I won’t go so far as to say that the film versions of The Lord of the Rings changed the world, but I think it could be posited that they changed the world’s perceptions of fantasy. All of a sudden, those who never knew a dungeon from a dragon were discussing hobbits, wizards, dwarves, and elves. The films made fantasy fans out of those who knew nothing of fantasy.
Of course, there was a steadfast group of Tolkien devotees who knew of the story as a book before it was a film trilogy, many of whom took umbrage at the fact that their — THEIR — story was now filmic fodder for the unwashed masses. These Tolkienites appointed themselves watchdogs of the epic, challenging everything they read on the internet about the films’ progress during production. However, when the films debuted, they were, for the most part, satisfied at the immense achievement of the director Peter Jackson and the entire team who brought the films to life.
There was, however, one problem. And it got very ugly.
As discussed in a previous article, there was a brief scene in the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, in which a minor character, Glorfindel, is replaced by another minor character, Arwen (played by Liv Tyler), in a roughly three-minute long rescue sequence. She comes on horseback, picks up the wounded hobbit Frodo, is pursued by evil wraiths, and calls upon the power of Rivendell to cause a river to wash away said wraiths.
A little later, as in the book, she has a quiet romantic moment with another hero, Aragorn. Then the titular fellowship leave Rivendell, and we don’t see her again. Her part is a cameo at most.
And when a certain subsection of fans saw this, they went ballistic.
But why? Having Arwen sub in for Glorfindel is far from the only change made to the story. There are others that are far more obvious: the absence of Tom Bombadil and the Barrow-Wight sequence, Frodo’s reduced age, the lack of music and poetry that make the books so charming, and the completely revised characters of Merry and Pippin.
So why zero in on Arwen in particular?
The answer is obvious to everyone except those who hated the changes to Arwen’s character. And that answer is simple, old-school sexism.
Tolkien didn’t put many women into his epic. Of the scores of characters in Lord of the Rings, only four of them are female, and one of those females is a giant spider. It’s a boys’ story, where men perform all of the major action, with the exception of Eowyn’s slaying of the Witch King. And it seemed like a lot of anemic nerds wanted it to stay that way.
In the extended version of The Two Towers, Merry and Pippin are about to be swallowed up by the wicked Old Man Willow when Treebeard, the Ent, arrives in the nick of time and saves them, saying to the beastly Willow, “Eat Earth…Dig Deep…Drink Water…Go to sleep.” This moment also occurred in the books, but rather than Treebeard, their savior was Tom Bombadil.
This is exactly the same as what happened in the first film with Arwen, yet not a peep was heard from the fans. Why? Because Arwen is a woman, and Treebeard is a…well, okay, he’s a walking tree, but he’s a walking tree that’s also a dude.
The elf Legolas, an extremely minor character in the book The Return of the King, had a ridiculously huge hero moment in the film version of Return, in which he toppled a Mumak (basically an elephant the size of a skyscraper). He climbed up the side of its body using the arrows that had pierced its hide, slew numerous enemies riding atop it, killed the beast, and then surfed down its trunk as it died, naturally landing on his feet. This is not a revised episode from the book, but rather invented wholly from scratch for the film. And what was the reaction of those same people who called for the beheading of Liv Tyler for sullying the pristine beauty of Tolkien’s work?
“Dude, Legolas is AWESOME!”
What amazes me is the number of excuses I’ve heard people make to allow the filmmakers their wiggle room, and yet Arwen consistently gets thrown to the wolves. When you step back and look at the films, you realize that the only plausible reason for people to single out that one, small alteration among many is because it cast a woman in a more proactive, heroic role, and that is clearly a mortal sin.
So I’m calling you out, nerds. It’s time to knock it off. If you ever want to actually get a girlfriend, you need to get with the times, and backing off of Arwen is a good place to start.
Incidentally, in the original script, Arwen was written into the battle at Helm’s Deep, arriving with Haldir’s troops. This allowed a brief reunion for her and Aragorn, before the film kicked into high gear with its awesome climax. I only wished they had kept this is in the film, because personally I would have loved to see Arwen and Aragorn fighting side by side, laying the smackdown on some Orcs. Alas, it was not meant to be, although they did film some of it. (Andif you have a keen eye and a few minutes to spare, you can catch a glimpse of footage of this in the bonus features on The Two Towers Extended Edition. You’re welcome.)
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