Though Peter Jackson had to change certain aspects of certain characters to smoothly create films from Tolkien’s novels, no change he made to a character affects the general spirit of Tolkien’s work. However, Jackson did make one major change to his trilogy that differs vastly from Tolkien’s novels. This change concerns what happens at the end of The Return of the King, when the hobbits return to the Shire. In the films, Frodo and Sam return to find the same green, peaceful countryside they left, exactly how they’d imagined it throughout their journey. In the novels, however, they return to a land ruled and terrorized by the evil wizard Saruman. In the films, Frodo looks into Galadriel’s mirror and sees visions of a burning Shire and hobbits marching in chain gangs. Galadriel says that this is what awaits the Shire in the future, if Frodo fails in his mission. In the novels, these visions are of the actual future, even though Frodo succeeds.
Throughout the trilogy, the Shire is a peaceful idyll far from the horrible wars of Middle-earth. While the trilogy’s human heroes, such as Aragorn, thrive in the wars and political intrigue of Middle-earth, hobbits seem to prefer to be far from the center of action. This separation engenders in hobbits a kind of innocence, and Frodo’s pure spirit enables him to be a successful ring-bearer. When the four hobbits first depart from the Shire, they leave a small world of innocence for a larger world of unknown mystery, where both adventure and terror await them. This journey from peaceful home to mysterious larger world suggests the journey from childhood to maturity, with the hobbits cast as young adolescents venturing into the adult world. However, except for those hobbits, such as Bilbo, who have ventured beyond its boundaries, the Shire is populated by adults who seem as innocent as children. The Shire, therefore, suggests a kind of Eden, where a hobbit can live an entire lifetime far from cruelty, greed, and war.
In Jackson’s films, the hobbits return to the Shire after the great battle of Middle-earth has been fought, the evil forces of Sauron have been defeated, the ring has been destroyed, and the various human kingdoms have been united under Aragorn’s rule. In other words, all of Middle-earth has become much like the Shire, a place free from strife. In the novels, however, precisely the opposite has happened: the struggles of Middle-earth have come to the Shire. Even though Frodo has destroyed the ring of power, war and hardship have not ceased to exist. In the novels, the destruction of the ring marks an important victory against evil, but the world has somehow changed irreversibly nonetheless, signaling an end of innocence.
Tolkien’s version of the return to the Shire allows for further exploration of the differences between Sam and Frodo. In the novels, Frodo, exhausted by his journey to Mordor, barely participates in the ensuing rebellion against Saruman. Sam, meanwhile, leads the rebellion and eventually becomes mayor of the Shire. This final confrontation sheds new light on what Frodo says as he departs Middle-earth with the elves. Handing the memoir of his adventures to Sam, he says, “The last pages are for you, Sam.” In the film, this line suggests that Sam will go on to live happily ever after in the Shire. In the novel, Sam will be forced to display courage and heroism in the rebellion in the Shire as Frodo did on the journey to Mordor.
Jackson’s rosier conclusion simplifies the story, certainly, since a Shire-based battle would probably have added another thirty minutes to the film, but it serves another purpose as well. By allowing the hobbits to return to an idyllic Shire, Jackson has lightened Tolkien’s much darker vision and opted to conclude the trilogy with a classic Hollywood ending. In a way, however, by presenting such a simple version of good and evil, a version in which the worst evil is vanquished and no new evil rises to take its place, Jackson renders his films even more fantastical than Tolkien’s original novels. In a world as tumultuous as Middle-earth, evil is sure to one day return.