October 5, 2000
October 3rd LOTR E-Post
Q: The LOTR website fans are overwhelmingly anxious about the present (presumed) mistreatment of the novel, obviously a much-beloved classic, and I have to wonder if, in your memory, a book of these dimensions has ever made the transition to film relatively intact? The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace...Dune...all unrecognizable. Why film a great story with great characters...by changing the story and removing the characters?
A: Lord of the Rings is perhaps the most faithful screenplay ever adapted from a long novel. This is not just because our writing quartet is devoted to the original and would share other fans' resentment if it were "mistreated". Tolkien has an advantage over Dickens, Tolstoy and other epic writers. His storylines have a clear sweep and are less concerned with the byways and subplots which characterise 19th century novels. Consequently the major milestones of the Fellowship's journey are intact. Inevitably, even in a three-film version, there will be some omissions of characters and elisions of events but as the story unfolds onscreen and as the landscapes are seen for the first time, little will be missed.
The enthusiasts who have read the novels over and over may notice every change but in doing so they will miss the point. Peter Jackson's movie does not challenge the novel's supremacy any more than the distinguished book illustrations by Howe, Lee et al were meant to replace Tolkien's descriptive words. Paintings, drawings, animations and at last the feature films all augment our appreciation of Lord of the Rings. And just watch the book sales rise as New Line's publicity for the film gears up.
Another point on this, the question that dominates my email: the adaptation of masterpieces from one medium to another is as old as literature. Most of Shakespeare's plays are re-workings of stories, poems or written history. When I moved Richard III from stage to screen, I was determined to make a good film in honour of a great play. Had I left every scene and line of the text intact in the movie, it would not have been a good one. Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, my favourite version of the Macbeth saga, distorts Shakespeare to spectacular effect. The play which inspired it remains intact.