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Lord of the Rings, Book and Cinema— Soham Guha

Jun 16, 2023 | Featured Topic | 0 comments

REUSING AND RETELLING: HYBRIDITY AND ADAPTATION

lord of the rings

 

As an introduction, it can be stated that literature has always been a versatile conduit of human expressions and reactions by becoming a melting pot of amalgamation of various theories, criticisms, and genres. The diversification of genres in an autological way regards throughout the textual works, since the emergence of cinematography, it has shifted from the exclusive presence in literary texts and spread itself in the immersive, multi-interpretive domain of films and silver screens. While literature plays a fundamental role in catalysing and addressing the social changes and reforms, cinema, because of its both interloped and intimate point of view, has proven to be a distinct medium for recreating stories and making them reach a broader audience who may in the past deterred themselves from books because of the complexity of narratives and sheer volume of pages. Though adaptation of novels into cinema fundamentally is measured as reaction to the original piece, it elaborately engages in a perspicacious, interwoven, and interconnected interpretation and expression of deep and abstract cultural ideas enumerated in the pages of literary works and transforming them into screen as precisely as the literature itself (Tani, 2021).   

In case of fantasy literature, the whimsical writing that enables birth of secondary worlds and illustrative characters with believable desires and destiny, has inevitably given birth to themes and imitations dressed as hints, sublime meanings inside texts, nodes of faithful allusion and references within the fantasy literature. Because of the explosion of audiences eager to read fantasy novels and series, the market for fantasy books has increased as well, incorporating names like N.K. Jemisin , Sarah J. Mass , etc. However, if someone considers the singlehanded influence of a fantasy series, and its representative adaptation to silver screen, it is neither Harry Potter , A Song of Ice and Fire , Broken Earth , or Poppy Wars , it is the Middle Earth Series by J. R. R. Tolkien , particularly the last book in this series chronologically, The Lord of the Rings . It was adapted for silver screen by director Peter Jackson from 2001 to 2003 (Fempiror.com, 2001). 

Quoting Leitch et al. (2005) The Lord of the Rings embodies “[T]he most exciting prospect offered by contemporary adaptation studies is not that they offer us a new way of understanding all films or all novels, but rather all texts as intertexts, all reading as rereading, all writing as rewriting,” 

The script, written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh , and Philippa Boyens , The Lord of the Rings completes its narrative journey in three subsequent parts, named The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003). Like the source material, the film also is interlaced with intertexts in an effort to amplify and enhance the core theme of the narrative, that is, dramatizing events in a fictional history to the status of myth. This interlacing aspect of intertext has been changed from the book to the film and is particularly evident in the lives and character arcs of Gollum, Isildur, and Elron (Araujo, 2021)

The first film in the series, The Fellowship of the Ring, opens with a different prologue than the book. While the film begins with Galadriel’s monologues with representative visual allegories for presenting an abbreviated version of the old and long history of Middle Earth, particularly the formation of Ring, how Sauron made the “One Ring to Rule Them All” for himself until Isildur captured it from him, severing his fingers, and how it passes hands to Gollum, and finally reaches Bilbo. While as, the book began with a descriptive prologue on the Hobbit’s life and interests in The Shire. However, after this, the film directly follows Tolkien’s narrative trajectory throughout the entirety of the film and it is fairly close and faithful representation of the original text and becomes an audio-visual intertextual retelling of the story. Much of the structural interlacing sets the tone through sound effects and visual dynamism appropriate to the plot where the primary aspects act as representation of the long and turmoiled history of Middle Earth, including the Ring itself, the Eye of Sauron in Mordor, and the Palantir stay true to the source material. Whereas, the secondary props, like Bilbo’s sword, called Narsil, and the Sword of Elendil (when reforged, it is called Anduril) has been altered with care in the film to contribute to the interlacing themes (Araujo, 2021).    

Additionally, the Council of Elrond (The Lord of the Rings, Book II, chapter 2), is another instance of the interlacing of intertext to ensure that while the films are essentially retellings of the source materials in a different media format, they at times, contain stories within them too. In the text, Tolkien emphasises the Council of Elrond’s long and rich history and incorporates them as a critical part of the text while relating them with current political and sociological state of various Middle Earth states present before the establishment of the Fellowship. Tolkien also used Council of Elrond as an occasion to establish the invulnerability of the Ring where Isildur, after capturing the Ring from Sauron in the battle had failed to destroy it by throwing it in the magma chamber of Mount Doom (Araujo, 2021).  

In the film though, (Fellowship of the Ring scene 27) the Council of Elrond is preceded by several events undetailed in the source. Rather than following the descriptive backstory, Peter Jackson attends the history of the Ring through a conversation between Elrond and Gandalf. In those same settings, the camera pans towards Aragorn reading near the alter where the broken sword of Isildur was seen. Such visual allegory, to depict the broken state of Middle Earth and its people, though differs in representation is very truthful to the original material. The sword would not be reforged and remade, a thematic representation of how the Fellowship abolished the tyrannical rule of dark lord Sauron and brought hope to Middle Earth (Myers, 2020).     

The second film The Two Towers and the third and final instalment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King adapts and rearranges the narrative order of the first book more than it did for the first, The Fellowship of the Ring. These two later instalments through staying true to the source materials, presents the chain of events chronologically, rather than as separate character arcs to maintain simultaneity of events as they occur to the members of the fractured Fellowship of the Ring, and their enemies. The arc of Frodo and Sam that they take with the creature of despicable origin called Gollum, who was also searching for the ring for centuries. Or how Wormtongue’s vivid description of the ring worn by Aragorn made Saruman realise that Aragorn was a possible contender for the throne of Gondor, and Théoden had taken the opportunity presented by the circumstances and took his people to Helm’s Deep (Vitoňová, 2021)

Because of the way the events are presented in the film, though they differ in order from the book, they were retelling the same story albeit in a format more suitable for engaging audiences on the silver screen. 

The Scene 40 of The Two Towers returns the story to the World of Men while presenting many parallels like the book, as natural forms interlacing, between Théoden and Denethor, Faramir and Aragorn, Frodo Sam and Gollum, to express the idea of brotherhood, loyalty, and stewardship (Fempiror.com , 2001). 

Interlacing had been incorporated by Tolkien to enable a sense of mythology and legends to amplify the importance of various events. In his word, the master fantasy author has said through Galadriel, “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the Ring passed out of all knowledge.”  The film follows the technique of interlacing established by Tolkien to emphasise the importance of being the last of a long series of history, something that, after thousands of years in Middle Earth, was finally reaching its culmination. It was shown in the parallel between the treatment between the Ring and the sword. It was also present in illustrating the fates of various key characters in the movie: how Isildur despite capturing the Ring, failed to destroy it; how Gollum and Saruman were transformed from mere creatures to tools of atrocity and destruction (Nurhalim , 2020)

In the adaptations, Gandalf’s physiognomy was illustrated in a way that would immediately denote himself as a wizard of powerful stature where he has been portrayed as a bearded, grey man of unsurmountable knowledge, as old as the world itself. However, his first form, Gandalf the Grey, because he has not reached his full potential yet, deters from taking the ring into his personal possession to protect it from Sauron’s forces. This avoidance, as portrayed beautifully in both novels and films, characterises him as a man of expertise and experience, good heart, and establishes an emblematic paradigm that mirrors him as a figure of supreme power. Concerning the archetypical character straits of both fantasy books and their faithful adaptations, the postmodern representation of a hero’s journey should not begin and end with a quest. Rather than this, the characters, as they are representations of the real world, should pose fragility, uncertainty. In both novels and films of Lord of the Rings, the character Gollum, like its counterpart as Dobbie in Harry Potter Franchise, is representation of majoritarian treatment of society towards physically or mentally handicapped persons. in both mediums of Lord of the Rings, Gollum has represented as a person who once was a hobbit but became a peculiar mien when he came in contact with the Ring and the Ring cursed and changed into a hideous creature (Nido, 2019).      

The Chicago School of Media Theory (2016) states that as long as an adaptation of a story has existed, a subtle tension between the literature and the media has been either expressed or exhibited. By interpreting the comparison between Tolkien’s original work and its cinematographic adaptation. While taking into contrast the similarity and similarity of all the characters present in both mediums of Lord of the Rings, most characters do not match the description provided in the Lord of the Rings books, particularly the elves. Legolas was portrayed by Orlando Bloom as a character of fairy-like appearance and personality while Tolkien described him as warrior with a dark personality. The elf Glorfindel was substituted with Arwen (Araujo, 2021)

Another fundamental difference stems from the choice of narrative style, poetry, and language. The stark contrast between both mediums of Lord of the Rings is considerable as unlike the book, the film does not have a specific narrator or set of narrators. While the book enables a third-person omnipresent and omnipresent narrative, the films enable an interloping observer narrative to progress the plot. 

Furthermore, the poems and songs were present throughout the text of Lord of the Rings novel. They are not present as ornamental accessories to slow down the plot but as fundamental tools to progress the story. One of these songs, The Song of Durin was present in both mediums of Lord of the Rings. In its first stanza, as stated below, 

“The world was young, the mountains green,

No stain yet on the Moon was seen,

No words were laid on stream or stone

When Durin woke and walked alone.

He named the nameless hills and dells;

He drank from yet untasted wells;

He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,

And saw a crown of stars appear,

As gems upon a silver thread,

Above the shadow of his head.”

(Source: Archive.org, 2019, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Ch. IV: “A Journey in the Dark”)

The poem states the ancient history of Middle Earth and how far it had fallen from its grace. Unlike Tolkien’s other works, The Lord of the Rings was telling about a world of decay and ruins, and finally a path of retribution. In conclusion, by watching the film after reading the novel, a person can get the sense of how, though differ in execution, these two things tell the same story, played by the same characters, and how all writings are rewritings.     


Reference List: 

Araujo, R.C., 2021. The lord of the rings–the fellowship of the ring: a comparative analysis of the book and the screenplay.

Archive.org, 2019. j-r-r-tolkien-lord-of-the-rings-01-the-fellowship-of-the-ring-retail-pdf. (2019). [online] Internet Archive. Available at: https://archive.org/details/j-r-r-tolkien-lord-of-the-rings-01-the-fellowship-of-the-ring-retail-pdf .

Fempiror.com, 2001. Walsh, F., Boyens, P. and Jackson, P. THE LORD OF THE RINGS The Fellowship of the Ring Screenplay by. [online] Available at: http://www.fempiror.com/otherscripts/LordoftheRings1-FOTR.pdf .

Leitch, T., 2005. ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Adaptation *Especially if you’re looking forwards rather than back.’ Literature/Film Quarterly, 33(3), pp.231-245.

Myers, M.K., 2020. Becoming Faramir: Escapism as Responsibility and Hope through Adaptation and JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Brigham Young University.

Nido, A., 2019. On weres waestmum–In the Form of a Man: Grendel’s Changing Form in Film Adaptations. All Around Monstrous: Monster Media in Their Historical Contexts, p.97.

Nurhalim, N.P., 2020. The fantasy genre’s formula in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (Doctoral dissertation, UIN Sunan Gunung Djati Bandung).

Tani, S.B., Berbar, S.B. and Reguig-Mouro, W.H., 2021. Aspects of Intertextuality in Fantasy Adaptation through The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones.

Vitoňová, K., 2021. A comparative analysis of the book and movie version of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.


Also, read In Conversation With Alka Saraogi, interviewed by Owshnik Ghosh published in The Antonym:

In Conversation With Alka Saraogi— Owshnik Ghosh


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Soham Guha

Soham Guha

The universe is made of quarks and speculative dreams. As a part of this universe, Soham Guha (সোহম গুহ) finds himself often in his suburban home near Kolkata (India). He writes in his mother tongue, Bengali, and English as well. His works were published in Kalpabiswa.com, Scroll.in, Mohs 5.5: Megastructure Anthology, Mithila Review, Meteotopia: Futures of Climate (In)justice, and The Gollancz Anthology of South Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy Vol II. His collection of Bengali speculative fiction can be found in Archimedes and Other Stories (2022, Kalpabiswa Publications). (He/him).

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