Classic Remarks: Changes from Book to Film in LotR

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Discuss one of the changes Peter Jackson made from the book while adapting The Lord of the Rings.  What did this change add to or take away from the story?

Below are spoilers for The Lord of the Rings--book and films!

“But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.”  –Faramir, The Lord of the Rings

So Faramir, captain of Gondor, repudiates the One Ring and its tempting offer of unlimited power.  Faramir understands that he cannot clam for himself the ability to rule over others through force.  He understands that, even if he took up the One Ring for a noble cause, the unlimited power it offers would ultimately corrupt him.  And he understands that the ends cannot justify the means.

Faramir also understands he does not want to win a victory through gaining control over the minds of others and bending them to his will because such a victory would be empty.  What then would he have been fighting for?  He explains to Frodo that he does not, as Boromir does, delight in the arts of war for themselves: “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”  He defends the freedom of Minas Tirith and its people.  If he overthrew Sauron to save his city only to become the next Dark Lord and to subjugate his people to his will, then he would have won nothing.

In his book, J. R. R. Tolkien juxtaposes Faramir and his strong sense of morality with his brother Boromir, who initially falls to the lure of the One Ring, only to repent of it before he dies.  Boromir shows us the weakness of man–of every person, even though his failings have made many a reader dislike him–and how easy it is to be seduced by the prospect of power of control.  Boromir is not inherently a bad person.  He is a valiant man who cares about his city and wishes to relieve his people of the fear and the suffering they endure under the shadow of Sauron.  He desires the Ring for a noble cause.  He unfortunately allows that desire to consume him, and to lead him into dishonorable actions.  Readers are meant to identify on some level with Boromir, who wishes to do right but does wrong–but who can still acknowledge his guilt and seek forgiveness before the end.

But Faramir is not necessarily a character readers identify with–he is a character readers can look up to and admire, and hope to emulate.  Faramir shows the possibility of moral strength and integrity of character.  He shows that not all people are weak like Boromir, but that some can train themselves in discipline and in wisdom, and so pass the test when it comes to them.  Faramir and Boromir comment on each other and reflect two distinct paths individuals can take when confronted with temptation.  Faramir is, in many ways, what Boromir could have been, and should have been.

Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s story radically changes Faramir’s character, however, to make Faramir less admirable and more relatable.  His Faramir initially claims the Ring to bring to his father to save Minas Tirith.  His motivations are weak–he desires the approval of his father, who only ever had eyes for his more militant son Boromir.  And so movie-Faramir takes Frodo and Sam on a pointless and roundabout journey to Osgiliath only to realize there that he has taken on more than he can handle, that the Ring is bad, and that the Ring really ought to be destroyed.  So he release Sam and Frodo after taking them far out of their way and delaying their journey by some time.

Because movie-Faramir is acting much like book-Boromir, Jackson thus has to transform movie-Boromir into a more dislikable character.  In Jackson’s version, Boromir appears at the Council of Elrond as rather unintelligent and maybe bordering on the boorish.  He talks clearly out of turn to indicate his desire for the Ring, to insult those who are not fighting on the front lines, and to question Aragorn’s authority.  From the start he seems unwilling to accept the Council’s decision but joins the Fellowship to make sure his country is represented (either to gain glory in the history books or keep an eye on it–his motivations are somewhat ambiguous).

This depiction of the character is in contrast to the book where Boromir initially arrives to seek Elrond’s wisdom on the matter of a dream, does not initially respond to the revelation of Aragorn’s identity but later desires Aragorn’s help (though he is a little doubtful he is really seeing Elendil’s heir–which is hardly unwarranted as Aragorn himself seems to understand), graciously defends the valor of the men of Rohan, and judiciously asks for more information about the ring he is seeing (Galdor and Frodo agree more information is needed).  His eyes “glint” at the mention of the One Ring.  But it takes him awhile to suggest that the Council use the Ring and he does not claim it for himself or for Gondor: “Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory!”  At this moment, he seems concerned about defeating Sauron and not himself, and perhaps as if he does not understand the Ring’s power fully or what is at stake with its use.  He also agrees to the Council’s final decision.  On the whole, book-Boromir is rather more restrained, more generous, and more noble.

But Jackson does not stop there with his transformation of Boromir.  In the extended films there is even a scene in which Boromir blithely picks up the shards of Narsil (the sword that cut the ring from Sauron’s hand) despite its being an ancient and honored artifact.  He then clumsily drops it when he notices Aragorn in the room.  There is also an added scene is which victorious military Boromir joins with Faramir in a nice brotherly moment while also seeming maybe a little too find of alcohol.  Jackson is building up the idea that audiences should not like Boromir, an apparently somewhat dumb military man, too much.

In making these changes, Peter Jackson’s films change the meaning of Boromir and Faramir’s presence in the story.  Faramir is no longer a character who gives us hope through his integrity but a man who chooses to do wrong because he lacks self-confidence thanks to his strained relationship with his father.  And Boromir is no longer a flawed human readers can recognize themselves in, but a somewhat distasteful one they may prefer to distance themselves from.  But not all characters are meant to be relatable.  Further, a relatable character need not be morally weak or unsure to be relatable (witness how Jackson also changes the character of Treebeard so that he does not initially support the overthrow of Saruman but must be tricked into it, and the character of Aragorn so that his doubts about taking up his responsibilities as king are highlighted throughout the films).  And not every flawed person must also be dislikable–the point is that we all have some room for improvement and that Boromir is not alone in sometimes being weak.  But neither is he alone in being capable of redemption.

Jackson’s changes suggest that unselfish motivations or sacrificial love are rare, perhaps present only in his story in the actions of the Hobbits rather than in a number of characters.  And his changes suggest that those who are weak and fail are not wholly deserving of our sympathy.  But Tolkien’s message is so much greater.  Tolkien’s story suggests that good people exist, that temptations can be overcome, and that the world is not wholly devoid of kindness and wisdom.  Tolkien’s story suggests that hope can be found in the unlikeliest of people and places.

Did you participate this week?  Leave your link in the comments below!

Classic Remarks: Is Paradise Lost’s Satan a Sympathetic Character?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


Do you think Satan from Paradise Lost is at all a sympathetic character?

Paradise Lost

Whenever I see someone comment that Paradise Lost‘s Satan is a sympathetic character, I think they must be referencing the fact that Satan is given interiority in the text, that readers are presented with the rationale Satan uses when he decides rebelling against God is a good idea–justified, right.  After the invocation, the poem opens with a scene of Satan in Hell, rousing the fallen angels who followed him, and promising them great things and a chance to regain Heaven.  He explains that he is powerful too and that to repent now that he is banished would be a disgrace:

“To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deify his power,
Who from the terror of this arm so late
Doubted his empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall” (111-116)

Satan can make moving speeches when he wants to, though he often appeals to negative emotions like hatred.  Readers, to some extent, get to see things from Satan’s perspective, and perhaps that is what some people refer to as “sympathetic.”  However, it’s clear that readers are not actually supposed to be on the side of Satan or think him in any real way wronged by God.  Readers are shown the steps of reasoning that Satan took to make his choices; they are not supposed to ultimately agree with him that they were good choices.

The opening invocation asks: “Who first seduced them [humans] to that foul revolt?” and answers “Th’ infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile / Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived / The mother of mankind” (31-35). These are harsh, judgmental words, and they set the tone for how the narrator and God Himself speak of Satan throughout the text.  Satan is a deceiver, full of pride, sinful.  There’s no “trick” in the text here.  Readers are not supposed to consider the narrator unreliable or question whether God is right.  It is sometimes difficult for modern readers to take religious texts as seriously as the authors and contemporary audience did, but the veracity of God is taken for granted in this text.  Satan is given motivations in the poem, but he is not exonerated from his transgressions because of them.  I don’t think he is a sympathetic character.

If you are participating this week, please leave a link to your post below.

Briana

Classic Remarks: Graphic Novels

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Tell us about your favorite classic graphic novel.

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir  Persepolis recounts her life growing up before and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.  In the introduction she notes that she “believes an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists” and so she tells the stories of the individuals who fought against oppression.  Her account is particularly powerful because told the through the eyes of a child, who does not yet understand.

The story opens memorably with the introduction of the veil.  At ten years old, Marjane has never had to wear the veil before, but the Islamic Revolution now makes it mandatory.  It also segregates her previously co-ed school and rewrites the textbooks.  Marjane struggles to understand why the veil is necessary since before it was a choice.  And she does not  hesitate to question the changing teachings of the textbooks, to the horror of her classmates and teacher.  As a child, she is dangerously outspoken and irrepressible.  She is saying what many adults are thinking, but cannot speak aloud.

The disconnect between youth and history continues throughout the story.  We see Marjane delight in the knowledge that her relatives have been imprisoned and tortured for political causes.  She romanticizes the struggles and imagines such information will make her cool among her peers.  Her understanding of what is happening is simultaneously clever and knowledgeable, and all too innocent.  This is truly history through the eyes of a child.

But throughout Satrapi celebrates the resilience of the people of Iran, highlighting their bravery and and their dedication to freedom.  She truly has given us a different perspective, a side of the story that often goes untold.  It’s a story worth listening to.

Bonus: I’m not sure it’s yet considered a classic, but Sean Tam’s wordless graphic novel The Arrival illustrates the strangeness and loneliness of arriving in a new land.

Krysta 64

Classic Remarks: Should We Adapt Classics for Children?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

What do you think of adapting classics for younger readers?

In many ways I’m a literary purist. I often bristle at movie adaptations that aren’t faithful to the original novels, and I’m not afraid to grump about people disrespecting masterpieces with all their silly changes. (Shudder.)  As I grow older, however, I’ve come around..a little bit…to the idea that sometimes changes are necessary or good–that maybe something that works in writing doesn’t work as well in film and needs to be tweaked. Or maybe, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter whether the protagonist’s sister’s teacher’s daughter has the correct color hair.  However, no matter the medium, I’m still a purist where it comes to the spirit of a text, and my greatest frustration with children’s adaptations is that they often make great literature less in order to make it more accessible for younger readers.

When I say the literature is made “less,” I refer to all manners of changes, but all have the consequence of diluting the story.  Sometimes children’s adaptations cut material to make the book shorter.  Sometimes they simplify the prose. And sometimes they remove material because it’s not “suitable for children.”  The ultimate goal appears to be making the novel “easier to read.”  I suppose an idealist would say the goal is to introduce children to great literature, but my complaint is that with these adaptations the reader isn’t really getting Jane Eyre or The Count of Monte Cristo or Hamlet or whatever.  The reader is getting an editor’s interpretation of what’s most valuable about the original text.  And it’s often less interesting, less complicated or nuanced, than what the author originally wrote. What’s the value in that?

So, yes, I bristle that great literature is being watered down and important pieces are being lost.  I also have a practical objection, however: I think that, instead of making readers more interested in classics, these adaptations could make children less likely to read the original.  I remember receiving children’s adaptations to read when I was a child. Half the time, I was confused by whether I was reading an adaptation or not, since it often isn’t clear from the way the book presents itself.  I thought I was reading the actual text, and it never occurred to me that in five years I should graduate to reading the “real” version.  The other half of the time, I considered my job done.  I had read some version of Moby Dick or Robinson Crusoe or whatever. I knew how the story went, and I therefore had no interest in reading it all over again in a longer version.  These adaptations discouraged me from reading classics because I felt I had already read them.

I’m a firm believer in letting readers read books whenever they feel ready for them, not in altering the books to try to meet the reader halfway.  I don’t have an issue with children reading “adult books” (I did it all the time), but the fact remains that the target audience is adults.  The issues presented and the way they are handled are not meant for children.  Artificially trying to make them resonate with children (or simply comprehensible to younger readers) isn’t a worthwhile goal, particularly if the means of doing this is just hacking away at scenes to make the book shorter.  Omitting a sex scene from a novel isn’t automatically going to make a book about love, loss, and divorce speak to a child the same way it would speak to a reader who was older and had actually been in a romantic relationship.

I’m sure there’s someone in the world who enjoys children’s adaptations,  but I have never been one of them.  I wouldn’t be sad to see this trend disappear.  I’d rather see children read full classics when they’re ready and interested in them.

This Week’s Participants:

Briana

Classic Remarks: Who Is Your Favorite L. M. Montgomery Hero?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Who is your favorite L. M. Montgomery hero?

Pat of Silver Bush

While I have a soft spot in my heart for Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables (Who doesn’t, really?), my favorite L. M. Montgomery is actually Hilary (Jingle) Gordon from Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat.  While Gilbert obviously matures over the course of the Anne series, he starts out fiery and as an admittedly annoying school boy.  Jingle is level-headed and kind from the start.  He’s always looking out for Pat’s best interests and is willing to wait for her to see if their friendship should be something more.  He respects her love for her home and her discomfort with change but is willing to have dreams and work to share them with her.  So while Jingle isn’t the flashiest or most passionate of Montgomery’s heros, he’s reliable, responsible, intelligent, and big-hearted. He also has an adorable dog.

Honorable mentions (after Gilbert) may go to Barney Snaith from The Blue Castle.  He’s wild and a bit snarky, so maybe not personally my type, but I love reading about him.  He’s interesting and also kind-hearted; he just hides it a lot better than many of Montgomery’s other heroes, but he doesn’t care what the gossipy people around town think. He just does what he thinks is right and pursues the kind of live he wants to live, which I think I can respect.

Dishonorable mentions to Teddy from the Emily of New Moon series, though I won’t get into spoilers.

Are you participating in Classic Remarks this week? Link us to your posts in the comments!  You can also take our quiz to find out which L. M. Montgomery hero should be yours.

Briana

Classic Remarks: What Shakespeare Play Would You Teach in High School?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

If you were to teach a Shakespeare text in a high school classroom and could not choose Romeo and Juliet, which play would you choose and why?

Logic says that I ought to choose a play like Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello–a Shakespeare play that has become culturally embedded and that students should be exposed to if they intend to continue studying English literature in college.  However, plenty of colleges still require a Shakespeare course for an English major to graduate and such a course will probably include most of the more famous plays.  Therefore, I would have to choose between Henry V and Cymbeline.

Henry V is, of course, the one history play that most people who read or study Shakespeare will eventually be exposed to, which tempts me to choose Cymbeline–a totally underrated because absolutely bizarre romance that includes a jealous lover, missing princes, a disguised princess, and the descent of an actual god.  I find it great fun, but I have to admit that it would probably make high school students think Shakespeare was more than a little crazy.  Best then to go with Henry V.

Henry V, of course, poses its own challenges, such as the fact that it is considered the last part of a tetralogy and students would get the most out of it if they could follow the ideas of kingship presented in the earlier works, and if they could have met Falstaff in Henry IV Parts I and II.  Still, it works well enough on its own and one can fill in some of the gaps with a brief lecture before reading.

I think students would appreciate a history play in which the protagonist appears (to many) to be a hero.  His youth and his desire to find his place in the world and solidify it might appeal to many.  Furthermore, film versions such as the ones starring Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hiddleston could provide another avenue for students to access the works.  And, of course, the play raises rich questions about kingship, leadership, the way we retell history, etc. for students to discuss.  It might be a nice change from another year of Romeo and Juliet.

Participating this week?  Leave your link in the comments!

Krysta 64

Classic Remarks: The Funniest Moment in Pride and Prejudice

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

What do you think the funniest moment in Pride and Prejudice is?

Not everyone seems to realize just how funny Jane Austen can be.  Yes, she writes about people from the past who engage in courtship rituals that readers find either incredibly romantic or amusingly old-fashioned.  However, her books aren’t entirely wish fulfillment, the gratification of seeing the right pair fall in love, often against all odds (read: financial odds).  Beneath the surface runs Jane Austen’s keen wit, which pokes fun at the social conventions of her day as well as the foibles of her characters.  Some consider Austen to write comedies of manners.

My favorite comedic moment occurs when Mr. Collins arrives at Longbourne to determine which of the Bennet sisters he shall marry.  After Mr. Collins delivers a compliment, Mr. Bennet innocently says, “It is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?”  The question is, of course, meant to poke fun at Mr. Collins’ lack of imagination and general superficiality.

Mr. Collins, however, is so convinced of his own good taste that he does catch the implied judgement.  He answers Mr. Bennet very seriousy: “They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”  Without any self-consciousness, Mr. Collins admits he does not possess the wit and intelligence to come up with a compliment on the spot. Rather, he prepares them ahead of time in the hopes of presenting himself as socially smooth.  But he’s not smooth enough to keep up the charade when questioned.  Indeed, he is so socially inept that he readily admits that his compliments are canned without realizing that this is rather an insult to the ladies who receive them from him!

It’s easy to laugh at Mr. Collins, of course, but Pride and Prejudice is full of such subtle moments.  Austen’s trick is that the readers have to feel that they are on the intellectual level of Lizzie Bennet to get the joke.  Because you have realized what Mr. Collins has not, that compliments ought to be spontaneous and for the individual, you the reader can feel assured of your social grace and chuckle a little.  Jane Austen just made you laugh by making you feel clever.

Krysta 64