The Lord of the Rings film trilogy stands as the definitive cinematic rendition of Tolkien’s epic world, thanks to the monumental efforts of Peter Jackson and his team in bringing Middle-earth to life with unparalleled grandeur. Early on in the project, one of the most daunting challenges was condensing Tolkien’s thousands of pages into a format suitable for the screen.
Even the famously lengthy extended editions couldn’t encompass the entirety of Tolkien’s expansive vision. Notable characters like Tom Bombadil, Gildor Inglorion, and Glorfindel, while beloved in the books, were set aside to allocate more screen time for the primary stars of the Lord of the Rings ensemble.
Substantial portions of the plot were also left behind, particularly in the early stages of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” including some of the most terrifying entities: the Barrow-wights.
In Tolkien’s narrative, early on in the journey (before the Hobbits reach Bree or encounter Strider), Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin venture into the Old Forest. Here, they encounter Tom Bombadil—a character some argue slows down the story—before continuing their travels. It’s during this leg of their journey that they come face-to-face with Middle-earth’s horrifying Barrow-wights.
As they pass through the Barrow-downs, guided by Bombadil’s caution, the Hobbits become ensnared in a thick mist that obscures their surroundings. Exhausted and frightened, they fall prey to the chilling Barrow-wights, skeletal beings of darkness sent to inhabit the Barrow-downs by the Witch-king of Angmar.
Ancient and terrifying, with an icy grip and glowing eye sockets, the Barrow-wights cast a spell on the Hobbits, crushing their spirits. Within the darkness of a forgotten tomb, they dress the Hobbits in ancient ceremonial attire adorned with corroded jewelry and swords, preparing to sacrifice the four travelers.
This moment, found in “The Fellowship of the Ring: Book 1, Chapter 8” (highly recommended reading), stands out due to its distinct tonal shift, unlike much else in Tolkien’s writing. It takes a detour into dark, atmospheric horror, showcasing the ancient perils of Middle-earth and imbuing it with an aura of foreboding as well as wonder.
While it would have been extraordinary to witness this scene brought to life on screen, it ultimately didn’t align with Jackson’s vision, as it would have veered too far from the central plot. Yet, like many other omitted moments (even in the extended editions), it could have contributed to demonstrating the vastness of Middle-earth and cultivating an immersive atmosphere. In fact, one could argue that the extended editions still fall short in this regard.
Perhaps the numerous exceptional moments from the book that were left out for the sake of brevity suggest that a remake of some sort could hold potential. A television series, or an even lengthier set of films (six might be necessary to do it justice), could potentially explore Middle-earth’s intricate details with greater flexibility than Jackson had.
Nonetheless, revisiting the Lord of the Rings films from start to finish remains a brilliant and immersive experience. This trilogy stands as one of the greatest achievements in fantasy cinema (or film in any genre, for that matter), even if Jackson chose to omit Tolkien’s most terrifying creations.