I would like to make clear at once what the fundamentally important thing for me is, in everything Tolkien has written, what is truly irreplaceable and makes it uniquely valuable for me: it is the meaning behind it all, which is the meaning he gave to his entire Mythology.
The characters and the various circumstances that each of them goes through in a certain period of the overall Story (whether ‘The Silmarillion’, ‘ The Hobbit’, or ‘The Lord of the Rings’) are important only to the extent that the personality, behaviur and response of those characters to those circumstances will show an inner progress on their part or not, and so, a victory or a defeat for… actually what, or who?
What are ‘the forces of the West’, if not simply those peoples and species that are still aware of the existence of Eru and the Valar, and still willing to follow their inner guidance? Those who again and again, through the often difficult choices they find the inner strength to make, show themselves to be worthy of having the Victory for they are really at the service of Eru’s overall vision?…
So, do I care when in the film-adaptation some different episode is added or an episode from the book is slightly changed?… I know that for myself at least (and I imagine it might be more or less the same for a number of Tolkien lovers), it is only when a change introduced in another version of let’s say LOTR affects deeply the meaning of a certain character, and all the more if that affects also the meaning of the whole story, that I am shocked and cannot accept the change, or accept it only with unease.
To appreciate the inner progresses towards each other of let’s say Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf, one has to know that Elves and Dwarves have long been deadly enemies, and can’t stand each other. Then any episode showing them gradually becoming friends will do. Then can we also appreciate and enjoy fully, for example, the fact that Gimli falls head over heels in love with Galadriel, and that to him who humbles himself out of true love she will give the few strands of her beautiful hair that she had refused even to Fëanor the too arrogant Silmaril-Maker.
Tolkien’s characters all exemplify how one can remain an essentially good person (whether Hobbit, Elf, Maia, Dwarf, Man or Vala) playing faithfully one’s part in Eru’s long-played-out Story for Arda (and Ëa), or fall into the dangerous illusion that one’s own plans and will can be better, and follow those instead, bringing upon oneself inevitable disaster.
Eru’s Vision works for more and more mutual understanding and appreciation between the various species that people Arda. Friendship and Love are what unites more and more, in spite of their utter diversity and initial discords, all those who decide to stand against the brutal domination trying to enslave the whole of Middle-earth, whether at the time of Morgoth or later with Sauron and the traitor Saruman.
What is remarkable in Tolkien’s description of all this, is precisely that even those great beings, Maiar or Valar, may make the wrong choice if they allow pride and arrogance and personal ambition to grow in themselves and devour them; it is only because they refuse consistently to foster the same tendancies in themselves, that Gandalf, Galadriel, Aragorn and all the main other heroes, big or small, don’t suffer the same tragic fate as those who allow themselves to rot inwardly. Théoden could easily have turned into another Denethor, but the utterly important fact is that precisely he doesn’t, and that makes all the difference.
So what matters really throughout the Story, is not so much the precise incidents and outer ‘facts’ that happen or do not happen, or happen in a modified manner than ‘in the books’, but whether or not every time like in the books the inner being of those involved manages or no to remain true to the native nobility that is there in all beings because they all have Eru as their ultimate origin.
The difficulties they encounter shouln’t be seen as harsh tests imposed by an autocratic and cruel Eru, but simply on the contrary as the very circumstances that will most help each being to grow into the plenitude of his or her potential. It is a growth process, the divine nature secretly present like a seed at the beginning, asserting itself more and more in spite of everything, until it is revealed in its full bloom, a powerful and loving expression of one aspect of Eru.
So as long as this overall meaning of it all is more or less also the overall meaning of another version, I don’t really mind the changes in the circumstances and the incidents along the way, if they serve the same purpose and bring about the same progresses in the concerned characters.
But then something that is quite important and must absolutely remain, as part of Tolkien’s tale of progressive harmony between all beings, is the great diversity of human-like species he has peopled Middle-earth with, the sheer number of which is truly amazing and always entirely believable, because he is himself so much in love with each and all of them.
This is why, it seems to me, one cannot at all reduce the story of LOTR to that of Frodo and Sam, or to just a few main characters instead of the nearly twenty that we see grow and bloom or on the contrary turn stale and whither away. If the story is to illustrate the progressive harmonization of all those beings, it has absolutely to deal with a vast richness of different components, each keeping its own uniqueness but becoming more and more able to love others as well, and collaborate with them for the common good. Reductionism will not do, if the full Meaning of the Story is to remain in whatever other version than the original one written by Tolkien, from which we can learn so much for the meaning of our own life…