Thomas Edison once said that to truly reach your potential, you must consider all ideas before discarding the poor ones and developing the good ones. (Actually, I just made that up. But it’s an internet tradition to attribute your own beliefs to a famous person to give your thoughts validation and respect. By the way, did I mention Tolkien wants you to buy my book?)
The point is, sometimes there are ideas that seem crazy but actually work: like Dippin’ Dots and Larry the Cable Guy’s standup act. Other times, absurd ideas are really just absurd. Like these:
1. The idea: The great wizard Bladorthin helps the dwarf Gandalf use Fimbulfami’s map to find Smaug in The Hobbit. Later, Odo, Frodo, Marmaduke ask Bingo if they can join him for some adventures in The Lord of the Rings.
Who thought of it: J.R.R. Tolkien
If the sentences above look wrong, don’t worry: Tolkien fixed everything before his books were published. But let’s just say he wasn’t good at creating names at the drop of a hat. Originally Gandalf was called Bladorthin (a name that still appears in The Hobbit, but as just a throwaway line in “Inside Information”) and Thorin was named Gandalf. In early drafts of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo was Bingo Bolger-Baggins, Pippin was Odo (more or less), and Merry was Marmaduke. (Well, it’s better than “Larry the Cable Guy”.) And Aragorn? He began life as Trotter before revealing his true name: Peregrin Boffin.
One of these days we’re going to find out that Christopher Tolkien began his life named Schnoodledoodle before J.R.R. revised his kids’ names and switched them around a few times.
2. The Idea: The One Diamond Ring
Who thought of it: Rankin/Bass
“What luck! There’s an engagement ring in this unusually well lit cave.”
Tolkien is remarkably consistent about the look of the One Ring. It’s a plain and featureless ring, save for writing that appears when it’s heated. Easy peasy for filmmakers, right? Well, not for Rankin/Bass. This company spent three million dollars on a cartoon version of The Hobbit that was made for television in 1977. Their original concept art is curious; in it, the Ring is not so plain and featureless. That’s because it includes a diamond the size of Mirkwood that’s clearly worth more than the cartoon it’s in. Fortunately the diamond doesn’t appear in the finished product, although (just to mess with the purists) the Ring still has a design on it. (At least without the diamond we’re spared Gollum asking, “Is that a ring in its pocketses, or is it just happy to see us, precious?”)
3. The Idea: The Hunchback of Mirkwood Forest
Who thought of it: Weta Workshop
You’re walking in Mirkwood Forest when a dark figure approaches. At first, you fear it’s a wild animal, but then you realize it’s worse: it’s really a twisted manlike creature, a hunchback so crouched over, he is almost walking on all fours.
Relax, it’s just Radagast. Or at least it would have been had a design by Weta Workshop’s Paul Tobin been used. For Jackson’s Hobbit films, Tobin developed the idea of “hunchback” Radagast before the concept was abandoned and the wizard was given his current look. I can only imagine Sylvestor McCoy’s relief… until he learned he was going to have bird poop in his hair.
4. The idea: The Lord of the Rings story is presented as a flashback, narrated by Merry as he and Pippin try to convince Treebeard to fight for Middle-earth.
Who thought of it: Chris Conkling
“Hoom… are you sure you should be telling me all this about Frodo and the Ring?”
Poor Chris Conkling, then only in his twenties, was a bit out of his league when he was chosen to write the screenplay for Ralph Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings. It was his first (and last) feature film project, and while he gave it his best shot (trying six different story structures) he was ultimately replaced as the film’s writer by Peter Beagle. (Yes, that Peter Beagle.)
Conkling’s idea of telling the bulk of the story as a flashback in Fangorn Forest was cumbersome (and presented some logic problems), so Beagle dropped it and came up with an idea of his own: he thought a prologue recounting the history of the Ring was a good way to begin a Lord of the Rings film. Interestingly, he wasn’t the last person named Peter to have this thought.
5. The Idea: Strider is revealed to be… Bilbo?
Who thought of it: J.R.R. Tolkien
Unlike George Lucas (allegedly), the creators of Lost (allegedly), and God (allegedly), Tolkien was never one for planning everything out. Take Strider for example. Originally named Trotter (as we’ve already covered), Tolkien had no idea who this guy was when he introduced the character at Bree. It just seemed like a neat idea to have this dark stranger show up and offer help. Then he came up with a fascinating idea: what if Trotter is eventually revealed to be none other than Bilbo Baggins? Bilbo, wearing a clever disguise and wooden shoes that make a clopping a sound, would take Frodo from Bree to Rivendell before his true identity was revealed.
“Surprise, Frodo, it’s your Uncle Bilbo!”
Now you’re probably wondering a few things. Why would Bilbo try to hide is identity from Frodo? And why would Frodo have trouble recognizing him? And what’s with the wooden shoes? Indeed, Tolkien himself had trouble with these questions, so he switched to plan B: Trotter became a long lost relative of Bilbo’s… who wore wooden shoes. Still not satisfied, Tolkien kept working on the character, even considering prosthetic wooden feet before abandoning the concept and eventually creating the Strider we know and love.
6. The idea: Gandalf forces Gimli to dig a hole and crawl into it before violently beating him.
Who thought of it: John Boorman
In 1970, John Boorman wrote a screenplay for a Lord of the Rings movie for United Artists. It included a sexual relationship between Frodo and Galadriel, as well as a scene where Frodo is laid naked on a crystal table before a vast amphitheater of chanting Elves. But most noteworthy is a scene where Gimli is buried and beaten. Boorman’s idea was that outside the West-gate of Moria, Gandalf would lead Gimli through a primitive rebirthing ritual. After forcing the Dwarf to dig a hole and crawl into it, Gandalf covers the little guy with a cloak and violently beats him (with verbal taunts) until the Dwarf suddenly remembers his ancestral language, jumps out, and speaks the password to open the Doors of Durin.
Theoretical Tolkien fan watching theoretical Boorman Movie
Boorman later reflected on his screenplay in his autobiography: “We had a script that we felt was fresh and cinematic, yet carried the spirit of Tolkien, a spirit we had come to admire and cherish during those months. It was a good and wondrous time.”
Sadly, by the time the script was completed, there was a new executive at United Artists who wasn’t interested in Tolkien, and thus Boorman’s Lord of the Rings movie never came to fruition.
7. The idea: Éowyn takes time out from delivering a baby to kill some Orcs.
Who thought of it: Peter Jackson
It seems that when Jackson and his team were writing The Lord of the Rings, any time things began to get a bit boring they threw in an Orc attack. Examples that were cut from the first film include an attack on the Fellowship as it approaches Lothlórien, an attack on the Fellowship boating down the Anduin River (although, to be fair, this is in the book and would have probably been cool to see) and an attack on Frodo and Sam at the end of the film as they are preparing to set off on their own. (All of these were actually filmed, with the exception of the boating scene; before that could be shot, the river rose and washed the set away.) You might think that with The Two Towers, there would be no need to add an Orc attack, since there are “10,000 strong” ready fight anyway. But Jackson originally wanted an Orc attack within this Orc attack. The idea (which was filmed) was that during the battle of Helm’s Deep, some marauding Orcs would break through the defense and enter the Glittering Caves, only to be cut down by Éowyn – who has just helped Morwen give birth (giving Freda and Eothain a new sibling.)
Fortunately we were spared this midwife to action hero sequence when it was cut in the editing room. Thus we also do not get King Théoden’s thoughts following the battle as he holds the baby aloft:
“To think that as we men were spilling blood on a battlefield of carnage, this small miracle was meeting the day like the first ray of sunlight on a fresh spring morn.”
(Oh, and by the way, that speech was never in danger of being in the movie because I just made it up.)
8. The idea: Boromir has a little sister: Éowyn.
Who thought of it: Miramax
“I’m not sure I like where this is going.”
Way back in the dark ages – the 1990s – Peter Jackson was making The Lord of the Rings as a two film project for a studio named Miramax. From the beginning, they didn’t like Jackson’s script. To be fair, neither did Jackson. His story was filled with characters and plot elements that lacked interest and served no purpose. But Jackson looked at his early drafts as a starting point; he liked the process of rewriting screenplays time and time again to give the characters more depth and the plot elements more meaning with each pass. (Indeed, this philosophy continued into the editing room.) Miramax, on the other hand, thought less was more and would have been happy to take a chainsaw to the story to cut out the deadwood and redundancies. Eventually the Orc-dung hit the fan when the studio decided two films would be too expensive and demanded Jackson rewrite the movies to be one film. They even sent him a memo telling him how to do it. Their ideas: cut most of Moria, all of Helm’s Deep, and combine Rohan and Gondor into one Kingdom led by a character composite of Théoden and Denethor (perhaps played by Bernard John Noble?). Boromir would be kept, but Éomer would be cut and Faramir and Éowyn would be combined into one character: Boromir’s little sister. (Suddenly that old Boorman script doesn’t seem so bad, does it?) Fortunately, New Line Cinema acquired the project from Miramax and made three films – or we Tolkien fans would be telling the nonfans to skip the live action movie and watch the cartoon adaptations instead.
9. The idea: Sam takes the One Ring to Mount Doom himself.
Who thought of it: Morton Grady Zimmerman
Morton Zimmerman and some collaborators were keen to make a Lord of the Rings movie way back in the 1950s, just after the books were written. Like Boorman, Zimmerman had some creative ideas of his own: for example, his script gives the Balrog lines and has Gandalf turn the Ringwraiths to stone. But perhaps his most noteworthy idea is having Sam abandon Frodo to carry on the quest himself. As Zimmerman’s story goes, after Frodo is stung be Shelob, Sam leaves Frodo, takes the Ring, and journeys straight to Mount Doom. (Talk about eliminating the middle man.) Just as he’s about to destroy the Ring, he is attacked by Frodo, who in turn is attacked by Gollum. Tolkien found the script “hasty, insensitive, and impertinent” and Zimmerman’s adaptation was, like mortal men, doomed to die.
So what does it all mean? Is there something inherently wrong with coming up with a wacky idea? Of course not. As Peter Jackson once said, “In any creative endeavor, it’s important to examine the different possibilities so that all options are explored, and you know that what you end up with is really the best choice.”
Oh, and by the way, I made up that quote too. But hey, the sentiment is true!
J.W. Braun is a Tolkien scholar and author of The Lord of the Films, published by ECW Press in 2009. To find out how you can win Tolkien related merchandise, visit his website blog for details on his Big Spring Giveaway.