[ Green Books ] [ Horizontal Rule ]
[ Horizontal Rule ]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[ Green Books ]

[ Green Books - Exploring the Words and Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien ] [ Green Books ]

Anwyn is from Lothlorien, Bill is from Mordor

The following is an account of a recent phone conversation between Anwyn and one of her friends who has no love for the Lord of the Rings books. (In keeping with the spirit at TheOneRing.net, he has decided to adopt the clever Tolkien pseudonym of "Bill," since it was one of the few names in the book that he could relate to.) Although a fairly literate and well-read guy, Bill just couldn't slog his way through to the end of the series, usually giving up around the start of The Two Towers. After enjoying Jackson's movie, however, he finally forced himself, with much encouragement and assistance from Anwyn, all the way to the agonizingly slow and incredibly unsatisfying denouement and has asked her, "Why do you people love these books so much?"

Anwyn will attempt to enlighten him to the genius that is Tolkien and to fire back her numerous objections to Peter Jackson and his action-oriented outlook and inane dialogue, while Bill staunchly maintains that all departures from Tolkien were done for excellent if obscure filmmaking reasons.


Anwyn: Let's have it. I've heard it before, but now you have a public forum. How can you not like Tolkien's writing?

Bill: Wow. Where to start? First off, why oh why can't the man write an action scene? I don't just mean big battle scenes. I mean anything requiring an action verb. Sure, his characters have hiking through the woods down to a science. They do a great job of looking at the trees and clouds. They can drone on and on for pages of flowery prose about the grass. But they never seem to actually DO anything. Even when things happen, NOTHING HAPPENS.

Anwyn: Example?

Bill: In "Journey in the Dark," the Warg "attack" lasts all of three paragraphs, and Gandalf wraps it all up in a sentence by doing some big magic thing. This is after about roughly eight thousand pages of them walking around and blathering about what a great horse Shadowfax is or something.

Anwyn: No, Bill dear, Shadowfax wasn't mentioned until The Two Towers. They pretty much spent the journey south talking about the enmity between Elves and Dwarves.

Bill: An important distinction, to be sure. Anyway, we finally get to a point where something might almost maybe sort of happen, and then it's over in three paragraphs.

"Look out! Wolves!"

"Hang on. I got it. [Made-up words.]" Poof! "There we go. Who's up for some walking?"

Anwyn: Oh, come on. What about Weathertop? What about the attack on Crickhollow? What about the Barrow? What about the confrontation at the Bruinen? What about Gandalf and the Balrog? What about Boromir and the Orcs?!?? Every little conflict can't be a big deal. Wargs have been dealt with before, they're not so much a challenge.

Bill: What the hell's a Crickhollow?

Anwyn: How do you expect to be able to follow the story if you can't remember the places?

Bill: Sorry, I don't have the books memorized like some folk. Besides, apparently it wasn't a very important scene if I made it to the end without recalling it. I do remember Weathertop, not that it was any great shakes. But you mention the Barrow. The pointless plot cul-de-sac that is the Barrow.

Anwyn: POINTLESS?!??

Bill (massaging his sore ear): Yes, pointless. It did nothing to advance the plot, and the entire threat was a little hand crawling around in the corner that Frodo smacks with a sword. And it runs away. They're being attacked by Thing from The Addams Family. Come on.

Anwyn (indignant): The Barrow-wight--

Bill: Barrow-hand.

Anwyn (louder): The Barrow-wight was a symbol of the evil of the ancient world and a reminder that the Hobbits are part of a larger history, that this evil is not new and they must continue to fight it as others have done before them.

Bill: Apparently fighting evil ain't all that hard if all you have to do is swat it once with a sword and it goes running for cover. Sauron's gonna be a breeze; chuck a rock at his head and he'll quit and go home.

Anwyn (sighing): Fine, what about Gandalf and the Balrog? Wasn't that an action scene?

Bill: In the technical sense. I suppose it wasn't bad, but minor. The whole thing was less than a page.

Anwyn (declaiming): "He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. 'Fly, you fools!' he cried, and was gone!"

Bill: Yeah, that was pretty much it. It's better than "And Gandalf tripped and fell off the bridge," but not by much. I mean, that scene could've been three good solid pages. Long, drawn-out suspense, a fierce, well-described battle ending with an emotional climax. This is the supposed death of a major character, but Tolkien handles the battle in a page, the actual death in a sentence, and the rest of the Fellowship just boogies on. "Gandalf's dead. Huh. Whaddaya know. Well, trees ain't gonna look at themselves."

Anwyn: Yes they do. Wait for the next movie. But anyway, how exactly was the Gandalf scene so improved upon in the movie? Are you saying Peter Jackson’s was so much better? He took it right out of the book….

Bill: You bet. First off it looked better. I finally understand what the hell a Balrog looks like, 'cause Tolkien sure didn't paint me a picture. Plus you had all the emotion from everybody's reactions when Gandalf goes down. Music sweeps up, Frodo screams and fights against Boromir, everything goes into slow-mo...

Anwyn (derisive): Yeah, Frodo screams. Just like Luke Skywalker when Obi-Wan was cut down. Gee, wonder what movies Jackson watched when he was a young'un?!??

Bill: Be fair. Star Wars didn't go into slow-mo. Look, at least in the movie, I got the feeling that Gandalf was actually sacrificing himself. It had importance in the movie. It had weight, emotional resonance. It *meant* something. Whereas in the book, if you happen to be reading fast, skip a line, you miss it.

Anwyn (sarcastic): Oh yes, Gandalf sacrifices himself in the movie. You can tell because he clearly had a strong grip on the stone and then, inexplicably, decided to let go. Worse than Kate Winslet in Titanic.

Bill: Totally different. She had a frozen dead guy on her arm. You'd be whacking at his hand with an icepick, too. But back to Gandalf, I figured he was sacrificing himself from the moment he stepped onto that bridge. I didn't think he was getting out of that one.

Anwyn: Fine. Then what makes it less dramatic in Tolkien? Didn't you figure in the book that he wasn't getting out of it either? Hmmm?

Bill: Well, I knew going in he was going to fall and still going to live. I knew that in the movie too. But in the book, he just sounds like Captain Badass. He's all studly, talking like he's gonna win.

Anwyn (outraged): Didn't you say you wanted good action scenes? Doesn't that include suspense, where the outcome is in doubt? If you thought he was going to win in the book and he didn't, and you knew he was going to lose in the movie and he did, how is the movie better?!??

Bill: Because in the book it was such a sudden turnaround. "I got 'im. I got 'im. Oh crap, no I don't." And then it's over. Whereas in the movie, you can see he's tired, he's clearly outmatched, this huge hell-thing towering over him. But he keeps fighting. In the book, he talks like he knows he's gonna win. In the movie, he looks like he knows he's gonna lose--*but he fights anyway*. You just don't get that sense in the book. And as for why he sacrificed himself in the movie, if they had come back to pull him out--assuming he could keep his grip that long--the Orc archers would have taken several of them down. The Orcs came back as soon as the Balrog was in the pit, and Gandalf knew they'd get shot if they came back for him, whereas if he dropped, they'd run on.

Anwyn: Oh yeah, those Orc archers, boy, they were deadly. So deadly that they squeezed off six or eight meaningless shots before Legolas finally had a minute to casually dispatch their ass with one shot apiece. Yup.

Bill: Can't believe you're comparing Orc archers with an Elf archer. Next you'll be wanting to know why stormtroopers can't manage to shoot any Rebels.

Anwyn: All right, so it was great seeing Gandalf's noble sacrifice translated to film. But remember where that dialogue came from. For once it was verbatim.

Bill: Oh, you wanna talk dialogue? Let's talk Tom Bombadil.

Anwyn: (Wince.)

Bill: "Hi-ho the derry-o, I'm Tom Bombadil-o" or somethin'. What exactly is he a symbol of, O Tolkien Queen? The mincing man-child?

Anwyn (offended): He's the symbol of detached nature. Not hostile, saving if he can, but not proactive.

Bill: So he's a hippie, then?

Anwyn: Bite your tongue.

Bill: Well, what was the point of the entire Tom Bombadil episode? It goes on for two or three chapters and it does absolutely nothing to advance anything. Well, the Hobbits get to eye up some honey he's got hanging around the house...

Anwyn: What is it with you and "advance the plot, advance the plot"? Can't you appreciate side character development and different aspects of the created world when you see them??

Bill: If it adds something, sure. But not after many many MANY very slow pages of them just walking around and talking to each other. This is more talking; they've just stopped walking. And it's a lot of talking for a character that has no impact on anything that comes after.

Anwyn: But the talking is the good stuff! Tolkien was the master of dialogue--

Bill (under his breath): Hi-ho the derry-o--

Anwyn (ignoring him): --unlike Peter Jackson and his so-called script writers. How can you possibly compare lines like "We will make them fear the Chamber of Mazarbul" with Boromir's Master of the Obvious spout of "They have a cave troll?!??"

Bill: Obvious? If Boromir hadn't said that, I wouldn't have known what that thing was.

Anwyn: It was the Rancor, couldn't you tell? Crossed with a CGI dinosaur from Jurassic Park. Again, no doubt which movies Jackson wishes he'd made…

Bill: Hey, now, leave the FX guys out of this. I thought we were talking about dialogue.

Anwyn: Yes, dialogue. Tolkien would spin in his grave if he could see Sam whang an Orc on the head with one of his frying pans and then proclaim giddily, "I think I'm beginning to get the hang of this."

Bill: That was called "comedy." You may not recognize it since it's totally lacking in Tolkien.

Anwyn: It wasn't funny.

Bill: Granted. But when you're playing to that broad of an audience, you have to try something. You need a little levity in an action sequence like that. Tolkien would need it if his action scenes went on for more than a paragraph. Now one bit of dialogue I did like was that bit with Gandalf and Frodo in Moria, the part about "I wish this burden had never come to me."

Anwyn: So you liked that part, huh? That was a direct lift from the book, only from a different place. That conversation happened in Bag-end in the beginning of the book.

Bill: I'll give you that point, then. That was some good dialogue (mostly because it was being delivered by Ian McKellen).

Anwyn: It was good dialogue regardless, but still, no kidding. Way better than, for example, "Let's hunt some Orc." (shudder)

Bill: But that's a badass hero line! In this movie, like it or not, Aragorn is an action hero and he needs to say some badass hero lines. It's the Lord of the Rings equivalent of "I'll be back," "I'm your worst nightmare" or "Yippie-ki-yay, mother#@$%er." You need that, in a movie.

Anwyn: (Speechless despair.)

Bill: Now what about this line from the movie? "History became legend; legend became myth. And some things that should not have been forgotten... were lost." That's pretty cool. Tolkien didn't write that.

Anwyn: No, because any seventh grader trying to write a fantasy story could have done as well.

Bill: Oh, they could not. Most seventh graders I know can't figure out which way their baseball cap is supposed to point.

Anwyn: How many seventh graders do you know?

Bill: ...couple.

Anwyn: Uh-huh.

Bill: I'm going to take the high road and not even mention all the songs. Half of which weren't even in English.

Anwyn: And I suppose if they all HAD been, you'd be bitching because they all happened to speak the same language!!

Bill: They do anyway. No, I'd be bitching because there'd still be too many songs. The thing's a borderline musical. Doesn't he have one song that goes on for four pages or something?

Anwyn: Bilbo's song of Eärendil, in Rivendell.

Bill: In a movie that's called "filler."

Anwyn: In Tolkien, that's called genius. The man gets his greatest accolades from the fact that he created an entire world, not just some some passing "badass" characters and events.

Bill: Yeah, it's such genius that David E. Kelley does it every single week. When he can't finish a script he just throws a song in and pads out the last four minutes.

Anwyn: Not any more. Ally's off the air.

Bill: Boston Public still lives.

Anwyn: Oh gads.

Bill: Didn't say I watched it...

Anwyn: Anyway...

Bill: I mean, Jeri Ryan's hot and all...

Anwyn: ANYWAY. Okay, moving on: Movie junk. The Council of Elrond. What the hell is that? Peter Jackson takes a conference deciding the fate of the world through informed discourse, lots of information exchange, and beautiful storytelling, and turns it into a faction fight. "Elves suck." "Dwarves suck more." "I'm Boromir and I want the Ring, give it to me now." I mean, what the HELL??

Bill: Simple. Jackson knows he doesn't have the luxury of spending twelve billion pages getting into these people's heads and describing every minute facet of their histories. He has to establish and establish fast. I think it's masterful storytelling, because in that one scene he shows Boromir's desire, the animosity between Dwarves and Elves, Aragorn's lineage and the fact that nobody knows what to do with the Ring. He condenses about four chapters into ten minutes. Even you have to admit, played out exactly like the book, that would be one long, boring-ass scene.

Anwyn (disgruntled): I never said it had to be directly out of the book. Yes, that was a lot of dialogue all at once. But did you have any freaking clue who that guy, that Dwarf and that Elf were and what they were doing there?

Bill: "Free chicken wings at Elrond's place? Let's go!"

Anwyn: Did you have any idea why Legolas suddenly felt it needful to proclaim "He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and you owe him your allegiance?" Did you have clue what that should mean to Boromir?!??

Bill:  Maybe not the full impact, but I got the basics: Aragorn is rightful heir to the throne and Boromir needs to show him some respect. I figure if it's important enough, they'll fill in other details when they need to.

Anwyn: And did they? Do you have any idea where Legolas came from? Why Gimli the Dwarf and Boromir the man just suddenly pop into the Elven stronghold?

Bill: Is it necessary to know all that? Sure, all the history and backstory is nice to have, but do we *need* to know for the story to work? Movies work in broad strokes; books work in fine details. You've compared LotR to Star Wars a couple of times. There's another fantasy world with a deep, rich history and backstory. It's cool to know all the details on the characters and their histories, but do you need to know it all to follow the story? No. Same thing here. Why did these people show up? A Council had been called; they were representatives of their races. All you really need to know.

Anwyn: Star Wars doesn't have much of a "deep, rich history," but the characters do. And Lucas told us lots of it. Leia and her dead adopted parents, Luke and HIS dead adopted parents, Threepio and HIS… oh wait. Okay, so you did get that much. That they were called to Council.

Bill: Yup. Even without 140 pages of explanation.

Anwyn: All right then. But you still can't tell me that an obvious throwaway line like "You shall be the Fellowship of the Ring" (cringe)–

Bill: That's for the dumb people. Gotta explain the title.

Anwyn: Why do movies have to play to dumb people?? Doesn't Hollywood assume there are enough smart ones to make it any money?

Bill: If they thought that, they would stop making Adam Sandler films.

Anwyn: Point made.

Bill: So, let me get this straight. First you're upset the filmmakers assume we're smart enough to figure out what's going on without handing us every single detail. Now you're upset they need to explain something to the dummies? Movie audiences cover a wide spectrum and you have to try and account for everyone. Reach the broadest audience possible to make the biggest return on your investment. Get as many people in as you can and make sure it speaks to everybody. Hollywood doesn't gamble.

Anwyn: And in this case, a damned shame. But I don't completely buy it. Action movies cater to the action crowd. Romantic comedies cater to us chicks. Period dramas, ditto. Star Trek, to the geeks. So Hollywood does go for specific audiences and doesn't try to make EVERY movie reachable for EVERY single person in the world. Jackson just tried to cater to too many crowds at once.

Bill: Not at all. They went with the action-adventure genre and played to that crowd. They knew the Tolkien fans were a built-in audience, but they had to try and draw in more than just you guys. It had to be entertaining to the casual moviegoer who might not be a fan of the books. I think they succeeded pretty well.

Anywn: …by dumbing down beautiful dialogue like "They will come on you in the wild, in some dark place where there is no help. Do you wish them to find you? They are terrible!" into "Are you frightened? … Not nearly frightened enough!" (gags).

Bill: Same basic meaning. Come on, a couple of so-called bad lines doesn't detract from the overall quality of the film as a whole.

Anwyn: A couple of bad lines?!??

Bill: Three?

Anwyn: And even if the meaning is similar, moviegoers don’t get any sense at all of Tolkien’s beautiful wordplay from listening to dialogue like that. I could go all day quoting the various inanities that have Tolkien spinning merrily away like a top. You say they don't ruin the movie. But I say they could have done better.

Bill: But they don’t do anything to ruin your precious book. If a bad movie ruined a good book, Stephen King would have been out of business years ago.

Anwyn: Yeah, but to hear you tell it, there’s nothing in the book to ruin. But anyway… yeah, I guess. It just hurts to hear the grandeur of a line like "Farewell, and may the blessing of Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you. May the stars shine upon your faces!!" degenerated into the title of the movie.

Bill: You say a cornball line like that out loud in a movie and the audience will snicker.

Anwyn: Maybe you would, Stephen King-boy.

Bill: No maybe about it. Bottom line, An, is that Jackson did what he did, I would say, for four key reasons. One: brevity. Two: minor modernization, to take into account today's audience. Three: broaden the appeal, because I'm living testament that not everybody worships these books. Four, and most important: to inject a little bit of Hollywood into it to make it more palatable to the screen. Because, again, a direct translation of this material would be a snoozer.

Anwyn: I grant you that it absolutely could not be translated directly. But even given that, I think Jackson could have striven for a higher standard. The throwaway lines, the frivolous dialogue, they represent the worst of Hollywood. Come on, you didn't like it when Data spouted "Saddle up; lock and load," in the last Next Gen movie.

Bill: I didn't like much of anything about the last Next Gen movie.

Anwyn: There you go, then. You must see at least a little of my pain.

Bill: But there's an important distinction to be made here. This wasn't some slapdash effort made to simply cash in on an established franchise. There was so much dedication in these guys to do the best they could with the material and still put it into a popular entertainment medium. If they had just gone in without reading the books, plundering the material just to make a buck, I could see you being upset. But they went in with dedication to tell the story as best they could. You have to admit their hearts were in the right place. They *cared* about the source material.

Anwyn: That must be why, no matter what my objections when I'm away from it, every time I turn it on I still get sucked in.

Bill: See. That's a good movie.

Anwyn: I never said it wasn't. I have always conceded that it was brilliantly cast, well-acted, and utilized the most incredible sets I've ever seen. I just think it's a shame that Tolkien's writing didn't have the same "suck-in" effect on you.

Bill: Oh, it definitely has a "suck" effect...

Anwyn (loftily ignoring that): I'll also grant that Peter Jackson's effort is likely the best one that will ever be made. As long as you grant me one last thing: the privilege of screaming "Back, wench!" whenever Arwen shoves her damn sword into Aragorn's throat.

Bill: No talking during the movie!

Anwyn (sweetly): But then who's going to explain everything to you, movie-boy?


Stay tuned for the next exciting episode, as Bill and Anwyn square off once again following the release of Peter Jackson's The Two Towers.


Post your comments on this article.

[ Email this Page to a Friend ] Email this page to a friend!

Email Anwyn


Past Counterpoints

In Association with Amazon.com

home | contact us | back to top | site map |search | join list | review this site

This site is maintained and updated by fans of The Lord of the Rings. We in no way claim the artwork displayed to be our own. Copyrights and trademarks for the books, films, and related properties mentioned herein are held by their respective owners and are used solely for promotional purposes of said properties. Design and original photography however are copyright © 2000 TheOneRing.net ™.