Riv. 8 ~ Council of Elrond 2: ‘Never Trust an Elf!’, plus 'Rivendell Suite 5'.
Reading the book scene again, I realise how much I miss the presence of Bilbo in the film’s Council of Elrond. I can see why they struck him from the scene, and it worked, since it served to accentuate Frodo’s relationship with Gandalf. In the book scene, Bilbo is sitting beside Frodo when Gandalf (not Elrond) issues the command to bring forth the Ring. By giving the line to Elrond, Gandalf is freed to sit beside Frodo at the critical moment when he is called from his seat, enhancing our sense through sheer visuals (physical proximity, looks, gestures) that Gandalf is Frodo’s special friend and helper. And this makes sense because it is Gandalf, not Bilbo, who is going on the Quest, and will be a vital character for the rest of the trilogy.
But if the filmmakers had known that in a few years they would be filming The Hobbit, would they have written the Council of Elrond scene differently, leaving Bilbo in the scene? Bilbo’s presence would have made a strong connection between the films, because Bilbo in the council scene is still recognizable as the Bilbo who went to the Lonely Mountain, demonstrating himself as a surprising hero. The council scene shows Bilbo’s fine points very clearly. He speaks up to support Aragorn when he thinks Boromir is slighting his noble friend. Then he volunteers to take the Ring to Mordor. The reason, Bilbo reveals later in The Ring Goes South, is so that Frodo wouldn't end up having to go. The council scene, and Bilbo’s other material in the Rivendell chapters, is full of moments that offer peeps at his loyalty, valour, resourcefulness, wit—both sardonic and self-deprecating—and his sheer hobbit pluck. The films don't really give much sense of the Bilbo Gandalf thought so superlative, or the Bilbo who came to earn the respect of Lord Elrond. At the council, after he listens to Frodo’s tale, Elrond says, “I have known few hobbits, save Bilbo here; and it seems to me that he is perhaps not so alone and singular as I had thought him.” This is a tremendous compliment to Frodo, a compliment based on the esteem Elrond already feels for Bilbo.
In the film scene, it is Legolas who is given Bilbo’s job of leaping up to defend Aragorn’s honour. Legolas's featured moment in the book, bringing the report of Gollum's escape from Mirkwood, doesn’t make it into the films. Legolas has already been singled out in the minds of viewers by giving him a healthy close-up during his arrival (and what a dashing arrival it is). But by giving him this part of Bilbo's material, the screenwriters further mark him as a staunch ally of Aragorn.
Gandalf is given Bilbo’s other job at the council, that of standing by Frodo. Doing this helps highlight Frodo and Gandalf’s special relationship, but also, once Gandalf enters the fray to deal with the tumult caused by Gimli, Frodo is left by himself to respond to the scene. No one is sitting by him as he watches the heated wrangling fomented by the Ring, hears the Ring’s insidious whispering, and is finally driven to stand and shout out his offer to go. Isolating Frodo at this crucial moment helps focus the viewer that much more closely on the dynamics of his decision, and on the loneliness of his decision. So even though the scene is changed by removing Bilbo, the scene is still faithful to the larger story.
I always love watching this scene, it’s so splendidly done: the writing, the acting, the golden lighting, the superb score, the fabulous set: the whole works. But my ideal version would preserve these things and restore Bilbo to the proceedings.
Book scene: from The Council of Elrond.
'Behold Isildur’s Bane!’ said Elrond.
[Boromir asks more questions. He admits his city could sorely use help, but looks at Aragorn with doubt.]
Frodo felt Bilbo stir impatiently at his side. Evidently he was annoyed on his friend’s behalf. Standing suddenly up he burst out:
All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken: The crownless again shall be king.
‘Not very good perhaps, but to the point—if you need more beyond the word of Elrond. If that was worth a journey of a hundred and ten days to hear, you had best listen to it.’ He sat down with a snort.
‘I made that up myself,’ he whispered to Frodo, ‘for the Dúnadan, a long time ago when he first told me about himself. I almost wish that my adventures were not over, and that I could go with him when his day comes.’
[Aragorn smiles at Bilbo, then begins to address Boromir’s doubts about him. He tells the assembly of the Rangers’ work in the North, and promises to come to Minas Tirith. But Boromir still has doubts. How do they know Frodo’s ring is the Ring? The whole tale of the Ring will be told, Elrond assures him. Bilbo asks for a meal break, but his plea is denied. Bilbo must first tell his tale. Frodo is asked then to pick up the story. Frodo answers questions about every detail of his journey from Hobbiton to the Ford of Bruinen.]
‘Not bad,’ Bilbo said to him. ‘You would have made a good story of it, if they hadn’t kept on interrupting. I tried to make a few notes, but we shall have to go over it all again together some time, if I am to write it up. There are whole chapters of stuff before you ever got here!’
‘Yes, it made quite a long tale,’ answered Frodo. ‘But the story still does not seem complete to me. I still want to know a good deal, especially about Gandalf.’
[Galdor of the Havens overhears this and chimes in that he, too, would like to hear the proofs about the Ring, and also about Saruman. Elrond asks Gandalf to speak, who tells the whole of the story he knows: the early signs of the Dark Lord’s return, Saruman’s bad advice, finding Isildur’s description of the Ring in the library of Minas Tirith, the hunt for Gollum, his capture, and what they learned about the Ring from Gollum. Aragorn adds his part of the story of Gollum taken and held captive. Gandalf speaks again.]
‘And if that is not proof enough, Galdor, there is the other test that I spoke of. Upon this very ring which you have here seen held aloft, round and unadorned, the letters that Isildur reported may still be read, if one has the strength of will to set the golden thing in the fire a while. That I have done, and this I have read:
The change in the wizard’s voice was astounding. Suddenly it became menacing, powerful, harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the high sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark. All trembled, and the Elves stopped their ears.
‘Never before has any voice dared to utter words of that tongue in Imladris, Gandalf the Grey,’ said Elrond, as the shadow passed and the company breathed once more.
‘And let us hope that none will ever speak it here again,’ answered Gandalf. ‘Nonetheless I do not ask your pardon, Master Elrond. For if that tongue is not soon to be heard in every corner of the West, then let all put doubt aside that this thing is indeed what the Wise have declared: the treasure of the Enemy, fraught with all his malice; and in it lies a great part of his strength of old.
[Gandalf then recites the translation, “One Ring to find them…”, going on to tell how Gollum was given into the keeping of the Elves of Mirkwood. Legolas confesses that, alas, Gollum was rescued by orcs! All are dismayed, but Gandalf keeps the tale going, telling how he met Radagast the Brown, who warned Gandalf of the Nine, then of his meeting with Saruman and subsequent imprisonment on the top of Orthanc. “I saw you there!” Frodo interjects, and tells of his dream. Gandalf expresses his astonishment at this, but presses on. Continuing, he tells of his rescue by Gwaihir and the procuring of Shadowfax in Rohan, of his journey back to the Shire, where he finds the hobbits have left, and of hurrying to Bree to discover Barliman's perfidy: the 'run-off-his-feet' inn-keeper has failed to send on Gandalf's letter, urging Frodo to leave the Shire immediately.
At the tale of Gandalf’s wrath at the innkeeper, Frodo, alarmed, cries, “What did you do to him? He was really very kind to us and did all that he could.” Gandalf laughs at this. His joy was so great, he says, hearing that Frodo had got away—and with Aragorn, in spite of Barliman’s obstructions—that he forgave the innkeeper. Gandalf concludes the tale with an account of his skirmish on Weathertop with the Ringwraiths before going on foot to Rivendell (having sent Shadowfax back).]
Boromir: Aragorn? This is Isildur's heir?
Legolas: And heir to the throne of Gondor.
Aragorn: Havo dad, Legolas. (Translation: "Sit down, Legolas.")
Boromir: Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king.
Gandalf: Aragorn is right. We cannot use it.
Elrond: You have only one choice. The Ring must be destroyed.
[Frodo glances at the Ring, which seems to be speaking.]
Gimli: What are we waiting for?
[Gimli tries to smash the Ring. At the blow Frodo responds viscerally. The axe breaks and Gimli is thrown to the ground. Frodo turns away, clutching his forehead, as if in pain. Gandalf reaches a hand towards Frodo but arrests the gesture. The Ring speaks in a sonorous whisper.]
Elrond: The Ring cannot be destroyed, Gimli, son of Gloin, by any craft that we here possess. The Ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom.
[Frodo's eyes turn to Elrond and the whispering of the Ring is heard again.]
Elrond: Only there can it be unmade. It must be taken deep into Mordor, and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came.
As the whispering subsides, Frodo begins to withdraw his hand from his forehead.
Elrond: One of you must do this.
[The assembly gazes at Elrond in silence. Then Boromir speaks. Frodo's reactions are shown repeatedly as Boromir tells of the terrors of Mordor.]
Boromir: One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. And the great Eye is ever-watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust. The very air that you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly.
Legolas: Leaping up: Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond has said? The Ring must be destroyed!
Gimli: And I suppose you think you're the one to do it?!
Boromir: Rising: And if we fail, what then? What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?
Gimli: I will be dead before I see the Ring in the hands of an Elf!
[The Elves leap up, followed by the Dwarves and most of the Men. Gandalf remains seated, shaking his head.]
Gimli: Never trust an Elf!
[The assembly continues to argue vehemently.]
Rivendell Suite 5
Drowned Númenor delivered him up, a King,
A King, with all his house and people, fleeing before the angry breath of the Sea.
In the courtyard of his exile, the seedling of Nimloth grew,
ancient silver'd light fading
beneath the wheel of years.
In memory only, now,
it blossoms, the snow-white
of it recalling hope to us.
Grand-sire of my House, what evil
worked its will within a once-fair heart, ...
led us to this fated day?
I need not ask.
There It stays, radiant.
Like a smooth-limb'd bride It lies,
honey'd whispers touching my ear
with golden promise,
black malice immeasurable.
Here, in this glade of Autumn, at last I find pity
*my* House, shall bear this dishonour no longer.
Were-gild, device of Evil,
flower of Sauron,
call out, please,
call out to your Master.
Sing in the darkness, false-gold.
Whisper your last promises to ears that shall be
shut against you.
Not by ancient axe shall you be destroyed,
not by Dwarf or Elf
Within this unbroken circle, foretold,
it stands forth.
Our Hope shall be your doom.
The filmed scene of COE, while filled with beauty, nevertheless frustrated me, making me long for the restoration of book passages that were changed or even omitted for the sake of expediency. In this poem, I hope to redress one such omission.
In the EE version of FOTR, Boromir is given part of his book speech: "In a dream, I saw the eastern sky grow dark. But in the West a pale light lingered. A voice was crying, "Your doom is near at hand. Isildur's Bane is found." But he is not given the rest of it, the riddle, the verse-prophecy that mentions the "Halfling" that "forth shall stand". If he had, the dynamic between Film Boromir and Film Frodo, to my mind, would have been altered (as well as the dynamic between Boromir and Aragorn). Boromir would have realized that *this*, the hobbit standing before him, was the Halfling long foretold, and not just some short fellow of little import who held, by mere 'chance', a Very Important Trinket.
In writing the last two entries for "Rivendell Suite", I wanted to bring that wonderful bit of Tolkien's writing back into focus, as well as point up the shared destinies of Aragorn and Frodo, not just as soldiers in the Great War, but, really, as "hope" in Middle Earth.*
Let us praise Master Tolkien with great praise, and re-read his wonderful "riddle" of the Ring:
In Imladris it dwells; There shall be counsels taken Stronger than Morgul-spells. There shall be shown a token That Doom is near at hand, For Isildur's Bane shall waken, And the Halfling forth shall stand.
* "Hope", Estel, is the name given to Aragorn by Elrond at the time of his fostering. In an earlier draft of LotR, (The History of Middle-earth, vol. IX, Sauron Defeated: "Many Partings," p. 62), Gandalf names Frodo Bronwe Athan Harthad, "Endurance beyond Hope".
~ Riv. 7: Council of Elrond 1 – ‘Bring forth the Ring, Frodo’, plus jan-u-wine's "Rivendell Suite 4".
~ Riv. 9: Council of Elrond 3 – ‘I will take it!’, plus jan-u-wine’s “Heir to the Dreamer”.