Where the Boys Are
Yeah, I was one of those geeks," says Philippa Boyens, the member of the Lord of the Rings screenwriting troika who most often braves Tolkien Society conventions, though she speaks no Elvish. "The others, they're such cowards!" On the phone from L.A., the New Zealanderwho was executive director of the country's Writers Guild when invited by director Peter Jackson and co-producer/wife Fran Walsh to collaborate on Rings and now their remake of King Kongexudes the spunky-librarian verve of her DVD commentary bits. Together, she and I try to figure out why fan-girls like ourselves were ever attracted to the woman-free world of J.R.R. Tolkien's sagas. "Well," Boyens sighs, "Tolkien was this fusty old Oxford professor. But he was incredibly connected emotionally. I think women connect to this emotional heart in the books. And it's neat that you have male characters going on this huge emotional journey. It's heroic in a different way."
Despite what many a Web scribe has made of the films' exquisite boy-on-boy physicality, Boyens doesn't see the saga as homoerotic. "I think it is really in a pure sense simply about love between men," she says. "Like with Frodo and Sam, it's about two people really loving each other as friends. And that sometimes does happen." Maybe so, but the main female characters are only availed of narrow sexual options, exclusively hetero. "Yeah," admits Boyens. "They are driven by that urge." The team did try to build in nuanced motivations. "With Eowyn," she explains of the story's warrior-princess, "we played with the idea that she had grown up in this very sterile environment, a cold, bleak mountaintop. And one of the reasons that we wrote the scene with [the Rasputin-like] Wormtongue is that he's passionately in love with her and he wants her, and for one brief momentyou see it on-screenshe could go there. She just craves human touch. The need to feel alive was what was driving her."
But when it comes to Tolkien's resoundingly misogynistic portrait of the film's insatiable spider-monster Shelob, Boyens recalls taking the piss. "She was one of our favorite characters, actually," she says. "Fran and I loved Shelob. She's overweight, she can't get through the tunnel the way she used to. Men flee from her. She's got hairy legs. She really is the focus of this abject male gazethis hairy creature that lives in the tunnel. The way Gollum says 'tunnel' makes it sound like the rudest thing ever! You know, it's the most terrifying thing for men. We did have a bit of fun with it." So, if Jackson and Walsh are the project's Sam and Frodo, who is Boyens? "I'm definitely Shelob," she laughs. "Fran and I used to say we started out as Eowyn and [elf princess] Arwen and ended up as Gollum and Shelob. These destroyed, ruined creatures." She reverses, "But Kong is going to be really funny, speaking of sexual politicsa real Village Voice moment."
J. Hoberman's review of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.