Lord of the Rings Movie Moments That Didn’t Happen in the Books
Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies are modern classics and capture Tolkien's world beautifully, even if they don't always follow what's written on the page.
The massive success of The Rings of Power and the undying popularity of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy are proof of the longevity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium. But while Jackson’s extended editions have been pored over by fans for years, there are those who might have enjoyed the movies but have never read the books. The latter group might be surprised to learn that there are actually quite a few scenes in the films that you’ll never find in the books. Because they never happened on the page at all.
There is always a specific reason as to why changes are made, whether it’s in service of a screen adaptation’s pacing, deeper character development, or the notion that a new narrative twist can improve the experience in theaters. In many instances, things Jackson added to Tolkien’s saga have helped to tell this stunning story from an alternative perspective, improving on certain moments or characters from the books. Yet, there are also quite a few additions and omissions (we’re not getting into Tom Bombadil here, though) that are still hotly debated by the fanbase to this day.
Here are just 13 Lord of the Rings movie moments that don’t exist in the books…
The New Prologue
One area that is undoubtedly an improvement for the big screen is the addition of the prologue sequence in Fellowship of the Ring. The story as told in the book gets into the action early after fleshing out who the Hobbits are, with Bilbo’s party leading into the mystery surrounding his magic ring. But Jackson thought this sweeping epic needed a proper introduction to the history of Middle-earth — including the past war with Sauron, the forging of the Rings of Power, and how Bilbo acquired the ring (which is the one part of the prologue also featured in the book) — that set up the stakes and explained a fair amount to the audience before the tale properly kicked off.
Thus, the new prologue was born, narrated beautifully by Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel. The sequence introduces all the main races of Middle-earth before thrusting us into an epic battle between good and evil, and then showing us the tragedy of Isildur and the Ringbearers that followed. It’s an amazing seven-minute sequence that covers an impressive amount of information while also serving as somewhat of an overture for Howard Shore’s score, which builds the somber mood throughout. While some might think it’s a huge exposition dump, the prologue is still a great showcase of the richness of Middle-earth’s lore without bogging things down.
Bilbo has carried this ring full of dark magic for years when the story begins and it’s had a clear effect on him. Like in the movie, Tolkien’s writing sees Bilbo reluctant to give up the ring at first. But while it has prolonged his life, he admits in the book (and in the movie) that the ring has left him feeling stretched thin. Understanding how dangerous the power of the object truly is, Bilbo leaves the ring to Frodo despite trying to leave the Shire with it at first. Later, when reunited in Rivendell, Bilbo asks to see the ring again. Feeling its pull, he quickly tells Frodo to put it away.
This same conflict is presented on screen, but in a slightly different way that provides some context as to what the one ring can actually do. In the movie version of this Rivendell scene, Bilbo violently lunge at Frodo when seeing his precious ring strung around Frodo’s neck, showing how the ring can corrupt even a good-natured Hobbit. Sir Ian Holm’s face morphs into a creature not too dissimilar to Gollum. It’s a great visual representation of the danger of the trinket, and a deft bit of foreshadowing for the struggle that Frodo will eventually face as well. The scene ties several character arcs together in such a simple but terrifying way.
The Merry and Pippin Coincidence
Merry and Pippin’s involvement in the Fellowship was something of a coincidence on the screen, but in the original Tolkien, Frodo and Sam leave the Shire with Pippin from the start, before meeting Merry on the way to Bucklebury Ferry. Although Frodo lies to them about his true quest, telling them he needs their help moving to Crickhollow, Merry and Pippin admit they know about the ring and want to accompany him on his journey. That’s not quite how it happens in the movie.
Merry and Pippin essentially stumble upon Frodo and Sam in the Peter Jackson version, after getting up to mischief stealing from a local farmer. They are swept up in the journey and at no point is it truly questioned whether they should continue, with their escape from the farmer landing them in far bigger trouble when the Nazgul show up. Their involvement in the movie, then, is a matter of fate, but Pippin and Merry don’t back down once it’s time to head over to Mordor, either.
Arwen vs. the Ringwraiths
The Fellowship of the Ring might feature a very similar horse chase that sees Frodo escape on the back of a white stallion with the help of some newfound allies as the Ringwraiths give chase, but there is a key difference. It is an Elf named Glorfindel who saves the Hobbits in the book, but for the film, Jackson chose to give this action scene to a completely different Elf. Indeed, it’s Arwen who saves Frodo in the movie, outracing the Black Riders to Rivendell before the Hobbit succumbs to his injuries.
It’s a genius move that redefines Arwen, who barely has anything to do in the books, as a fierce warrior in her own right, without stripping the scene of its original intention. Like Arwen, Glorfindel doesn’t play a massive role in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings beyond this scene, but Jackson correctly recognized that the story had many heroic men already but not enough women in that role. The director successfully gives Arwen new life with this scene.
Gimli’s Ring Attack
Gimli is a powerful Dwarf who serves his role well within the Fellowship. Although he is a key player in the books as well, the films see him make one unexpected move that fits his grouchy character perfectly. During the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring, where the races of Middle-earth must decide what to do about Sauron and his ring, Gimli takes it upon himself to leap from his seat and swing his axe directly at the powerful trinket. With a mighty crash he is sent flying backwards, his attack doing nothing to damage this evil object but instead shattering Gimli’s axe into pieces.
This moment achieves two things. Firstly, it demonstrates that destroying the ring will not be an easy task. Secondly, it tells us a bit more about Gimli as a character, depicting him as impatient but brave; a hot-head who wants to see this task carried out as quickly as possible and isn’t afraid to do it himself. It’s a worthy introduction for the heroic character.
This is not just one scene but a whole storyline that was invented for the films. While Arwen largely fades into the background for much of Tolkien’s version after the Fellowship departs Rivendell, only returning at the end of the saga to marry Aragorn, Jackson gives Liv Tyler a bit more to do in the role.
In the movies, Arwen must choose whether to go with her father Elrond to the Undying Lands or choose a life with Aragorn and stay in Middle-earth. Arwen’s inner struggle plays out in interludes and visions throughout the trilogy, from Elrond showing his immortal daughter the lonely life she would be forced to live after Aragorn’s death to Arwen foreseeing the son she will one day have with her beloved if she stays. Arwen, of course, eventually chooses to stay in Middle-earth, with the conflict she must face across the movies making her reunion with Aragorn all the more cathartic by the end of the trilogy.
Lurtz, the leader of the Uruk-hai scouts who hunt the Fellowship in the first film, is an original creation for Jackson’s trilogy and a very good one. Choking an Orc to death the very second he’s dug out of the depths of Isengard, the Uruk-hai warrior is an imposing menace that looms over the heroes in the final third of The Fellowship of the Ring.
It all leads to one of Jackson’s best creative decisions: fleshing out the monster who mortally wounds Boromir, adding even more depth to the moment than what’s on the page. And the fight that follows with Aragorn is a perfect way to put a cap on this first part of the adventure, giving us one last memorable action sequence before the credits roll.
Battle with the Wargs
The Two Towers is perhaps best known for its all-time great action sequences. One such scene sees Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas leading the riders of Rohan into battle against Orcs and their bloodthirsty Wargs. The scene works to add a bit of tension on the way to Helm’s Deep while also building on the bond between the central trio of heroes, culminating with the heartbreak Legolas and Gimli feel at the “loss” of Aragorn after he goes plummeting off the edge of a cliff.
While Wargs do appear in Tolkien’s writing, these evil wolves actually play a bigger role in The Hobbit, where they hunt Bilbo and Thorin’s company of Dwarves. They are also mentioned briefly in Fellowship of the Ring but play no part in The Two Towers.
Haldir and the Elves at Helm’s Deep
The battle of Helm’s Deep needs no introduction. Although the scene was a nightmare to film, the result is arguably the very best moment of the trilogy, as our heroes fend off Saruman’s forces through an entire rain-drenched night for the fate of Middle-earth, leading to Gandalf’s last-minute save at sunrise, with the Rohirrim in tow. The Men of Rohan do not fight alone, though. They fight alongside a legion of Elven warriors, led by Haldir of Lothlórien, who makes a dramatic entrance right before the Uruk-hai attack. In the end, Haldir and his soldiers die honoring the pact that once existed between Men and Elves.
Those who have read the books know that this is quite an expansion of Haldir’s role in the story as written by Tolkien. Although the Fellowship do encounter this Silvan Elf while traveling through the forest kingdom of Lothlórien, he doesn’t appear again after the first book. In fact, even Jackson wasn’t sure he’d use Haldir for the sequence in The Two Towers, originally preferring for Arwen to make a surprise return for the battle of Helm’s Deep. But ultimately, it’s Haldir who is destined to make the ultimate sacrifice for his new friends.
Both in the books and Jackson’s trilogy, Faramir, son of Denethor and Boromir’s younger brother, is introduced when Frodo, Sam, and Gollum are caught up in the middle of a fight between rangers of Gondor and Southrons in Ithilien. Captured by the rangers, Frodo fears Faramir will take the ring back to Gondor. But in the original Tolkien, Faramir vows that he will not take the ring from the Hobbits almost from the start, proving himself to be an honorable man who isn’t tempted by ultimate power like his brother was.
The Faramir of the movies makes the same choice, but the long way around. Once movie Faramir learns what Frodo has brought to his doorstep, he decides to claim the ring for Gondor and use it as a weapon against Sauron’s forces. Faramir and his rangers drag Frodo, Sam, and Gollum all the way to Osgilliath before he finally has a change of heart and lets the trio go on their way. Jackson’s changes to the Faramir storyline certainly add more dramatic tension than the ranger simply making the right choice from the start, but they’ve also proved controversial among some fans who feel the movies don’t properly represent the character as Tolkien intended.
Saruman’s Death in Isengard
Saruman’s death in the books occurs at the very end of Return of the King, after the Scouring of the Shire. The formerly faithful servant to the sorcerer, Grima Wormtongue, slashes Saruman’s throat open with a blade before trying to make his escape from the Shire, thus ending the evil wizard’s reign of terror. However, Jackson completely omitted the Scouring of the Shire from his adaptation, and he came up with a slightly different death for Saruman that still satisfied some of the character arcs in the book.
The sequence in question finds Saruman captured in Isengard after his defeat in The Two Towers. Stuck in his tower after the Ents attack and stripped of his magic, Saruman doesn’t have any moves left except to scold Grima. But again, Saruman’s servant has suffered enough abuse and stabs the wizard in the back. Saruman falls from a great height and is impaled on his way down. The scene doesn’t quite carry the same emotional weight as the Scouring of the Shire, but it at least covers the basics.
Frodo and Sam Clash
Sam and Frodo are separated before the Shelob sequence in Jackson’s Return of the King movie, adding a new layer of tension to scenes when first Frodo and then Sam are left to navigate the giant spider’s lair alone. This isn’t really how it happens in Tolkien’s book. On the page, the party briefly get lost while exploring the dark and dingy caverns, with Shelob taking advantage and attacking Frodo just before Sam can make an immediate rescue. That must have seemed a bit anti-climactic for Jackson, who decided that he needed to cause a rift between the two Hobbit heroes before bringing them back together in Mordor.
In one of the crueler moments of the story, the film adaptation sees the ring corrupting Frodo. In a blazing row the Hobbit sends Sam away, partially influenced by the words of Gollum. This is how the duo thus get separated, allowing Shelob to capture him with ease. But when Frodo and Sam finally come back together for the final stretch of the journey, it’s a heartwarming moment. Plus Sam scaring off the Orcs inside the tower is entertaining stuff!
Beheading the Mouth of Sauron
The book and the movie Return of the King deliver a similar scene just before the final battle outside of Sauron’s gates. Aragorn and the Mouth of Sauron meet under a white banner, a momentary truce to decide the next stages of war. While Aragorn allows Sauron’s grisly representative to exit these brief negotiations with his life (and we never learn of the creature’s true fate after the battle), in the film that is completely changed, as an additional scene in the Extended Edition of the movie shows Aragorn beheading the Mouth rather than listen to anymore of his threats. That’s certainly one way to do it.