The Lord of the Rings: Book to Movie Changes

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, originally published in three parts in 1954 and 1955, remains a beloved and timeless fantasy classic to this day. With its heroic characters, sweeping landscapes, and rich history, the tale of Frodo and the Ring begged to be made into a live-action film trilogy.

As Amazon’s The Rings of Power has released new episodes on Prime Video, fans of the famous fantasy franchise have found themselves considering the canon of Middle-earth. Rings of Power is not, however, the first to interpret and change things from Tolkien’s work. Here are the top 10 changes that Peter Jackson made when making The Lord of the Rings.


The Journey’s Timing

One of the first and most significant differences between the books and movies is the timing of Frodo’s departure from the Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring. In both the book and the movie, Bilbo makes his dramatic exit from his birthday party. After making his speech, Bilbo slips on the Ring and vanishes from sight.

In the book, Frodo’s departure from the Shire with the Ring does not take place until 17 years after his dear uncle makes his way to Rivendell. Changing this timeline for the movie was effective for pacing. Beyond that, it avoided having to explain why the three other main Hobbits — Sam, Merry, and Pippin — looked like they had not aged.


Foregoing Tom Bombadil

Despite being one of the most beloved segments in The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson’s choice to skip over Tom Bombadil entirely was the right one. In the book, the Hobbits first encounter Tom Bombadil on their way to Bree. The old and powerful being brings the Hobbits to his home, where they stay for two days. He resists the temptation of the Ring and can even see Frodo when he puts the Ring on.

While this segment is nothing short of a delight to read, it would have created pacing issues. Beyond that, the very existence of Tom Bombadil provides more questions than answers. While this can comfortably exist within the context of a book, it might have provided challenges to more casual moviegoers.


Arwen’s Flight to the Ford

Arwen’s increased role and presence is one of the major changes to the trilogy as a whole. A  shift of such magnitude can be a gamble, but this one thankfully paid off. Strider and the Hobbits make their way to Rivendell after Frodo is stabbed on Weathertop. In the book, they encounter an elf named Glorfindel. He remains with the company as the Nazgûl close in.

When it becomes clear that they can no longer outrun them, Glorfindel places Frodo on his horse, Asfaloth. The white horse, who remains in the movie, outpaces the Nazgûl and crosses the Ford of Bruinen. In the movie, Arwen takes Glorfindel’s place. She stays with Frodo the entire time, safely delivering him to to the shores of Rivendell. This change allows an important character increased visibility and provides a feminine counterbalance to the male-dominated story.


The Eye of Sauron

The fiery Eye of Sauron is one the most recognizable images in The Lord of the Rings movies. His imposing gaze shows up in the Palantir, flashes across Frodo’s mind, and perches atop the tower of Barad-dûr. In the book, Sauron’s piercing gaze is more of a concept than a literal physical presence. The Eye of Sauron is referenced but no such fiery eye exists in the book. In the movies, however, a physical representation of the eye allows the main villain to be tangible and frightening.


Elves at Helm’s Deep

In both the book and the movie The Two Towers, the people of Rohan seek refuge at Helm’s Deep as Saruman’s army of Uruk-hai march forth. The fortress is defended by a relatively small army of the Rohirrim against 10,000 Uruk-hai. In the movie, however, the forces of Rohan are joined by an army of Elves led by Haldir of Lothlórien.

Whether or not the Elves were included, the odds remain staggering and the ensuing victory remains a feat for the ages. The addition of the Elves reinforces that Middle-earth must unite against its common threat. It also shows that despite their impending departure, the Elves still have a loving investment in the fate of Middle-earth.


Legolas’ Acrobatics

The Elves of Middle-earth are known for their longevity, their hardiness, and their grace in both the books and the movies. Legolas was shown to be a nimble and fierce fighter in The Fellowship of the Ring. Jackson takes these Elvish attributes a step further with Legolas in The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

During the Battle of Helm’s Deep, Legolas surfs down a stone staircase on an Uruk-hai shield. At the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King, Legolas single-handedly takes down an Oliphaunt with style. Jackson recognizes that battles require a certain degree of spectacle and uses Legolas to great effect.


Arwen’s Vision

Elrond convinces Arwen that she should depart Middle-earth with the rest of her people. She rides through the woods with a company of Elves until a small boy crosses her path. Arwen watches him as a vision unfolds before her eyes. She sees a gray-haired Aragorn in Minas Tirith scoop the child up. As he spins the child, Arwen sees that the boy wears the Evenstar around his neck. The child and Arwen hold eye contact before the vision disappears.

Arwen recognizes that she saw a vision of a possible future for herself. She turns back to Rivendell, telling Elrond she has decided to stay. The love Arwen had for Aragorn is certainly a major motivating factor to keep Arwen in Middle-earth. The addition of this vision of a child and a happy future, however, makes her choice to forego her immortality even more understandable.


Sam’s Banishment and Triumphant Return

Frodo and Sam’s relationship goes through trials in both the book and the movie. As the Ring begins to take a stronger hold in Frodo’s heart and mind, it changes him. In the book, the two companions are only parted after Frodo is taken to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. In the movie, Gollum convinces Frodo to send Sam away before they enter the passage of Cirith Ungol. Sam learns that Frodo was tricked, and Frodo quickly realizes he made a mistake when Gollum abandons him.

As Frodo is wrapped up in Shelob’s web, Sam comes into frame. He bears both the Phial of Galadriel and Sting, which Frodo had lost along the way as he fled Shelob. Sam is ultimately triumphant against the giant spider. While this change is one that many book fans struggle with, the choice made cinematic sense. This choice allowed for Sam’s dramatic and triumphant return just in the nick of time.


The Destruction of the Ring

When Frodo despairs in the Mines of Moria, Gandalf tells him that he believes Gollum has a part to play in the fate of the Ring. In both the book and movie for The Return of the King, Gandalf’s prediction comes to pass. In the book, Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger and reclaims the Ring. He dances and rejoices as he is reunited with his Precious, ultimately losing his footing and falling into the fires of Mount Doom.

However, the movie plays out differently. While Gollum still celebrates reclaiming the Ring, he and Frodo grapple on the precipice of Mount Doom. The two go over the edge together. Frodo is rescued by Sam, and Gollum falls into the lava below. Jackson found a way to both allow Gollum to play his part and to honor Frodo’s journey and sacrifice by having him have a direct hand in the act of the Ring’s destruction.


Skipping the Scouring of the Shire

The Scouring of the Shire is perhaps one of the most important parts of Frodo’s journey. When the Hobbits return to the Shire, they find that Saruman had taken up residence there and had ravaged the Hobbits’ homeland. Frodo gets a glimpse of this possible future in Galadriel’s mirror in the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring. The Hobbits defeat Saruman and reclaim and heal their home in the end. This portion of the story shows that war’s far reach harms everything it touches.

While it is a powerful message about the cost of war, the movies already had many loose ends to tie up. Between the destruction of the Ring, the Fellowship reunited, Aragorn’s coronation, the Hobbits’ return to the Shire, and their farewell at the Grey Havens, there were already many stories to end. The Scouring of the Shire would have created the pacing issues that Peter Jackson managed to deftly dodge as he wrapped up The Return of the King.


The Lord of the Rings is one of the most beloved fantasy stories of all time. Even the very best books, however, end up benefiting from some changes during the translation from page to screen. Peter Jackson did what seemed like an impossible task. He honored the spirit and key points of Tolkien’s work while making well-paced and visually spectacular films.

What is your favorite change from page to screen in The Lord of the Rings? Share your thoughts with other LOTR fans at side.show/geekgroup, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!