Tolkien Gateway

Letter 210

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 210
RecipientForrest J. Ackerman
DateJune 1958

Letter 210 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien had been sent the script of Morton Grady Zimmerman's proposed film of The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien wrote a lengthy reply on it.

First, he apologized that he may sound irritated or aggrieved, but that was because he felt the story was handled carelessly, and sometimes even recklessly. The story had basically been reduced to fights and magic, and the Ring-bearer's final part had been "murdered".

The references were by page number of the script that Zimmerman (simply called "Z" in the commentary) sent him.

  • Page 2: Fireworks and Gandalf. There were flags and hobbits included in the fireworks, and Gandalf was to be spluttering. Tolkien disapproved both.
  • Page 4: The Eagles. Z, according to Tolkien, completely misunderstood Eagles, and by letting one - named Radagast - show up in the Shire, he more or less ruined the surprise of Gandalf's escape from Orthanc. Z anticipated future events, which Tolkien thought was not good for the story.

Tolkien also mentioned the time-line of the film: it was heavily contracted, and did not take the seasons into account. These seasons were important: starting in the autumn, through winter, and ending in the Spring. In Z's mind, a snow-storm would have had to take place in Summer. Despite being a faery-story, miles are miles, days are days, and weather is weather.

  • Page 7: Tom Bombadil. He was portrayed as the owner of the woods, and his language was sillified. So was Goldberry; she would have been better off if she were omitted.
  • Page 8: Barliman Butterbur. He wanted the guests to "register", but this was unnecessary, because Bree had neither police nor government, and rooms were not numbered.
  • Page 9: Aragorn and the Black Riders. Aragorn and the Hobbits left Bree at night in Z's script. This was the opposite of what "book-Aragorn" would do, and Z showed he completely misunderstood the greatest weapon of the Riders: fear. They hold no power over the fearless.
  • Page 10. Rivendell and Narsil. It was not a shimmering forest. That was Lothlórien, which it did not resemble. Z also made it visible from Weathertop, despite it being 200 miles away and in a ravine. Aragorn would not "whip out a sword"; it was broken, after all. Z gave Narsil elvish light, which is another anticipation Tolkien does not like.
  • Page 11. Weathertop. Aragorn, rather than Sam, sang the Fall of Gil-galad, which was wholly inappropriate. Black Riders screamed in Z's script, but Tolkien says they kept a more terrifying silence. Sam sunk his sword in one of the Wraith's thigh, but it did not crumble like Merry's did. The whole scene had been rewritten, and it did not please Tolkien at all.
  • Page 15. The Ring Goes South. Z again showed his utter misunderstanding of the story by having Eagles serve as taxis.
  • Page 19. Orcs. Orcs were beaked and feathered, according to Z. Not so to Tolkien, who described them as humanoid.
  • Page 20. The Balrog. "Z may think he knows more about Balrogs than I do, but he cannot expect me to agree with him". This Balrog laughed, talked and sneered, while the Balrog was not supposed to speak at all.
  • Page 21. Lothlórien and Galadriel. Lothlórien was now a fairy castle, and the Elves were tiny fairies. Tolkien was irritated and aggrieved, and slammed Z for omitting the temptation of Galadriel, and all moral material in the rest of the story.
  • Page 22. Lembas. It was not a food concentrate, or superior over other wheat-bread. Its function in the story was two-fold: to explain why such a long voyage needed so little provision, and a religious function at the end of the story.

Tolkien hoped the speeches of the characters would be represented with the proper style and sentiment, and he disliked perversion of them (and characters) even worse than destruction of the scenery.

Parts II and III. Part II suffered from the same problems as Part I, and II was even worse. The narrative divided in Prime action and Subsidiary action, and they differed in tone and scenery.

  • Page 31. Treebeard. Z must not like trees as much as Tolkien did, however, they played an important role. However, Z completely failed to explain what Ents really were.
  • Pages 31 and 32. Théoden and Edoras. Z showed he had no understanding of the "heroic" Rohirrim, and made Meduseld appear as a hotel, complete with glass windows and private rooms.
  • Page 33. The Battle of the Hornburg. This was apparently nothing but glimpses. Tolkien thought either this or the Ents had to go, as neither were properly portrayed. With the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in mind, it would have been better to omit this battle.
  • Page 34. Saruman and Orthanc. Z had imagined a giant staircase weaving around Orthanc, and Tolkien did not like this. Saruman had a hypnotic voice; Tolkien commented that neither genuine hypnosis nor scientificticious hypnosis occur in his work. Saruman's voice was persuasive, not hypnotic. Rejecting this voice was possible with free will and reason (emphasis in original), like Gimli did.

Since Z had cut out the ending, he showed neither the death nor the reason for his death, therefore, he might as well have left him alive. He would not have committed suicide, as Z had him do.

Part III: Tolkien didn't even bother to give a detailed reply to this. It was "totally unacceptable to me, as a whole and in detail". It simply tidied up a couple of loose ends, and if that was what Z wanted, than Tolkien would rather not have his book garbled.