The first time I read LOTR was in Primary school. Back then, my key takeaway was the pride of finishing a piece of proper literature. I don’t think I even knew how legit it was, until a 16-year-old family friend (as he then was) expressed amazement that I had already read it. At that time, 16 years was older than my siblings. That he had rubber stamped my precociousness in front of them meant a lot to me, during a phase of my life when being the youngest felt more like a burden than a privilege.
But honestly, I hardly think I really appreciated LOTR at that age. Then the films came out, and Peter Jackson’s compelling vision easily re-imprinted over my superficial impressions of Tolkien’s work. Re-reading the epic recently was thus quite a treat, as the text explores Tolkien’s legendarium far more richly than the movie ever did. In this regard, LOTR is first and foremost a milieu story: Tolkien had created a language, followed by a universe, and only then, a narrative.
In no order, I set out below the points I noted in this second read.
1. Faramir: Whereas Faramir was emasculated in the movie, he is a noble lord in the text, second only to Aragorn as a virtuous man (or maybe even equal, if we look beyond kingliness).
2. Gandalf’s transformation: Gandalf did not just fall into darkness when he fought the Balrog; he “strayed out of thought and time”. Given that the Valar are bound by Arda’s space and time, this suggests that Eru was the one that intervened directly. As such, many sources (e.g. Wiki) assert that Gandalf died and ‘resurrected’.
I am not too sure though if calling this a ‘resurrection’ is theologically accurate. On one hand, Gandalf stated that he was “sent back”, whereas the Resurrection was / is the “beginning of the New Creation: a new chapter in cosmic history has opened.” (CS Lewis, Miracles) In this regard, it would seem that Gandalf’s miracle was more like Lazarus’ than like Jesus’.
On the other hand, Gandalf did transform from Grey to White, alluding to at least the Transfiguration if not Jesus’ transformation into the Eschatological Man, whereas the restoration of Lazarus merely returned him to the life he had before.
3. Gollum: Gollum is a true work of art in the movie. Peter Jackson totally captured the essence of his repulsive yet pitiable state.
4. Gandalf’s joy: In the wake of Minas Tirith’s impending doom, this: “Yet in the wizard’s face [Pippin] saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.” Ian McKellen did quite a decent job in capturing Gandalf’s gravitas-founded-on-joy.
5. Tom Bombadil and Goldberry: A LawSoc president once told some interns about an interviewee who declared that LOTR was his favourite book. When asked about his thoughts on Peter Jackson’s omission of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry (“T&G”) from the movies, the interviewee damned himself in answering, “Who is Tom Bombadil and Goldberry?”
Here is my (smugly superior) answer. Notwithstanding that it is an aesthetic loss, I can understand why a director would remove T&G from the movie. There are much larger concerns with entertainability and profitability. Accordingly, action and narrative have to drive a film, sometimes at the expense of ‘secondary’ concerns like character development, world building, and/or idea exploration. In this regard, Peter Jackson justified his decision by pointing out that T&G did little to advance the story.
But in the legendarium, T&G are indispensable to the milieu of LOTR. Through the lens of a Christian allegory, Tom Bombadil, described by Elrond as “oldest and fatherless”, together with his wife Goldberry, personify Original Holiness. Their realm is an unfaded piece of the original Arda, when Arda was first sung into being. This explains their imperviousness to and their disinterest in the One Ring: the temptation of Sin has little sway on one who has not left Eden.
6. Denethor: Denethor was no snivelling, weak, or petty steward; he was a great and wise lord in his own right. Nevertheless, in lamenting Denethor’s use of the palantir (yes, Minas Tirith had possessed their own!), Gandalf stated that “[he] was too great to be subdued to the will of the Dark Power, he saw nonetheless only those things which that Power permitted to see.”
7. Poems & Songs: Tolkien is truly a master; nowhere else have I seen word and world so tightly intertwined.
P.S. I was searching for pics to feature in this post, and zomg, there are so many beautiful LOTR wallpapers <3