Tonight I finished the most remarkable chapter I’ve encountered thus far in my rereading of The Lord of the Rings: “The Council of Elrond.” I have absolutely no memory of this the first time around, and everything I thought I knew about it going into it was from the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. I’ve said before that I think Peter Jackson’s movies are terrific. I love them. But in reading The Lord of the Rings, I am beginning to appreciate for the first time the fact that an adaptation is itself an artform distinct from the work being adapted.
In the movie, this chapter is a relative brief and dramatic scene where lots of people argue and Frodo offers to take the Ring into Mordor. In the book, it is something else entirely. While it lacks the dramatic flair of the movie, it fills in so much background, answers so many questions, and yet leaves so much more unanswered and curious. Who or what, or instance, is Tom Bombadil, that the Ring has no power over him? Why can someone like that exist? Tolkien posits many options before deciding the Ring must go back to the fire. We learn about Saruman’s betrayal, but Saruman’s own arguments to Gandalf are not as black and white as they were in the movie.
As a 10-year old reading that chapter, I might have been bored, simply for lack of experience in the depth of what was going on, but this evening, I couldn’t put it down. I read it slowly and carefully and breathlessly. It is my favorite chapter thus far.