Here are the biggest parts of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material that Peter Jackson omitted from his Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Introducing Middle-earth to a brand new audience, it’s no exaggeration to describe the Lord of the Rings movies as a cultural sensation. Through The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, Peter Jackson crafted three box office behemoths that enjoyed widespread critical acclaim, and tasted glory at the traditionally fantasy-averse Oscars.
Compared to most book-to-movie adaptations, The Lord of the Rings is generally faithful to its source material (perhaps thanks to the presence of a book-toting Christopher Lee on set). Jackson makes no major additions of his own, and the most important blocks of Frodo’s journey through Middle-earth remain intact. But so detailed is Tolkien’s mythology, it was inevitable that a Hollywood adaptation would cut a great deal of material. Each entry in the Lord of the Rings trilogy nudges the upper limits of acceptable blockbuster length (and, for many, bladder endurance), but still comes nowhere close to adapting the books in full.
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Many of these go unnoticed, even to those who have read the original books. Other omissions, however, are impossible to ignore. For one reason or another, entire sections, characters and settings from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings are conspicuous by their absence on the big screen. These are the most significant cuts made by Jackson’s trilogy.
Fellowship of the Ring’s Time Jump
As The Fellowship of the Ring tells it, Bilbo Baggins holds his extravagant birthday party, departs the Shire, and reluctantly leaves his mysterious ring to nephew, Frodo. Gandalf then turns up a little later, reveals the true nature of the One Ring, and tells Frodo to flee forthwith. In Tolkien’s books, however, there’s a massive time skip of 17 years between the night of Bilbo’s shindig, and Frodo leaving The Shire. This particular change smooths out The Fellowship of the Ring‘s first act setup and, for similar reasons, many of Jackson’s biggest alterations occur early in the trilogy.
Frodo & Sam’s Relationship
In cinematic terms, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee are an iconic buddy duo – two best friends embarking upon an epic quest. Their relationship was originally much less personal, with Sam more explicitly subservient to “Mr. Frodo,” rather than just endearingly accommodating and overly formal. While Frodo and Sam obviously grow closer during their journey in the Lord of the Rings novels, the social divide between them is very pronounced. This was no doubt dropped to avoid casting any negative aspersions on Frodo for treating Sam like his butler.
Before the quartet of Hobbits meet Aragorn in Bree, they stumble across an enigmatic folk character called Tom Bombadil, and his wife, Goldberry. Dwelling in the Old Forest, Tom’s origin remains unknown, even today, but he possesses God-like power within his woodland realm, and offers the Hobbits refuge at this early stage of their journey. Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil chapters feel like Beatles songs in written form, but do little to advance the story. Bombadil does provide Frodo and friends with weapons, but Aragorn performs this function in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Fatty Bolger plays virtually no role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but in the books, he was the fifth member of the core Hobbit gang for a time. In Tolkien’s work, Frodo takes his sweet time leaving the Shire, actually purchasing a second home in Buckland to hide with the Ring, before being driven out by the arrival of the Ringwraiths. He was aided at this time by Sam, Merry and Pippin, but also Fatty Bolger – a close Hobbit friend of Frodo’s. Fatty stays behind to maintain the pretense of Frodo living in Buckland, although he was actually invited to continue the quest and declined out of fear.
After setting out on the first leg of their journey, Frodo and Sam catch sight of elves in Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, much to Gamgee’s delight. This scene replaces a greatly extended interaction between the Hobbits and Elves in the original book, where Frodo, Sam and Pippin encounter Gildor and his people. Not only do the Hobbits speak with the elf, they also enjoy the hospitality of these woodland wanderers, and Gildor offers sage wisdom on Frodo’s perilous burden, foreshadowing later events.
The Eye of Sauron
In what has since become an iconic image, Jackson’s Lord of the Rings depicts the Dark Lord Sauron as a giant flaming eye sitting on top of Barad-dûr. This is largely an invention of the movie trilogy, as while Tolkien does refer to the all-seeing fiery eye of Sauron, this is meant in a more metaphysical, unseen sense, rather than a literal floating eyeball. Tolkien actually hints that Sauron retains a physical, albeit greatly weakened, humanoid form through most of the trilogy, similar to the armored figure seen in flashbacks.
Glorfindel (Arwen’s Increased Role)
A general change implemented by Peter Jackson is the amplification of Arwen’s role in proceedings and her romance with Aragorn, since Tolkien didn’t share Hollywood’s unfaltering need for a love story. Consequently, events from the books are abandoned or adapted to fit around Arwen’s newfound prominence. Arwen replaces Glorfindel as the elf who carries an injured Frodo to Rivendell, and triggers the flood that washes away the Ringwraiths at Bruinen, instead of Elrond. Arwen gifts Aragorn the Star of Elendil, but the Elfstone is given by Galadriel in the books, with no romantic suggestion intended whatsoever.
Jackson also makes a bigger deal out of Elrond’s disapproval of Aragorn as a suitor for his daughter, whereas in the books he was chilled about it, so long as Aragorn became King of Gondor. No pressure.
Fellowship Personality Changes
One of the more contentious changes Jackson wrought over Lord of the Rings was the drastic alteration of personalities within the Fellowship. The Hobbits are presented more as children than adult males, and the duo of Merry and Pippin are regularly deployed for comic relief. The same fate befalls Gimli, who is less often the butt of jokes in Tolkien’s telling. Even more controversially, Gandalf and Aragorn are far less self-assured on the big screen compared to their counterparts in the world of literature. Aragorn bears deep reservations about reclaiming the throne of men, and Gandalf doesn’t possess the same aura of authority and control.
The Fellowship’s Selection & Bilbo’s Presence
One of The Lord of the Rings‘ most famous movie scenes sees the various members of the Fellowship declare their allegiance to Frodo during the Council of Elrond with the “and my axe!” sequence. Not only does this exchange not transpire in the books, but the Fellowship itself is selected by Elrond some weeks after the actual council. But then we wouldn’t have the memes. Peter Jackson also removes Bilbo Baggins from the Council of Elrond sequence, even though he was heavily involved in the books, offering to make the trek to Mordor himself.
The Moria Decision
As mentioned above, Ian McKellen’s Gandalf isn’t quite as forthright and stubborn as he can be in the books, and this is exemplified by the Fellowship’s decision to travel through the Mines of Moria. McKellen’s character is desperate to avoid Moria, but eventually concedes when the stormy weather worsens. It’s the opposite situation in the books, where the wizard suggests Moria and the others give in, which reframes Gandalf’s Balrog sacrifice completely. In another change to the Moria sequence, Peter Jackson’s movies confirm Saruman is the villain responsible for the blizzard, whereas Tolkien leaves the culprit ambiguous.
When Frodo and Sam encounter David Wenham’s Faramir in The Two Towers, the Hobbits are taken captive, as Boromir’s brother decides to march them back to his father in Gondor, seizing the Ring as a weapon just as his sibling intended. Only after realizing the error of his ways does Faramir set the pair back on their journey towards Mt. Doom. Faramir was much less of a hindrance in the pages of Tolkien, and though he questions Frodo about his quest and Boromir’s demise, he doesn’t detain them by force, merely accompanying the Hobbits on part of their journey.
No Elves At Helm’s Deep
The Two Towers‘ Battle of Helm’s Deep is a strong contender for the most epic battle in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the director made a few hundred pointy-eared additions of his own. Simultaneous to Helm’s Deep, Tolkien alludes to other fights popping up between the Elves and Saruman’s forces in locations such as Lothlórien, proving that the rogue wizard and Sauron threatened all the peoples of Middle-earth. Since this couldn’t be conveyed as easily in a movie’s context, Jackson inserted an elvish presence into the climactic sequence of The Two Towers to remind viewers of the race’s stake in events.
Denethor’s Different Personality
Much like his son (the least favorite one), Denethor is greatly changed in live-action. Although John Noble does a wonderful job of bringing the character to life, his Denethor is far more villainous, driven to despair by the events around him, and reluctant to relinquish power to the true king. Denethor also conspires against Gandalf and the alliance against Sauron. Although Tolkien’s Denethor was still essentially an antagonist, he was able to resist the will of Sauron through the palantir, and his true downfall was losing hope in the face of the Dark Lord’s rise. Denethor’s fall culminated in a murder-suicide attempt with Faramir, where Gandalf was only able to save his son, not the steward himself.
Gandalf vs. The Witch-king
As part of the third film’s grand finale, The Return of the King pits Gandalf the White against the strongest of the Ringwraiths, the Witch-king of Angmar. The wizard comes off worse, losing his staff and requiring a helping hand from the soldiers of Rohan. This scene is an adaptation of a corresponding moment from Tolkien’s third book, but with two major alterations – Gandalf’s staff doesn’t break, and the wizard manages to prevent the Witch-king from entering Minas Tirith, whereas the enemy has already breached the gate in their movie battle.
Merry Missing In The Final Battle
Meriadoc Brandybuck distinguishes himself during the Battle of Pelennor Fields, in which he aids in vanquishing the Witch-king of Angmar. Tolkien deemed that contribution enough from the Hobbit in The Return of the King‘s big clashes against Sauron, allowing Merry to sit ou the final advance on Mordor’s Black Gate. Nevertheless, Dominic Monaghan is included in the movie trilogy’s last skirmish, lining up as part of Aragorn’s army. Although not what Tolkien intended, it makes sense for the main cast to gather in the final act of a Hollywood movie.
The Scouring of the Shire
Jackson’s The Return of the King ends with Frodo Baggins and his Hobbit companions returning to their quiet lies in the Shire and living happily ever after, more or less. They enjoyed no such luck in the books. Upon returning home, Frodo and the gang find the Shire ransacked and transformed by Saruman and his servant, Wormtongue, who conspire with a small handful of less pleasant Hobbit-folk. Using the skills they learned during their adventures, the four Hobbits overthrow Saruman, finish the wizard off for good, and liberate the Shire. Only then does the “happily ever after” begin. Since the Scouring of the Shire is essentially The Lord of the Rings‘ epilogue, it was perhaps an understandable omission from a movie that already had enough post-battle admin.
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