Tuesday, September 27, 2005
This morning, I finished reading, for the umpteenth time, the Lord of the Rings. It just keepes getting better with age. Each time I read it, I learn something new, or remind myself of something I had forgotten, or figure something else out. This time, I was paying particular attention to the detailed descriptions of things and matching it up with how Peter Jackson pulled it off in the films. He did a darn good job on most things. One of his omissions, the Scouring of the Shire, is what I want to say a few things about now.
Most people who were pretty hard core fans of the novel were upset about the exclusion of Tom Bombadil, but were less upset about the exclusion of the Scouring sequence. I've never really felt strongly about the Scouring one way or another until this last reading. But now, I think it is a sequence that the film really missed out on, and that fans who don't like it also miss out on. It brings the novel full circle (an even fuller circle if you take The Hobbit into account). On of the hobbits, or the Travellers, as they were known by the end of the books, poignantly notes at the murder of Saruman, that it is appropriate for this final stroke in the War of the Ring to have taken place on the doorstep of Bag End, from whence it all began so many years ago with 13 dwarves, an errant wizard, and a hobbit. Moreover, I think some folks will forget that despite having been broken of his power by Gandalf, Saruman was still a powerful foe. He was a Maiar spirit, just as Gandalf was, and almost more importantly, just as Sauron was. The three of them were on the same level of power, if you will. So, the "Scouring" sequence shows the full development of the characters of the four hobbits and hints at how they are forever changed; they will never be the same again and really, never will the Shire. It allows them, the real heroes of the book, to be noticed as such, long after they have left king and kingdom behind, long after the Ring was destroyed, and long after Isengard was broken. As awesome a character as Aragorn is, the hobbits are the real heroes, and in their final defeat of Saruman, that important fact is brought home.
For these reasons, I think the movie missed out on showing just how important these characters are when compared with all the other "lordly types" of the Fellowship. Diminutive they may be, but far from unimportant. And to those who would despise yet another ending sequence to a long movie, I say too bad. Life doesn't come complete with neatly tied up endings all the time. And even after the end, the story goes on and on, down from the road where it began.
Dang - that's a fascinating angle to take on the Scouring, Ryan. I've never looked at it quite that way before - but now that I think about it, you make quite a case for its importance in the novel. The two features to the Scouring (spoilers, incidentally) which have intrigued me are Wormtongue's assault and Tolkien's implied point that the battle never ends.
Grima Wormtongue and Boromir have always resonated with me, and in a sense I feel it's an unfortunate accident that Grima's characterized as a villain while Boromir gets a hero's burial. Grima and Boromir are both pawns trying to fill shoes larger than they ever could. Boromir desires to end the war yet lacks the strength to do what he knows must be done. Although Grima's character is not so well defined, his motivation (at first, at least) for working with Saruman can be presumed to be good as well. What is his prize? A girl, and with her the security that a frail, ugly body could not bring in a nation of knight-models. Not bad things at all, and given Saruman's reputation as a good wizard, one can hardly blame Grima for listening to his treachery. Thus, in the Scouring when Grima kills Saruman, I've always felt a tinge of sorrow that Grima had to die as well. It'd be something like if Andy Dufresne was shot just after escaping prison.
Anyhow, as for Peter Jackson's omission of the Scouring, I think it makes better cinematic sense to leave that chapter of the story out. Much like the Tom Bombadil story or the Barrow Wights, although the Scouring fleshes out Middle Earth and reminds us that there is in fact a world outside the Ringbearer's quest, when time is of the essence (as it is in cinema) I can sympathize with the director's decision. Plus it gives me a chance to figure out who "really loves Tolkien" and who really loves Tolkien.
I think your likening of Grima's death to Andy Dufresne being shot after escaping Shawshank is an excellent one. Another thing I think we, or at least I, forget often is that Saruman's most powerful weapon was his voice. Gandalf makes a terrific number of allusions to that. Even after defrocked of his power as an Istari, he still had his voice, which deceived Grima, and consequently, Theoden and half of Rohan. Tolkien may be saying something there about where real power can lie.
Boromir I have never really liked. Maybe because I see too much of myself in him. Boromir was an upright man, to be sure, but he didn't know his limits, and because of that, it made him vulnerable to the seduction of the ring (aka power). Recall that even Gandalf was afraid to even touch the ring, or even have it offered to him! No, it seemed only hobbits could bear the ring for extended periods of time and not totally succumb to its dominating will. Even still, it took drastic tolls.
As for the film version - cut out Bombadil, the Barrow Wights and even the Scouring for the theatrical release. But on the extended DVD, why not include them? None of this should be read as me coming down hard on Jackson. All told, the movies are phenomenal and extraordinarily well done, as only they could be by someone who truly loved the story.
Couldn't agree more Ryan. I believe that Peter Jackson and crew really missed the boat when they excluded the scouring of the shire from the Return of the King.
It has been a few years since I read LOR. The last time I read it, I read it with my entire family. Keep up this discipline when you start your own family. Good stories are meant for passing on.
I also agree. That was the only major gripe I have with the LOTR movies. (I had a lot of minor ones.)To me, the scouring of the shire was almost the entire point of the books, that the quest to destroy the ring cost Frodo everything.
I was going to say almost exactly what the Archer just said, but he got there first. Oh well.
Another good thing about the scouring is that the local hobbits get to show a bit of the unlooked-for strength and resolve that has been developed at length in Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. This helps to narratively justify their development, and supports much of what Gandalf has said about hobbits.
If Jackson had included it, though, it would have been really hard not to make it look like the cutesy-stupid Ewok battle in Star Wars VI.
Yeah, but you show them shooting Grima in the back with four arrows after showing Grima slit Saruman's throat, and all of a sudden they might not be so cute anymore. A bit different that tossing rocks at storm troopers, I think.