Peter Jackson's Sorcery

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Peter Jackson’s three-part film of The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) may or may not please votaries of J. R. R. Tolkien’s prose epic, but it is a godsend to anyone like me. I love the book’s “northness,” its landscape of towering forests and monster-housing caves, and the creatures that inhabit that landscape; my problem is with the prose that conveys this world. Though Tolkien could write well—witness the charming prose of The Hobbit and the incisiveness of his scholarly essays—LOTR the novel contains too many sentences like this one: “The onslaught of Mordor broke like a wave on the beleaguered hills, voices roaring like a tide amid the wreck and crash of arms.” The author certainly can’t be accused of mixing his metaphors but this is too much of a wet thing. LOTR is lengthy, and a lengthy book needs fresher language than Tolkien could provide.

In the film adaptation, of course, the prose is gone, and Middle-earth floods into movie theaters by way of gorgeous photography and the latest digital tricks. For some, the movie will seem a desecration precisely because it is so visually forceful. You thought you knew what the wizard Gandalf looked like as he took shape within your mind as you read? Well, gaze on Sir Ian McKellen for just five seconds and kiss your inner-eye wizard goodbye. This movie isn’t merely an adaptation; it’s a coup d’etat. It overthrows our reading responses with a...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.