The LOTR Movie Site
July 1, 2000

Response to David, Austin, Brian, and John's Articles

We can argue about what Tolkien would and would not have tolerated in a film adaptation from now until doomsday (and we probably will), but it's worthwhile looking at what he said about the matter in his own letters. There's some correspondance with Forrest J. Ackermann about a (thankfully) never-filmed one-movie animated version. I don't have the book in front of me right now, but I remember clearly that JJRT was not against major cuts, as long as the broad outline of the plot was preserved; he not only assented to Bombadil's exclusion, he suggested cutting Helm's Deep entirely. What angered him was the screenwriter's attempts to shoehorn the story into a more familiar framework, usually juvenile fantasy or science fiction-- having the eagles swoop in at the last minute, calling lembas a "food concentrate" (really!), and having the eagles swoop in at the drop of a hat. We can only guess how Tolkien would have viewed the changes in Arwen's character-- in fact, at this stage, we can only guess what those changes will be, since not all that is filmed makes the final cut. He might have been appalled, or he might have content to see Arwen following in the footsteps of her great-great-grandmother Luthien. We can't know. Neither can Peter Jackson. All he can do is try to make the best film he can and hope that the professor would have been pleased.  

I'm fairly optimistic about the process. It's been my experiments that films or plays that best capture the spirit of books are often not the ones that follow the book verbatim; I'm thinking, for example, of the stage musical version of Les Miserables, another 1300+ page novel with a huge cast and a very complex plot. PJ has at least 6 hours of screen time to work with; the libretto for Les Mis is 30 pages long. 30 pages. Three-quarters of the plot, including some parts that seemed indispensable, jettisoned, and important details of the rest-- Marius and Eponine's relationship, or his relationship to the other revolutionaries, for example-- changed dramatically. But it worked. The composer and librettist cared passionately for the story, and they preserved the atmosphere, the themes, the most important scenes, and the result was something Victor Hugo would, I think, have been happy with.

I hope something similar happens with these films. PJ seems to have the respect for Tolkien that he needs to pull it off, but he'd be hampered if he treated Tolkien's every word as holy writ. From what I've read, he seems to have thought very carefully about what changes are most necessary to preserve the spirit of the work in the translation from one medium to another.

I'm looking forward to seeing if he can pull it off. And if he can't, we still have the book.