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  • Showing Saruman as Faber:Tolkien and Peter Jackson
  • James G. Davis (bio)

The disagreement between supporters and detractors of Peter Jackson's movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings is now seven years old and will probably, regrettably, continue for more years to come. However, as Maureen Thum shows in "The 'Sub-Subcreation' of Galadriel, Arwen, and Eowyn: Women of Power in Tolkien's and Jackson's The Lord of the Rings," the films can be used to help us better understand the novel. Says Thum, "in presenting Galadriel, Arwen, and Eowyn as stronger and more fully developed figures than we might at first expect from Tolkien's text, Jackson accurately represents the positive view of unconventional and powerful women throughout Tolkien's writings" (232). Thum's presentation of Arwen as the second coming of her ancestor Lúthien, who was indeed a "Warrior Princess" (a common, derisive complaint about Jackson's Arwen), leads convincingly to her conclusion: "Women for Tolkien are positive figures whose influence extends far beyond their often brief appearances in the pages of his writings, and Jackson's film reflects that fact" (254). Thum argues well that Jackson's treatment of Arwen leads to a greater understanding of her place in Tolkien's universe than Tolkien provides in The Lord of the Rings alone. Let this approach be our model.

The Argument

Relying as they do on visual images, films can add a great deal to the discussion and understanding of books. With all their limitations in plot pacing and internal character development, motion pictures can do one thing very well that novels cannot do at all, and that is to put visual images before the audience's eyes. Jackson does a startlingly good job of bringing Middle-earth visually to life.

Some of Jackson's visualizations of elements in the books seem to stand out more prominently than others, such as the lurid, red-lit, chaotic scenes of Saruman's factory complex beneath Isengard. These scenes, which are so vivid and memorable in the first two films, with their garish colors, shifting camera perspective, noise, and general chaos, play a prominent or even overpowering role in the films, but in fact are images that were never actually seen in the books. Defenders of the films, especially the director, writers, and actors in their commentaries on the enhanced DVDs, argue that the scenes are a metaphorically accurate depiction of a major theme of The Lord of the Rings: Tolkien's dislike of [End Page 55] modern industry and its destruction of everything that was pastoral and good in the world, especially trees. In this light, a comparison of Tolkien's and Jackson's presentations of Saruman could also contribute to our understanding of Tolkien's view of nature and its treatment by the inhabitants of Middle-earth. What is needed here is an examination of what Tolkien actually says in his text, what Jackson actually shows in his movies, and the differences between the two types of presentation.

Tolkien's Pastoral Vision

In Tolkien's text, industrialization is shown almost exclusively by negative metaphor: we are presented not so much with a view of the industrial, as we are with the absence of the pastoral that had been so pervasive at the beginning. Tom Shippey—in his Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, not in his Tolkien books—introduces to print the term "fabril" as the opposite of "pastoral." Pastoral literature, he says, "is rural, nostalgic, conservative. It idealizes the past and tends to convert complexities into simplicity . . ." (ix). This description of the pastoral is a near match for the Shire, which is commonly seen as Tolkien's depiction of his pastoral ideal. But let us consider just how diligently he strives to present this base reality to us at the start of The Lord of the Rings. Fully the first thirty percent of The Fellowship of the Ring is spent in the Shire, showing us the gentle beauty of life in Hobbiton, lovingly describing many of the favorite food crops of the Shirefolk, taking the three hobbits on a leisurely and extensive tour of the beauties of their homeland. We might also include in...


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