Author J.R.R. Tolkien began to work on a sequel to his highly praised children’s book The Hobbit only a few months after it was published. The sequel was a struggle for him, and it took Tolkien twelve years finish The Lord of the Rings and another six years before it was published. The story — published as three separate volumes — has remained incredibly popular and influential in the years since its publication, inspiring music, books, games, and movies. The Lord of the Rings was adapted to an animated film in 1978. And starting with The Fellowship of the Ring, director Peter Jackson adapted all three volumes into a trilogy of live-action movies.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is amazingly successful. There were 30 Academy Award nominations between the three films, and 17 wins. Most of those wins were for the final film in the series — The Return of the King — which had 11 nominations and won them all. Several of the actors saw their careers launched or revitalized, and Jackson followed up with another trilogy based on Tolkien’s characters — The Hobbit.
It looks like Jackson’s adaption might have actually been a little too good. According to Cnet, a British organization known as The Reading Society polled 2,000 adults in the UK, and learned that a quarter of the people between the ages of 18 to 24 have admitted that they claim to have read The Lord of the Rings — but have in fact only seen the movies.
No movie based on a book is exactly the same. The loss of character thoughts and narration can mean that details are excluded and the tone can shift. And even a short novel has so many details and events that it is impossible to include everything and still have a reasonable runtime in a film. The Lord of the Rings managed to include a lot due to some impressive runtimes — the theatrical cut of each film is in the neighborhood of three hours, with an extra hour each on the director’s cuts — but there are still missing elements. Small details such as Frodo’s age and bigger ones like Tom Bombadil are completely gone from the films.
According to the same poll, 41 percent of adults admitted to not always being honest about what they have read. The Lord of the Rings was the second most lied about novel, beaten only by the James Bond series. Some of the other books that people seem to say that they have read when they have actually only seen the movie are The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, and The Godfather. Some of those titles are considered among the best movies ever made, but many people would argue that the books are better.
So, for those who want people to believe they have read The Lord of the Rings when they have not yet found the time, they should be grateful to Peter Jackson for his detailed and beautiful movies.