I’m just not going to do The Return of the King justice in this little blog, so I thought I’d touch on a few major bits. As usual, there are some spoilers, both for the books and for the movies!
The Battle of Pelennor Fields
The Battle of Pelennor Fields was, I think, much better handled in the book than in the movies. As stated in my blog on The Two Towers, one of my chief complaints with the films is that Helm’s Deep feels like a turning point. The forces of the West have routed Mordor’s forces once, and the tension never quite reaches that same level.
In the book, however, The Battle of Pelennor Fields feels like a much bigger deal. Mordor’s forces have yet to be defeated in battle, and their threat has been built up over the course of two-plus books. Gondor is frantically preparing their defenses, begging allies for assistance in what looks like certain death.
And that leads into another example of what the book does well: showing the gravity of the situation, and just how far-reaching the threat is. Several nations and groups that were glossed over (or non-existent) in the movie arrive to help, the most prominent film omission being Imrahil, the prince of Dol Amroth. Several other nations send troops and captains, and a race entirely absent from the film–the Pukel-men–even lend some minor aid. It really feels like a world war, while the movies feel like “Mordor versus Gondor and a few elves.”
Sam and Frodo
In the movies, the epic battles and sweeping vistas overshadowed Samwise and Frodo to the point where I find myself a little disappointed when it switches from Helm’s Deep to the plodding adventures of the two little hobbits.
In the books, I found myself quite a bit more interested in their adventures. Both characters, but Samwise in particular, are much stronger characters in writing. To my surprise, I found myself looking forward to those segments, and books Four and Six were highly enjoyable.
While a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes words can show us what pictures cannot. In the books, the Ring feels heavier, and it’s easier to understand and live through Frodo’s suffering. Similarly, Sam’s commitment to him comes off even stronger, as we can see deeper into their minds. I went from liking them the least to possibly preferring them–although Aragorn still gives them stiff competition.
(I would argue that only Legolas and Gimli are weaker than their movie counterparts, although their friendship and personalities are still well-done!)
The Scouring of the Shire
Vying with Tom Bombadill for title of “Biggest Omission from the Movies”, The Scouring of the Shire! I must admit, I actually liked this part quite a bit. I feel like endings are often too short, and that if you’re going to err, err on the side of “too much”. Stories often leave us without any indication of the afterward (sometimes setting up sequels, sometimes just leaving us to imagine).
In this case, maybe it was too much, but I quite enjoyed seeing the hobbits return to the Shire. It was a chance to showcase their growth, and, in the case of Frodo, give us a better idea of the scars he’s now carrying. It was also nice to see that hobbits in general, when roused, have quite a lot of spirit, beyond the occasional Baggins or Took.
All the same, I can see why it was removed from the movie. Despite being an exciting, well-written adventure, doing it justice (along with the multiple chapters prior of good-byes) would have easily required another hour of screentime. After a point, the practical realities do need to be considered, and it would have seriously messed with the pacing. While the pacing works for a book, The Scouring of the Shire is almost a fresh adventure in itself, something of a mini-sequel/epilogue.
It would be like putting Peter S. Beagle’s Two Hearts at the end of a long, epic production of The Last Unicorn: while Two Hearts is a magnificent coda, it’s a story unto itself. Jumping from one to the other, the audience is never quite given a chance to really process what came before it.
At the same time, I really quite enjoyed The Scouring, and I’m not sure I would want the book itself to drop it. A quandary.
Do I prefer the books to the movies? I’m not so sure, despite what the tone of these blogs might imply. They’re favorite movies of mine, and that certainly won’t change regardless!
I found this blog a bit of a challenge, and so it’s fairly slapdash, and just hitting on the big points. Neither this one nor the previous two really do The Lord of the Rings justice, and so I have at least one more planned that will focus on the overall experience of reading, and finishing, the book, as well as if I prefer it to the movies!