The Better Writer: Jackson or Tolkien?

In the commentary for the extended editions of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of the two primary screenwriters—either Fran Walsh or Philippa Boyens (I can’t tell which)—claims that Tolkien was not a good writer.

Let me admit two important biases:

First, I can barely stand Peter Jackson as a film maker.  I think he’s terrible as an artist—trashy, tacky, and over the top disgusting.  I’m pretty sure I still have nightmares twenty years after first watching his Heavenly Creatures.

Second, And, I love Tolkien’s writing.  For what it’s worth, I think he’s the greatest modern writer in the English language outside of T.S. Eliot and Willa Cather.

These biases stated, let me offer an example of the writing from Jackson’s team and Tolkien’s original.

Jackson’s version, found at the very end of The Fellowship of the Ring:

Aragorn: Frodo’s fate is no longer in our hands.

Gimli: Then it has all been in vain. The fellowship has failed.

Aragorn: Not if we hold true to each other.


Aragorn: We will not abandon Merry and Pippin to torment and death. Not while we have strength left. Leave all that can be spared behind. We travel light. Let’s hunt some Orc.

Tolkien’s original version:

‘Let me think!’ said Aragorn. ‘And now may I make a right choice, and change the evil fate of this unhappy day!’ He stood silent for a moment. ‘I will follow the Orcs,’ he said at last. ‘I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end; but if I seek him now in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives to torment and death.  My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left. Come! We will go now. Leave all that can be spared behind! We will press on by day and dark!’. . . ‘Yes,’ said Aragorn, ‘we shall all need the endurance of Dwarves. But come! With hope or without hope we will follow the trail of our enemies. And woe to them, if we prove the swifter! We will make such a chase as shall be accounted a marvel among the Three Kindreds: Elves, Dwarves, and Men. Forth the Three Hunters!’

Who is the better writer?  Let’s hunt some orc?  Sheesh.

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