The LOTR Movie Site
April 22, 2000

How Would J.R.R. Tolkien Write the Screenplay?
John R.

The basic problem is that great works of literature are not easily transformed into movies. Great books tend to make bad films, and visa versa. A River Runs Through It and The Milagro Beanfield War are two brilliant books in American literature and should be read by every student, but as movies they stink.

Modern authors such as Michael Crighton write books as if they screenplays, with the same pacing and character development as a movie.

Tolkien did not write LOTR with movie rights in mind, to put it mildly. It would be impossible for anyone to put together three movies, two hours in length, which would be true to the book and tell the entire story, as it is told in his books.

So imagine that J.R.R. Tolkien is a screenwriter who has a story, never published in book form. How would Tolkien write a screen play with a 6-hour limit to tell his story?

Most likely, Tolkien would try to stay true to his creation by dropping various scenes and characters, and by adding new scenes and characters who are composites of others.  Remember that "a picture is worth a thousand words", so the artful screenwriter Tolkien would find a way to use the advantages of the motion picture milieu.

Just speculating: the movie could start as a tense flashback to Bilbo finding the ring while Gandalf effectuates a pyrotechnic rescue of some grumpy dwarves. Flashback ends, story moves to Bag End with Bilbo saying to Frodo, this is the true story, sorry I lied about it before, etc., then going outside to rejoin their birthday party. 

Tolkien might move the action to Osgiliath to show Boromir as the only man to withstand an unseen menace bursting through the defenses. We realize Boromir comes under the Black Breath during his brave but unsuccessful effort to stop the Black Riders from crossing in search of the Ring. Back at Minas Tirith later that night, Boromir has a nightmare and mumbles about a ring. Then he and Faramir have a joint vision "Seek the sword that was broken". They wake in separate bedrooms, both grab swords, run into the hall looking for intruders, and nearly come to blows by mistake. (Remember that they love each other but that there is tension in this family.) They go in search of Denethor. Boromir heads for the Royal Suite, but Faramir points out that their father sleeps in the throne room and hasn't slept in his bed since their mother died. Boromir is taken aback - he's been leading the battle and did not know about this or other trouble. When Denethor interprets the dream, Boromir unaccountably insists on seeking out Imladris, even though he is the Captain of the defense of Minas Tirith. Both far-sighted Denethor and intuitive Faramir see something is wrong but can't dissuade Boromir from leaving.

Continuing the speculation as to how Tolkien might write a screenplay:

Fellowship of the Ring is so packed full of action that the movie would end with Gandalf's fall in Moria. Aragorn looks into the pit and says not to lose hope.

Two Towers begins with an intense chase through the woods. Legolas fires arrows backward, Aragorn hews through orcs, and Boromir uses his body to block orc arrows while carrying two hobbits. Action cuts to the depths of Moria where a wet Gandalf has a running battle with the Balrog, ending on the mountain top.

Maybe Eowyn tries to enter Aragorn's chamber the night they spend in transit. In a comic scene, we are shown that she is indeed desperate to leave and is attracted to his power, and Aragorn needs the help of Gimli and Legolas to fight her off. Nothing happens - both remain chaste - but Aragorn swears his friends to secrecy, asking them in particular to mention nothing to the hobbits, who seem to be taking notes for some reason.

You get the idea. The scenes in the movie may be completely out of order from the story as written in the book, and scenes can be added to explain much of what has been cut out. The basic story can survive.

So plan to see Jackson's movie with an open mind, just looking to be entertained, and knowing that your favorite character may be on the cutting room floor.

P.S. The choice role in this hypothetical movie would be Eowyn. Starts as ice maiden, becomes warrior in drag, then kills Witch King in dramatic battle, then is wooed and falls in love, becoming feminine. No other character, except perhaps Aragorn, has so much variation in character. (Frodo is morose and just gets more so.)