DECEMBER 5, 2002




Transcription by Rebekah Zhuraw, December 15, 2002

Galadriel and Frodo            


--    00:00

--    01:40

RH:    Hello!

PB:    Hello.

RH:    Oh, Philippa, I am so glad you joined us for a few minutes here.

PB:    Oh, you're welcome.

RH:    Now, you and Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson achieved the impossible when you--

PB:    [laughs]

RH:    You did! [laughs]--when you converted this long and complexly rich epic to a cinematic stunning and entertaining masterpiece.  Well, it amazingly stayed so true to the original that in the most rabid fans are mostly in agreement with me in our admiration for your success.  So congratulations, and I'm sure youıve been congratulated from here to, uh, the star system Sirius!

PB:    [laughs]  Thank you.

RH:    Now, Peter Jackson says on the DVD that you were one of those people who had read The Lord of the Rings once a year since you were 16.  Had you also read all of Tolkienıs other writings, like the Silmarillion, Anals of the Kings and Rulers, etc. before this film project?

PB:    No.  I think--it's funny, and it sort of is a myth growing up a little bit that I was a bit of a Tolkien expert.  And I think, just in comparison probably to Peter and Frank, Œcause yeah, I did.  It was my Sunday book.  It was a book that I picked up on a wet Sunday when  I'd finished everything else, and it was a book you could delve into.  And so I knew Lord of the Rings, I  loved The Hobbit, of course, and I had delved in and out of the Silmarilian. But beyond that, not so much, really.

RH:    Well, you seemed to be so well versed in the background lore of Middle-earth--

PB:    Yes.

RH:    --and that can only be gained by, in my opinion by, in my opinion, outside reading--or intuition.  And it was apparent--apparently your background in the lore that brought the Arwen character to life in the story, while staying true to Tolkienıs own concept of her from these other sources.  Now, in the DVD someone makes the comment that your trio writing the screenplay often transformed into two women pounding away on the one man over certain issues.

PB:    [laughs]

RH:    [laughs]  Do you--

PB:    Yeah, we used to--

RH:    Do you remember--[laughs]

PB:    Yeah.  We always gang up on Peter, absolutely.

RH:    [laughs] Well, itıs a good thing.

PB:    [laughs]

RH:    I mean, this guy--

PB:    He's been--sometimes he--it's an interesting relationship.  Sometimes Peter is looking at it as a director, and then sometimes heıs looking at it as a writer, and sometimes, especially when youıre writing during production, it's hard to sort of see where heıs coming from and what heıs needing in terms of what head is he wearing.  But as a writer, he's actually wonderful.  Heıs a wonderful writer, and he had a lot  to do with shaping the story.  I guess Fran and I, in the end, did the--did the trench work, if you like.  [laughs]  We were in the trenches.

    So, yeah, sometimes we did go into that for stuff, but one of the great things about Peter is he's so open, and the creative process in this film was about not shutting doors.  And thank goodness because so much of this was brought to this by the actors by this process of:  Hey, I just came up with an idea.  Can we do this?  One of the scenes in Fellowship, for example, where Merry comes across with a huge mug of beer and Pippin looks at it and says, "What is that?"  And he says, "It's a pint."  Because, you know, Hobbits have never seen a pint of beer, that was literally written about half an hour before we shot it--

RH:    Oh!

PB:    --because it's  just this idea I had when I saw the size of the mugs, and I suddenly said, "Pete, why don't we do this?"  And he said, "Okay."  So we did it!  And that's the kind of guy he is.

RH:    Yeah.

PB:    Which is fantastic for a writer to work with.

RH:    Well, also on the DVD we learned that you and Fran Walsh were furiously writing and rewriting every day of the fifteen month shoot, desperately trying to stay ahead of the production that continued barreling along.  And in this forced deadline atmosphere, many noted how inspirations came to them that seemed like they were meant to be.  Did you or anyone on the set report any sense, say, for instance, of the spirit of Professor Tolkien, as if his ghost was present with you overseeing the project and guiding it in certain ways.  Like did you ever smell any pipe smoke when there were no pipes lit?

PB:    [laughs]  No, but I formed--I had a sense of him as someone who loved his work.  But I did have--my respect for him grew enormously when we were approaching his work.  But it's a funny relationship when you're adapting somebody else's work because at some stage you have to do your job, and you have to figure Professor Tolkien was not someone who could have written this for film.  This is what I can do.  And you have to kind of--sometimes you sort of think:  I wonder what he would have thought, he probably would have hated this, I don't know that he would have understood why we were doing this, but we need to do this.  And all the time there was a lot of respect for the work, a lot of love for the work, but also this understanding that you can't just take this off the page and turn it into film.  So sometimes he was there.  I think there was--he was there when you felt like you caught something that he truly loved, a moment that he loved, that wouldnıt normally maybe appear in a typical Hollywood film, for example, and that was able to hit the screen.  And one of those things I wish he could have seen, because I feel proud of, is the use of language, his language that he created, and the fact that we have entire scenes in Elvish, which is great because that's his language and itıs being brought to life, which is great.

Frodo and the Fellowship

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RH:    Well, I also read--boy, I did a lot of reading for these interviews!

PB:    [laughs]

RH:    But, you know, the four part DVD extended--just extraordinary!  Oh, Philippa, it's just extraordinary!  We watched everything many, many times.

PB:    The guys who did the DVD's were great, and they were so passionate about the project.  And every step of the way thatıs what you found--

RH:    Yeah.

PB:    --is people with incredible enthusiasm and passion for the work.

RH:    Well, I also read in an interview with you online that you made a study of Tolkienıs letters and particularly his thoughts on truth versus story.  Like Joseph Campbell and other humanistic psychologists-- My Ph.D. is in the area of humanistic and transpersonal psychology--

PH:    Which would explain your love of Tolkien.

RH:    Yes!  [laughs]  That's one of the reasons.  When you see those archetypes you canıt help but say:  Wow!  I gotta pay attention to this!

PB:    Yes.

RH:    Well, it seems to me that Professor Tolkien believed myth was essential to the health of our society because of its ability to communicate the great essential truths.  As a writer, what are your own feelings about the power and importance of myth?

PB:    Oh--myth is how we perceive ourselves.  The stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell others, whether we use them as parables or allegories or as entertainment  or as warnings or as--whatever they are, they are so much a part of our civilization that you cannot actually take them away from humanity.  Because humanity would no longer be human.  Itıs what makes us who we are is story.  And itıs actually great that in film two we found a place to dramatically relate that and make that part of the story that the Professor thought that weıre all part of the same story, and that itıs like--he uses the analogy that itıs like a pot of soup and things are chucked into it, some dainty, some undainty, but always, always there is this pot of soup and it is a universal thing that connects us, connects us all is story.  And that weıre all part of the story, the story of humanity. Which I think is extraordinary.  And sometimes we forget that.

RH:    Well, what are the themes in the Lord of the Rings that you  believe are so important to get into public consciousness, especially now?

PB:    I donıt know that--in the first instance, to be completely honest with you, I donıt know that you can--well, I certainly didn't, and I donıt believe Fran and Peter did, work toward putting anything in the public consciousness.  You can only work with what you feel and what is in your own consciousness, and if that reverberates, thatıs fantastic.  Certainly, for example, Professor Tolkien refuted the idea that Lord of the Rings was an allegory, for example, for World War Two.  I think he felt that you could look to any period of human history and find great evil.

    So I think we didn't consciously try to set up something that was going to resonate, so to speak, for today, like:  this is about the times that we live in.  It was--I mean September 11th hadn't happened when we were writing most of this, just as actually World War Two hadn't happened  when Professor Tolkien wrote one of the darkest chapters of that book, The Shadow of the Past.  But what was extraordinary is that one of the key phrases that Professor Tolkien used and how we--the very first words spoken in this film is:  "The world has changed."  And after September 11th, you heard that phrase time and time and time again.  So, you know, I think it is just reflecting back to us that we are part of--mythology is always with us because it's our stories and it's--this is history.  This is what happens. This is the--the conflicts that are inherent among humanity keep playing out.  So--it was pretty extraordinary.

RH:    It is pretty extraordinary.

PB:    It wasnıt a conscious--like I say, it wasnıt to consciously  so much put something in front of the audience that youıre going to say:  This is what weıre saying.  This is a universal truth.  This is-- whatever.  It's more about--it was more about making the connection between the characters, making action mean something, making it work on film, which was very, very difficult.  So--and the fact that it does reverberate, I think, is because itıs coming from a very truthful place, and it's not coming from a place where we're trying to tell people  something or turn things into issues.

RH:    Well, biographers tell us that Professor Tolkien was horrified at the industrialization of his beloved English countryside, and some of that can be seen in his characterization of the bad guys ripping up the forest, tearing up the earth, abusing the environment.  Now this brings the relevance of Tolkien right up to today, as you mentioned a little while ago. Can you see any contemporary message in Lord of the Rings in light of the current US administrationıs environmental policies?

PB:    Yeah, I think that--again, itıs talking about that universality and the fact that this, again, throughout periods of history manıs impact on the environment and that connection, of course, to the Ents in film two are an extraordinary example of that.  This is where nature, in effect, fights back. 

---    10:00

    But beyond that, what we did put in this film is a moment where Merry is talking to Pippin--this doesnıt happen in the book, but we sort of extrapolated from the message that is in the book.  And one of the things that Merry is trying to make Pippin understand is that these fires that are feeding industry in the machines are also destroying something.  And itıs one of my favorite moments in film two, actually.  It's a very little moment, a very small moment, but heıs saying that these fires of Isengard are gonna spread, ³and soon the woods of Tuckboro and Woodland are gonna burn, and thereıs not gonna be a Shire anymore, Pippin.²

    And that's what's at stake.   And always, I think, you have to understand whatıs at stake when you try to push forward, when you try to move forward.  What are you losing?  And that is a very strong theme of Professor Tolkien's.   So the world has changed.  Why?  Why has it changed? What happened?  What was our part  and our failing or our achievement or whatever it is in that  change?

RH:    Well, we had the great fortune of screening the film yesterday, and my producer has one question:  Why did you have Faramir take Frodo and Sam and Gollum back to Gondor with them, rather than let them go free from their hideout?

PB:    Well, they don't actually--we tried to fudge that a little, if you know what I mean.  He doesnıt actually take them back to Gondor, but he is on his way to Gondor.  Thereıs a very, very simple reason actually, and this has to do with the job you have to do with being a screen writer.  Both Aragorn and Faramir, I found them two of the most difficult characters to write.  And one of those reasons is their journeys are laid out before you in a very simplistic way to begin with, certainly, to begin with when you very first meet them in the book.  Not so much with Aragorn, but by the time you hit the council of Elrond with Aragorn, Aragorn is basically saying, This is who I am.  I'm gonna take up this sword.  He has no doubts.  He knows what he must do.  And that is, dramatically, never gonna work on film. Similarly with Faramir.

    Faramir in the book, although he has this conversation with Frodo and sort of toys with him, he confesses pretty early on that he would not take this ring, not if it lay by the wayside:  "I would not pick this thing up, not even if it lay on the wayside."  He would not do this.  Now, there is very little dramatic potential in the character who very, very early on says:  No, I'm not gonna touch that thing.  Especially when youıve set out and have been trying to make very potent the evil of this ring.  So to have a character just come on and say, Who are you?  What are you doing here? And then philosophize about worthy character and basically sit down and have a nice cup of tea and a chat is gonna die on screen.  So it was a pretty easy decision to have to push the character of Faramir into a more difficult place.

RH:    I see!

PB:    And to put more jeopardy on that moment.  Because it's about reversals.  It's about what Frodo is undergoing psychologically, a little bit of a breakdown.  And how do you up the ante on that?  How do you push him to a point where he must make a choice?  And in the book that doesn't really happen.  So that's what that was about.

RH:    I see.  You know, Tolkien seems to be saying that the ultimate evil of Saruman or the original spirit of evil in Middle-earth or Melkor is wanting to play God and control creation.

PB:    Yes.

RH:    Does that say anything about modern man's forays into genetic engineering?

PB:    Of course, again, we're coming down to the pot of story, aren't we? Itıs in the soup.  It's in the mix.  Yes, always.  In fact thereıs a scene that we wrote that did not end up in the film where--when --for one reason or another that we wrote a scene between Saruman and Gandalf when they're on top of the tower.  Saruman says to Gandalf, What is the greatest power? He challenges his old student.  And Gandalf says, "Life."  And Saruman says, "No.  Life can be destroyed."

RH:    Um.  Um hm.

PB:    And then Gandalf speaks again, and he says, Creation?  And Saruman says, Yes, the power to create life.  And what Professor Tolkien was saying about that is -- it's a fallacy.  There is only one source, ultimate source of that.  Whether--and I believe--I think whether you believe, whether youıre Christian, whatever, whether you believe in one God, whether you believe in nature, whatever you believe in, I think there is an inherent truth in that, in that that is something, that power is the ultimate power, and it is the power that can so easily go wrong.  And he shows us that. That's why we very specifically stuck in in The Fellowship of the Ring the same very, very arcane piece of knowledge that doesn't really come out or pop out of you in the book, but the piece of knowledge that when Saruman says to the huge Uruk-hai, he says, Do you know how the Orcs first came into being?  And he says, They were elves once, taken and mutilated by the dark powers.

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     So what Professor Tolkien was saying there is it can only ever be an imitation.  It can never be a true creation.  All you can do is an imitation of life.

RH:    Itıs good to know that there are other human beings on this planet because, unfortunately, within our country, weıre kind of being made into as much as machines and worshipping machines as much as possible.

PB:    Yeah, I agree.

RH:    And thatıs the reason I feel so strongly about these things.

PH:    Yeah, well, I'm glad you do--I mean Iım glad people do feel strongly because you do--sometimes you do feel a bit awash in a sea of apathy, don't you?

RH:    Yes!  Yes.  Especially in the media.

RH:    Well done, Philippa.  Thank you.  I wanna thank you for joining us here on 21st Century Radio.  It's been a great joy.

PB:      Thank you.


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