“In the Company of Orcs”: Peter Jackson’s Queer Tolkien
Peter Jackson’s many omissions and additions to J. R. R. Tolkien’s text of The Lord of the Rings in his film trilogy have been for the most part disparaged by Tolkien fans and critics. Only a grudging acknowledgment of the difference in the nature of the film medium from that of text has rationalized Jackson’s redaction and the Hollywood establishment’s prioritizing of dramatic suspense and entertainment over fidelity to written word.1 Despite the validity of such reactions to the film trilogy, one of Jackson’s most interesting embellishments of Tolkien’s medievalized epic is scene 62 (special extended DVD version), “In the Company of Orcs,” in the third film, The Return of the King.2 This scene title bears no similarity to any chapter title in Tolkien, although the event it presents does appear in book 6, in The Return of the King, chapter 2, “The Land of Shadow” (the latter, the title for the film’s next scene, 63). During Jackson’s “In the Company of Orcs,” Hobbits Frodo and Sam, while en route to their final destination, Mount Doom-where they must return the One Ring to its fiery origins-don Orc armor, heavy, metal, and medieval in appearance, which allows them to be concealed as deserters within an Orc phalanx moving across Mordor.3 Tolkien, however, in the equivalent scene takes care to specify
only items of Orc clothing that conceal their Hobbitness. In part, Jackson’s production of this scene is colored by Rankin and Bass’s humorous treatment in the 1979 animated film The Return of the King, in which Tolkien’s Orc jeer “Where there’s a whip, there’s a will” transforms into a joyous and upbeat allmale marching song.4 But the sadism of Jackson’s Orcs is neither homosocial nor humorous.