- Unsung Heroes of “The Lord of the Rings”: From the Page to the Screen
It is not easy to say in a few words what this book is about. The main subject of this study appears to me to be the movie trilogy of The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson and the team he directed. To be sure, throughout there is considerable discussion of the original story by Tolkien, as a work of art in its own right and not just as source material, but Professor Porter's primary interest here is in the transfer from the written word to the different medium of film, and her eye on Tolkien's text focuses on what the filmmakers kept or changed. She says in her Introduction: "I do not consider Jackson's works superior or inferior to the original books—they are simply different and will be discussed in light of their own merits" (xi). Hence her comparisons are descriptive, not judgmental.
There are procedural difficulties to this approach. The usual tack of those discussing the film version is to focus on that but with occasional asides as to what has been altered from its source. Instead Porter concentrates first on the written story by Tolkien, then on the movie adaptation, with mentions in either section of the differences between the two. This naturally causes some redundancy as similar points have to be repeated in different sections. Her citations from The Lord of the Rings are to the 1965 Ballantine publication rather than to the more definitive texts in later editions, nor does she refer to Tolkien's drafts and revisions, but that is adequate since her study here is not primarily literary. She pays much more attention to the variants in the film adaptation, noting differences between the theatrical versions and the extended editions. She is well aware that film is a highly collaborative art and cites Peter Jackson as the auteur of the movies largely for convenience, while often noting the individual contributions of others (one section that I find particularly insightful is her discussion on pages 13-16 of how Howard Shore's musical compositions enhance the performances of the actors in depicting the characters). In general she is successful in making it clear which of the many possible versions she is talking about at any given moment, something that could easily have degenerated into a muddle.
I must further note that the particular focus of this study is on the character development of seven figures, and even further on how each develops into what can be called a hero. The book is divided into chapters on "Merry as a Knowledgeable Hero," "Pippin as Impulsive, Youthful Hero," "Éowyn as Action Hero," "Galadriel and Arwen as Inspirational Heroes," "Legolas and Gimli as Intercultural Heroes," with the final chapter on "The Changing Social Definitions of Heroes" summing up points that have been made throughout about what has been considered [End Page 232] heroism at different times and in different cultures. The classic studies of the hero by Lord Raglan, Northrop Frye, and especially Joseph Campbell come into play. There is something of a cookie cutter approach here, as she applies the traditional criteria to one character after another, noting how some of these aspects fit while others do not. The upshot (that to our modern sensibilities a hero need not be of noble birth, nor necessarily male, and does great deeds because they are what is right in troubling circumstances rather than in seeking for glory) is nothing very new, but bears repeating. Perhaps, as Porter avers, such changes in attitudes toward the heroic are more readily accepted after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the everyday heroes who ameliorated that horror, but these notions were changing prior to those events.
None of the seven characters on whom this book concentrates have been entirely "unsung," of course, and Porter footnotes many instances. Her bibliography is extensive (though she misses a...