I did not care for the Lord of the Rings when I was younger. It took my then-boyfriend three attempts at making me watch through the series before I could stay awake past Boromir dying. It just that Boromir takes too damn long to die. But he persisted and fed me tasty things to keep me awake and I discovered LOTR (or the LORT we call it at home) meme groups online and suddenly I was in baby.
I mean, I needed to understand the underlying subject matter to truly understand the beauty of They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard-gard-gard!
In my youth, I’d also tried reading this book. I made it through, but it was a painful slog. Fifty pages of pointless world building before we even meet any characters. SIGH. But I thought, I love the LORT now. We have an annual watch party. I send so many LORT memes every day. And I know the movies so well that I’m actively curious about the source material. Will I care about the exclusion of Tom Bombadil? Will the low key sexism (yes – saying women are inherently better than men is also sexism) bug me more or less? Just how gay are Frodo and Sam really? And most importantly, how badly was Pippin betrayed by Peter Jackson?
I got my answers. I found the prologue to be among my favourite parts of the book this time around. The lore around Old Toby, as a adult pothead currently in the midst of hyper-fixated research on the impacts of different terpenes, was immensely amusing. Bilbo’s birthday? Somehow even better than in the movie, and it’s awesome in the movie. Tolkien has a marvellous sense of humour that could have so easily been eliminated from the movies to maintain a consistency of tone and demonstrates how deeply Jackson and co understood the core material to keep the humour alive.
It demonstrates their rotten, evil spirit too, to have done Pippin as dirty as they did. He didn’t do any of the crap he did in the movies. Every time someone makes a cataclysmic error in the book Jackson seemed to be like “oh no Frodo has to be likeable so he couldn’t have done that” or “no way Gandalf would have advised such a catastrophically stupid idea, he’s basically a god” and the solution every time is “let’s just dump it on Pippin, no one needs to like him.” Indeed, in the book, Gandalf’s dislike of Pippin is bizarre and entirely baseless. He’s just a happy, loyal pothead who loves his friends and wants to help. Then Gandalf shows up and hisses at him for the fun of it. Dragon firework? Gandalf. Weathertop? Frodo. Moria? Gandalf again. But oh why not blame it all on poor Pippin!
On that point, Gandalf is either an idiot or working for Sauron. There, I said it. It was a terrible, awful, no good plan and it is a gooddamn miracle it worked – and no thanks to Gandalf.
And Sam and Frodo could definitely be gayer. Honestly, for how interminably long the book is and how long it lingers on every little thing, we don’t really get to know any of the players all that well. We mostly only know as much as we absolutely need to for the plot. We just get told that Gandalf is Wise and Frodo is a homebody and Sam is… Well he’s his uncle’s gardener’s son. So you know. Obvious why Sam would walk through fire for Frodo. I think in a world with sufficient queer representation in fiction, people would see Sam for the gold digger he really is. I mean, he basically only knows Frodo distantly because the guy is at least rumoured to be loaded and hell he is a second generation employee. He’s definitely just shooting his shot to latch onto Mr. Moneybags. I know, a lot of hot takes today. Fight me.
There are also some strange, seemingly pointless changes. Why did Sam get a rope from Galadriel? And why was he disappointed? In the books, everyone got rope, and Sam was stoked about his. But in the books, she gifted him special soil to make any garden he tends to flourish. What an absolutely perfect gift to show Galadriel’s gentle, insightful nature and a boon to Sam’s optimism. Instead, the movies have her being like “uuugh what do you give a hobbit? Well he’s short, maybe he could use some rope??” This is some “grocery store bath gift set” level of gift giving and did them both dirty for no reason.
At least Jackson cut out Tom Bombadil. And most of the council at Rivendell. Sweet LORT I want those hours of my life back. And that’s sort of my conclusion. I still don’t really get the books. Granted, it’s only the first one, but it dragged a lot more than it didn’t. There are bits of beauty and humour and fascinating world history and even some excitement but they are beautiful rare flowers growing in a jungle of discussions that go on so long and about so little of interest that even the characters will sometimes apologize for it. You could cut the book in half and lose pretty much nothing and still have the same plot holes.
Should I pick up the Two Towers? What do the experts say?
Last note – if you’ve read the book and are looking for a different take on it, listen to the audiobook narrated by Rob Inglis. Dude committed and it shows.