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Tolkien Book to Jackson Script: The Medium and the Message

Professor Tom Shippey, noted medievalist and the world’s foremost Tolkien scholar, gave a lecture titled “Tolkien Book to Jackson Script: the Medium and the Message” to full crowd in the campus cinema. His talk charts the creative reshaping of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, into Peter Jackson’s award-winning trilogy of films. Professor Shippey was the literary consultant to Jackson and the actors as they worked on the films. While on campus Shippey's also gave a talk titled Rediscovering Middle-earth: the Roots of Tolkien's Myths.

Audio Transcript

Well thanks very much Greg for the introduction. Well there's some very obvious things to say about the Peter Jackson movies, and I'm going to say them pretty fast, so as to get on to harder issues. And the harder issues that I would like to get on to, and I hope I will get on to them. Well first, is the overall effect of the movies different from the overall effect of the books? And next, how far is this inevitable result of different media? Next, how much of it is a result of deliberate editorial or scriptwriter decision? You'll see that all these are pretty hypothetical questions, but my title is Tolkien book to Jackson script. The medium and the message and I'm trying actually, to get to the issues of how the medium affects the message. As I say, whether this is inevitable or not. Tolkien in a way didn't really put his finger on this, but he did say something about a film script.

In the late 50's the idea was floated that the Lord of the Rings should be filmed. And it was floated by a guy I used to know, a science fiction fan called Foray Ackerman. He turned it over to a scriptwriter who was called Zimmerman. And I must say, that despite all the things that people have said about Zimmerman. It was a very noble deed by Zimmerman to actually hand his script over to the archives at Market University. Because Tolkien had written all over it with remarks of increasing anger. As it went on, he was turning over and writing and another thing on the back. So actually it's an interesting historical document. But if I had been Mr. Zimmerman, I think I'd have gone rip and said, "Well let's forget about that one." Anyway, Tolkien said, and i just like to say that this is in the context of reading what was an appallingly bad script and Tolkien said, complaining about all this."The cannons of narrative art in any medium, cannot be wholly different."

Then he went on and he said, "The problem is, not perceiving where the core of the original lies." And I thought, "Well that's very wise Professor Tolkien. But actually when you say the cannons of narrative art in any medium cannot be wholly different, I agree with you. But can't they be very different? Or slightly different? Or rather different?" What we'd like to know is how different is it possible for them to be? Again, the problem is not perceiving where the core of the original lies. Okay, where's the core of the original? Tell us that and then we'll get a bit further forward. So these are questions I say, which I think are really quite difficult. I'm going to try to work round to them. But before I get there, I want to say a few things, which are really quite obvious.

First, there were always two reactions to the movies. I think I became aware of them the first time I went to the preview of the first movie, which is in St. Louis. I went there and I sat there in the theater and I watched the movie. As the movie unrolled, I could sort of feel the theater going quite, nobody stirred. You know, it's three hours, no intermission. Nobody went to the restroom, nobody actually rustled their sweety papers, nobody bothered about their popcorn. The whole place just went dead quiet, and I thought, "Okay, that's got through then, hasn't it?" This was reinforced a bit later, when I was actually ... During a TV interview, with the local channels. It's about six weeks after the movie came out and I said what I got to say about the movie. At the end, when it was all over, the camerawoman came out from behind the camera. She came up to me and she said, "I want you to know, I've seen that movie 51 times." I said, "Oh that's nice."

I went off thinking, 51 ... You know I figured out, I'm sure I got this right. She must have seen it every day and twice on Sundays ever since it was released. So the whole thing had been kind of transcendental experience for her. This I say I've heard from other people too, well that's one reaction. That's one reaction, complete absorption. The other though, again at the end of the movie I hung around for a bit, because I wanted to see my name come up on the credits. The credits would roll, roll, roll, roll. I thought, I'd just getting up and think, well they let me down. They said they would and they haven't. I was stamping out, and I think it was just after the man who emptied to Port-O-Potty. I got out and thanks to this guy, we almost forgot him. So that meant I was hanging around for five minutes I think after the movie finished. As I went out, I could see a little knot of people in the corner and indignant voices were rising. And they're all complaining about things, which had been changed in the movie.

And I listened to this for a bit, and I realized actually that ... Of course, I realized it later too. That the rule in this case, if you were a purist, cause these were the purists, complaining about the movie. If you were a purist, it's a competition, and the person who wins is the one who makes the most fuss about the smallest detail. Because that shows that you've really absorbed everything, just to show that I can be a purist too. What really burned me up about the third ... hang on a minute, about the second movie, the Two Towers. Do you remember the scene in which Éowyn is trying to sort of get out of Aragorn how old he is. She's realized that he rode with her grandfather, and she's obviously got her sights on him in a romantic way. She's saying, "So how old are you? 35? 40?" Eventually he says to her, "87" And she realizes he's one of the Dunedin. Well actually, just to show I can nit-pick as well as the next man. He's not 87, he's 88.

They looked it up in the appendix, didn't they? They say the date of birth, and they saw the date of the events, and the deducted one from the other and they got 87. But that conversation took place on March the third, and his birthday is on March the first. Spoiled the whole movie for me. Well we have then, as I say the two reactions. The complete absorption and the kind of nit-picking complaint. Perhaps I should say also, I think much of the Tolkien fan creditors have been very negative about the movies. In on of them, I have a little store of insults I've received, which I treasure. In one of them a guy I know from California, he's said that ... Because I'd said I'd quite liked the movie really and so on. Something as mild as that, he said, " This is disgraceful." Somebody who has looked at Tolkien as much as this, and he said, "This is an example of Saromanian accomodationism." I thought, "Yes, I've arrived, yes." I thought I was just a rear rank orc, but I've been promoted.

Well first thing then is there are these two reactions to Tolkien. I can't help feeling that perhaps it's somewhere in between the two. Well, Herbert if I was going to start ... Have an argument with a purist. Well I'd say, let's be realistic about this. Consider the circumstances of composition. Let's think about something very basic, which is in this case money. How much did it cost Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings? Well, he used to scrounge paper from old exanimation scripts, so I don't think that cost him very much. He used to write in fountain pen and it's my belief that he filled it up at the college inkwell. So the ink didn't cost him anything. So what were his expenses? Well all the thing ... All the other thing he invested in you might say is his spare time. What is a professors spare time worth? Well, we're in a position to tell you that. It is worth absolutely nothing. So considering the enormous returns on Tolkien's investment. I reckon it comes to considering returns against capital. The case of The Lord of the Rings must be about the most remarkable example of positive returns.

So it cost Tolkien nothing to write The Lord of the Rings, which meant he could do what he liked. But Jackson, with the bill rising all the time and pressure on his back actually from the money men back in Los Angeles. He had got to think about making a return on the investment, and as a result I think there was on him a strong sense of what I call reverse audience pressure. He got to try to figure out how he was gonna sell this movie and he got to start doing things, which he thought would appeal to the target audience. And the target audience was teenagers. Well as a result, it's quite clear that much of the movie has been teenagerd. Mary and Pippin are much brattier than they are in the original. We have that, well I mean there are some things where you just have to hide your eyes and pretend you weren't there.

But there's Legolas skateboarding down the steps. There's unfortunate jokes about dwarf tossing and things like that. Then I think it could go on, Gimli I slightly regret this, has been turned into a kind of grumpy old dad image. For people to laugh at, as you made more of a figure of fun. We got other things like, [inaudible 00:09:53] Being written out and Éowyn being written back in, because somebody at some point said we've got to build that character up. Okay, okay, okay. There's half a dozen things like that, and as I say you just have to let them go by. One other thing is it's pretty clear I think that the model they had in mind was Star Wars. They wanted to outdo Star Wars in terms of special FX. That was something that they were dead set on doing. They also realized I think early on, that because of the teenage market and having looked at Star Wars. They didn't need to spend a lot of money on well known actors. Because their target audience was not going to be particular impressed by well known actors. So they could save a good bit of budget there.

So the money thing meant that there was a different attitude to the audience and Jackson did not have the free hand, the entirely free hand that Tolkien did. Well, yes, okay that first thing then there are two reactions. Second you know, you've got to remember that Jackson was not in the same position as Tolkien. Third thing I's say is this, Tolkien talks about the cannons of narrative art, but in some ways he himself, not being a professional author. Not being a professional author at all, paid no attention to well known cannons of narrative art. Jackson, I think picked up on this very quickly. One of the things he said was, talking about the first movie. He said the first movie actually in a way was quite easy to do, he said, "It's a road movie. You just got to movie people along, it's nice and linear." Bertie said when we looked at the book, we realized what was the problem?

The problem was the Counsel of Elrond. There it is chapter two of book two, about rather more than half way through the volume. It's a record of a committee meeting. It's about 20,000 words long. I tried to count up sometimes how many speakers there are and I always get a different answer because there's so many. Many of them are actually introduced for the first time. I make it there's over 20 speakers there, if you include people who are introduced inside Gandalf's own narrative. But you've got to ... Lots of speaker, some of them quite new. Some of them quite unimportant, there figures there who speak and take part in the discussion who do nothing else at all in the whole of the sequence. So what it does actually, one other thing I'd say I have been to many committee meetings.

Many, many committee meetings. I reckon I know who's a good chair and who's not. Elrond is a terrible chair, he let's the meeting go completely out of hand. If I'd been Elrond I'd have said, "Look. This meeting has three points to decide: One, is the Hobbits ring the one ring? If it is, what are we going to do about it? Once we decide what to do about it, we've got to decide who's going to do it. Right. Item one on the agenda, Gandalf let us have your report." But instead we get, Gloin telling us the history of the mines of Moria. Gimli instead doesn't speak which is again slightly odd, since he's going to be a character later on. You know Boromir tells us about Gondor and Gandalf sort of says what he did on his holidays and the whole thing trundles along. Legolas says, "Oh you know we lost Gollum." Well anyway, as Jackson so rightly said. That would just stop the movie dead, so we can't do that. And you know what he did, which I think was a good decision. He took ... Because after all, although it's committee meeting and all that.

A lot of information is being passed on and that's vital information for the plot. So what he did was to take the information out, a lot of it and put it at the front. Where you have a voice over, somebody talking coolly and calmly over scenes of extremely violent action. So you've got the audience watching and you've also got them being given vital information. And then you've can start the move and then you can make the Counsel of Elrond a very different and much shorter incident when it comes up. So that's a been very much altered and you might notice that the climax of it is quite different. In the book, basically as often happens in committee meetings, everybody finished ... Has talked themselves out and the meetings just sort of runs down until Frodo intervenes. But in the movie much more dramatically you might say, everybody starts shouting at each other and Frodo has to try to break in to the scene of shouting and confusion.

Actually done very well I think, cause Frodo gets up and says, "I will take the ring." And nobody takes any notice of him, except Gandalf who turns 'round to listen to him. Because Gandalf is the only person there who takes any notice of Hobbits. Because Gandalf has turn around, the rest start to shut up a bit and Frodo says again, "I will take the ring." Then they all fall silent and then he says for the third time, "I will take the ring, but I do not know the way." So actually that's done quite well and the point I'd make actually is that Jackson is pretty good at doing quiet scenes. He has a lot of noisy scenes, a lot of action scenes and all that, but he can do the quiet scenes as well. Still that was the problem in the first book. In the second and third books, or the second and third movies. Again, you have Tolkien I think actually as the scriptwriters were working on this they were kind of tearing their hair and saying to each other "You can't do that."

"You just can't do that." Cannons of narrative art, one of the things that anybody will tell you is, show not tell. But actually Tolkien doesn't do that. In the second book, a classic thing I think is the ants were stirred up, they're marching on Isengard. They get to the edge of Wizards Vale, Nan Curunir and they look down into it and it says, "Night lay over Isengard." Finish, and then we move off to another strand of plot and when we get back to Isengard, it's ruin. In between Isengard has actually been destroyed. But we move from "Night lay over Isengard" to two small figures, sitting and smoking amid the wreckage. Then the two small figures tell Legolas and Gimli what happened as a kind of flashback. Only it's not a flashback, flashback implies it's quick, it's actually rather slow. Well in other words, big action scene has been totally removed from the story. As I say, I'm quite aware, I know the scripture at that point said, "Hey if we try to do that, the special FX guys will murder us. We have got to put that in the right places and we've got to make it a big action scene."

Just saying it quickly, same thing happens in book three, sorry in volume three. Where we get ... At the end of chapter three, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are going into the paths of the dead and the chapter ends with the words, "The dead followed them." Then we don't see them again until they reappear in chapter seven and we don't actually now what happened until once again, Legolas and Gimli sort of reversing what happened with Mary and Pippin. Tell the story in flashback in chapter nine. So on two occasion you have major action scenes just taken out and reported later on. Well, a good question and this is now getting on to be hard questions. Is not why did Jackson do what he did, which is obvious. Why did Tolkien do what he did? Why did he tell the story that way 'round? Cause it's not a natural way to do it.

Also, what is the result of this? Well I just let that ... I just let that lie for a moment. But surely one thing is this, that if you are reading the book for the first time. Much of the time you do not know what's going on, you don't know what happened. That applies particularly to the first book, where you have no idea as it were of the backstory until you get to the Counsel of Elrond. But in the movie, you have the backstory right at the start. So, I mean putting it quite literally, in the movies you are in the picture from the start and you stay in the picture all the way through. So that sense of not knowing what's going on that's there in the book, but much of it has been removed from the movies. Well, all those ... That I think just the same. I can see entirely why Jackson and his team did what they did there. What puzzles me is why Tolkien did what he did, and I'll come back to that later on.

But then there are other things actually which perhaps are more puzzling. In published discussion, I've usually turned at this point, to some things which Jackson added. I always say this is rather strange because you can see that he's trying very hard to lighten ship. He's actually got 62 chapters to deal with and he wants to get rid of some of these, because he knows that he can't possibly squeeze them all in. Even to an 11 hour special extended version. So Bombadil out, Scouring of the Shire, out. Okay, so you're making drastic changes like that, taking out three chapters at a time, to cut the whole thing. So why add things? One of the additions ... Well there are several things he added. One is actually what I call the Aragorn intermezzo.  Aragorn is heading for Helms Deep, the Wargs attack. Okay, I know why that's been added on because the special FX guys said, "We gotta do Wargs, we gotta do Wargs! We have really good ideas about Wargs, please let us do the Warg."

So he has to put the Wargs. Okay, okay. But why does Aragorn have to fall off the cliff and be rescued by his horse? Afterwards he gets back on the horse and goes to Helms deep which is where he was going anyway. What we've got here is a zig-zag, well no actually I'm not sure it is zig-zag. It's a loop, it's a narrative loop which takes him back to where he was and then continues. So what has that loop been built in for? In very much the same way, you have what I call the Faramir inversion. Instead of Faramir meeting Frodo and Sam and Ihilien and finding out what they're doing and sending them on their way. He decides to take them to Minas Tirith. He takes them across the river to Osgiliath and then they have to go back across the river. So you have actually another narrative loop in which he's going ... They're going in this direction.

They're taken 'round and off they go again, where they were before. Well, two of those, they're two two of those cases and the third thing I did wonder about. Was actually the kind of demonization of Denethor. Who is made a much less sympathetic character in the movie, than he is in the book. Well, now what are the explanations for these? Actually, you know one thing I've had to do in recent months, is look very hard especially at the second movie. Also, to play through the directors commentary, the scriptwriters commentary, the cast commentary, the design team commentary, the production team commentary and so on. Actually they're pretty open about it actually. The Aragorn Intermezzo is because they really had to keep Arwen present in the movie.

As you know, now remember in the Two Towers as written, Arwen doesn't appear at all. She's not there ... Not in any way, not mentioned under any heading. But they felt that you can't just drop someone completely out of the second movie. Because when you bring her back in the third movie, it's a two year gap and everybody's forgotten about her. They felt they had to have some kind of continuity and Arwen had to be built up as a character. The Faramir inversion well, one of the things it did and they're quite keen on this. Was to build up the role of minor characters and in this case, they made Sam a turning point character. He actually is the one who's responsible for Faramir changing his mind. It also built up Faramir as a character, because one of the things that they kept on saying, the director and scriptwriters.

Was they felt that every character had to have a journey. Journey was the word they used. And so Faramir had to be given a journey of development and change. So he had to think one thing one time and then change his mind and come to a better realization. And it was Sam that made him do it. They did the same thing just to mention it with Pippin. Pippin is actually given responsibility for changing Tree Beards mind. So actually they liked to build in scenes in which people change their minds because that made them have a journey. And they liked to build in scenes in which apparently minor characters were responsible for major plot changes. So they're kind of equalizing the roles of the characters you might say. The Denethor stuff puzzles me a bit and I think, I think really there was a somewhat cliched element in it.

I would say actually that perhaps it's the case that nowadays as a result of 50 years of relatively peaceful history. It is hard for people to grasp the idea of conflict of interests. That you can have people who are allied to each other and who are certainly on the same side. But who do not see things the same way, and Denethor actually is a person who's interests are only with Gondor. Well okay and that's true in both the book and the movie. But in the book it's accepted as, well unfortunate but perfectly reasonable. In the movie, this has to be demonized rather, because everybody is felt to have to pursue their interests the same way. However, having said all that and I'm slowly grinding on towards issues of increasing difficulty, where I cannot see quite what is happening. I thought actually, might be better at this point, to consider some of the things that were said by Jackson by Philippa Boyens, the scriptwriter and by the actors and the productions teams.

It's obvious especially with the second movie, what the advertising drive was. I don't know if you remember, no reason why you should. The way that they did the trailers and the posters for the second movie. But one of them actually, the trailers and the posters were very heavy on Éowyn and Arwen. They was for instance on poster which I remember particularly. Which has Viggo Mortenson at the front holding his sword up like this and on one side there's Éowyn and on the other side there's Arwen. And you realize hey, I know what we've got here, we have a triangle story. They kind of triangulated it. In order to do this of course, they had to make pretty drastic changes. In fact very drastic changes for both Arwen and Éowyn. How many words does Éowyn say in the book version of the Two Towers? Don't worry, I've counted them for you. She says 42. Only five of which are addressed to Aragorn.

And most of the actually consist of saying things like, "Hail to you Théoden, King of Rohan." So they are actually really frankly, what she's doing there is waiting at table. THere's a faint hint that she's feeling a bit out of it and there's just a faint hint that she's paying attention to Aragorn, but that's all there is. Well 42 words in the extended version, the DVD of the movie there are 62 scenes and Éowyn actually appears in 14 of them. So she's there, she's onscreen you know, well in a quarter of the scenes that are there. And of course she has a much more ... Many more things to say. Arwen, well Éowyn goes from 42 words to 14 scenes, big shift. Arwen goes from absolutely zero, nothing there at all, to figuring prominently in three scenes. SO both of them are actually pretty strong build ups.

However, it's clear that the production team especially liked doing the Arwen stuff. One thing they did, you may notice is, was they invested the idea of the even star. The object, the even star. There is no even star object in the book, they made that up. And actually it comes in from the first movie all the way through and is quite often focused on prominently. Because it's a kind of symbolic object which keeps reminding you, even if she's not there, of the importance of Arwen. The other things I noticed is the production teams I say, really liked the Arwen stuff and one of them said, that the tomb sequence. You remember what they did in the second movie was bring in a lot of appendix A-5 a part of the tale of Aragorn and Arwen, which is about Arwen choosing mortality, staying in middle earth and having to endure the death of Aragorn.

Well they really liked that, and the production team guy said that scene with Aragorns tomb, that was the best shot in the whole movie. SO they really liked doing that. But what they did, was to, as I say to swap in a lot of material from appendix A-5. With Éowyn in some ways, they were even more daring I thought. Because after all appendix A-5 was about Arwen. But with Éowyn, what they did was to bring in stuff from the third volume and much of the time, they actually switched the speaker. So there's one scene which you perhaps remember from the movie, where Grima is talking to Éowyn and is saying to her, how you must feel trammeled, as if you're a wild thing that's been trapped in a hutch. And he's pointing out to her how lonely and how isolated and how imprisoned she is and that's Grima talking.

But actually, all those words are Gandalf's. They switched Gandalf to Grima, they did that quite often actually. Bits said by one character would appear spoken by another. And sometimes you feel they're quite appropriate, Bombadil having been kicked out actually reappears because Tree Beard gets some of his things to say. Well, I can ... Phillipa Boyens said, "We felt that Bombadil wouldn't mind his words being given to Tree Beard." I thought yes, I guess that's fair enough. But I think that switching Gandolf to Grima, that's really rather a bolder decision. So they kept doing this kind of thing  and I asked myself again, why? Well [inaudible 00:28:58] I've already given is continuity. Bringing out a movie at one year intervals and you cannot afford to lose people for over the two year period. So not only were Éowyn and Arwen built up because they were going to be. Because Arwen had been in number one and she was going to be in number three, so she had to be in number two.

Éowyn was gonna have a big role and number three, so she had to be introduced in number two and her position stated. But they also of course brought back Elrond, who disappeared in the book but had to be given a role in the movie and Galadriel. They also introduced Denethor early so actually there was a strong wish for getting continuity for characters. One of the cast actually said that he thought if he didn't do that, then the character would lose emotional resonance. You could not expect the emotional resonance to be kept up if you just dropped characters and didn't bring them back again. Actually when you think about that, it such a goof point. That you wonder how Tolkien got away with ignoring it? He was quite ready to drop characters and bring them back as appropriate. Or indeed done away with Arwen to have her, apparently and important figure. Would not do very much at all in the book.

So they were concerned about continuity, they were concerned as I say, that everyone has to have a journey. So that we have Pippin and Tree Beard and we have Sam and Faramir and we have Elrond. Another character who is forced by Galadriel to change his mind completely about his policy of isolationism. A third thing, which I have noticed before in Hollywood movies. They do like triangles, I already said, you know Éowyn and Arwen and Aragorn okay. But there's also Denethor and Baromir and Faramir. You might say that triangle was there in the book, but it's much more heavily developed in the movie. The other one actually much more heavily, much more heavily developed in the movie is of course Frodo and Sam and Gollum. Where we have a kind of love relationship between the three and a kind of desertion relation ... Scene built in as well.

Well, underlying all this, I feel is a different attitude to people. I would say that Jackson attitude, which is also the one of our time. Is really a more sentimental one than Tolkien's. Tolkien in some ways, was a rather harder person emotionally I would say than Jackson is. And also, that was what people were more used to in the 1950's. One thing I just mentioned on passant is that, never forget ... Never forget that the inklings were effectively a veterans organization. After World War II when Britain were still on rations. Some of Tolkien's ... Some of Louis's admirers would send him things like a ham from America. Then they would cook the ham and have a dinner for the inklings and then they'd write a little letter of thanks. They usually wrote it on the back of the menu. Yeah, one of these menu's survived. They all would write down their names, and their jobs and their regiments. So they put down Lancashire fusileers, Somerset light infantry.

Christopher Tolkien put down Royal Air Force volunteer reserve. Everybody put down what they could, if they couldn't do anything else, they'd say "Oh well I was an air raid warden." But just the same, everybody did their best to indicate some kind of military connection. That perhaps has something to do with the different beliefs about people. However, now I've come to a hard topic. I think there's also a different belief about events. About the nature of events. This is where I wonder whether this is an accident of the change of medium, or deliberate decision. I'll tell you what I think about it, but I have to say this rather summarily. Because if I try to say it fully, I think the point will get lost. So I'm actually trying to summarize this as briefly as I can. I would say this, first a major feature of Tolkien's books is a sense of bewilderment.

The characters are often bewildered and they're bewildered in two senses. They're bewildered because they're lost in wilder land, they don't know where they are. Sometimes of course, they discuss where they are. Mary and Pippin are particularly lost because they're too idle ever to look at a map. But even Aragorn has a good idea where everything is, he is often lost in the sense of not being sure what to do. So they're bewildered in being lost in wilder land, but they're also bewildered in they don't know what to do. Aragorn in particular feels this strongly I think at the start of book two, because he has to make a string of decisions. Okay, Mary and Pippin have been carried off. Frodo and Sam have gone off in the other direction. Who's he gonna follow? Mary and Pippin, they've been taken by Orcs.

There's an "S" rune there, does that stand for Sauron or for Saruman? Saruman. So we're gonna follow them in the direction of Sarumans country. Are we going to pursue them through the night, with the risk of losing the track? Or are we going to stop at night with the risk of them getting further away from us? We'll stop at night. Okay, so he makes all these decisions and at the end of that sequence, he thinks he's done it all completely wrong. It's actually Gandalf who has to tell him not to take it too hard. Maybe in fact, this is gonna come out well. One point I would add, is that every time he makes a decision, Gimli says, "That's a bad idea." Gimli in fact, I would ... It's a familiar situation to me. It's a military situation, the officer who's Gandalf is dead. The Sargent who is Aragorn has to take over. Legolas who is the Corporal loyally back up. Gimli who's the long service private does what we used to call in the army, burging.

Burging is muttering in a kind of dissatisfied way, without quite reaching the level of open insubordination. In the first edition of Lord of the Rings Aragorn actually, eventually cracked and turned on him and said very angrily. Gimli said, "You shouldn't have been looking in the Palantir" Aragorn says, "Why? What did you think I was gonna tell him? Didn't you think I had a rascal of ... Going to tell him I have a rascal of a rebellious Dwarf here? Whom I would gladly swap for a serviceable Orc?" Tolkien cut that out in the second edition. But actually, I had a feeling that Gimli was asking for that ... By that stage. He really had grumbled all the way through and he wasn't making Aragorn's life any easier. Okay, the bewilderment is there because the characters don't know what to do. They also, note don't know what's going on. They don't know what's been happening.

They tried to deal with this by speculation. Speculation is another word with two meanings. You know what speculation means in normal use. It's what they do at the Stock Market or the Casino as we call it. But speculation also comes from speculum. Which is the Latin word for mirror and it's really looking in the glass. Yeah, right. Looking the the mirror of Galadriel, that's speculation. It's not a good idea. You see things all right, but you don't know whether they're true or not. You don't know what to do if they are true. There's also speculation which is looking in the Palantir. That's a bad idea as well. That's a ... I would say that always goes wrong. Well, the bewilderment I've mentioned. A lot of it is an effect of the complex separations which take place. Like I say, first movie road movie. Second movie, second book characters are going off in all directions. Frodo and Sam, Mary and Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. Gandalf comes in, they swap over then Pippin goes off with Gandalf. Mary goes off with the riders or goes off with Éowyn. The characters are zipping backwards and forwards all the time.

Gandalf sort of criss-crossing. This is why, and of course none of them know what's happening with Frodo and Sam. So the constant separations, I once tried to draw a diagram of this. In fact I did draw a diagram of this and it was printed in my book Author of the Century. The printers made a botch of it. But I'm not surprised, because I drew that diagram about five times with different colored ball points. Trying to get it to work and I could never get it to work. It was too complicated for me. Well, actually I thought the diagram did make a point, it made a point of it's all damn complicated. That was really all you needed to know. But you wondered again, cannons of narrative art, who told Tolkien to do that? What was his point? It was all very, very difficult.

Well, I think the point is actually as Tolkien would say. "I did that, to show people who were bewildered, because that's the way things are in reality. We never know entirely what's going on. Our fates are affected by other people decisions. But we don't know about the decisions and maybe we'll never find out." But in Lord of the Rings as Tolkien wrote it, well there's some simple answers. Who killed Théoden? It was Denethor, Gandalf says so. What nearly kills Faramir? It's defending the walls of Pelennor, which is really a kind of echo of the old [inaudible 00:38:34] Line idea. What saves Sam and Frodo and this is in the movie. The decision of Aragorn to distract Sauron. But to say, very clearly in the books, less clearly in the movies, you never know. So the temptation if you're bewildered is to speculate.

Looking in the Palantir, how often does that happen? Okay, the first time Pippin looks in the Palantir and Sauron sees him. Sauron draws the conclusion from that, he sees a Hobbit in the Palantir. He knows that the Palantir belongs to Saruman. He concludes that the Hobbit is the ring bearer and that Saruman has the ring. What he sees is true, the conclusion he draws from it is wrong. The next thing is of course, that Sauron sees Aragorn in the Althank stone. He concludes from it, that Saruman had the Althanks stone and the Hobbit and the ring. Aragorn now has the Althanks stone so he must have the Hobbit and the ring. That is why Sauron strikes early, he makes a preemptive strike. Once again, what he says is true, but he draws from it the wrong conclusion.

Every time anyone looks in the Palantir, what they see is true and from it they draw the wrong conclusion. Why did Saruman give up and decide to ally himself with Sauron? Because he saw in the Palantir, the preparations that Sauron was making and he concluded wrongly. That there was no possibility of resistance. But the most decisive example I think, of looking in the Palantir and getting the wrong answer, is surely Denethor.  The dates of this, I gotta get them right. Pippin looks in the stone on the stone on the fifth of March. Aragorn looks in the stone on the sixth of March. Faramir meets Sam and Frodo on the seventh and the eighth of March. On the ninth of March, Pippin and Gandalf reach Manas Tirith. On the tenth of March, Faramir reaches Manas Tirith and reports that he has had a meeting with Frodo and Sam.

He is sent off to retake the Pelennor walls and he is brought back on the 13th. Brought back on the 13th of March and when he's brought back, Denethor sees him brought back and goes off to his tower. People see from that tower a light flashing and flickering. But he's not watching the television, he's looking in the Palantir. When he comes out, what he says is, "The fools hope has failed. The enemy has found it." The fools hope, which he knew from Faramir. Was Gandalf's idea of sending Sam and Frodo into Mordor to destroy the ring. "The fools hope has failed. The enemy has found it." What has he seen? He seen Frodo in the hands apparently of Sauron. Once again then, Denethor has looked in the Palantir, has seen something, which actually is happening on that particular day. But he has drawn from it the wrong conclusion, and he then gives way to despair and to suicide.

The moral of all this is quite clear I think. If you speculate, you will draw the wrong conclusion. Why does Tolkien do this? And why does he have this complex net of criss-crossings and bewilderments and speculations? Well I'd say the answer to that, is fairly clear. What he's saying is, and I can sum it up in four words, which is the old motto of the British Red Coat. Which is, "Look to your front." You don't look to the sides, don't look to see what your mates are doing. You don't need to know that, cause if you're looking to see what they're doing. They'll be looking to see what you're doing. And you will have frightened each other in no time. Certainly don't look behind you, look to your front. Or another way that it's put and this time it's Gandalf's words. Gandalf talking to Frodo early on in the book and repeated twice actually by Jackson.

He says, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. All we have to do  is decide what we're going to do. Do not think about other people. Once you start making your decisions on the basis of what you think other peoples decisions will be, you are speculating. And when you start speculating, you will inevitably get it wrong. You will actually frighten yourself, and drive yourself to wrong conclusions. Like Denethor and indeed like Sauron. Well, I think actually in the book all that's quite clear. It's a statement about the way events are in the real world. It's telling you what is the right procedure in the real world. But in the movies, it's quite different. The Palantir's there are not deceptive, they are in fact providers of information. When Pippin looks in the Palantir, he actually sees something which is Sauron's plan to attack Manas Tirith. So he gets true information from it and that's actually comes out, you know quite useful.

There other scenes in which Aragorn looks in the Palantir, and all these are deliberate. Actually, when Saruman is looking in the Palantir, it is really just to kind of ... Well it's like using Skype really. You've got the webcam in front of [inaudible 00:44:04] You're having kind of a video conversation. A perfectly normal, not making a point at all as far as I can see. So the Palantir's are really quite different, and that I think suggests that there is a different attitude to events there. The cross cutting has gone. Yes, well last point really. Was the inevitable? The book has 62 chapters, six of them got junked. Okay, it's got 56 chapters. The DVD, the extended DVD has a 168 scenes. If you divide 56 into 168 you get three. Exactly, it's three scenes to every chapter. But actually, where Tolkien will follow one line, one thread like Frodo and Sam. For a long period and then switch back to another thread though, the other threads are usually much shorter.

And as I say zig-zag a lot. Just the same, he will follow that for relatively long periods and further more, a point I was trying to make on my wretched diagram. They leap frog all the time. You follow some characters up to a certain date, then you go back and then you follow another group of characters to a bit past that date. Then you go back and they keep zig-zagging past each other. So that actually, the characters never quite know what is going on elsewhere. You get these strange scenes of flashback. So what I'd say, is that in the movie that has all gone. You get a sense of much more of things happening simultaneously at the same time and you're switching from one scene to another. Which are thought to be taking place effectively simultaneously. In other words, what has been a complex zig-zag has actually turned into two straight lines, which are nevertheless broken up. But not broken up ever for very long.

Well first question, was that inevitable? I don't know. I've never had to make a film. I think it probably was actually. But it's a question of attention span. You can't actually expect the movie audience to stay fixed on one thing and wondering every now and then about what's goin on elsewhere. Without [inaudible 00:46:22] That desire to know. So I think it probably was inevitable. Having said that, was it inevitable? Yes I think it was, because the medium is different. Does it create a quite different message? Well, I think so. But I'm not too sure about that. As I was saying to Don in the audience just before we started. The person who would give a good answer to that would be the opposite of me. I know the books very well and then I saw the movies.

We really need somebody I think who knows the movies really, really well. Like that lady who saw them 51 times through, and then goes and reads the book. Because someone like that, could tell us whether it feels different. I think it does, but I don't trust my own judgment on that point. So I ask, were these changes inevitable? I think so, did they actually create a different result? Yes I think so, but I'm not so sure about that particular bit. My general conclusion though is it seems to me, and I hope that the film fans will not turn on me here. That movies are less subtle mode of communication than books. I also think that Tolkien's book anyway, is harsher and more pessimistic than the movie. It has a much stronger sense of loss, however I'm not too concerned about that. I just think it's a case of things being different. One last point I'd make, I really did appreciate some of the things that Jackson did.

One of the bravest decision I think, was to keep the ending. To just leave the ending the way it was. When Sam comes back from the Gray Havens and sits down by his own fireside with a baby on his knee and he says, "Well I'm back." Michael Swanwick, the greatest active writer of fantasy in the world today. He said, "That's the most heartbreaking line in modern literature." Why? Well it's a very Anglo-Saxon line. Sam comes back and he says, "Well I'm back." Well of course he's back, if he wasn't back he wouldn't be there to say, "Well I'm back." That's really Anglo-Saxon to say something which is completely pointless. Yes. But it isn't, is it? Cause it means a lot. What it means is, I gave up immortality, I've come back. I gave up eternal life, I've come back to be with you. I've come back to death.

Course I'm not going to say that because I'm an Anglo-Saxon, and we don't go in for soggy stuff like that. But also it means, I've come back to death, but I've come back to life as well. Cause I've got a long life to go and I'm going to be Mayor of Michel Delving, can't say fairer than that. I've got my children growing up, my grandchildren growing. So I've come back to life as well. So actually I've made a choice and it's a difficult choice and it's a choice between two very different things. But I've done it and I've done it and I'm not going to make a fuss about it. I'm back, that's all. Yeah, good ending. Finally, perhaps the last thing I'll say is this. Jack Nicholson I'm told, came out of the third movie having seen it at the preview. And he turns to, I think it was Elijah Wood and he said, "Too many endings." I will end with that, thanks very much. 

Tolkien Book to Jackson Script: the Medium and the Message

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