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.
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.
In 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…
In 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
So 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.