if some hint of doubt troubled them. Then Frodo’s heart flamed within him, and without thinking what he did, whether it was folly or despair or courage, he took the Phial in his left hand, and with his right hand drew his sword. Sting flashed out, and the sharp elven-blade sparked in the silver light, but at its edges, a blue fire flickered. Then holding the star aloft and the bright sword advanced, Frodo, hobbit of the Shire, walked steadily down to meet those eyes.
My reaction to this heroic moment tracked exactly with Sam when he exclaimed,
“Master, Master!” cried Sam. He was close behind, his own sword drawn and ready. “Stars and glory! But the Elves would make a song of that if ever they heard of it!”
That moment showed Frodo to be who I thought he was in the books a true and magnificent hero with a loyal and faithful friend. I had hope at that moment that these two little hobbits could indeed succeed despite the treachery of Gollum. When Frodo fell and Sam took the ring my heart fell. I knew the quest was doomed there was no way that Samwise Gamgee was going to get the Ring to Mount Doom. Frodo was our only hope and now he was dead. When Sam realized that Frodo was alive hope burst within in me but at the end of the book when the door slammed closed on Sam, it also slammed closed on my hope for the entire quest. If Sam could not save Frodo there was no hope of winning, the West was doomed to fall to Sauron, maybe forever.
In the movies after that scene played out I only wondered why Sam was doing something so stupid as to try and rescue Frodo. Frodo was a fool, who nearly destroyed the whole quest with his weakness and stupidity. It seemed to me that Sam could easily trot to Mount Doom and throw the Ring into its destruction. I might understand why Sam would want to rescue Frodo from charity but if he had been smart he would send Frodo away and finished the Quest without him. When Frodo says in the movie that Sam can’t handle the burden of the Ring it sounded false and self-serving. Sam was clearly not a hero but the hero of the story.
I spent a lot of time wondering about this. How could Jackson and Co., who so obviously loved the books, get Frodo so wrong? Why did they deny him every heroic moment he had in the books and why did they make Frodo so consistently stupid? By knocking Frodo down they then had to distort Sam greatly making him into more and more of a hero giving to Sam the role that Frodo was supposed to play in the tale. If you think back to the movies the only heroic action that Frodo manages is the decision to take the Ring on the journey. Surely that night in the Shire Frodo was a hero. Beyond that, he is primarily a victim for most of the movie and he has to be repeatedly rescued. Even at the end of Fellowship when Frodo does decide to leave the decision is so mixed up with the attack of the Uruk-hai that he seems partially forced into his decision instead of it being one of heroic sacrifice as it seemed in the book.
So let’s back up for a minute what did they get wrong about Frodo? They missed his wisdom and how that wisdom led Fordo to have virtue and Frodo’s virtue allowed him the power that Sam saw in the passage quoted above. In the interviews that Jackson and Co. gave in the extended versions of the movie they explained that they allowed Gollum to trick Frodo because, “Gollum needed some kind of pay off for all his scheming.” The pay off should have been simply getting Frodo and Sam to confront Shelob not destroy their friendship. So Jackson seems to make a choice to take away Frodo’s heroic moment with the Barrow wrights. He gives Arwen the heroism of Frodo at the ford. Jackson makes Frodo looks desperate instead of wise when he breaks the Fellowship and then he completely unmans the character making him into a base fool at his most heroic moment in Shelob’s lair. By constantly cutting Frodo down he then has to in turn make Sam grow bigger making him a bigger hero and wiser hobbit than Frodo at every stage of the story. Which ruins the whole heroic art of Sam. Instead of Sam becoming better and better to live up to Frodo’s example and be the companion that Frodo needs, Sam instead grows into his role because his Master, Frodo, is unworthy of the quest and Sam basically has to do the quest for Frodo. Which makes a hash of a bunch of the dialogue in the movie because the dialogue holds true to the books but the actions that are seen on the screen tell a different story.
This I think is because Jackson and this secular age in general no longer understand pity and therefore never understood the “pity of Bilbo” that in the end led to the destruction of the One Ring and the victory of the Free people of Middle Earth. Jackson keeps Gandalf’s speech in Moria about the “pity of Bilbo” but can’t follow through with the concept. Frodo was a righteous hobbit with just the right mix of sensible Baggin’s common sense and wild Took side of adventure. He was schooled in the ancient ways and knew the old wisdom of the Elves and learned at the feet of Gandalf, in other words, Frodo had Faith. This gave him greater wisdom and insight about what needed to be done and what he must do. The hero journeys of Pippin, Merry and Sam were bound up in those three hobbits seeking to be more like Frodo, to live like him, to live up to him in a way.
You see the same relationship between Aragorn and Boromir as Boromir fully realizes that Aragorn is truly a better man than he was and Boromir tries to live up that higher ideal at the end of his life. This is the Christian concept of discipleship and Jackson doesn’t see it or doesn’t seem to be able to grasp it. In the Books, Tolkien gives us a good hobbit who starts off inexperienced and grows wiser and braver as the journey goes on until he burns himself out in the face of terrible evil and is only saved by Grace, the same kind of grace he showed Gollum. In the movies, Jackson and Co. give us Frodo the good hobbit that becomes progressively more foolish and base and desperately claws at the ring pushing Gollum into the volcano and being saved from suicide by the love of his best friend. In the movie, you can make the case that the ring was destroyed by Frodo and Gollum’s mutual greed and vicious ambition instead of the “pity of Bilbo”.’
Which brings us to Gollum and Frodo a relationship that Jackson never seems able to grasp. Jackson’s take on the relationship seems to be that Frodo sees himself in Gollum and that if Frodo can reach some good part of Gollum that will give Frodo some hope that a good part of Frodo will survive too. The characters are nothing alike though, Smeagol was a thief and liar before he ever found the Ring and Frodo was a righteous, learned and virtuous hobbit long before rightfully gaining the One Ring. The difference between the two hobbits was immense. Frodo felt pity at how over matched Sméagol was and how completely craven and destroyed Sméagol had become by being in the presence of the Ring. Jackson obviously feels sympathy for Gollum and works hard to make the audience feel that same sympathy. He works hard to give Gollum a reason to betray Frodo and same as the “good” and happy Sméagol is brutally attacked and repeatedly beaten by the Thug Faramir. At the end of the Two Towers film Gollum is brutally beaten in front of Sam and Frodo again with out a protest from either of them and then, because of the brutally of the beating, forced to crawl after them. In that context Sam’s little speech about “no hard feelings” was like pouring salt on Gollum’s wounds. Who, watching that scene in the movie could not have a little part of them wishing for Gollum to get back at his tormentors.
It seems to me that Jackson made this decision because he thought of Sméagol as Frodo’s future and that Frodo saw that too and so Jackson built up the similarities between the two characters. While in the books the two characters are in contrast. Sméagol was evil before the Ring and the Ring enhanced his evil. Frodo was good and therefore wise before the Ring and so he was in battle with the Ring. Frodo was never going to be Sméagol there is no version of Gollum in Frodo’s future. Frodo instead wanted to do what rescue work he could on Gollum and it was Frodo’s wisdom, patience and mercy that eventually made Gollum an instrument of good instead of evil. Even at the very end when Frodo was almost wholly given over to the Ring and cursed Gollum on Mt. Doom he was still struggling to show him mercy! He says to Gollum if you touch the Ring again he will die. A Frodo at his most evil was still giving Gollum another chance. Gollum was supposed to be a character in contrast to Frodo not in sympathy to him. Jackson and Co., could not quite grasp this form of mercy and grace and therefore can’t see Frodo’s wisdom in preserving Gollum’s life and so they had to make Frodo stupid and foolish and Gollum intensely clever and Sam a self-sacrificing martyr that served an unworthy master.
Faramir of the Books vs. Thug Faramir of the movies
Which brings me finally to Faramir. As a 13 year old, I wished I could have been a Sam helping Frodo succeed in his quest. I also saw myself in Faramir, Aragorn seemed too great for me, but to me, Faramir seemed relatable. His wisdom and learning were seen as a weakness, his courage underestimated, his formidable fighting power despised. I loved Faramir but in the movies I did not find Faramir I found instead a character invented by Jackson who I named Thug Faramir.
In the interviews after the Films on the extended DVDs Jackson and Co. seem to understand that they messed Faramir up and claim that they gave him a story arc, because he had no arc in the books, and they had to preserve the power of the Ring so they could not make Faramir resist the Ring even for a moment. First, let’s look at this story arc they supposedly gave Thug Faramir. In the movie, Two Towers Thug Faramir follows in the footsteps of Boromir but puts the Ring in even more danger of falling into Sauron’s hands than even Boromir did. He only repents of his evil after a Nazgul attack and Sam’s speech. This is supposed to free the Thug Faramir of his daddy issues and he becomes a man capable of being more than he was before. But even at this moment of maturity, he beats a helpless Gollum for no reason, antagonizing Gollum and making sure that Gollum has good reason to betray Frodo and Sam and then sends them on their way. So, as terrible as it was to see Thug Faramir in Two Towers I had hoped to see a better Faramir in Return of the King.
When reading the books as a teenager it was clear to me that the Nazgul in chasing Faramir’s men across the plains wanted to kill Faramir above all because he was then the only hope of Minas Tirith holding out against the armies of Minas Morgul, Faramir was a true threat to Mordor. In contrast in the movie Return of the King, the Thug Faramir is there again even more trapped in his daddy issues than he was before, a frightened victim of his daddy’s disapproval. Instead of resisting the evil of his father he resigns himself to commit suicide and Thug Faramir survives by happenstance. His lost appeared to me be at no great cost to Minas Tirith. What kind of story arc was that supposed to be? If anything it seemed to me, based on the movies alone, that of the two sons of Denathor Boromir was the better man. Tolkien it hardly need be said wanted us to have the opposite conclusion.
Now in the books Faramir’s story arc is clear, not nonexistent as Jackson claimed. Faramir is a wise, righteous man well-schooled in the ancient ways and the only man shown to lead any kind of prayer in the books. This wisdom helps him over and over again in the books giving him penetrating insight and the wisdom and strength of character to help Frodo and Sam on their quest and speed the Ring to its destruction. Well aware of his Father’s shortcomings he acts within the confines, that his duty and honor give him, to minimize the evil of his father. Helping the good at Gondor and Gandalf to resist the despair of Denethor. Not a victim he is a man of honor asked to make greater and greater sacrifices to maintain that honor until he is finally struck down saving his as many of men as possible. That is a story arc with preserving and a perfectly valid hero’s journey. Faramir of the books is supposed to be in contrast to Boromir and was a better man than Boromir but in the movies, this Thug Faramir is, if anything, less than his brother, who unsuccessfully tries to repeat the same story arc he had in Two Towers, in Return of the King.
Power of Faith is lost on a Secular Age
There is a theme here with Frodo and Faramir where Jackson seems unable to handle wise characters, who handle themselves with honor and dedication to their duty. In Tolkien, it is almost always true that wise characters are faithful characters that have Faith in God. I have always wondered if Jackson and Co. simply had a hard time grasping that wisdom, Faith, can actually help you make the right choices in life, that evil has a harder time corrupting you and that you can be harder to fool. I think these themes were just not in Jackson’s secular wheel house and he had a hard time figuring out how to handle these characters. With Faramir, I think Jackson made a conscious decision to replace him with Thug Faramir because he didn’t know what else to do. With Frodo I don’t think that Jackson tried to make him a foolish bumbler instead of a hero but I think that he views the story too strongly from Gollum’s eyes in the section of the story where Gollum and Frodo were together, and he needed to make other characters present in the movie that lessened Frodo’s role. In the end he just could not understand the “pity of Bilbo” even though Gandalf explained it to him.
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:20-25 (ESV)