The Filmmakers
The Filmmakers

NL: Did you read The Lord of the Rings when you were young? If you did, what impression did you have?

Philippa: Yes, I had. Actually one of the reasons I started working on this was because I was the Tolkien freak, the one who had read it every year. I think I’d read it about seven times. I was first given it by my mother when I was very young. I didn't get through it and then I came across The Hobbit. I read The Hobbit and then when I was about 13 or 14 I started reading Lord of the Rings and loved it and reread it and reread it. It was one of those worlds I went back to even as I got older.

NL: From your readings of the novel, did you visualize the world of Middle-earth and the characters in your mind?

Philippa: Yes very much. I think that's the great gift of that book. It is the scope of the world that he created and the way… how easily and readily you're able to enter into it. And now as I've read it from the point of view of adapting it, how skillfully he did that as well by starting in Hobbiton.

NL: You have said that you have read the book many times. Did you find that when you came to the film you read it yet again to prepare for the scripting and if so, did you change your impression of Tolkien’s vision.

Philippa: Yes, we haven't stopped reading it. I've been reading it for three years. I haven't literally… I can't imagine a day hasn’t gone by when we haven’t picked it up. We can find even the smallest incident now! I could probably pick up the book and find it for you like that (snap). We've become incredibly familiar with the books, as you would in doing this. And yes, I think my appreciation for that world has grown even more. I mean, I had a love for it that was to do with my childhood and even as an adult. It was a deep affection for that world, which has, which has been colored slightly I suppose now to also an appreciation as a writer for the achievement of the work. One of the sad things about having done this adaptation I think is I’ll never be able to go back to that… that I won't have Lord of the Rings to go and read on a wet Sunday the way I used to be able to pick up the book and go back to the world. It’s changed now. I'll see the film. I'll see what we went through when we did it. Maybe when I'm old and gray - which won't be in the not too distant future - I'll have forgotten all this and I'll go back to what it was.

NL: What do you think the Lord of the Rings has to say to all of us? What do you think are the key messages?

Philippa: Prof. Tolkien made a point of saying there was no allegory embedded in this work. That he didn't like analogies to events and I can understand why. So for myself, this is my own. What I see personally and what I’ve found and what we're trying to write into or layer into these films. For myself, it asks some interesting questions of a modern day audience; one of which - for me - is the journey that Frodo takes to undo a huge evil. And could we do that in this modern day. Could we undo… could we knowingly unmake something that we know should never have come into being? It's a wonderful question to ask, and it’s not just a straight allegory of the atomic bomb, for example. It encompasses a whole lot of broader issues I think. He's not, the passing of things, the loss of things, the passing of the elves from this world, the loss of knowledge, I don't think that he treats that in a nostalgic or sentimental way. There is a natural order to it, the world has changed, the world will always change and we will lose things of it. So he's not sentimental. He's not somebody who is looking back saying, "We must destroy this and go back to a way of life". He's fully aware that the age has passed. But I think he asks the question and I hope these films ask the question. The ring represents another kind of evil, and it’s asking, to me, could we do what Frodo does? Are we able to do that? I don't know. I don't know whether we could. I think the other thing it shows is different states of mankind and speaks to that. It would then ask, within mankind are elements of the elves. We have the ability to produce things of great beauty. We have the ability to show great wisdom. We have the ability to be childlike, innocent. But we also have the ability to be destructive and vicious and cruel, just as the Orcs are. So I think the breadth of their own humanity is shown in these different races.

NL: What are the differences in the cultures that inhabit Middle-earth?

Philippa: Simplicity is one of the essences of the Hobbits, that they have a purity about them, that they approach life in a very simple and pure way. They do not complicate things, so that they are very close to nature. Not in the way that the elves are… not in a high spiritual way, but in a very gentle ordinary way, they are very close to nature. So they are simple folk. But within that simplicity is enormous wisdom, of course. He calls them "the magic of the Hobbits", ordinary magic. Ordinary, everyday magic. Which is a wonderful concept. I think they, I mean it's very easy to say (as I actually just said) that they are childlike. But I think they are childlike in their enjoyment. In a positive way! And they are whole hearted. They are wholehearted in the very meaning of the sense of that meaning, whole hearted. And of good heart. So they are good people. Good solid people but they are not infallible. There are characters like Merry and Pippin. Pippin is driven by enormous curiosity… he can be unheeding. Frodo is not just this pure creature who can do no wrong, who is utterly good. He has lessons to learn.

NL: In fantasy films, elves are always portrayed differently. What is the filmmaker’s vision of the elf characters such as Arwen, Legolas and Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings?

Philippa: The elves, the elves are wonderful, they’re wonderful and they’re really hard to write. They are really, really hard to write. It is a daunting task approaching the elves because they actually occupy such a huge part of the mythology associated with Lord of the Rings, especially in the Silmarillion. So you approach them with great care when writing about them and trying to characterize them. And in a funny way, I think we establish very early on that the elves represent something that will be lost from this world, so there is always a sense of sorrow. Of pathos underlying what they do. And that pathos will spill over into the love story, of course. So there is a sadness, a sorrow about them. There is also a distance about them that they initially are not drawn into the troubles of this world. That their time is over. It’s an intriguing thing and it’s at the very start of the film… from the very beginning, you understand that the elves are leaving Middle-earth. So we’ve done that. We’ve also tried to move away from the concept that elves are like fairies and that they are fairylike. We’ve gone back to an earlier concept — well, the concept that Tolkien in fact created -which is that they in fact can be very dangerous and very perilous creatures.

NL: Let me ask you about a relationship between two characters — Legolas and Gimli. Two different cultures, not necessarily great friends at the start. Was that interesting? Two individual characters, yet when people who love the book talk about these characters, they tend to say them together…

Philippa: Yes, we haven’t started them out as a duo because they don’t. I think it was something he was playing with as he created this fellowship that there would be this rift. I think that they represent different philosophy rather than a different racial attitudes. The elves see and have foreseen the greed of the dwarves or what they perceive as the greed of the dwarves. What Legolas comes to understand, for example, is that the dwarves love of beauty and I think it’s so wonderful that, for example, that Gimli the dwarf falls in love with a beautiful elf. When I say falls in love with, he is gob-smacked literally with the great beauty, he is. In their hearts, dwarves have a deep, deep love of beauty and beautiful things. So something that Legolas would initially characterize as greed in Gimli, he begins to see something deeper, that there is a love for preserving this beauty that the dwarves have. Which is interesting. And also that Gimli’s antagonism towards Legolas is again slightly sort of philosophical, that he does not have an understanding of the way in which elves would do something. That they have no appreciation for something like the glittering caves. Legolas has no interest in them.

NL: It has been said that Tolkien had written his female characters to fade into the background of the story, yet in the films the production is presenting three of them in very strong roles. What motivated this decision?

Philippa: I think the simple answer to the charge that’s leveled against him - because people say he didn’t write great female characters - I think when people say that, they are referring to Arwen, whose presence in the book… she’s a little bit of a cipher, I guess. But I don’t think it’s fair because he wasn’t writing about female characters. He was writing an epic saga that followed this fellowship - and particularly these hobbits. When he did come to a female character, such as Galadriel, I think he wrote them brilliantly. So we had fantastic source material for female characters. And with Arwen. we did as well because we had the appendix to draw on, which is the story between the two of them. And I think it is an extraordinary story and I think it’s given us a chance to write an extraordinary love story because it’s a love story that’s very, it’s very tragic, very sad and has a lot of things about it that you don’t normally explore. It has the great epic quality, but it has a lot of bitter sweetness to it. So we were able to draw from a lot of sources for a character like Arwen. We looked at the elves as a whole… what is it to be an elf. Then we looked at the back story, to their love story and what that would mean for her, as a mortal, to give up her love for a mortal man. Then we have stunningly great characters like Eowyn. I think she’s a fantastic character, played brilliantly by Miranda Otto. She’s the one that I went for when I was a girl, when I read that book. I did side with her, again. I think she has a wonderful personal story as well as a wonderful journey to go on physically. To fall in love with someone who doesn’t love you is a great source of material for us to write from and we have. The other thing is we have a lot of differences between our female characters. They are very, very different to each other, which is wonderful as well. And the female energy in the film is very strong.

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© 2002 New Line Productions, Inc. ™ The Saul Zaentz Company d/b/a Tolkien Enterprises under license to New Line Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.