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The Fellowship of the Ring

A Movie-goer’s Guide

The first of Peter Jackson's trilogy is finally upon us, and it's kindling an extraordinary interest in Tolkien and his work. There's no doubting that it's an exceptional achievement, visually stunning and inventive, and generally true to the spirit and structure of Tolkien's story. However, an awful lot of the actual details in the film vary more than a little from the original book. The Encyclopedia of Arda concerns itself very much with the details in the books, meaning that these changes have proved a bit confusing for some visitors.

If you've just discovered Tolkien's work through Peter Jackson's movie, or you haven't read the books for a while, then we've created this page for you. We've tried to collate a list of all the major differences between the book and the movie, so that the references elsewhere on the site will hopefully make a little more sense. We've also added a list of things in the film that aren't really significant changes, but might be interesting to trivia buffs.

This site covers all of Tolkien's universe, not just the events in the movie The Fellowship of the Ring. That means, inevitably, that you'll find events from The Two Towers and The Return of the King described here as well. If you don't want to find out what happens after the ending of the film, you'll need to browse the site very carefully indeed.

Finally, it has to be said that, though Peter Jackson's movie is undoubtedly stunning, it doesn't come close to the depth and beauty of Tolkien's original work. No-one can blame Peter Jackson for this - to be loyal to every nuance of the book just wouldn't be possible. If you haven't read The Lord of the Rings, but you've seen and enjoyed the film, just imagine what you're missing!

Major Changes from the Book to the Film

This list isn't intended to be exhaustive - a complete list of every single change would take an entire Website to itself! Rather, these are the most significant changes from the book, or important episodes omitted from the movie.

  • Right at the start of the film we see a somewhat simplified story of the battle that sees Isildur win the Ring from Sauron. In the original story, the battle takes place outside Mordor, and Sauron's forces are defeated. There follows a seven-year siege of Sauron in his Dark Tower. Eventually, Sauron is overcome not by Isildur himself, but by his father Elendil and the Elvenking Gil-galad, who are both slain. Isildur then cuts the Ring from Sauron's body.
  • As you'd expect, time and space are generally rather compressed in the film. For example, in an early scene Gandalf leaves Frodo for Minas Tirith, reads the Scroll of Isildur, and in no time at all we see him back at Bag End. If you didn't know better, you might easily imagine that Minas Tirith was just round the corner from the Shire! In fact, the city is 1,100 miles from Bag End by road. Between the first scene in Bag End and the next, a period of seventeen years passed, and Gandalf did far more in this time than just read a Scroll!
  • One of the oddest changes from the book is that Sauron doesn't have a body; Saruman tells Gandalf that he isn't yet able to 'take physical form'. It's hard to see how this could be true - what use would the Ring be to Sauron, if he didn't have a finger to wear it on? The book makes it very clear that he does have a physical form - 'He has only four [fingers] on the Black Hand, but they are enough', says Gollum in The Two Towers, and this is confirmed explicitly by Tolkien among his letters. Actually, this does seem to be a misinterpretation rather than a deliberate change, because Peter Jackson has himself described Sauron in at least one interview as being no more than a floating eyeball.
  • In the film, we see the four Hobbits escape across the Brandywine at Bucklebury Ferry on a dark night. In the next scene, still in the dark, they knock on the gates of Bree. Despite appearances, though, Bree is not just across the Brandywine river - it's something like forty miles away. The book takes four chapters to describe the Hobbits' adventures on the journey, including a trip through the Old Forest, a meeting with the mysterious Tom Bombadil and a very close shave indeed among the Barrow-downs.
  • Moving straight from the Ferry to Bree introduces an awkward inconsistency, because it was during their adventures in the Barrow-downs that the Hobbits acquired their weapons. To fill this gap, we have Aragorn producing a satchel of short swords on Amon Sûl, though the film doesn't attempt to explain how he got his hands on this convenient selection of hobbit-sized weaponry.
  • Arwen's role has been greatly expanded in the film. In the book, Aragorn and the Hobbits are aided by a golden-haired Elf named Glorfindel, not by Arwen, and the flood that saves Frodo from the Black Riders is the work of Elrond and Gandalf. The movie has also given Arwen her own sword, Hadhafang (a name interpreted as 'throng-cleaver'). This sword does not appear in the books, and indeed there Arwen is never mentioned as owning or using a weapon of any kind.
  • The film tells us that Aragorn has renounced his Kingship, but in the book he does no such thing. He is acknowledged leader of his people, the Northern Dúnedain, and by virtue of being Isildur's Heir has the right to claim the throne of Gondor. That he hasn't done so yet doesn't mean he doesn't intend to.
  • In the book, there are not two but five Wizards, of whom three are named: Gandalf, Saruman and a third, Radagast the Brown, who has been removed from the film version. He plays only a small part in the story, but he's important in that he unknowingly arranges for Gandalf's escape from Orthanc by sending the Eagle Gwaihir. With no Radagast in the film, Gandalf has to arrange his own escape, by sending a message to Gwaihir by moth.
  • In the book, when the Fellowship attempt the Redhorn Pass, they are most likely beaten back by the ill will of Caradhras itself, or just possibly through the power of Sauron; the film shows Saruman causing their difficulties instead.
  • In the book, Saruman bred Men and Orcs to create creatures known as Half-orcs or Goblin-men, and this has led some to associate him with the origins of the Uruk-hai too. The original Uruks were full Orcs of a particularly powerful and deadly kind, and originated in Mordor about five hundred years before the story begins. The film chooses to make Saruman their creator, but it isn't clear whether this is intentional departure from the book, or a simple mistake.
  • Lurtz, the Uruk chieftain who shoots Boromir and is in turn slain by Aragorn, is entirely an invention of the film-makers. No such character appears anywhere in the book. He does seem to be quite compatible with the story, though. In fact, if the film version of the The Two Towers follows the book of the same name, we'll see his Orc-band arguing and fighting among themselves, which would make sense if they'd lost their leader in battle.

Movie Trivia

For all the changes between the book and the film, it's clear that Peter Jackson and his colleagues had a fairly thorough knowledge of Tolkien's work. That's obvious from a few 'in-jokes' and other trivia that pepper the film, though they do make one or two tiny mistakes too. This list mentions some of these; very minor points that don't have any real significance, but are entertaining nonetheless.

  • Simplifying the War of the Last Alliance sees the entire seven years of the Siege of Barad-dûr removed from the story, but there is a nod of acknowledgement of this in the film. In Tolkien's chronology, Sauron fell in the year 3441 of the Second Age, but in the movie, we see Isildur writing his Scroll about the Ring in 3434, which would have been the correct year if the Siege had never taken place.
  • Though Elendil isn't named in the battle scene, he does briefly appear - he's the warrior next to Isildur, killed by Sauron, whose sword Narsil Isildur snatches up. His name does appear once in the movie, though: near the end, as Aragorn leaps on a band of Orcs, he shouts his battle-cry 'Elendil!'.
  • When Gandalf visits Bilbo in Bag End, there's a framed map on the table, which he picks up and examines. In fact this is Thrór's Map from The Hobbit, that Gandalf had himself recovered from Sauron's dungeons 151 years earlier, making Bilbo's first adventure possible.
  • When Bilbo offers Gandalf a glass of 1296 Old Winyards, he mentions that it's 'almost as old as I am'. Bilbo was born in 1290, so the wine was laid down (by his father Bungo, as the book tells us) when he was just six years old.
  • Frodo is much younger in the movie than the book. According to Tolkien, he was born in the year III 2968, and left the Shire in III 3018, making him exactly fifty years old. It should be said, though, that hobbits age more slowly than humans (and Frodo's ageing was also slowed by his ownership of the Ring) so this isn't really a drastic departure (Aragorn, who comes from a line of very long-lived and slowly-ageing Men, is actually eighty-seven years old!)
  • As Frodo and Sam are leaving the Shire, just before they meet Merry and Pippin, we see them walking through a field of corn. When Tolkien writes about 'corn', though, he uses the word in its British sense, meaning a crop like wheat. The corn we see on the screen, though, is maize, a plant native to the Americas that couldn't possibly have existed in Middle-earth (which represents the lands that now lie east of the Atlantic Ocean). There's a similar slip later in the movie where Merry and Pippin cook tomatoes - there were no tomatoes in Middle-earth, either, for just the same reason. (For more on this topic, see the FAQ.)
  • At least three of the chapter titles from the book have made it into the film, as part of the dialogue. Look out for 'a long-expected party' (the title of chapter I 1), 'a short cut to mushrooms' (chapter I 4) and 'the bridge of Khazad-dûm (chapter II 5). Gandalf also uses the phrase 'riddles in the dark', which is the title of the chapter in The Hobbit that sees Bilbo acquire the Ring.
  • Bree is a town shared by Men and Hobbits. Though this isn't perhaps obvious in the movie, there is a neat touch in that the town's gatekeeper has two spy-holes to look through, one at Man-height, and one at Hobbit-height.
  • Shortly after Frodo is wounded on Amon Sûl, there's a scene where Aragorn sends Sam to find athelas for Frodo's wound, just before we meet Arwen for the first time. In the background, we get a glimpse of huge stone figures - the three trolls that Gandalf tricked into turning to stone in The Hobbit, and whose story Bilbo briefly explains to a group of hobbit-children at his Birthday Party.
  • There's at least one line of Elvish in the film that isn't subtitled - Arwen's 'spell' that raises a flood to sweep away the Black Riders. She says 'Nîn o Chithaeglir lasto beth daer; rimmo nín Bruinen dan in Ulaer', which means roughly 'Waters of the Hithaeglir, hear the word of power, rush, waters of Bruinen, against the Ring-wraiths'. If you're interested in the Elvish used in the movie, there's a particularly useful resource at 'Tolkien's Languages in the FotR Movie'.
  • In Rivendell, Arwen gives Aragorn a piece of jewellery. There's no such event in the book, but much later in the story, she does give something similar, not to Aragorn, but to Frodo: 'And she took a white gem like a star that lay upon her breast hanging upon a silver chain, and she set the chain about Frodo's neck.' (The Return of the King VI 6). Some of the movie merchandising suggests that this jewel has acquired the name 'Evenstar' (in the book, 'Evenstar' is Arwen's surname, a translation of Elvish Undómiel).
  • It's interesting that Saruman seems to stumble over the name 'Khazad-dûm'. Tolkien actually records the fact that Elvish-speakers had trouble pronouncing Dwarvish names, so it's just possible that the film-makers (who have taken enormous trouble to use correct pronunciations) included this touch intentionally. Actually, he would probably have just used the Elvish name for the place, Hadhodrond.
  • Among the travellers arriving for the Council of Elrond, we catch a fleeting glance of an old, white-haired Dwarf with Gimli. That's his father, Glóin, who travelled with Bilbo in The Hobbit.
  • The Argonath, the huge statues over the river that the Fellowship row beneath, are of Isildur himself (on the right, with the beard) and his brother Anárion.
  • In the book, Saruman's Orcs wear helmets marked with an 'S'-rune (>). In the movie, they're marked instead by a white hand-print across their forehead. Actually, this isn't too inconsistent with the original story, because Saruman's symbol is elsewhere described as the White Hand.
  • In Lórien, Boromir asks Aragorn if he has ever seen his home, the White City of Minas Tirith. Aragorn's reply, that he has, long ago, is quite an understatement. In fact, he served there as a captain of Gondor's armies, under the alias 'Thorongil', and was personally acquainted with Boromir's grandfather Ecthelion II. The 'Tower of Ecthelion' that Boromir mentions in the same scene, though, isn't connected to his grandfather. It was built by his ancestor Ecthelion I some centuries earlier.

Where Next...?

This site has entries for all of the main characters and locations in the film (except Lurtz, of course, who doesn't appear anywhere in the original book). You can look them up using the indexes on the left, or you can jump straight to more important entries using these links. You might not recognise some of the names, like Amon Hen or Nen Hithoel, but if you've seen the film, you've already been to these places - just click their links to find out more about them.

Characters Locations

For acknowledgements and references, see the Disclaimer & Bibliography page.

Original content © copyright Mark Fisher 2005. All rights reserved. For conditions of reuse, see the Site FAQ.

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