I just finished reading The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Yes, it answered a lot of questions I had about the film, but I’m going to save those revelations for my next viewing article; right now, I want to share my experience with the book itself. Because, you see, I, William Russell Gray, a man who considers The Fellowship of the Ring to be an entirely boring and irritating cinematic torture session and who runs a website dedicated solely to vocalizing his disdain for it on a weekly basis, and, side note, couldn’t give two shits while reading The Hobbit and despises the fantasy genre in general…
…kinda liked the book.
The voices in my head are shocked.
My immediate reaction is to try to explain why, but you know what? I’m gonna coast on this feeling for a little bit. The Fellowship of the Ring was a pretty enjoyable read that threw me right into the action, with a story full of suspense and mystery and adventure that I truly couldn’t put down… until the Council of Elrond.
Whereas the movie starts off telling you every damn detail you’ll ever need to know about the Ring, the book is having none of that shit, opting instead to give you all the thrills upfront and then bludgeon you to death with exposition once you reach Rivendell. It is painful, more so if you’ve seen the movie and already know everything they’re blabbing about. Still, cramming plot details down the audience’s throat is a necessary evil in narrative storytelling, so who does exposition better, the book or the movie?
I surrender. They both suck at it.
Each format loses something by carrying out exposition the way it does. The book loses momentum. Everything’s moving along at a fine clip as Frodo and friends jog through Middle-earth, and then they slam headfirst into a brick wall of conversation after conversation after conversation on which villages would be allies and who should take the Ring and how does the Ring work and what’s for dinner and BLAH BLAH BLAH. The movie, on the other hand, loses mystery. Peter Jackson gave us a prologue all about the history of the Ring and managed to throw some other facts at us along the way. Unfortunately, this takes away a lot of the suspenseful atmosphere. The biggest travesty? In the book, you have no idea why Gandalf didn’t show up at Bree, and you don’t get an answer until he finally meets up with Frodo again. That’s way more intense than the movie, which just keeps cutting to Gandalf getting his ass beat with magic. The reader gets to ask, “Oh, fuck, what happened to my wizard friend?” along with the Hobbits.
This. This is what happened to your wizard friend.
Also, I was really surprised at just how many plot points differed between the book and the movie. I assumed Peter Jackson cut out a little singing and some side conversations about the Brumpfler-bugs of Flangdangkr’ghðrvhxz and slapped the rest of the text on a storyboard, but this is one of the most condensed adaptations in recent memory, even at three hours. What did they leave out? Oh, just to throw out an example, the fact that almost seventeen years pass between Bilbo leaving the Shire and Frodo starting his quest. Or that Merry joins the group way after Pippin, in yet another scene that’s far more suspenseful than the movie. Or that just about every line people quote from the film is slightly different in the book or completely new. I could list changes for a long, long time, but the gist of my reading experience is that I now understand why the Lord of the Rings reddit sometimes has disclaimers asking book fans to be respectful of the movie fans.
Wait, people on reddit argue???
Oh, and Tom Bombadil? I don’t know what everybody’s complaining about, I liked him. And the songs everybody warned me of weren’t so bad either, but I can see why they were cut from the film. Frankly, if runtime weren’t an issue, I don’t think there’s anything from the book that I would leave out of a miniseries-style screen adaptation. Well, maybe the blindfolding shit. There’s some Elf law where Dwarves aren’t allowed to see one of their cities, so they have to blindfold Gimli, but Gimli only agrees to it if Legolas does it, but later they’re like, “Gimli, you’re cool,” and Gimli’s like, “Nice, take this blindfold off,” and what? The hell was that about? Thanks for skipping that, Pete.
“Put this on ‘cuz fantasy racism, just kidding, whatever, eh.”
I can’t say for certain why I enjoyed reading The Fellowship of the Ring so much. Maybe the movie did a great job of making the characters feel real, and then I projected them into the much more exciting story of the book. There were lots of surprises and a true sense of danger, whereas the movie feels like an adventure checklist at times. Plus, the characters don’t all meet up at once, which is why it towers above both its own cinematic adaptation and the book that precedes it, The Hobbit. Tolkien seems to have excelled as a storyteller between Hobbit and Fellowship, both structurally and stylistically. It kinda makes me want to read The Two Towers now…
…but first I should watch the longest possible cut of every Peter Jackson movie ever made. KA-BOOM, stay tuned for my 12-part series, COMPLETER JACKSON.