At the top of the map, Ms. Baynes did an illustration of the Fellowship of the Ring --- the Nine Walkers, as Elrond called them --- and it was to this lovely artwork my eye was drawn. I’ve reproduced it for you at the top of this post. Let’s have a bit of a gander at that illustration, shall we? Then we’ll have a short quiz to see if you noticed what I did
The Fellowship is confidently striding along (no pun intended) in a loose, V-shaped formation strangely reminiscent of a group of geese flying south for the winter. Moving from left to right, let’s see how Ms. Baynes ordered the characters.
On the left end is Boromir, tall and proud as befits a son-of-Gondor-who-will-meet-a-messy-end, dressed in bright colours, the belt holding the horn which he will later employ in his hour of final need just visible.
To his right is Gandalf the Grey, incongruously dressed in black, with a rather more pointed hat than would probably be practical. His plain staff, devoid of the film’s decorative touches, is in his right hand.
Then strides Gimli son of Gloin, who, strangely, also appears to be carrying a staff rather than the axe we know he was armed with. (Artistic license, I suppose.)
Next we have two hobbits, Merry and Pippin. (Or Pippin and Merry, it’s not easy to tell, and in the final analysis, probably doesn’t matter too much. Sorry, Merry/Pippin aficionados. In modern fan parlance, we could refer to them as either Merpip or Pipry, neither of which sounds particularly inspiring, if you ask me. But I’m just a cranky old boomer, so what the hell do I know?)
In the lead position is, obviously, Frodo, Reluctant Adventurer, marching resolutely along on what pretty much everyone probably realizes is the mother of all suicide missions. Doesn’t deter our plucky protagonist, however. It’s gotta be done, and he’s prepared to do it, although… it’s never specifically addressed in either book or film, but I’d be willing to bet he’s more than a little pissed with Cousin --- not Uncle, as Peter Jackson would have you believe --- Bilbo for finding the damned Ring in the first place. Like, come on, dude, it’s not yours, leave it where you found it.
To Frodo’s right is Samwise Gamgee, sidekick extraordinaire, sporting an oversized backpack crammed with just about everything except the kitchen sink. Good on ya, Sam… every traveler knows that if you don’t pack a particular item, you’ll need it in some life-or-death struggle against undead apparitions.
Rounding out our Fellowship on the illustration’s right-hand side are the last --- but not least --- two companions (plus Bill the horse, who frankly gets better shrift in the book than in the film): Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir of Numenorean kings, and Legolas the wood-elf.
All in all, a warmly encouraging picture, the sort of thing recruiting agencies love to put on their propaganda posters. All it needs is the appropriate slogan. You know… MIDDLE EARTH NEEDS YOU or NIX THE NAZGUL or RUN RINGS AROUND YER ENEMIES or something equally patriotic.
However… pop quiz time, boys and girls! What fundamental difference do we note betwixt illustration based on the book, and the films?
Wait, what’s that you’re mumbling? YOU DIDN’T READ THE BOOK? Zounds! A pox on thee, thou uncultured poltroon. Get thee to a nunnery or other unsavoury place. Or in modern parlance, I’m sorry, we can’t talk anymore.
Okay, let me answer the question by relating how the late film critic Roger Ebert put it in his brilliant 2001 review of Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring: “If the books are about brave little creatures who enlist powerful men and wizards in a dangerous crusade, the movie is about powerful men and wizards who embark on a dangerous crusade and take along the hobbits.”
Too sadly true, Roger. He also notes that the film hobbits are, really, reduced to supporting characters. Which, given that Tolkien didn’t write them that way, is… really, really unfortunate. It certainly changes the tone of the story in dramatic fashion.
All my life, I’ve wondered why filmmakers do this, why they rewrite the Master. Even today, as the aforementioned cranky old boomer, I still don’t understand. What’s wrong with the original story that you feel the overwhelming need to change it? (Or destroy its point. One particularly egregious example is some American company --- partly funded by the CIA, according to Wikipedia --- made a cartoon film version in the 1950s of Orwell’s Animal Farm, where at the end, the animals rise up and overthrow the pigs to restore peace, justice, and the American Way to the world. Like, guys… you just completely destroyed the point of Orwell’s story with that wretchedly stupid little rewrite.)
Now, never say never. I’m not saying there are no elements to Tolkien’s writing which aren’t painful and don’t translate well to modern film. His depiction of women and romance, for example, is wooden and stilted… though even there, we have to remember that writers write for and of the times they live in. Tolkien was born at the end of the 19th century, and wrote much of his early Middle Earth work in the early part of the 20th.
But fundamentally changing a story? Perhaps our plaintive cry should be, “why’d ya do it, Mr. J?”