It is a dark and stormy movie...
Or maybe we should call that the Big Scream. Online fandom could almost be divided into two camps: the Faithful and the Kiwi's Men. I guess I'm a Kiwi kind of guy, so I hope I don't find myself tumbling down into the abyss. I don't intend to sacrifice any of the Faithful to Morgoth, but I do have this unmistakable urge to go forth and conquer new regions of Middle-earth.
We Kiwi's Men have assembled a vast armada of Web sites, and the fleet is growing every week. I can't say I've got the flagship but I do have the distinction of being the most self-promoting Webmaster in the crowd, and I've made no effort to hide the fact that mine was the first major movie site up (and the first to be promptly ignored by the oh-so-picky news media). There have been days when I've considered joining the Faithful as they assemble their skiffs in the harbor at Romenna, but then I bump into some of the other (more well-known) Webmasters and they turn out to be such NICE people. Can it be true that Tolkien got the story wrong, and it was the FAITHFUL who caused the Downfall?
I've seen all manner of protests about the movies. I've made all manner of protests about the movies (well, I was unhappy with the Bombadil cuts, but I'm still hoping Liv Tyler will forsake Viggo Mortensen, fly back to the States, track me down, and have my babies -- or maybe she'll give up her place for me on the Last Ship and I can sail over Sea and visit with Earendil and Finrod Felagund). Where was I? Ah, yes. The protests. Well, I wasn't thrilled with the slicing of Bombadil's throat, but you gotta cut something from the films. So, no "Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!" Maybe we can hope for an outtake where Sir Ian McKellen flings himself against a wall and cries out, "The choice, it seems, is to submit to Miramax or to New Line. I shall take--the money!"
The latest rumblings across the Net concern this scene where the two wizards, Gandalf and Saruman, battle it out in Isengard. Someone has compared the scene to the battle between sorceresses at the end of "Willow" because of the spinning bodies. Well, there is something to be said for the criticism. Gandalf in his rage usually tossed out a few lightning bolts or shafts of light which were charged with anti-wraith particles. If the local wolf-population got out of hand he'd grow taller (or seemed to grow taller) and set them aflame with a few sparks or a burning branch. And if a Balrog showed up uninvited, WELL, Gandalf would just bring the roof down!
Saruman was a more subtle wizard. He was capable of great feats of magic, too. It was probably his will which Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli sensed as they pursued the Orcs of Isengard and Moria northward across the plains of Rohan. "There is something strange at work in this land," Aragorn commented to his companions. "...There is some will that lends speed to our foes and sets an unseen barrier before us: a weariness that is in the heart more than in the limb."
In the book, Gandalf reported to the Council of Elrond that Saruman wore a ring on his finger, and that he named himself "Saruman Ring-maker". If Saruman indeed had made a Ring of Power, he would have been using it to enhance his own native strength (and he would have had to put a part of that strength into his ring). Was it as great as the One Ring? No. We can be sure that Saruman's ring failed when all the others failed. When Gandalf, the hobbits, and the Elves of Rivendell and Lorien overtook him in Dunland after Sauron had been defeated, he told the Elves, "I did not spend long study on these matters for naught. You have doomed yourselves, and you know it. And it will afford me some comfort as I wander to think that you pulled down your own house when you destroyed mine."
Saruman did inspire the Uruk-hai who served him to near suicidal fanaticism. And the Dunlendings were deceived by his lies and promises. Many of them perished in the hopeless war against Rohan (hopeless because even if they had won they would have remained under Saruman's control, and ultimately would have been enslaved by Sauron). I am sure that Saruman could have tossed out lightning bolts, and used "Words of Command" as Gandalf was capable of doing, but I think Saruman applied himself in more subtle ways. He was not a direct participant in the affairs of the world, but rather preferred to stand on the sidelines and manipulate others from afar.
For this reason, perhaps, some people are aghast at the idea of an actual battle between the two wizards. I am not. I believe Gandalf's first confrontation with Saruman must have involved some very subtle wizardry from both of them. But it would be pointless for Jackson to show Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen simply making faces at one another to somehow imply they were engaging in a contest of wills. After all, any cheap movie can do that. The point of the story is that a very great and powerful being (Sauron) is being hounded by other great and powerful beings (Saruman and Gandalf) who are either intent on supplanting or destroying him. Rarely is Gandalf permitted to indulge himself in exericising his suppressed strength. The battle with Saruman will help to underscore just how important it is to Gandalf that the world be saved by its own humble creatures.
It is Gandalf's restraint and adherence to duty which sets him apart from Sauron and Saruman. He remains faithful to the mission he accepted: to help the Men and Elves (and other free creatures) of Middle-earth to resist and ultimately defeat Sauron. That was originally Saruman's mission, too. But he is the great betrayer. Saruman has fallen morally and he must be dealt with, but it is too much for the Men and Elves to contend with the turncoat wizard. They don't have his ring of power to destroy, nor any other means of actually bringing him low. In fact, even Gandalf is incapable of doing this until after he has died and returned to Iluvatar for a brief time. Iluvatar then gives Gandalf greater power, and the authority to use it. So the next time he meets Saruman, he will not be unprepared.
Just imagine what it would be like if Mandy Patinkin were to play Gandalf. "Hello. My name is now Gandalf the White. I've killed the Balrog. Prepare to die."
Gandalf refers to himself as the enemy of Sauron. But he never really confronts Sauron in the story. If Jackson were to alter the plot so Gandalf and Sauron face off, the fannish screaming would probably herald the end of the world. Saruman makes a good nemesis for Gandalf. In fact, Saruman in a way escapes Gandalf. Gandalf is too blinded by his own dedication to the mission to see deeply enough into Saruman's evil, twisted heart. This is undoubtedly part of the appeal that the role has for Christopher Lee. Saruman gets away with all sorts of stuff. Gandalf doesn't punish him in the end. As far as matters between the two wizards go, Saruman is able to get in one last dirty blow at something Gandalf loves dearly: the Shire.
Of course, it can be rightly argued that Gandalf probably knew what was going on in the Shire by the time he turned Frodo and the boys loose on the Ruffians. Saruman had been so weakened by that time he simply wasn't a match for four hobbits and a Dwarven horn from the hoards of Rohan. But neither could Gandalf have prevented Saruman from inflicting the petty ruin and wreck on the Shire that he delivers. Nor could Gandalf have prevented some of the hobbits from siding with Saruman and the Ruffians. In the end, Gandalf had to leave everyone to make their own choices. No one forced Saruman down the last path to failure. He chose to follow it, and to bear the consequences of his actions.
So the much-decried battle between the wizards sets the stage for the final confrontation between Saruman and Frodo. Saruman must win at something, but he cannot. Ultimately he is brought low by the very creatures he despises. Worse, he is soon forgotten. Most of the hobbits don't even have a clue as to who Saruman is or what his place in the world was. Saruman thus ends up dying in near anonymity. Only Frodo cares for him, and that is the cruelest irony of all.
The wizards' confrontation is not the only challenge facing Jackson and Company. They are going to have to sell the fans on the idea that Arwen is not just a homebody. All that dangerous travelling between Rivendell and Lorien Tolkien subjected her to in the book doesn't seem to have prepared the fans for the idea of sword-toting warrior princess. The "Arwen: Warrior Princess" jokes rolled out fast and furious for quite a while there. But what's an Elven girl to do when the love of her life is out there risking his neck for every Ent, Dwarf, Elf, and Hobbit?
When Beren went out on his own to recover a Silmaril, Luthien kept tabs on him from afar (with a little help from her mom, Melian the Maia). As soon as the poor guy got into trouble Luthien zipped right out to help him. She eventually helped to defeat Sauron himself and to free a lot of Elven slaves from Sauron's fortress; and later Luthien and Beren confronted Morgoth in his fortress and captured a Silmaril. Idril built the Way of Escape which ensured that nearly 1,000 of Gondolin's people escaped to safety when the hidden city was finally destroyed. Elwing defied the sons of Feanor and eventualy threw herself off a cliff to prevent their capturing the Silmaril Beren and Luthien had taken from Morgoth.
Arwen's heritage makes her a prime candidate for getting out and doing something, and one should wonder why Tolkien didn't have her play a greater role in the War of the Ring. The fact she didn't do anything significant in the war, however, is what has Tolkien fans up in arms. The Lord of the Rings is not a love story, they say. Why turn it into one?
But is that really the case? After all, love is a powerful motivation for many of the characters. It's Frodo's love for the Shire and Middle-earth which drives him on the quest to the destroy the Ring. It's Sam's love for Frodo which helps him stay with his master throughout the whole journey. And it was undoubtedly that love which helped Sam give up the Ring once he had taken it.
I remember when fans were terrified of the idea that Jackson might turn Sam into Samantha and alter Sam's love to a more romantic perspective. But as it is Sam also loves Rosie, and it's the thought of her which sometimes help him to keep his feet on the ground. People are often suprised by Rosie's appearance at the end of the book. "Sam has a girlfriend? He's getting married?" Hey, the clues were there: in "The Mirror of Galadriel" and "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit". It's just that he doesn't carry on about her all the time like some love-sick knight in a medieval romance.
Aragorn is pretty much the same way toward Arwen. The first clue that he is in love with anyone comes in his choice of song on Weathertop. He sings part of a lay about Beren and Luthien. Little do the hobbits (or the reader) foresee the comparison between Beren's love for Luthien and Aragorn's love for Arwen. In fact, you have to wait until you get to the Appendix and read "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" to find out who this girl is who shows up when the fighting is done to claim her man.
But the clues are there. Aragorn and Bilbo have a brief exchange about Arwen in Rivendell, and later Frodo sees the Couple together. In Lorien Aragorn whispers her name in a brief lapse of Elvish speech. And when Eowyn all but throws herself at Aragorn's feet, demanding to have his children, he mumbles something about his heart being in a far northern dell.
Eowyn is also motivated by love. Her love for Theoden is sickened by the way she must watch him fall into dotage, slowly poisoned by Wormtongue as she stands helpless to do something about the situation. Her brother and kinsman, Eomer and Theodred, are able to go out and whack Orc-necks, or beat up on the local Dunlending mob to vent their frustrations. But Eowyn is expected to stand by Theoden and endure silently the torment of watching a beloved uncle and foster-father descend into darkness. That sort of loss is very painful to bear.
So Eowyn looks elsewhere for release. At first she settles upon Aragorn, but he has not come to take her away from a miserable life, and so she goes seeking death. The Rohirrim have an odd penchant for seeking death when things don't go their way. After Eomer finds his sister's (still living, though he doesn't realize it) body among the bodies of Theoden and his knights, the new king of Rohan loses his battle lust and just coldly charges across the battlefield yelling, "Death! Death!" This is a man who has lost his entire family: his parents died when he was young; Theodred, who was like a brother to him, died a couple of weeks before; and now Theoden and Eowyn are swept away from him in one fell stroke. To say Eomer was having a bad relative year is an understatement. He was definitely motivated by love to take as many Haradrim and Orcs with him as he could.
The relationship between Denethor and Faramir is also a mixture of love and grief. Denethor doesn't really respect Faramir. He feels he's lost his son's love, though that isn't true, to Gandalf (of all people). We see only a glimpse of Gandalf's relationship with Faramir through a few exchanges. But given the rivalry Denethor experienced with Aragorn (then known as Thorongil) in his youth, he must have pressed both his sons to achieve all that they could as warriors and captains to prevent another outsider from replacing them in the affections of their people as he (undoubtedly) felt Thorongil had supplanted him.
Boromir turned out to be exactly the kind of son Denethor wanted: strong, loyal, valiant, courageous, headstrong, clever (and, yes, Boromir was clever), and in every way loved and admired by the men of Gondor. Boromir would have made a good king for Gondor, and he knew it. That was perhaps his greatest failing. He wanted to be King of Gondor, but the throne was denied to him. The Ring most assuredly tempted Boromir with images of his rising above Aragorn and the House of Elendil to become Gondor's greatest ruler.
Faramir was a brave man, intelligent, also loyal, but he was not his father's heir, and when Gandalf came and tolerated Faramir's natural inquisitiveness the prince found a valuable mentor which his father had refused to be. Denethor would no doubt see the outsider's relationship with his son as a replay of the Thorongil debacle, and that would have helped feed the Steward's resentment of Gandalf. But it also blinded him to the way Faramir felt about his father. Denethor died without really knowing what his son thought of him, or wanted of him. Faramir's only comfort in the final tragedy with his father would have been Gandalf's words to him: "Your father loves you, Faramir, and will remember it ere the end."
The book is an emotional roller-coaster ride, when you stop to think about it. Tolkien finds every means possible of jerking tears from the reader, whether it's when Sam says good-bye to the faithful pony Bill at the West-gate of Moria, or when Aragorn holds the dying Boromir in his arms and weeps for the fallen man who has redeemed himself with a great sacrifice. The heart-wrenching anguish Eowyn feels makes it difficult to get through her scenes with Aragorn, but it gives impetus to her final challenge to the Lord of the Nazgul. The reader knows she has nothing left to live for. She is not going to hold back.
And a lot of people have written to me wondering if The Scene will be in the movie. That's one secret I don't know. I can only hope it will be. I don't see why it shouldn't be. It may be altered for some reason, but my heart is set on seeing Eowyn put the Lord of the Nazgul in his place. It will be like seeing Princess Leia taking out Darth Vader (only we'll know he is not her father) instead of waiting for Luke to save him. It will be much more emotionally satisfying, especially for those fans who know about all the grief that wraith caused through the millennia leading up to the moment.
The three movies will be pretty dark and stormy. "The Fellowship of the Ring" is expected to end with Boromir's death. There probably won't be a dry eye in the house. Grown men will leave theaters proud to say, "I cried for Boromir!" "The Two Towers" will most likely end on some dark note, too. Perhaps with Sam's loss of Frodo. Both scenes are powerful in different ways. They tell men it's okay to care about your fellow man.
But if people are looking for a happy ending to "The Return of the King", I don't think they'll find that, either. The happy experience will come with seeing the movies bring Tolkien's world to life. Yet Frodo is still going to sail over sea. Sam, Merry, and Pippin will still have to watch him sail off into the twilight. And if we're lucky, we'll be there when Sam returns home to Bag End, and Rosie puts baby Elanor in his lap, and he says, "Well, I'm back."
Michael Martinez is the author of Visualizing Middle-earth, which may be purchased directly from Xlibris Corp. or through any online bookstore. You may also special order it from your local bookstore. The ISBN is 0-7388-3408-4.
And be sure to download your free copy of Parma Endorion: Essays on Middle-earth, 3rd edition at Free-eBooks.Net!