10 “Lord of the Rings” Details Only Book Fans Understand
Director Peter Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens stuffed an incredible amount of content into their Lord of the Rings trilogy. And, contra their later Hobbit trilogy, nearly everything in it is faithfully reproduced from J.R.R. Tolkien’s epochal fantasy novels. Yet even with 11+ hours to work with, sometimes elaborate points of lore had to be distilled to a fleeting reference, a knowing look, or a split-second of screen time. Such details don’t get in the way for film-only fans, but they make more sense and are that much cooler if you recognize them from the texts. Here are ten people, places, and concepts that Jackson didn’t need to include but did anyway, if only briefly – the opposite of what happened to poor old Tom Bombadil!
Jackson artfully condenses over 5000 years of Middle Earth history into a few minutes through Galadriel (Cate Blanchett)’s opening monologue. A lot could be said about this montage, but one of the most interesting tidbits is that it contains the first of two appearances of Círdan the Shipwright. He is standing between Galadriel and Gil-galad when Galadriel speaks of the Three Rings that belong to the Elves. Indeed, Círdan originally bore one of those rings, but he gave it to Gandalf (Ian McKellen) when Gandalf arrived in Middle Earth. It is fortunate that he did not give it to Saruman (Christopher Lee), who arrived around the same time. Much later on, Galadriel unsuccessfully recommended that Gandalf, not Saruman, should lead the White Council (a collection of the wisest individuals in Middle Earth), so perhaps Círdan also sensed that Gandalf was a more appropriate recipient of this powerful gift. Círdan reappears at the very end of the film trilogy, standing on the docks at the Grey Havens where he oversees all Elven ships sailing into the West. In the books and appendices (and especially in The Simarillion, which Jackson could not use in his adaptations) Círdan is described as silver-haired and silver-bearded; in Jackson’s movies he seems only vaguely scruffy, but he does have gray hair and a distinctly older appearance than any other Elf we meet.
The Hobbit trilogy clarifies this allusion quite a bit, but before those came out, a movie-only fan might have wondered why Bilbo (Ian Holm) was so eager to avoid these particular relations at his unforgettable 111th birthday. The prologue to his panicked hiss of “Sackville-Bagginses” is that his cousins, Lobelia and Otho Sackville-Baggins, had occupied Bag End and auctioned off many of his possessions when they had him declared legally dead during his year-long adventure with Gandalf and the Dwarves. Even when he turned up very much alive, Lobelia kept a few of his spoons and never gave up hope of inheriting his fancy Hobbit hole and fabled dragon gold. During the events of The Lord of the Rings Otho is deceased, but Lobelia and her son Lotho finally acquire Bag End when Frodo (Elijah Wood) sells it to them and departs on the Quest of the Ring. Though always a prickly sort of Hobbit, Lobelia redeems herself when, armed only with an umbrella, she resists invaders during the “Scouring of the Shire” event whose only reference in the films is an alternative future glimpsed in Galadriel’s reflecting pool.
3. Farmer Maggot
While passing through Shire farmland on the first leg of their journey, Frodo and his companions Samwise (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan), and Pippin (Billy Boyd) trespass on a farmer’s property. He chases them off, but all we see of him is his scythe sticking up above the tall crops. The Hobbits escape his wrath by tumbling down a hill and landing near some mushrooms. This is a clever condensing of a much longer episode in the book which, as usual, conveys a lot of background information and sets up subsequent callbacks. When Frodo was a young Hobbit he used to steal mushrooms from this farmer, whose distasteful surname is Maggot. Maggot keeps big guard dogs (whose barking can be heard in the film) with the intimidating names Fang, Grip, and Wolf, so the adult Frodo is still afraid of being caught trespassing. In the book when Maggot does catch the troupe (at this time just Frodo, Sam, and Pippin), he proves quite courteous, taking them to his farm for a meal before driving them to the Bucklebury Ferry in his carriage. Later it is revealed that Maggot is quite adventurous for a Hobbit, since he somehow knows Tom Bombadil; this connection is left mysterious, and its textual history involves Tolkien’s largely unrelated collection of Bombadil poems. Very indirectly, then, the disembodied scythe in the field is the closest the movies come to referencing Bombadil.
4. Dwarves at the Council of Elrond
Naturally Dwarves have to be present at the Council of Elrond; how else could Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) volunteer his axe and himself on the Quest of the Ring? But movie-only fans might well wonder why a delegation of Dwarves is in Rivendell at all, since relations between Dwarves and Elves are not overly warm. The head of the delegation is Gimli’s father Gloin, one of Bilbo’s old companions, so the absence of any direct reference to him seems strange now that there are three Hobbit movies. In any case, the Dwarves are present for two reasons: first and most importantly, a delegation from Mordor had recently come to the Lonely Mountain to bribe and threaten them for information about Bilbo and the Ring, since Thorin’s company were among the last to know anything about it. Secondly, the Dwarves are worried about what has become of Balin and his expedition to Moria, since they have heard no word from them in many years. By not explaining the Dwarves’ presence at the Council, Jackson passes up the chance to foreshadow the Moria sequence, but at least he shows a coterie of the bearded folk present around the circle.
5. Hollin Gate trees (and Bill the Pony)
This one is a neat visual touch. The Lord of the Ring’s team of production designers included Alan Lee, who in certain recent editions of the novels had provided memorable illustrations of Tolkien’s most famous people and places. But Tolkien himself was also an illustrator, and in the case of the Walls of Moria it is Tolkien rather than Lee who is most responsible for the look of the film. The secret door through which the Fellowship enters is flanked on either side by a pair of trees, both in Tolkien’s drawing (and text) and in Jackson’s movie. Trees, of course, are associated with Elves rather than Dwarves, and the secret door opens to an Elvish password. The explanation left unsaid in the film is that this particular door to the great Dwarven city was used primarily by Elves at a time when there was more traffic between the two peoples. As an additional note, it is here that Sam says a reluctant farewell to a pony named Bill, who is never properly introduced in the final shooting script. Bill’s backstory extends all the way to Bree, where the Hobbits acquired him from a ruffian of the same name.
6. Amon Hen
Sauron’s gaze seeks Frodo any time he wears the Ring. The Eye peers at Frodo more directly and more intensely when he wears the Ring for long periods, as he gets closer to Mordor, and as his resolve against the lure of the Ring weakens. But at the end of the first film there is a scene in which the Eye is particularly vivid. It comes when Frodo escapes from the madness of Boromir (Sean Bean) and climbs the hill of Amon Hen, where he sees the dark tower of Barad-Dûr. The intensity of Sauron’s gaze at this moment is not merely a contrived climax or a symptom of Frodo’s waning will, but a consequence of this particular hill’s specific characteristic. Amon Hen is known as the Hill of Sight, because one who sits upon it can look out upon all the lands from Mirkwood to the Sea and discern things with exceptional clarity. In this case, it is Frodo who sees Sauron, and as the Dark Lord feels Frodo’s gaze he in turn looks for Frodo. In running from Boromir to Amon Hen, Frodo went from the frying pan to the fire.
7. Gimli vs Éomer
Early in The Two Towers when Gimli and Éomer (Karl Urban) of the Rohirrim exchange testy words (“I would cut off your head, Dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground”), it is easy to chalk up the encounter to two warriors from proud cultures getting off on the wrong foot for no particular reason other than general prickliness. In fact, there are centuries of bitter history behind their words. Before the Eorlingas relocated to Rohan and became known as the Rohirrim, they lived along the northern stretch of the Anduin where they fell into a dispute with a local Dwarf kingdom in exile over — you guessed it — dragon gold. Much is made in the text about the unheard-of curiosity of a Dwarf riding a horse of the Mark.
8. Gandalf/Saruman illusion in Fangorn
Is Gandalf screwing with his old friends Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli, and Legolas (Orlando Bloom)? When they meet Gandalf in Fangorn forest in The Two Towers he can barely remember his own name, having recently died and been resurrected as a more powerful version of himself. At first he looks and sounds like the traitorous wizard Saruman, and in a sense he now is Saruman, “or rather, Saruman as he should have been.” Yet for the rest of the trilogy he continues to look and sound like he always had, so why the initial deception here in Fangorn forest? Once again, this is not a case of mere dramatic contrivance. In addition to coming from the book almost verbatim, this scene hints at one of the strangest and ultimately inexplicable episodes in Tolkien’s novels. Before meeting Gandalf, Aragorn and company are stalked near the eaves of Fangorn by the apparition of an old man. They debate among themselves whether it is Saruman spying on them, but Aragorn, who is seldom wrong, suspects with good reason that it is a friend instead of a foe. Yet Gandalf later denies any knowledge of the event. In fact, Tolkien himself was undecided on the matter, as his son Christopher explains in detail in his History of Middle Earth series, and the apparition remains a mystery.
9. “Wizard’s pupil”
There are some great Faramir (David Wenham) moments in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, especially the extended edition’s totally invented but remarkably moving flashback in which Faramir and his brasher brother Boromir recapture part of the city of Osgiliath before their father (John Noble) shows up to play favorites and ruin the fun. But the most interesting thing about Denethor’s younger son — that as a youngster he used to tag along with Gandalf on the wizard’s trips to the archives and absorb the lore there — is hinted at only in passing. When Denethor calls Faramir a “wizard’s pupil” he means it as an insult, disparaging his son’s loyalty and vitality, but viewers and readers alike understand that his tutelage from Gandalf can only be to Faramir’s credit.
10. Éowyn vs. the Nazgûl
Clearly Jackson had to include this climactic showdown on the Pellenor Fields, but it’s a moment that isn’t fully explicable no matter how many appendices and draft texts you look at. Jackson’s Hobbit movies have, unfortunately, further muddied the waters. When the top Nazgûl boasts to Éowyn (Miranda Otto) that “no man can kill me,” he is referring to a prophecy spoken over a thousand years earlier by the great Elf-lord Glorfindel (about whom much else could be said, among which is the fact that in the books it is he, not Liv Tyler‘s Arwen, who carries the injured Frodo to Rivendell.) Glorfindel’s exact words were “not by the hand of man will he fall,” and in this case “man” proves to be a gender-specific word rather than a catchall for humankind. More than any other plot point, this notion is made confusing in Jackson’s movies because in the first Hobbit film the Witch-king is said to have been dead and buried for a long while before recently reappearing. At no time in Tolkien’s long histories was this the case; the King of the Nazgûl faces mortality only once, at the hands of Éowyn before the gates of Minas Tirith. To imply an earlier death is to throw the whole history of the Rings and the Northern and Southern Kingdoms into doubt.
But you have to read the books to understand exactly why.