Book or Movie? How My Favorite Tolkien Scenes Fared on Film

Reading Time: 3 minutes

These are the editions of the books I read. And reread. And reread as a teenager.

I first discovered the Lord of the Rings when I was twelve years old and was so obsessed with Tolkien’s world that I did a book report on The Simarillion in eight grade. I never expected the books to be made into live action movies, never mind see them adapted so successfully.

But now that I’ve seen all the extended versions of the trilogy by Peter Jackson and the first third of The Hobbit trilogy, I decided to compare my favorite scenes from the books to the movies and see how Jackson’s trilogy fares next to Tolkien’s prose.

Obviously, huge spoilers for the entire works of Tolkien follow.

1. Gandalf’s stand on the Bridge of Moria, The Fellowship of the Ring.

Book or Movie?: Tie

So much did I love this scene growing that when I saw it in the theater, I could recite the words, even though it must have been at least ten years since I re-read the books. Gandalf standing there, a small figure against a great evil, holding the bridge to save the Fellowship, showing all his true power at last. And he wins…and then he doesn’t. And “Fly, you fools!” was so in character as he fell in the abyss.

I couldn’t imagine the movie would do it justice. I give credit to Ian McKellan for becoming Gandalf so thoroughly and the special effects for the incredible way they made the story come to life.

2. Gollum and Bilbo’s Riddle Game in The Hobbit.

Winner: Movie

Andy Serkis and the CGI team deserve all the credit for making Gollum come alive so vividly in the previous trilogy and for the best scene in the first Hobbit movie, as Bilbo and Gollum play the riddle game so vivid in the book. Gollum is so perfectly unhinged, terrifying and pitiable at the same time and Bilbo’s silent decision to spare him works perfectly.

The riddle game in the book is wonderful. Serkis and Freeman are better.

3. Eowyn confronts the King of the Ringwraiths in The Return of the King.

Winner: Book

It’s not completely the movie’s fault. There’s so much happening in this climactic battle that it’s hard to focus in on this confrontation. But the book perfectly zeroes in on Eowyn and Merry’s struggle with the dark leader of the Nazghul and when Merry bravely tries to fight and sows the seeds of the Witch-King’s destruction, and then Eowyn raises her sword, I cheered out loud.

It’s good in the movie, just not great. I don’t know quite what it’s missing. Maybe it’s Merry’s train of thought and his admiration for Eowyn.

4. Faramir voluntarily letting Frodo go in The Two Towers.

Winner: Book

Yes, this is one of the biggest problems of the movie trilogy. Faramir’s book role is to show their is still honor and hope in Gondor. He lets Frodo go because he is not his brother. Later, he tells his father Denethor that taking the ring would never have worked to defend Gondor: “Boromir would not have brought the Ring. He would have stretched out his hand to this thing, and taking it, he would have fallen.”

In the movie, he’s tempted by the ring and his imprisonment of Frodo lasts much longer. He’s far too much like Boromir for too long. The entire sequence with Bilbo/Sam/Gollum/Faramir doesn’t work for me at all.

5. Bilbo’s talk with Smaug in The Hobbit

Winner: Remains to be seen.

I am especially looking forward to this, especially since it’s Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) matching wits (or so it’s fun to think of it that way). Bonus in that this time, Watson/Bilbo will win over Smaug/Sherlock. But the book exchange is so whimsical and Bilbo’s description of himself (below) so fun that it will take all the talented CGI engineers and the skills of the actors to match it.

Bilbo to Smaug:
“You may indeed! I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air, I am he that walks unseen.”

“I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number.”

“I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me.”

“I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider.”

I suspect, book or movie, I’ll be happy.

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