Are the films a fairly faithful adaptation of the books?

Faithfulness to the original text is always a hot topic of debate when it comes to book adaptations. Despite the many sections of hateful commentary for adaptations, there is a series that has stood the test of time as a solid example of how to adapt from source material: the Lord of the Rings. However, if one understands the show’s long-standing popularity and the many things it undeniably achieves, it begs the question of whether these films are really true enough to the books they are based on.

When Peter Jackson is The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring released in theaters in 2001, it was very well received. Many pointed to the accuracy of Tolkien’s original work as the source of the success, while others claimed that the films actually had a bit too much of the “Hollywood” treatment. This debate never had an impact on the box office returns of the first film or its sequels, however, as the trilogy grossed a total of $ 2,935,233,850.

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There are several elements which are obviously true to the book. Aragorn is still hesitant to rule, Frodo still travels with the ring, and Gollum still scares everyone. There are, however, a few things that are perhaps more subtly true to the book. The origin of the orcs in Middle-earth is a somewhat controversial uncertainty. While there were several options in Tolkien’s writing that would have made dramatic additions, such as Orcs being their own race and being able to reproduce, Peter Jackson instead went with what the text told the origin and had the orcs descended from the evil-twisted Elves.


However, a big change from the text has been noted several times; Arwen’s character expansion. The film version of Arwen has a lot more to do than the book version, which ultimately only appears for a very short time. While this extension calls into question the fidelity of the adaptation, it is actually more in line with spiritual fidelity to the book. Arwen has a big impact on Aragorn’s arc in the story, and the fact that she performs tasks initially assigned to smaller secondary characters only adds to the story and her character.

While these elements of maintaining the text or even expanding the work are present, other elements have been removed altogether. As mentioned earlier, many smaller secondary characters have been removed or merged into the main cast. Rather, Glorfindel’s role in guiding Frodo is fulfilled by Arwen. Entwives have been removed. Tom Bombadil has been taken out completely. All mention of Radagast has been removed until his character was introduced and developed, in The Hobbit.

With all of that removed, one might wonder just how faithful this series really is. However, the real question is whether these deleted elements change the story in any meaningful way. Tolkien is known to have fully fleshed out Middle-earth, and much of what he wrote is for this purpose. These elements, while adding to the world, ultimately do not affect the story with their removal. The traveling nature of Frodo’s journeys to Mount Doom means that the various little side stories can come or go as long as the overall story is still respected.

When comparing the two sides of the story, the obvious differences lead many to believe that the films aren’t faithful enough. There are a lot of characters and side stories not present in the movies, and some have felt their absence. If the films were the perfect and exact adaptations, audiences are unlikely to ever complain. However, there are some complaints and the movies aren’t perfect. Even Roger Ebert mentioned many of these inaccuracies in his review, but he went on to praise the film later in the same review.

gandalf lotr character

What movies do excellently despite the many differences is that they are able to capture the themes of the book. The movies, in line with the books, show that even the smallest part of a big world can make a difference. You don’t have to be a mighty wizard, a talented king, or even a stubborn dwarf to do good and save the world. All it takes is persistence, determination and the will to do good. These themes are unmistakably present in the film series and are part of what makes the story so compelling.

When questioning the fidelity of such a successful work, the most important question to answer is what exactly does “faithful enough” mean? Does that just mean that every iota of retail has been transplanted from the book to the screen? Or rather, is it more important that the spirit of the story and the feeling it evokes in its audience translates into the transition? Considering the success of the the Lord of the Rings series, it seems the answer is clear.

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