Mere O “neighbor” and Plato scholar Bourgeois-Burglar penned an excellent analysis of Peter Jackson’s changes to the Ents in response to my post about Jackson’s different approach to Frodo.

One conclusion that may reasonably be drawn from the movie’s “adaptation” is that the screenwriters think the decision to go to war cannot be the result of careful deliberation. It must be the result of a hasty action, which itself is done as a result of passion (usually anger).

Or, at least if the screenwriters don’t believe this, they believe that audiences will not find the book’s version convincing. But that seems to be because modern audiences do not find the method employed by the Ents of the book as a plausible way to make decisions in general. That is, the majority of people make decisions based on an overwhelming feeling. Perhaps acting decisively after careful, lengthy deliberation is too foreign to many moviegoers today.In this, I think Burglar is exactly right.  But there is more to be said:  the change in the Ents is one of a number of changes that indicate Jackson thinks characters are more interesting when they are conflicted about their decisions (I’m going to presume for a second that Tolkien thinks the Ent’s decision is the right one).

While most of Tolkien’s good characters consistently do the right thing without doing the wrong thing first, Jackson rejects this idea.  The Ents decide to not go to war.  Most obviously, Faramir takes the Ring back to Osgiliath.  Frodo rejects Sam when entering Mordor.

Such changes reflect, I think, the “spirit of our age” and the blurring of lines between right and wrong.  In Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, acting deliberately and decisively for goodness is only possible when the evil is seen, touched, or tasted.  Only when Faramir sees Frodo nearly give the Ring to the Nazgul does he realize his folly.  Only when Treebeard sees the destruction of the forest firsthand can he respond as he should have in the first place.  As a result, Jackson’s characters demonstrate far more angst than Tolkien’s.

Peter Jackson’s movies are great films.  But they ultimately reveal more about ourselves than about Tolkien’s books.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

2 Comments

  1. Seeing as I’m just now reading these for the first time (I know! shame on me – if I had known how good they are I would have done it sooner), and seeing as I have just finished the part of the Ents, these two posts happen at just the right time. I had been wondering why the change in the Ents in Jackson’s adaptation – he still has their deliberation, so its not as though they did it for time or to move it more quickly. They keep Treebeard’s flash of anger at the trees he knew and loved being slain, but they put it out of order by making it his decisive call to war, instead of his hasty but quickly supressed anger. It loses one of the noble things about the Ents – they are extremely difficult to rouse, but as soon as they’ve made their decision they march in full force. It exchanges a carefully deliberated sense of duty for a mere passionate reaction in anger.

    But while there are a few of these discrepancies that don’t make sense, I think for the most part the spirit of the books was translated fairly well to film (from what I’ve read so far). Most of the things I have liked in the books that were cut are things that wouldn’t have translated well, or would have made the movies yet longer still.

    Reply

  2. Brant,

    Keep reading. On the whole, Fellowship was the best adaptation of the three. They get worse (the second, in particular, is a mess).

    Reply

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