Welcome to the first post on the comparison of The Lord of the Rings movies versus the books. Before entering the real discussion, the inevitable disclaimer: This is NOT a “I hate the movies” kind of discussion, this is a more ample discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of both medias. The fact is, movies are more visual and books appeal to the imagination. These limitations though, can be the greater benefits of each one. This is exactly what I want to convey in this analysis.
First I will address maybe one of the biggest questions I have received of new Tolkien readers and some comments of old fans: why is Tom Bombadil not in the movies? This charming character of the books has found a way to dig deep into the hearts of many readers and has been somewhat sorely missed in the movies. Apart of the typical excuse (“imagine how long the movies would take if they included him”), I think there is a bigger, second reason for not including this popular wanderer.
Althoug most of you could imagine the physical appearance of Tom, I very much doubt you would have liked the representation. He is a merry being, hopping all the time, bursting into song every minute. He is cheerful and powerful and it seems like he is far away from the dangers of the Ring and the Wraiths behind them. Now remember the tone of the movie: dark and somber, with casual jokes that make (mostly) Merry and Pippin look ridicolous. The detour in the story would have distracted the watcher from the happenings. That is what happens in the book, but somehow in feels like it is woven together so thightly. But remember: the adventure with Tom takes three chapters, and to make the character credible in the movies, it would have taken at least half an hour to make him more or less consistent. And then there is the scene in the Barrows.
This scene for many is not so important, but this is actually the first time Frodo is in actual danger and in actual temptation of putting on the Ring. The riders were tempting him before, but never was he in threat of dying. As a sacrifice he was in mortal peril. The scene is important in the book because it puts the bearer in the position of a choice: abandoning his friends with the power in his hands or singing that song Bombadil taught them a few hours ago. The result is thus the first real victory over the Ring. But in the movies it was not that important. The Nazgûl already seems very dangerous: insects crawl away, their horses are all mistreated and oily. The danger is already clear and easy to see. In the books they are still diminished compared to what they would become in later books, since they are far away from their territory and they can not reveal themselves. But elves still roam in this land, of which they surely are afraid, as witnessed in the part with Gildor.
Thus, including Tom Bombadil would have been unnecessary, since we can not think the character without the barrow-wights. They correspond to each other as part of setting the scene and the danger (and the resistance of hobbits) of the One Ring. He would even have looked ridiculous the way he danced all the time, making the ambience questionable.
For me, him not being in the movies was an excellent choice. I loved the magic that flows in his description and his interesting wordplays, all which require a quite active use of the imagination of oneself. Thus the character remains as of now mystified and incomprehensible to us, making us wonder about his nature even today. After all, it is not only the reader, but also Frodo, that will repeatedly ask: “Who are you?”
He just is.
May they smile upon your way!