Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
After whiling away a summer afternoon with Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring movie, I wanted to continue the story. So, I bought the DVD of The Two Towers online, and reread the book while I waited for it to arrive. Of course we watched the movie as soon as it got here, and of course my attention was drawn primarily to the differences between the book and movie versions.
Now, I'm not one of those die-hard LOTR fans who finds fault with any deviation from the original. On the contrary, out of the four most important variations I noticed, two of them were positive:
- In the book, Merry and Pippin convince the Ents to fight against Saruman. In the movie, Treebeard is reluctant to join either side in the war, and Merry has to trick him into walking near Isengard and seeing the devastation for himself. I like Merry's having to do something clever (any redeeming moments are welcome for those two troublemakers), and it's really effective on film to see the horror of deforestation from an Ent's perspective.
- In the movie, but not in the book, the elves come to the aid of the Rohirrim at Helm's Deep. This led to some cool fight scenes and gave Viggo Mortensen the chance to speak a little more Elvish. More important, though, the alliance between elves and men is one of the recurring themes of the epic, and it's thrilling to see the Anglo-Saxon-like Rohirrim and the numinous Elves fighting together.
I also noted two differences that I thought took away from the story:
- Tolkien's Faramir is immune to the Ring's temptation, while Jackson's Faramir actually kidnaps Frodo and tries to bring him back to Gondor. I believe that Jackson is making the point that all men are corruptible, but the point of Faramir in the story is just the opposite. He represents the noblest tendencies remaining in the fallen race of Gondor, the nobility of Númenor that persists in his line. In the movie, he wants to steal the ring, but in the book, he says to Sam, "Not if I found it on the highway would I take it."
- On a related note, the sibling rivalry between Boromir and Faramir is played up much too strongly in the movie. Mostly, I don't like Jackson's interpretation of Denethor (who doesn't even appear in the book until The Return of the King). The Steward should be mad with despair, for regardless of whether Mordor or Gondor prevails in the war, the reign of the Stewards will end. He should have a sense of mortality and impending doom on a grand scale, not just for himself but for his family, as if he had failed his noble ancestors. With such a hopeless outlook, he should have no interest in playing favorites between his sons.
On balance, I consider the book and the movie to be complementary ways of telling the story. Tolkien's writing is strongly visual, presenting a challenge to which Jackson's production design responds admirably (while also working wonders for the New Zealand tourist board).