I got to see the Lord of the Rings trilogy with someone I’ve known online for ages the weekend, along with one of her sons who was seeing the movies for the first time. It was a really good experience, though just as draining as these movies always are. It also got me thinking about the movie. Fanfic will hopefully follow over the next few weeks, because there is (as we all know) much to fix in those movies. Éowyn’s stew scene, Frodo’s sending Sam away and the whole nightmare that is movie!Denethor and more broadly, movie!Gondor, jump to mind. I’m sure other people have their own bugabears.
Rather than walk through why these individual things bother me so much – because, really, that’s been done already – I thought I’d take a larger view. I think a lot of the problems we get frustrated with can be chalked up to expecting characters to go on a journey. A great example of this is Faramir’s initially taking Frodo, Sam and Gollum to Osgilliath. In order for Faramir’s decision to give up the Ring to be truly credible and interesting, the thinking seems to go, Faramir must at first be so tempted by the Ring that he wasn’t g going to give it up. He has to be the kind of man who would take up the Ring if he found it on the side of the road, and only after seeing the way it affects Frodo at Osgiliath.
The Lord of the Rings is no Harry Potter, where the kids learn how to cast a wingardium leviosa just before Ron needs to knock out the cave trolls. Look at the language Tolkien uses. To give just one example, both the books and movies talk about Faramir’s chance to show his quality. Those of you who know me can probably guess which usage I agree with and which I have a white-knuckle death grip on the armrest when I watch. But in both cases, the point holds: Faramir is showing a character that he has developed over years, for good or ill, and that’s what sets him up to act the way it is. By the time the story begins, the characters and political conditions have to be more or less ready to do what you have to do.
There are some exceptions of course. In The Hobbit, Bilbo changes quite a bit over the course of his quest. Frodo changes, too, to a somewhat lesser extent IMO. But even there, the characters have an essential character that makes them be up to this change. The real ain traits, but in revealing you have them at the moment it’s needed. I think Tolkien recognizes the basic point that characters take time to develop. The Lord of the Rings is a fairly compressed time period and deals with adults. Harry and the gang (or, to a lesser extent the characters in The Hunger Games and other young adult books) actually have time to grow up. They’re also teenagers so they still are actually, you know, growing.
But if Faramir is going to develop the common decency and nobility that so marks him in the books, if Aragorn is going to grow into the kingship, that means in the beginning those characters don’t have those traits in at least some of their scenes (whereas in the books they clearly do, all along). It also makes them fickle. What, Faramir had never run across a situation like this where he needed a strong enough character to do the right thing? Aragorn didn’t know exactly why he needed to be king when he was fighting alone in the wilderness?
I have other major issues with the movies that can’t b chalked up to this. (Denethor, and Gondor generally, was simply bad and I’d need another blog post to flesh out why. I’m also not trying to deny the fact that the movie got an awfully lot right. (Our cinema broke into applause more than once, and rightly so.) But I’m wondering… do you guys agree with me on this distinction between character development and situations revealing what characters people always had? How much of our gripes with the movies would be avoided if the person wasn’t on some kind of a journey as they developed their character.