A Long-Winded History of a Shot in FOTR
Like many of the characters in Middle-earth,
I'm very interested in roots and beginnings. When I see something I
like in the movies, I like to know who thought of it. Because
everything had to be thought of by someone at some point.
One scene that intrigued me in "The
Fellowship of the Ring" was when the hobbits hid from the black rider
under the roots of a large tree. It's so hobbit like.
Interestingly, quite a few people (including
a Torn staffmember) told me that this incident is straight out the
book. This is probably because the power of imagery is far greater than
the power of even a great many words. Many people subconciously borrow
images from the movie when reading the books, even when the words on
the page form a different picture. (More on this later)
In truth, the Hobbits never hide from a Black
Rider in such a fashion in the book. Their two encounters (which Peter
changed to one) happen slightly differently.
In the first, Frodo "threw himself down in a
patch of long grass behind a tree" while the rest of the Hobbits hid in
a dip not far from the road. In the second, the Hobbits "had no time to
find any hiding-place better than the general darkness under the
trees." Frodo crept forward towards the lane while the rest of the
Hobbits hid behind a tree trunk.
So Peter Jackson came up with the idea of the Hobbits hiding under the
roots, and it worked out fantastically, right?
The scene was filmed in October of 1999 in
the middle of the city. Peter imported a giant tree just for the shot.
"Peter so enjoyed a beautiful painting that John Howe had done," says
Richard Taylor of Weta, "that all of our brief and the Art Department's
brief was to try and generate the very feeling of this painting."
So now my quest sent me in John Howe's
direction. And, it turns out, when he was just starting off as a
professional artist, John did indeed paint "The Black Rider" which
clearly maps out Peter's shot. The painting was completed in 1985 and
published in 1987. So it was John Howe who came up with the idea,
John says, "This painting was inspired by the
Bakshi movie, where the Hobbits cower under a treeroot as the Black
Rider seeks them. I thought it was the best scene in the movie, and it
must have trod a path in my subconscious, as it certainly is nowhere to
be found in the book."
And indeed, in the Bakshi movie, the scene unfolds in just such a way.
(On a side note, the latest issue of the Fan
Club magazine credits Bakshi as the man behind both The Hobbit and the
Lord of the Rings. Actually, Bakshi only did Lord of the Rings. Poor
Rankin Bass did a fine job with The Hobbit, and they don't even get
credit for it!)
So... it was Ralph Bakshi's idea to have the hobbits hide in such a
Okay, just kidding. Yes, it was Ralph's idea!
I talked to him. He admits he did a million things wrong in the movie,
but having the hobbits hide from the black rider in such a fashion is
not one of them. (And by the way, let me add that just because Ralph
made a ****** LOTR movie, that doesn't mean he's any less of a Tolkien
fan than us. The guy LOVES Tolkien.)
And so, as the Hobbits hide from the Black
Rider, we actually have Jackson's interpretation of Howe's
interpretation of Bakshi's interpretation of Tolkien! But the scene is
wonderful in its own right, and it actually works as a double homage: a
tribute to both Bakshi and Howe at once. And that's certainly fitting.
For it was Bakshi's movie which introduced Jackson to Lord of the
Rings, and it was Howe's paintings that shaped how Peter saw
Middle-earth. I really love that shot now that I know all of its
The example of the power of imagery which I
described above isn't isolated to that incident. When many people today
read about the Hobbit beds being slashed up at the Prancing Pony (in
Bree), they believe the perpetrators were the Black Riders. And in both
the Bakshi and Jackson films, that's indeed true. However, in the book,
it's actually Men of Bree which attempt to murder the Hobbits in the
night. Tolkien lets us know this through foreshadowing. The evening
before the incident, when discussing the Black Riders, Merry asks,
"Will they attack the inn?" And Strider responds, "No, I think not.
They are not all here yet. And in any case that is not their way. In
dark and loneliness they are strongest; they will not openly attack a
house where there are lights and many people... But their power is in
terror, and already some in Bree are in their clutch. They will drive
these wretches to some evil work."
Because the power of image is so strong,
after seeing the movie many readers ignore these words. When they read,
"the beds were tossed about, and the bolsters slashed and flung upon
the floor," they can't help but get a mental image in their heads of
the Black Riders tearing up the room in the night, whatever Tolkien
tells them beforehand.