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Writing the screenplay for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was a massive undertaking, not only due to the enormous scale of Tolkien's story, but also due to the breadth and complexity of the fictional universe in which it is set. Tolkien's universe contains multiple intelligent races (Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Ents and Men, each with their own languages, dialects, and culture), a highly developed historical narrative, and a minutely detailed geography of a world that had, itself, changed significantly over time. The result of all this complexity is that the story had to be significantly altered for its adaptation to film.

The major narrative differences between the books and the films can be divided into two types. The first type are differences in form, which are changes made to the story by deleting parts, adding parts, or changing the duration of parts. The second type are differences in substance, which are changes to ideas, events, and characters.

Differences in form[]

Excluded, reduced, and re-arranged material[]

The book trilogy contains a total of sixty-two chapters. Content from a single chapter might be:

  • presented in the films at relatively the same chronological point as in the book
  • reduced in the films
  • eliminated from the films
  • spread out over an entire film
  • spread out over multiple films

For example, none of the material from the second chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring ('The Shadow of the Past') appears at the appropriate chronological point in the film. Instead, the content is spread across all three films.

The table below shows the relative amount of each book chapter that appears in the films. Red text is used when less than 10% of the material from the chapter appeared in the extended-edition film. Blue is used for up to 66%, and green is used for more than 66%. In some cases, such as 'The Departure of Boromir', the material was simply shifted from one film to another.

The Lord of the Rings
The Fellowship of the Ring The Two Towers The Return of the King
A Long Expected Party The Departure of BoromirMinas Tirith
The Shadow of the Past The Riders of Rohan The Passing of the Grey Company
Three is Company The Uruk-hai The Muster of Rohan
A Short Cut to Mushrooms Treebeard The Siege of Gondor
A Conspiracy Unmasked
The White Rider The Ride of the Rohirrim
The Old Forest
The King of the Golden Hall The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
In the House of Tom Bombadil
Helm's Deep The Pyre of Denethor
Fog on the Barrow-downs
The Road to IsengardThe Houses of Healing
At the Sign of the Prancing Pony Flotsam and Jetsam The Last Debate
Strider The Voice of SarumanThe Black Gate Opens
A Knife in the Dark The PalantírThe Tower of Cirith Ungol
Flight to the Ford The Taming of Sméagol The Land of Shadow
Many Meetings The Passage of the Marshes Mount Doom
The Council of Elrond The Black Gate is Closed The Field of Cormallen
The Ring Goes South Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit The Steward and the King
A Journey in the Dark The Window on the West Many Partings
The Bridge of Khazad-dûm The Forbidden Pool Homeward Bound
Lothlórien Journey to the CrossroadsThe Scouring of the Shire
The Mirror of Galadriel The Stairs of Cirith UngolThe Grey Havens
Farewell to Lórien Shelob's Lair
The Great River The Choices of Master Samwise
The Breaking of the Fellowship

† - Chapter moved to The Fellowship of the Ring film

‡ - Chapter moved to The Return of the King film

* - Chapter completely excluded from the films

Timeline and age of characters[]

Books Films
Frodo begins his quest at age fifty Frodo appears much younger when he begins his quest
Merry and Pippin are many years younger than Frodo: Merry is 36 and Pippin is 28 Merry and Pippin appear to be of similar age to Frodo
Seventeen years elapse between Bilbo's 111th birthday and the passing of the One Ring from Bilbo to Frodo Very little time elapses between Bilbo's birthday and the passing of the Ring

Differences in substance[]

Themes, attitudes, and events[]

Books Films
The Elf-lords of Middle-earth understand their role in the conflict with Sauron, and shoulder this burden with purpose and resolve The Elf-lords have almost abandoned hope of victory against Sauron. Their people are leaving Middle-earth, and Elrond in particular appears almost resigned to surrender Middle-earth to Sauron. Since the fall of Isildur, Elrond has lost confidence in Men and believe they are "weak"
Aragorn, the Heir of Isildur, was raised in preparation for his role in the struggle against Sauron, and he openly embraces his destiny. His name among the Elves was Estel, which means 'hope' in the Sindarin language Aragorn refuses to embrace his calling to challenge Sauron and make a claim for the kingship of Gondor, openly declaring that he does not desire that path. In the words of Elrond, Aragorn "turned away from that path long ago" and "has chosen exile"
Elrond tells his daughter Arwen that the only man she can marry is the one who becomes king of both Gondor and Arnor. Aragorn is therefore motivated to become king so that he may wed Arwen Elrond's ultimatum is absent, and therefore a major motivation for Aragorn to become king is also absent
Aragorn carries his father's sword, at first in shards but later reforged into Andúril Aragorn does not take up his father's blade until much later, and only when Elrond brings it to him
When Gandalf discovers that Frodo posseses the One Ring, his mood is one of deep and calm deliberation When Gandalf learns that Frodo has the One Ring, he is agitated and afraid
When Saruman tells Gandalf that he is siding with Sauron, Gandalf is forced to surrender, knowing he cannot defeat Saruman in a duel Saruman and Gandalf duel and Saruman is victorious
Aragorn wishes to take the Fellowship over Caradhras, while Gandalf wants to go through Moria Aragorn and Gandalf do not argue about the path of the Fellowship. Gandalf is willing to go through Moria only as a last resort
While the Fellowship is traveling over Caradhras, a storm thwarts their progress. The storm could have come from the "cruel" mountain itself, or it could have been summoned by Sauron The storm is summoned by Saruman
Boromir is slain by multiple unnamed Uruk-hai Boromir is slain by the Uruk-hai commander Lurtz
The felling of trees in Fangorn Forest by Saruman had angered the Ents who lived there. When Merry and Pippin deliver news about the magnitude of the destruction, Treebeard calls a meeting of Ents, also known as an Entmoot. Treebeard explains the situation to the other Ents, and they discuss the possibility of going to war. Eventually, the Ents decide to wage war against Saruman, and they begin their march to Isengard The Ents are unaware that Saruman's Orcs have been felling the forest. During the Entmoot, Merry and Pippin urge the Ents to wage war, but the Ents decide against it. Pippin asks Treebeard to take him and Merry south, knowing that if Treebeard witnesses the destruction of the forest he will change his mind about war. The ruse has the intended effect: Treebeard is angered and declares war on the spot
No Elvish army is present at Helm's Deep during the Battle of the Hornburg An Elvish army from Lothlórien arrives at Helm's Deep to aid Theoden's forces
On his journey through the Paths of the Dead, Aragorn is accompanied by Legolas, Gimli, and thirty others, including the sons of Elrond and one other named man, Halbarad Aragorn is accompanied by only Legolas and Gimli on this journey
Faramir understands the danger of the One Ring and that it must not come near Minas Tirith. He believes the Ring came within his grasp as a test of his quality, and he declares that he never would have taken the Ring from Frodo. When he encounters Frodo and Sam, he treats them with courtesy and honor Faramir sees himself proving his quality by taking the Ring, rather than refusing it. He and his men capture, blindfold and bind the hands of Frodo and Sam
Frodo never forsakes Sam throughout their journey together Whilst climbing the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, Frodo believes Gollum's lies about Sam, and he tells Sam to leave and "go home"
Frodo and Sam enter the tunnel of Cirith Ungol together. They fight Shelob as a team until Gollum attacks Sam, leaving Frodo at the mercy of the spider Frodo tells Sam to return to the Shire, then enters the tunnel alone. Only after Shelob captures Frodo does Sam arrive and fight her
Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, possesses a palantír, and he frequently confronts Sauron through this seeing-stone No mention is made of Denethor's palantir or his confrontations with Sauron
Denethor has spent his entire life preparing for Sauron's assault upon Minas Tirith. When the siege begins, he remains in full control of the defenses of the city, strategizing and responding rationally to events until the moment that Faramir returns injured. At that point he succumbs to despair Denethor seems to be in denial that his city is threatened by Sauron's army. When he finally sees the army for himself, he tells his soldiers to "flee for [their] lives"
When Gandalf arrives in Minas Tirith, the warning beacons have already been lit to summon aid from Rohan Gandalf arrives in Minas Tirith and finds the beacons unlit. He enlists Pippin to light the beacons without permission from Denethor

Differences by film[]

The Fellowship of the Ring[]

The differences between J.R.R. Tolkien's book The Fellowship of the Ring and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring are fairly easy to document because, in both the book and film, the story maintains a single thread from beginning to end. While there are some changes in sequence, the storyline is well aligned between the two sources. The differences between them are described here in considerable detail. The order is intended to be that of the film, and it is also the intent that this article should eventually include all significant differences between the book and film.

  • In the prologue, Isildur grabs for his father's (unbroken) sword, Sauron steps on it, breaking it, and then Isildur uses the broken sword to defeat Sauron by cutting off his fingers (including the finger with the One Ring). In the book, Sauron is already defeated (and his body lifeless), and the sword is already broken when Isildur takes it from under his father Elendil's dead body and uses it to cut the ring from Sauron's hand.

Additionally, the screenplay shows clearly that most if not all of the fingers on one of Sauron's right hand are severed. But Gollum says in the book that he has nine fingers "but they are enough, precious, they are enough!". Here Gollum perhaps refers to Sauron torturing him, perhaps by touching Gollum's fingers with his own, which were "black and burning hot;" in the film, Gollum is tortured only by Orcs using a rack.

  • While Gandalf is talking to Elrond in Rivendell in the movie, a flashback shows Elrond leading Isildur into the fiery mountain, Orodruin, and bidding him throw the Ring into the Cracks of Doom. In the book, Elrond and the Elf-lord Círdan, standing with Isildur beside their dead, counselled Isildur to take the Ring into the mountain and throw it into the Cracks of Doom near at hand, but Isildur refused and took the Ring instead as weregild for the death of his father.
  • In the movie, the mischief of Merry and Pippin in launching Gandalf's best rocket was an invention of the screenplay. This did not occur in the book; rather, the dragon-firework was Gandalf's tribute to Bilbo, for his helping to defeat the dragon Smaug, as well as to signal supper-time.
  • In the movie, when Bilbo put on the Ring, he just vanished, much to the shock and dismay of the onlookers. In the book, this was to be a little joke of his, of which Gandalf and Frodo were in the know. Gandalf did not much approve of this because, "magic rings were not to be trifled with." Without Bilbo's knowledge, Gandalf had prepared a trick of his own to provide an explanation for his disappearance. At the moment he vanished, Gandalf threw a blinding flash. In addition to scaring the wits out of Bilbo, who had not expected it, this gave the partygoers a "culprit", and Gandalf was blamed by many for spiriting Bilbo away.
  • In the movie, the time between Bilbo's departure from the Shire and Frodo's does not seem to have been much more than a year. The only clue that it might have been longer was the amount Bilbo seemed to have aged when Frodo next sees him in Rivendell, but that aging could have been attributable to his no longer possessing the Ring. Many people assume that it was only a few months in the movie, but that wouldn't explain why Frodo arrives in Rivendell in October (like in the book) after Bilbo's birthday in September. It had to have been at least a year; Gandalf probably returned around Bilbo's 112th birthday in the movie. In the book, their respective departures were separated by a period of exactly seventeen years, and Bilbo did age much more in that time than he would have normally as a result of the loss of the Ring. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies confirms that the time gap was much smaller, when stating that Aragorn is already a Ranger and known among his people. According to Tolkien's timeline, he would only have been ten at the time, and his age during the events of the Lord of the Rings was confirmed by the Two Towers' Extended Cut to match the books.
  • In the movie, Gandalf's journey included only the trip to Minas Tirith. In the book, that journey was taken for the purpose of finding and capturing Gollum—a quest in which Aragorn aided him. It was only when he despaired of doing so that Gandalf remembered the words of Saruman about the writing on the Ring, prompting him to search for the scroll of Isildur, which might make the finding of Gollum unnecessary. After Gandalf forsook the quest and turned toward the White City, Aragorn found Gollum and bestowed him into the keeping of the Wood-elves as had been agreed between him and Gandalf. On his return from Minas Tirith, Gandalf came to the Woodland Realm and interrogated Gollum. It was from this that Gandalf learned how the Ring had been found by Déagol, of his murder by Sméagol (who is Gollum), of the turning out of Gollum by his kin, of Gollum's flight into the subterranean caves below the Misty Mountains, and of his account of his loss of the Ring. From the many things that were said and known, Gandalf also inferred the distant relationship between Gollum's people and the hobbits. This journey by Gandalf took a period of about nine years after which time he returned unexpectedly to Hobbiton to make that final "test" to prove what he already knew—that the hobbit's ring was the Ruling Ring.
  • In the film, Gandalf openly tells Saruman that the Ruling Ring has been found in possession of the hobbits in the Shire. In the book, Gandalf never reveals this information to him. Saruman must deduce it based on information that he obtains from various sources, and he is never able to find out anything in detail about where, exactly, the Ring might be or in whose possession.
  • A total of four chapters and parts of a fifth are completely missing from the screenplay. The chapters are, 'A Short Cut to Mushrooms', 'A Conspiracy Unmasked', 'The Old Forest', 'In the House of Tom Bombadil', and 'Fog on the Barrow-downs'. These chapters relate the adventures of the hobbits on their journey through the woods and fields of the Eastfarthing to their eventual return to the main road near the village of Bree. They include the dinner at the house of Farmer Maggot, the revealing of the conspiracy of the hobbits to prevent Frodo from leaving on his own, their adventures in the Old Forest including their encounter with Old Man Willow, their brief stay with Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, and their capture by the Barrow-wight and subsequent rescue by Tom. Although these chapters are some of the most fanciful, their inclusion in the screenplay was not necessary to the story and would have extended the length of an already very long movie.
  • In the movie, at Bree Strider is shown drawing a sword that is in one piece. In the book, he bore the shards of Narsil that had been broken when Sauron had been defeated at the end of the Second Age.
  • The Bree innkeeper's role is almost completely cut from the movie, while in the book he helps the hobbits more, and gave Frodo a letter from Gandalf.
  • Having not been captured by the Barrow-wight in the movie, where they had obtained their weapons in the book, some means of arming the hobbits had to be devised. This was accomplished by Aragorn suddenly appearing without explanation with four, conveniently hobbit-sized blades that were given them at Weathertop. In the book, however, these swords were both terrifying and deadly to the Nazgûl, while in the film they had no apparent effect.
  • In the book when Frodo is stabbed by the Witch-king with the Morgul-knife, he blacks out and wakes up feeling weak, but is generally capable of speaking and engaging with the others as he normally would, even making jokes on occasion to attempt to lighten the other hobbits' mood. He only gets weaker and weaker very gradually. In the movie, Frodo's reaction to the Morgul-knife is almost immediate and much more dramatic - he is crippled with pain from the moment he is wounded, and soon becomes deathly sick, pale, delirious and barely alive very quickly, being completely unable to speak or engage with others.
  • In the movie, Aragorn also drives off the Nazgûl using a torch and a sword, after Frodo drops his own sword and trips over his own feet prior to being stabbed. In the book, events unfold quite differently: Frodo tries to stab the Witch-king with the sword that Bombadil gave him, while crying out the name of Elbereth, which causes the Nazgûl great pain; and the Witch-king misses Frodo's heart with the Morgul-knife because of this. The Nazgûl then flee and do not return, because these things cause them to believe that Frodo defeated the Barrow-wight (it was actually Bombadil) and was in league with the High Elves due to the name "Elbereth" (which he learned from Gildor's company). This causes the Nazgûl to fear Frodo, particularly since Frodo's sword was deadly to them. Aragorn simply helps drive them off with two torches after Frodo is stabbed, and they were already retreating; however Aragorn does not understand why the Nazgûl did not return.
  • In the movie it was Arwen and not Glorfindel who came to rescue Strider and the hobbits from the Nazgul. Arwen also raises the Bruinen against the Nazgul in the film, while in the book it was Elrond, using the power of the Elf-Ring Vilya, and Gandalf used his magic to cause the the river to take the form of white horses. Likewise, Frodo rides across the river alone, he is not carried by anyone; and he defies the Nazgûl to the end, calling on both Elbereth and Lúthien.
  • In the movie, the sword Narsil, which is first shown at Rivendell instead of Bree, was in six pieces. In the book, the sword had been broken into two pieces which Aragorn always carried with him.
  • The Uruk-hai Lurtz who mortally wounds Boromir and is killed by Aragorn does not exist in the book. Rather, Boromir is killed by over 100 Uruk-hai led by a chieftain named Uglúk, who were able to kill Boromir chiefly because he was trying to defend Merry and Pippin.
  • Many stories of what was going on in the world were taken out of the Council of Elrond, which included Legolas telling of Gollum's escape, Glóin telling of the messenger from Mordor, Aragorn telling of his capture of Gollum, Gandalf revealing Saruman's treachery, and Bilbo and Gandalf telling the history of the Ring. The last two weren't necessary in the film's version of the council because they had already been told earlier in visual format, however it is unclear why Bilbo, a ring-bearer himself was excluded from the council in the movie.
  • In the film, the Council tells Boromir that they cannot use the Ring because it only answers to Sauron; in the book, the Council explains why they can use the Ring, but it would only corrupt whoever used it into becoming as evil as Sauron. Gandalf also tells Saruman that only Sauron can bend the Ring to his will.
  • In the film, when Frodo shows Bilbo the Ring, Bilbo seems to actually turn into an Gollum-like creature and tries to grab it; in the book, Frodo only perceives this due to the Ring's influence.
  • In the film, Saruman causes the blizzard at Caradhras using a spell; in the book, the mountain Caradhras is a living thing with a mind of its own, and itself causes the blizzard because it hated trespassers; though Sauron is admitted to be possibly a factor.
  • When the Fellowship are at the Doors of Durin, Merry and Pippin throw rocks in to the water and they were stopped by Aragorn. In the books, Boromir throws a rock and Frodo scolds him for it.
  • In the film, before the door of Moria, Frodo asks Gandalf what the Elven word for friend is, thus solving the riddle, while in the book, Merry says the word friend by accident, and that made Gandalf think of the answer on his own.
  • In the book, only Sam helps Frodo from the Watcher in the Water, while the others are frozen in fear. Likewise the Watcher does not tear the gates down, but simply closes them and piles up dirt and trees against them, sealing them in.
  • When the Fellowship stops in the Chamber of Mazarbul, Pippin accidentally allows a dead Dwarf to fall into a well, alerting Goblins to their presence. In the books, Pippin throws a rock into the well.
  • There are many minor (and major) dialogue differences between book and movie. One is that on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Gandalf shouts "You shall not pass!" in the movies, which is an order; while in the books he shouts "You cannot pass!" which is a statement. Also in the movie, the Balrog shows no fear in front of Gandalf, while in the books, when Gandalf tells his real identity, the Balrog cowers from him, but his shadow grows.
  • In the film, Gandalf breaks the Bridge when the Balrog advances, in order to stop it; but in the book Gandalf breaks the bridge only because Aragorn and Boromir rally to his aid against the Balrog, forcing Gandalf to break the bridge in order to protect them from it.
  • In the films, Shadowfax is first introduced in The Two Towers. However, after Gwaihir saves Gandalf from Isengard, he bears him to Rohan where he requests a horse. Théoden agrees, so long as the steed is returned to Rohan. Gandalf chooses the Prince of Horses, who had never been tamed, and was able to do so.
  • The quote "Don't you leave him" directed at Sam in the film was said by Gandalf. However, in the book, it was Gildor Inglorion, whom Sam, Frodo, and Pippin met early on when travelling out of the Shire, who told him this.
  • Gildor's company of Elves were actually shown in the books, and had interactions with the Hobbits, and played harps. Their singing had even scared away a Wraith that was close behind the Hobbits at the time. In the film, they are merely shown in procession, singing the song shown in the book in Elvish, but carrying lanterns.

The Two Towers[]

The differences between J.R.R. Tolkien's book, The Two Towers, and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers are very difficult to document because of substantial differences in plot sequence. There are two major plot threads in this story that are presented very differently, which are:

  1. the exploits of Frodo and Sam on the road to Mordor and
  2. the adventures of the other characters in the lands of the West—Gondor, Rohan, Fangorn, etc.

Instead of separating the two major threads into two internal books as Tolkien did, the story-lines are interwoven in the screenplay to keep up the pace and progress of each.

Here, the story-lines are "unshuffled" into two subsections, but because the movie starts with Frodo and Sam, that is where this section begins instead of the other way around as in the book. The differences between the movie and book are described here in considerable detail. The order is intended to be that of the movie, and it is also the intent that this article should eventually include all significant differences between them.

Frodo and Sam[]

  • In the scene at the Black Gate, the movie leaves out Sam's recitation about Oliphaunts.
  • Also at the Black Gate, the movie throws in a near disaster in which Frodo and Sam fall down the side of the hill and are almost discovered by two Easterlings from a force marching into Mordor. This did not happen in the book, the men marching into Mordor were in fact from Harad, not Rhûn. The Easterlings are also shown approaching the gate from the south and not the east.
  • The words of Faramir over the body of the dead Haradrim soldier in the movie were thoughts in the mind of Sam in the book.
  • The personality of Faramir and of the Rangers of Ithilien was substantially altered in the screenplay. In the book, Faramir is quite unlike his brother, and even before he understood what Isildur's Bane was from his dream, he swore an oath to Frodo to never take it up or even to desire it to save Gondor. In the movie, when he became aware of the enemy's Ring in Frodo's possession, he decided to take him and Sam to White City instead of allowing them to pass on their way unhindered. However, unlike his brother, he does not claim the Ring for himself. He initially intends to take the Ring as a gift for his father. He also does not react with anger when Frodo refuses to give him the Ring. Moreover, in the book, he and his men were wise, trustworthy, and kind. When they captured Gollum, they treated him with gentleness and kindness. In the movie, Faramir's men beat Gollum. This was altogether contrary to the nature of men of Gondor.
  • When questioned by Faramir in the book, Frodo said, "I told you no lies, and of the truth all I could." In the movie, Frodo lied to Faramir when he was asked about "the gangrel creature" that had been seen with them, meaning Gollum.
  • In the movie, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum were brought to Osgiliath on the western shore of Anduin, which they could only reach by openly crossing the river exposing them all, and especially the Ring, to capture. In the book, the hobbits and Gollum were sent on their way from Henneth Annûn and were not taken to Osgiliath. After the events at Osgiliath in the screenplay, the three were shown the tunnel, which did not exist in the book, and allowed to take their journey. (In the book, the two parts of the city were joined by a bridge and there was no mention of a tunnel). The events at Osgiliath make little sense narratively, as a Ringwraith sees that Frodo has the Ring in the city, therefore making Sauron belief that Pippin has the Ring in the following movie implausible.

Events in the West[]

  • Gandalf's battle with the Balrog is told more or less accurately in the movie, but the tale of it was divided between the prologue and his oral narrative when the three companions meet him in Fangorn Forest. In the book, the entire story was told in Fangorn. This is just a difference of sequence. (Note: In the movie, the prologue is depicted as a dream of Frodo's as he lay sleeping on a mountainside in the Emyn Muil).
  • The outcome of the Entmoot in the book was that the Ents chose to go to war, but in the movie, they chose not to. They were later manipulated by Pippin into doing so anyway.
  • Éothain, Freda, and Morwen, children and mother who appear leaving their home in the Westfold when it is invaded, are movie exclusive characters.
  • The scene of Gimli discussing the speculation on Dwarf women is found in Appendix A of the books.
  • The scene of Éowyn's discovery of Aragorn's age and heritage does not occur in the book.
  • The screenplay has Théoden sending his people to Helm's Deep for refuge even though that is exactly where he expects the battle to be fought. In the book, he sends them to the safety of Dunharrow.
  • In consequence of the above, Éowyn was not at the Hornburg during the battle in the movie. She was at Dunharrow in command of the refugee settlement.
  • The battle between Théoden's force with all of its refugees in tow and the Warg-riders of Isengard did not occur in the book. Théoden's men were not challenged to battle on their journey from Meduseld to the Hornburg. It is likely that this was adapted from the Warg attack before the Mines of Moria in the Fellowship of the Ring, which was left out of the screenplay.
  • The "loss" of Aragorn over a cliff did not happen in the book because the battle in which it occurred was not fought. As a result, Aragorn was not separated from the king and his men until he voluntarily chose to take the Paths of the Dead as his road to Minas Tirith.
  • In the movie, Háma is killed when the Warg Riders attack. In the book, he is slain at the gate of Helm's Deep.
  • The army of Elves that comes to Helm's Deep in the movie is otherwise occupied in the book. There, they fight a series of battles to defend Lothlórien from an Orc army that invaded from Dol Guldur and then later to conquer Dol Guldur. This also means that Haldir does not die, at least as part of the story.
  • In the books Éomer is not banished, but instead only imprisoned by Gríma Wormtongue, and freed after Wormtongue is overthrown. As a result he is present as Helm’s Deep and battles alongside Aragorn and the others. It is Erkenbrand, a Rohirrim Commander, who shows up alongside Gandalf to lift the siege.
  • The fortress of the Hornburg is not entirely breached in the book as happens in the movie. Instead as dawn breaks Saruman's army uses the Fire of Orthanc to breach the gate, but is then driven back by Théoden's charge.
  • Gamling is altered completely. In the books he is an elderly man conscripted into the battle, who fights alongside Gimli and Éomer whilst Aragorn and Théoden ride out into their foes. In the film, he is altered into the only slightly elderly captain of Théoden's guard, who seems to be mentored and friendly with Háma.
  • When the Battle of the Hornburg began to turn ill, in the book it was Théoden, not Aragorn, who proposed the final mounted charge from the keep.

The Return of the King[]

The differences between J.R.R. Tolkien's book, The Return of the King, and the Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King are very difficult to document because of the substantial difference in plot sequence between them.

There are two major plot threads in this story that are presented very differently between the book and the screenplay. They are the exploits of Frodo and Sam on the road to Mordor and the adventures of the other characters in the lands of the West—mainly in Gondor.

Instead of separating the two major threads into two internal books as Tolkien did, the storylines are interweaved in the screenplay to keep up the pace and progress of each. In this article, these storylines are "unshuffled" into two subsections to make it more intelligible, but because the movie starts with Frodo and Sam, that is where we start here instead of the other way around as in the book. The differences between the movie and book are described here in considerable detail. The order is intended to be that of the movie, and it is also the intent that this article should eventually include all significant differences between them.

Frodo and Sam[]

  • At the opening of this movie, the story is told of the finding of the One Ring by Déagol and of his murder by Sméagol, who becomes Gollum. In the movie, the story was a prologue (all three movies have prologues). In the book, Gandalf told the story to Frodo while they were sitting in the comfort of Frodo's parlour at Bag End. (This is in The Fellowship of the Ring chapter 2, 'The Shadow of the Past'.)
  • One of the changes in the story made by the screenplay is Frodo casting Sam away after Sam offers to carry the One Ring once they had reached the top of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. This did not happen in the book. Frodo and Sam remained together and did not part until Frodo was taken into the Tower of Cirith Ungol.
  • In the book, Gollum inadvertently destroys the One Ring when he loses his footing and falls into the Cracks of Doom after finally reclaiming his "precious" from Frodo. In the film, Frodo and Gollum struggle for control of the Ring, causing both of them to fall; Frodo grabs the side of the cliff, but Gollum falls into the lava with the Ring. The change was made because the producers felt that the original events were anticlimactic. Initially, they planned to have Frodo push Gollum off the cliff with the last of his willpower, but they rejected that idea because it looked too much like cold-blooded murder.

In the West[]

  • In the confrontation with Saruman in the movie, Gríma Wormtongue kills Saruman, who falls and is impaled on the spiked wheel of one of his machines. Wormtongue is then killed by an arrow shot by Legolas. In the book, Saruman survives to nearly the end of the story. He eventually takes up residence in Frodo's own home at Bag End, which had until then been occupied by Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, but after his Ruffians are overcome by the hobbits, Saruman is turned out. Upon leaving, he kicked Gríma and in hatred he slew Saruman on the threshold of Bag End. Gríma was then slain by the hobbits. Because the Battle of Bywater and the Scouring of the Shire did not make it into the films, a means of killing off Saruman and Grima had to be devised, and it was done at Saruman's home at Orthanc instead.
  • Beregond and his son Bergil were excluded from the film.
  • In the book, Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth comes to aid Minas Tirith before its siege. In the movie, there is no force from Dol Amroth. Characters such as Hirluin, Forlong, and Duinhir are likewise omitted, with the film primarily focusing on warriors of Minas Tirith.
  • Arwen briefly forsakes her promise to Aragorn and departs Rivendell on the westward journey. In the book, she remains true to him even to the point of making for him a token of hope of his coming victory - a jeweled banner that was to become the standard of his royal house.
  • In the book, upon returning from the confrontation with Saruman, the sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir, along with thirty of the Rangers of the North led by Halbarad, met Aragorn and fought beside him as a special elite force for the remainder of the story, the Grey Company. This included their being with him, Legolas, and Gimli when they took the Paths of the Dead. On their journey from Rivendell, they had brought with them a banner that had been made for Aragorn by Arwen in hope of his victory. In the movie, there was no such group of men. No sons of Elrond were ever mentioned, and no Dúnedain. The object that was brought from Rivendell was not a flag but the reforged sword Andúril, and it was brought by Elrond himself.
  • On their journey from their muster at Dunharrow to Minas Tirith, the Rohirrim, in the book, encountered Ghân-buri-Ghân, the leader of the Drúedain. It was from him that Théoden learned that the main road to the White City was held against them by the army of Mordor. The king was also told about a hidden road through the forest that would not only give them a covered approach to the city but would also place them near the walls of the city well inside the rearguard of the Orc army. In the movie, the Rohirrim simply go to Minas Tirith and show up there on the grasslands of the Pelennor. There is no Orc army on the road to avoid, and there are no forest people from which to receive aid. The messengers of Gondor with the Red Arrow are likewise absent from the film.
  • In the book, Aragorn uses the Army of the Dead to take over the Corsair ships and crush a Corsair/Harad fleet at Pelargir. He then loads them with allies of Gondor led by Angbor, whom he brings to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. In the movie, he brings the Army of the Dead itself, which brings a swift conclusion to the battle and avoids the need for Legolas to describe the battle in a flashback.
  • In the movie, the conversation between Éowyn and the Witch-king on the Fields of Pelennor is significantly changed from the book's version.
  • In the movie, Meriadoc Brandybuck is immediately aware that it is Éowyn who takes him up on her horse. The book has him (and therefore the reader) unaware of who she is until the point of her revealing her identity to the Witch-king of Angmar. Preceding this, she goes by the name Dernhelm. This was changed because it would be impossible to have Miranda Otto portraying a man to deceive the audience.
  • The Last Debate is significantly reduced - with Imrahil, Elladan and Elrohir absent, Legolas and Gimli were added to Eomer and Gandalf keep the numbers. Also, in the book Aragorn makes a point of avoiding entering the city to take up his kingship. In the film, he has no such qualms, with Gimli even reclining in the Steward's chair whilst they deliberate.
  • In the movie, Merry fights at the battle at the Black Gate, whereas in the book, he is at the Houses of Healing at the time, recovering from the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
  • Pippin does not slay a troll in the Battle of the Black Gate, as he does in the book. Instead, Aragorn fights a losing battle with a large Olog-hai chieftain until the Ring's destruction ends the battle.
  • Bilbo, at the end, appears to have forgotten Frodo's quest in the film, where he asks about the Ring. In the book, this scene occurs but then Bilbo remembers that the purpose of Frodo's quest was indeed to destroy the Ring.
  • Celeborn leaves Middle-earth for the Undying Lands at the conclusion of the film, along with Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel. In the books, he remained in Rivendell with his grandsons Elladan and Elrohir before departing some time in the Fourth Age.

See also[]

Additional discussion by film[]

Differences between The Hobbit and Peter Jackson's The Hobbit film trilogy: