November 4, 1999

The Undoing of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings
Robert Van De Water

I have just read Hama`s Rant on the idea that Arwen should be given an expanded role in Peter Jackson`s upcoming LOTR movie series. To be honest, I don`t think Hama went far enough. Making LOTR an expanded episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess" would ruin the movie for a number of reasons.

First of all, adding modern politically correct elements to the story will dilute its mythic character and, paradoxically, make it less believable by connecting it more with the real world. Let`s say, for example, that I was making the Lord of the Rings movie and I told you I wanted to say something about the importance of democracy by having Aragorn pledge free elections and a Bill of Rights for Gondor after the defeat of Sauron. How would you respond? Would you argue that democracy and civil rights are unimportant? Most people would not. It is a difficult feeling to express exactly, but you would argue that adding such elements to the movie would ruin it`s mythological flavor.

In a similar vein, adding Arwen as a rebellious daughter simply ruins the primary characteristic of Tolkien`s world, which I take to be its simplistic "fairy tale" depiction of reality. In Middle Earth, Elves are good and beautiful; they dance, they laugh, they sing. Orcs, on the other hand, are evil and ugly; they delight in desctruction. Have you noticed that Tolkien never once even mentions the need for latrines? In this world, can anyone really imagine Elrond as the head of a dysfunctional family?

Second of all, eliminating the role of Eowyn in favor of expanding the role of Arwen radically changes the character of the Battle of the Pelennor fields. Eomer, believing that he has lost his last remaining relative when he thinks Eowyn is dead, rallies the host of Rohan and recklessly charges across the field buying precious time and inflicting horrible casualties in his rage and grief. This act of despair and courage becomes far less "emotionally believable" if Arwen replaces Eowyn. Eomer thinks a woman he only met a couple of weeks ago is dead? Why does he care? Because of Theoden? The King who he willfully disobeyed? The King who, blinded by Wormtongue, has imprisoned him and nearly destroyed the kingdom? Please.

Thirdly, removing Eowyn gets rid of the best romantic elements in the entire story. I am speaking, of course, of the romance between Eowyn and Farimir. Eowyn, rejected by her first choice, is courted by Farimir and slowly comes to accept him. As a single guy who has never been a woman`s first choice, this story has always appealed to me at a very deep level and I think a lot of people feel the same way.

Fourthly, you cannot change Arwen`s character without also changing Aragorn`s. In my view, Aragorn is a war-weary ranger who has spent years fighting for the peace-loving people of the Shire without any appreciation. He longs for the day when he can put up his sword and live in peace, but he knows that many battles must be fought before this is possible. To Aragorn, Arwen represents the peace and harmony that he is striving to protect. If Aragorn is a war-monger who loves and admires a feisty fellow warrior, what hope has Gondor for peace after dealing with Sauron?

Fifthly and most important, making Arwen a warrior princess who faces orcs and trolls with bared steel will, I am afraid, add unintentional comic elements to the LOTR movies. Ask anyone who watches the "Xena: Warrior Princess" television show to describe it and you will almost inevitably hear the word "funny" or "corny". Women in modern combat are believable because the incredibly destructive weapons of modern warfare tend to minimize gender distinctions. Seeing a woman like Liv Tyler cut through a throng of orcs with a sword, however, could not help but reduce an audience`s respect for their strength and combat effectiveness.

Ironically, the idea to expand Arwen`s role was probably sold (if it was successfully sold) on the basis that expanding her role would make the movie more financially successful. This is ironic because, in all likelihood, it will reduce the net box office receipts. Like previous writers who have addressed this issue, I am not going to claim that I will not see this movie if Arwen is given an expanded role. I enjoy too many elements of Tolkien`s masterpeice for it to be completely ruined for me by the addition of a single character. On the other hand, it is unlikely that I will enjoy the movie enough to see it more than once unless it is a faithful adaptation of Tolkein`s work. Looking at the historical numbers, repeat viewers are very important in making a film like this successful and radically changing the character of the story in the ways necessary to give Arwen an expanded role is likely to reduce the repeat viewership of real Tolkien fans.