The Misrepresentation of Meriadoc Brandybuck

The Misrepresentation of Meriadoc Brandybuck

I’ve been rereading The Fellowship of the Ring (because it’s been about eight years, and I wanted to), and today I decided to watch the film again, too. Like the book, it’s been a long time since I saw it, so my memory isn’t the clearest. However, one thing had become very obvious to me while I was reading the book:

Merry was treated very poorly by the films.

Admittedly, it wasn’t as bad, when I watched it, as I remembered. Generally, Pippin is presented as the idiot, the ‘fool of a Took’, which is basically the role he plays in the books. While he grows throughout the series to become strong and important in the general scheme of things, he’s the youngest, and often seems to be the comic relief. You need it, when everything else is so epic and intense the whole time.


At the same time, he and Merry and generally treated as partners in crime—they’re the Weasley twins of Tolkien’s world. But I’d argue that that really isn’t who Merry is. Let’s take a look at him in more depth.

Leaving Hobbiton

In the book, Merry helps Frodo organise Bag End after Bilbo leaves. When Frodo decides to leave and puts out the story that he is moving to a house in Crickhollow, Merry takes charge of the moving. He organises everything, all the while spying on Frodo with the help of Sam and Pippin. Having seen Bilbo using the Ring in the past, they’re aware that something’s up, and they want to know what it is. When they get to Crickhollow and Frodo screws up his courage to tell them that he’s not staying in the Shire, Merry says that he knew all along.

As they continue on their journey, it’s Frodo who oversleeps at the little house at Crickhollow, and Merry who wakes him, with all the luggage etc got ready. It’s Merry who leads them through the Old Forest via a tunnel that the Brandybucks made, and who finds the path even though the trees have moved. While Merry is almost trapped by Old Man Willow and needs to be rescued by Tom Bombadil, this isn’t by any foolish action of his own.

imageIn the films, the role of Merry and Pippin in Frodo’s life as anything but troublemakers at a party is completely overlooked. Of course, there isn’t the whole selling Bag End subplot, so the organisational side isn’t quite the same, but we’ve not seen them as anything but miscreants, so the idea of them joining the company seems ludicrous. And how does that come about? It’s not by their cunning and observation—it’s simply that, having stolen crops from Farmer Maggot, they ambush Frodo and Sam and accidentally get caught up in the whole thing. To give film!Merry some credit, he does direct them to the Brandywine Ferry, but that’s a poor comparison to his immense organisational skills in the book.

Oh, and in the books, Pippin knew Farmer Maggot. It was Frodo who once stole mushrooms from him, when he was a kid, and has lived in fear of him ever since. Yet he’s shown as the sensible one here. Hmm…


imageIn the inn at Bree, we see Pippin making a fool of himself, right? In the films, Merry has a pint—Pippin is so amazed by this that he gets one of his own, and gets a little too exuberant, loudly telling people that he knows a Baggins and he’s right over there. This is similar to how it happens in the book, except for a few crucial differences.

  1. In the book, Merry didn’t join them in the bar, taproom, whatever you want to call it. He said that he was going out for a walk, and they should “mind your Ps and Qs” because they were trying to travel incognito.
  2. In his absence, Frodo decided that the best way to draw attention away from Pippin’s loose tongue would be to get on a table and start singing one of Bilbo’s songs. Right. Because that’s total inconspicuous. He then leaps in the air off the table, breaks a bunch of crockery, and accidentally puts on the Ring, causing a hubbub in the inn.
  3. When Merry eventually comes back, they’ve already met Aragorn etc, and Merry warns them that the Black Riders are coming, prompting their evasive action by sleeping out of their booked accommodation. Which is a scene that in the film, really isn’t explained.

(In fact, I could go on for some time about how the whole meeting-Aragorn thing was handled, but I won’t, because this is a post about Merry.)

So, from an enthusiastic pint-drinker to somebody who goes out to get some fresh air while warning the others to be sensible—that’s quite a difference. Also, notice a theme? Frodo’s the one making a fool of himself here. Again. Not Merry.

The Council Of Elrond

No story is complete without three examples, as Pliny might say. (And did say something of the sort, but I’m too lazy to find the exact quote.) At the Council of Elrond, Sam did indeed listen in on the proceedings, and Elrond did say that it was impossible to separate him from Frodo “even when he is invited to a secret council and you are not”. So far, so true to the book.


Merry and Pippin, however? Well, they didn’t eavesdrop. In fact, the whole thing took a lot longer and wasn’t the sort of I volunteer as Fellowship member! affair that it was in the film—Elrond and Gandalf actually discussed who should be included. Meanwhile, Frodo related the events of the meeting to Merry and Pippin, who said it was unfair that Sam should go when they couldn’t, especially as he’d eavesdropped.

Elrond then advocates sending at least Pippin home to the Shire, which is probably going to get hit badly by the actions of Sauron and Saruman, but the younger hobbits insist on coming, and Gandalf says in the end that they should be allowed.

Meriadoc Brandybuck: A Sensible Hobbit

You see, while Merry’s behaviour throughout the first film was generally more sensible than that of Pippin, he still served a comic relief role. He’s shown as naive and innocent, and even though he catches onto things quickly, there’s no sign that he knew anything before they left on their long journey. In the book, however, he is a loyal, knowledgeable friend to both Frodo and Bilbo, and his actions are generally a lot more sensible than the Ringbearer’s.

frodoSo why was he painted this way in the films? Well, I don’t know. I think generally the hobbits were made more childlike, perhaps because of their size—Frodo looks so young in the films, when in the book he is fifty, like Bilbo in The Hobbit. They’re a lot more mature than comes across on screen, and I felt that was something the films didn’t quite get right.

(And while I love the films, I will happily write you an essay on the aspects of the books that they got totally wrong because they completely overlooked the main point Tolkien was making.)

So, Merry’s not quite the foolish young hobbit he appears. I always thought that, I reckon. I mean, I must have had a pretty good reason to dress as him on World Book Day when I was eight and had just finished reading the books … even though Pippin was secretly my favourite (and I would have been better off as Peregrin Took as somebody else went as Merry and her costume was much better than mine, something that still upsets me).

Any other characters you feel were completely misrepresented by their films? Or do you have any more thoughts on Merry? Let me know in the comments!

PS – You’re missing half the fun if you don’t hover over those pictures, you know.

35 thoughts on “The Misrepresentation of Meriadoc Brandybuck

  1. You are right, Frodo is supposed to be fifty years old, but Hobbits are supposed to be child-like. I think that is why the film directors made them all look like they were 12, with smooth skin and curly baby-like hair.

  2. I’m glad you told me about those pictures, because I was missing out until then. Besides that, however, congratulations on writing a perfectly structured essay! I thought you would be tired out from exams.

    1. I wouldn’t exactly say it was perfectly structured. It had pictures and numbered points and subheadings. I don’t know how you write essays, but I don’t do it like that ;)
      Yay for picture caption things!

  3. I LOVE this post. I have to admit, though, that I hadn’t noticed much of a difference between book!Merry and film!Merry. That’s probably because the beginning-of-the-adventure stuff in FOTR didn’t really stick with me (at that point I was still just slogging through to get to more action-y scenes) and I’m more of a Pippin fan. I didn’t really pay attention to either of them until ROTK. In spite of book!Merry and film!Merry being quite different from one another, FOTR is still my favorite movie (of the three and in general). One can’t have everything, after all. (Maybe I’m willing to overlook some things because when I was little, I was so disappointed by how the HP movies changed LOTS of things?)

    Let’s see, a character who was completely misrepresented in film – Denethor. I could write a whole post about that. In fact I just might. I wish I’d written book!Denethor because he’s a very complex guy. He is genuinely trying to do the right thing, but is sometimes misguided because he’s going crazy. Peter Jackson turned him into this guy who’s trying singlehandedly to bring down Gondor.

    P.S. I enjoyed the captions, especially the one for the carrot picture. ;)

    1. Please do write me a post on the misrepresentation of Denethor–I will read it gladly!

      The Return of the King is my favourite of the films, though I can’t work out whether that’s because I like the whole “It is not this day!” speech or whether it’s the music, as the soundtrack is my favourite for that one. I can’t say for certain on the books–I’ve only reread Fellowship so far, and it’s been years since I last read them, so I’ll have to decide that after I’ve finished my Tolkien refresher course…

      While the Lord of the Rings movies in many ways infuriated me (because I felt they turned an incredibly complex story with deep and interesting characters into an epic action story, therefore taking its surface value but kind of missing some of the point), they were a million times better than the HP adaptations. They were a disappointment. So many things were changed that were just crucial. To be fair, though, they did have a hard job–they started making them before the series was finished, and how were they to know what little bits of foreshadowing were going to be important later? But there are plenty of things that could easily have been kept more faithful to the book and weren’t, which was a shame.

      Still, if we’re going to talk about disappointing film adapations … *coughInkheartcough* *coughEragoncough* Goodness gracious me, I appear to have something in my throat. I wonder what that could be?

      1. I should work on that, then. He’s one of my favorite characters in the series. :)

        ROTK would be my favorite if not for Denethor, because I love the book and the film has Faramir’s glorious face. xD The Two Towers is good, but there’s no grand beginning/conclusion since it’s the middle volume of a trilogy.

        I don’t see why the HP filmmakers couldn’t have waited for all the books to be out. There would have been loads more continuity – like with the mirrors. In OotP-film, Sirius doesn’t give Harry one of the two-way mirrors. No biggie, right? Well then, how does Harry get one by Deathly Hallows I? I was disappointed that they messed up even Snape by not including all of his memories, or at least not spending enough time on the ones that really mattered. The Prince’s Tale is one of my favorite chapters from any book and they just… ruined it.

        I wouldn’t know. xD My friends told me that the movie versions of Inkheart/Eragon/Percy Jackson/The Golden Compass/fill-in-the-blank were horrible so I never saw them.

        1. I don’t remember the Golden Compass (I mean, over here we don’t even call the book that so you know, major adaptation points lost by CHANGING THE TITLE) — I think I’ve blocked it from my memory. But Inkheart and Eragon were both atrocious and I wish they had never happened. They probably put a lot of people off reading them, which especially for Inkheart, is a tragedy.

          Money, my dear, money. Nobody will wait if they think they can make money now. (But it would have been better.) Sigh…

      2. What do you call it, then?

        *crosses her arms and glares at filmmakers* I would wait. Although I’d poke the author about every five seconds asking, “Are you done yet? I want to make a movie.”

        1. The Northern Lights. It’s always been called that here but when they released it in the US they were like, oh no, they won’t understand what that means. So they changed it. Idk man. Always seemed superfluous to me.

      3. That’s silly… but then, publishers didn’t think we would understand what a Philosopher’s Stone is, either. :P

        Psst. Were you going to do the TCWT this month?

  4. Thanks for putting this together! It’s been ages since I read these books, and I keep thinking I ought to revisit them, and you made me think that again.

    Although I do have to admit to enjoying Merry & Pippin in the movies, even if they did turn Merry into another Pippin. The two actors who played Merry and Pippin were by far and away the best part of the cast commentary, which is probably part of why I think of them so fondly, despite the fact they turned Merry into a bit of a fool. It is sad they gave all of Merry’s glory to Frodo.

    And I am quite outraged that Jackson turned The Hobbit into THREE movies! (Not that this has any direct bearing on your well thought out and very interesting post. It is just something that annoys me.)

    1. Yes, the actors are wonderful. I’ve seen parts of the cast commentary but never the whole thing – I definitely need to do that some day. :-)

      Yeah, that three-movies thing is a whole different kettle of fish…one that I am still ambivalent about, but leaning towards negative rather than positive.

  5. I watched the movies once some years ago, didn’t like them, and never watched them again. My favorite LOTR adaptation is the unabridged audiobook version by Recorded Books. The narrator sings all the songs. Even the Elvish ones. That’s impressive.
    Which is also what upset me about the movies: they cut out all the songs. Not to mention Tom Bombadil and the Scouring of the Shire….sigh.
    But it could’ve been worse. I haven’t seen The Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie, but I heard that was a horrible adaptation. All I know is, nothing I write will ever be a movie (in the extremely unlikely event that I get an offer). I couldn’t bear it.

    1. Actually, Voyage wasn’t as bad as Prince Caspian (which was abysmal). But it wasn’t very true to the book.
      Yeah, when I first saw the films as a kid I was furious about the lack of Tom Bombadil (and also giving Glorfindel’s role to Arwen, who didn’t do ANYTHING in the books). In fact, I’m still fairly angry. Just not as much as I was then.

  6. I like the way you call him ‘film!Merry’ !
    Hehe, I’d happily read further posts of yours on the book-film discrepancies. Especially about Aragorn. For a long while, he was my favourite ;)

    1. I think Aragorn was treated quite fairly. There were some moments that were missed out that were fairly crucial to his character development (and the whole “all that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost” rhyme), but I think they saw how central he was to the plot and gave him the screentime he deserved. Whereas Merry, you know, he’s one of four hobbits, so he’s more disposable.

  7. It’s been an age since I read LOTR, but having written several essay-length posts defending Pippin, I will happily say that this is a brilliant post regarding the justification of the hobbits – especially as I’ve seen a lot of people saying Merry and Pippin are just expendable comic relief, when in fact they are anything but.

    Also, those picture captaions. Made my day.

    1. Glad you liked them! I wanted them to be captions but had a fight with my blog, so settled for hover text.

      Pippin is my favourite, but Merry comes close behind.

      1. I have a lot of favourites among the Fellowship for different reasons, but I will admit that Pippin does come out as my top hobbit. Always has, always will.

  8. While Frodo is 50 years old in the book, it is also mentioned that this is very young for a Hobbit. In the film-world, Frodo’s youth and innocence works well in contrast to the dark journey he has to take, and the over-whelming burden he has to carry.
    There are a few moments, though, that it seems a bit too convenient for Frodo to have an answer, when the answer should come from someone else (i.e. in front of the Mines of Moria).

  9. Legolas was certainly misrepresented in the films. In the films he seems to just be a “pretty boy captain obvious”, when in the books, he’s a very deep and complex character.

  10. This might be hopelessly out of date, but I thought the misrepresentation of characters was the worst failing in movie that had many. I would also add that in the novel, Merry and Pippin both showed their loyalty by keeping the secret of Bilbo and the ring for several years.

    Peter Jackson’s Boromir also got the very short end of the stick.

    In the novel Boromir flatly a hero. Undertakes the journey from Gondor to Rivendell alone; loses his horse at Tharbad and makes it the rest of the way on foot while fending off some Riders; says his piece at the council and then (like a good soldier) shuts up; fights off Wargs on the return trip; recognizes the danger of the blizzard and forges a path in the snow to escape from Caradhras, and then tirelessly comes back and carries the hobbits down; bravely and selflessly defends the others in Moria despite his misgivings about going through in the first place; is a tireless, loyal, brave, uncomplaining, skilled warrior and friend. Which is why when he snaps on Amon Hen, it is such an upheaval and shows the power of Sauron over even his stoutest opponents. And even at that, he gets over his fit in a moment, truly repents, and is utterly redeemed at the end. A true man of Gondor.

    In the movie he is nothing special. His appearance at the Council is unremarkable. He fights bravely but not with any particular sense of purpose or loyalty to the others. He whines about using the power of the ring and being outvoted, becomes Aragorn’s best girlfriend in Lorien (Galadriel even tells Frodo that Boromir is going to try to steal the ring!!); more than once telegraphs the ring’s seduction over him, and when he finally loses it on Amon Hen, it’s not a surprise as in the book but the welcome betrayal needed to get his character killed and out of the movie. Even when he kills the last few orcs it is more because Aragorn rebuked him, and his own sense of vengeance, than to fulfill his duty to the hobbits. A true man of (New Zealand’s version of) Hollywood.

    1. Thanks for commenting! (For some reason my spam filter nearly ate your comments, but thankfully I caught them.) Yeah, I agree that the subtleties of the characters were definitely sort of … skimmed over or even outright altered in the films. It’s been a while since I reread any of the books (this post, written two years ago, was the last time I read any of them, and that was only Fellowship) or even rewatched the films, but that is something I notice. There’s a lot more nuance within the text.

  11. Interesting piece.

    Very impressed BTW you managed to read the LOTR as young as eight (and you are not the only one I’ve heard of who’d read it at such a young age, nor the youngest). Unlike the Hobbit it certainly wasn’t written for children, so what made you want to pick it up, let alone stick with it at such a young age? While plot-wise it’s not that complicated and the language for the most part (especially in the Fellowship) is pretty accessible compared to a lot of adult literature, there are passages in it dense in exposition, description and history which I would have thought be beyond the endurance if not understanding of most eight-year-olds (perhaps I’m doing that group a severe injustice!). I was still reading mostly comic books at that age, I can’t remember any books of substance that I read from start to finish back then, apart from maybe Roald Dahl if he counts and a few other books of no great merit – even The Hobbit remained a challenge for many years. How did you find chapters like The Council of Elrond, Helm’s Deep, The Palantir, The Window on the West, Minas Tirith (where in one paragraph alone you have to learn a dozen new words as JRRT describes the Pelennor Fields), the Cirith Ungol and Mordor chapters, and that epic poem about Earendil the mariner near the end of Many Meetings on first read?

    1. Haha, I was an extremely stubborn eight-year-old and a precocious reader. Worked my way through everything my school would give me — my “reading record” was full of remarks that I’d finished books before I left the playground, and asking my teachers to give me longer ones next time. But LotR was probably the most substantial book I read at that age.

      I read the Hobbit (aged seven) because a theatre group was coming to my school to do a production of it and I didn’t want them to spoil the plot for me. My determination to read the Lord of the Rings was half because I’d loved the Hobbit and wanted to carry on with the story, and half because my older siblings were fans and used to play LotR-based games that I was never allowed to join in with. Being the youngest can be a powerful motivating factor! My parents wanted me to wait as they thought I’d get more out of it if I was older, but eventually we compromised that I’d be allowed to read it when I was eight, so I started on my eighth birthday. Like I said, stubborn 😂

      I don’t remember the reading experience clearly enough to know how I responded to individual chapters, but I absolutely adored the books overall on that first read and was basically obsessed for the next two years, so clearly however I felt about them didn’t detract from the overall experience! I’ve never been the kind of reader to worry about understanding every word — I’d figure it out from context and skip the ones I couldn’t work out, which tbh is still what I do. And I think children are more forgiving of random bursts of poetry, though again, I probably skimmed that.

      I know a few other readers like myself who were getting stuck into the biggest books our parents would let us read at the youngest age we could, but I wouldn’t say it’s TYPICAL of an eight-year-old. Then again, we had a strict rule in our house where you couldn’t watch a film adaptation unless you’d read the book first, which provided another motivation to read books asap!

      1. Thanks for your prompt response, my question was posted more in hope than expectation given I was responding to a five-year-old article!

        I’m the polar opposite to you; I learnt to read and write quickly but was very much a late developer when it came to reading and understanding great literature (though I always enjoyed English at school, apart from when we studied The Miller’s Tale for GCSE, whose language I couldn’t get past) – I read mostly fast-paced plot-driven dialogue-heavy lightweight stuff high in humour but low in subtlety, and until relatively recently throughout my teenage and adult years I just wasn’t into reading at all, save the odd newspaper/magazine article and dipping into reference books. I’ve being trying to rectify that in small part of late though (though I’ll never manage your rate of 200 odd a year!) – at 41 I must be the oldest to have read LOTR for the first time, this year having read The Hobbit and it twice (the second time including the LOTR appendices) and I’m now reading The Silmarillion. I’m a very slow reader because I can be obsessively analytical, trying to take in every detail of every scene, where the characters go and where locations are placed, who’s who and who did what when etc but I did manage three chapters in a row of The Sil the other day, which isn’t bad going for me! Often my reasons for reading a book is because it’s been made into a film (that’s a rule I’ve set myself, no-one else) and I’d wanted to see the LOTR films for many years but couldn’t get round to reading the books until lately.

        Back on topic, I agree with you that the portrayal of Merry as well as Pippin is disappointing, and it’s a problem with quite a few of the characters in the film much as though I like them. Even when Jackson is being more or less true to their character (Pippin in fairness doesn’t do too much of note up until The Two Towers, he even admits so much to himself, and while Merry is clearly the more practical and streetwise of the two, he too tends to tag along until that point with Elrond reluctantly letting the two join the Fellowship) he tends to drastically simplify them. Only Bilbo, Gandalf, Saruman, Gollum and Sam for me were done full justice to in terms of casting, acting and what dialogue of theirs could realistically be fitted into the movies. Merry is shown as the smarter of the pair but he’s still largely part of a comic duo, and while Pippin was initially indeed a bit of a fool of a Took in the book, he still had some interesting lines especially with Sam that indicated a close friendship with the other three, rather than the kind of idiot that others allow him to hang around with because they feel sorry for him as portrayed in the movies. Here, until he goes to Minas Tirith, he’s just silly and irritating for the most part.

        On the subject of other characters, I could understand the changes Jackson made to Faramir’s character and in Frodo turning against Sam even if I don’t agree with them, but I thought the explanation for Faramir releasing F & S was very poorly done and rushed, so much so that on first viewing it seemed that one moment the two were at Osgiliath then the next they were teleported to the crossroads. I actually thought Denethor was worse, because it seems like PJ just skim-read the pages containing him, as he seemed to show no understanding of the deeper aspects of his character and why he became the embittered and withdrawn shell of his former self who tragically went off the rails.

        1. I can tell from your comments alone that you’re a very analytical reader! I’m a skim-reader and I know it, so I end up rereading books to pick up on details because I miss things. I also have a terrible memory, which doesn’t help. There are a lot of details from Lord of the Rings that I’ve forgotten, as Fellowship is the only one I’ve reread in the last twelve years (just prior to writing this post); I always meant to read the others too, and never did, so I literally haven’t read them since I was ten. One day I’ll get around to it. I managed the Silmarillion a few years ago too, but never with the depth of some of my friends. (Mind you, one of my friends was president of her university’s Tolkien society, whereas I’m at best a lukewarm fan these days, so I couldn’t really compete…)

          I guess it’s inevitable that films simplify characters, especially when they’re made of books as long and complicated as LotR. But it still robs the story of a lot of the nuance. As I’ve got older I’ve come to appreciate the films more as adaptations, because I can see just how difficult it must be to translate what is, in truth, a very unwieldy story into something much more concise and linear. But I don’t think they hit all the spots they could have done. (And I’m not a fan of the Hobbit films.)

          I spent most of my tweens / early teens refusing to read anything that could be considered a “Classic” and thus have a broad and eclectic experience of children’s and YA fiction and fantasy novels from that era (c.2007-2010). Though I got into Pratchett some time during those years, and that steered me in a good direction, taste-wise.

          As for my quick response, that’s what comes of me living on my phone! I never bother to disable comments for old posts (because it leads to fun conversations, and also because I’m lazy). Comments are fairly rare these days, mostly because blogging culture has changed a lot, so when I get one I tend to leap on it, haha. Even when it’s 1am…

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