Personally, I feel a bit ambiguous about Merry and Pippin. The changes in Frodo’s story arc reduce them to 30% of what they were in a book. But are they good movie characters, I wonder? I’m inclined to say both yes and no. Let me journey through the movie and discuss some crucial Merry & Pippin scenes.

First of all, there’s the introduction at Bilbo’s birthday Party, where the two Hobbits steal some firework, light it behind Gandalf’s back and are punished by having to do the dishes. What does this scene teach us about the two? First of all, that they’re a twosome – they even resemble each other. They seem to be good friends, as well.

Then, they’re introduced as mischievous: the look on Merry’s face when he bites that apple before disappearing, the way Gandalf says something like ‘I should have known’… all create the impression that these two are the local practical jokers, and lighting the firework is not their first masterpiece. This scene also tells us something about the internal relations of this twosome: Merry is clearly ‘the boss’. He’s the one who picks out the required piece of firework (‘No, the big one!’), he’s the one who stands on the lookout and he’s *not* the one that squeals like a girl when the fireworks go off [I know this was filmed more by accident, but still…]. They are independent in this scene, but their action is only meant to trigger a bit of an exciting scene which will remind book fans of both the original birthday party ánd the story of the Hobbits, and form an introduction to their own character. To kill three birds with one stone, indeed, but hardly a dramatically important action.

Next up is their encounter with Frodo and Sam in Farmer Maggot’s field. Again, they are introduced together, and again they were stealing something. So, not only are they practical jokers, they’re also plain thieves! *j/k* This time, Pippin seems to be the more sensible of the two [which is an exception throughout the movie]: whilst running through dear Farmer Maggot’s crops, it’s Pippin that defends him and Merry that concludes with “My point is, he’s clearly overreacting!”, which of course he’s not. Again, Merry and Pippin provide comic relief in an otherwise highly charged sequence; Merry falling on top of one of the stolen carrots (‘I think I’ve broken something’) and Pippin declaring that this was a shortcut to… ‘Mushrooms!’. They take some of the tension away, but again their actions are not dramatically important.

What is important, is that this is the scene that results in them accompanying Frodo and Sam to Bree. What does this tell us about them? That they’re impulsive (strange for a pair of Hobbits not to go on a travel slightly more well-prepared, they don’t even have spare clothes with them), loyal to Frodo and adventurous.

Running from the Ringwraith, there is a crucial scene for Merry. When Frodo tells him that they need to go to Bree, Merry says: “Bree, right. …. Buckleberry Ferry! Follow me!”. Merry is shown here as a very sensible Hobbit, who can make an important decision even when under great stress (and I would calling being followed around by a dirty curtain on horseback a stressful situation), who knows the area very well and who can take matters into his hands when necessary. In other words, Merry is established as a character with the capacities to be a leader. {Note that no such scenes are available for Frodo!} The suggestion to use Buckleberry Ferry is actually dramatically very important, and it’s not by coincidence but by Merry’s good and quick thinking that the Hobbits escape the wraiths.

In Bree, we again see Merry and Pippin together, and this time it’s Pippin that brings about a dramatic moment. Not like Merry through good thinking, but ‘by accident’. What happens is that, despite Frodo’s warning to call him Mr. Underhill, despite the scary environment they’re in and despite being hunted by Invisible Wraiths on Dark Horses; Pippin goes and tells a bunch of strangers about a certain Frodo Baggings. He actually even points at him! What does this tell us about Pippin? Well, for starters, he’s not afraid of creepy folk who keep hostile looking frets as pet. This is not because he’s courageous, but because he’s naive. Apparently, the filmmakers want us to think of this as due to his young age – they portray him as very very ignorant throughout the movie and even in this scene [not knowing what a pint is].

He’s not only naive, he’s also very forgetful: he forgot not to draw attention to Frodo and he also seemed to have forgotten why this was so important. In fact, if he wasn’t so very cuddly we’d think of him as an idiot, but at this point of the movie, we settle for feeling that he’s just too young for this kind of adventure. Of course this action of Pip’s sets a whole chain of events in motion, leading up to their escape from the Ringwraiths with Strider’s help, so in dramatic terms his character brings about a crucial moment in the movie. On the other hand, it’s not because of a conscious decision or action, but because he’s a fool of a Took.

Next stop Weathertop. And again, a very dubious situation. First there’s the incident with the fire {and I’ve got a problem with that as well, because Strider advises them to make a fire to keep away the wraiths, in the book}, then there’s the not-so-brave Hobbits that quickly move aside when a wraith-person moves towards them… Impression given by this scene: well, they’re not heroes.

The next crucial Merry & Pippin scene is at the Council of Elrond, where again, they appear as an inseparable twosome with Merry being the smart one and Pippin the idiot. In this scene, they take a decision that might cost them their lives. First, there’s Sam who wants to accompany his Master Frodo, and you get a very ‘aaaaaaa, friendship can be so wonderful’ feeling. Then there’s Merry and Pippin and taraaa: they discharge a very emotional and important scene. “You need people of importance on this sort of quest… mission… thing.” “Well that rules you out then, Pip.”and then later: “So, where’re we going?”

We get the impression that neither really knows what they’re in for, and Pippin least of all. It amplifies the importance of their friendship with Frodo, but also makes them look very naive and rash. It’s more of an impulsive thought than an actual decision. And it doesn’t bring about a dramatic change – on the contrary, we get a continuation of the second scene I discussed, where Merry & Pippin sort of tumble into this journey.

The scene at Hollin only increases the image we have of Merry and Pippin as cuddly and funny child-like creatures, and serves only to create some amicable moments between the Fellowship before the action kicks in again. And then there’s Balin’s Tomb, where we get another Pippin-moment. And again, Pippin triggers a whole chain of events by being an idiot – this time by dropping a skeleton down the well (in stead of throwing one measly stone to see how deep it is). By accident, he awakens not only an entire herd of Orcs but also a Balrog. Great going Pip! Our impression of Pip as naive, clumsy yet cuddly is affirmed by this scene – and by this time the excuse of him being too young starts to give way to actual irritation: why do they take him along? What if he pulls a stunt like that in Mordor? [Agreed, it does say something about their friendship that Frodo takes this foolish little Hobbit with him…]

He gets a chance to make up when he and Merry fight off what could be described as a huge and murderous cavetroll, but though their efforts strike us as brave and loyal, we again get the impression that they don’t know at all what they’re doing – and if it weren’t for Legolas they wouldn’t have survived their exercise in standing on the shoulders of a giant. Dramatic moment, yes indeed, but again as an instigator rather than as independent characters who move the plot along with their actions and decisions.

The next important Merry and Pippin moment is at Amon Hen, and is constituted out of two separate sequences. First of all, there’s the scene with Frodo and the Uruks, where Merry creates a diversion to allow Frodo to leave alone. This scene restores the connection between the Hobbits, and it allows Merry and Pippin to do something brave yet again, this time even seeking out a confrontation in stead of passively being forced to defend themselves. Again, Merry is the sensible one, understanding immediately what Frodo is about to do and making the decision of trying to divert the Uruks’ attention. Pippin kind of hobbles along, even finding some kind of childish joy in seeing their plan work… and not at all aware that he just risked his life. So we get the same picture in a different situation: here again is the inseparable twosome with Merry as the bright, quick-thinking leader and Pippin as the naive and clumsy sidekick.

The second sequence of this Merry and Pippin moment is Boromir’s death. Now, we’ve already seen that Hobbits don’t react too well when confronted with death, and this time it’s not the distant leader (Gandalf) but the friend and keeper who’s first concern was their well-being (portrayed so beautifully on Caradhras). This time, their reaction is not passive but active: in stead of dropping to their knees in defeat, or running away now that there’s no longer an accomplished warrior around to defend them, they pick up their swords and attack. In the extended version, we even see how they actually attack and Uruk and perhaps even kill him.

Something very important happens here, because this time they don’t look naive or desperate, but they actually make a heroic impression. This enhances the effect of their luring the Uruks away and gives some credibility to the events in TTT. During the sequences with the Uruks, it’s Pippin that takes over the role of leader. He is the one that tears his brooch off and drops it as a clue for the trackers, he’s the one that manages to cut his bonds. Merry doesn’t fall to the background for once, but remains his witty self, remembering the Old Forest and later on recognising Treebeard as an Ent.

We don’t get a lot to see from Merry and Pippin, but two other scenes are worth mentioning when we speak of character development.
First of all there’s the Entmoot, where again we are faced with the twosome and where once again Pippin’s the silly on (‘That’s good…’) and Merry as the wise one (‘Our friends are out there, they need our help!’). This effect is enhanced by that wonderful ‘We have the Shire’ bit, where Pippin’s naivety reaches a definite peak and Merry’s wisdom sums up quite accurately what this second movie and on the whole the entire story is about: ‘There won’t be a Shire, Pip.’ It’s not just about saving someone else’s land, it’s also about saving your own.

But Pippin reaches beyond himself a first time when he states that perhaps they’re too small for an adventure this size: he actually diagnoses himself. And cures himself when he talks Treebeard into walking them to Isengard. Now, how did Pippin know what to expect? There are several possibilities: perhaps his plan *was* to sneak by Isengard unseen, though this seems unlikely because of the previous scene where Merry makes it quite clear that there’s nothing to go back to (although Pippin might also believe that they’d better return and warn the Shire, much like Elrond stated in the books).

If it was Pippin’s plan to change Treebeard’s mind by showing him the destruction of Isengard, then perhaps it was a lucky guess based on the fact that smoke rose from Isengard, or maybe based on what he saw sitting on top of Treebeard’s head. Or, the Hobbits being real storytellers, perhaps the story of what happened to Gandalf *was* shared with him, revealing to him the damage done to the trees. Whatever it was, it works, and this is the third time in the movies that Pippin triggers a chain of events, this time by a deliberate action.

So, on the whole, my conclusion is that they both are independent characters (because they both have a separate and different identity) who make important dramatic decisions (Merry by leading them to Buckleberry Ferry, and Pippin by dropping the brooch and sending Treebeard to Isengard). Do they evolve? Pippin, in my opinion, clearly evolves: at the very end he does not only understand his own position in the game, but he also manages to get the Ents involved in the war (however unlikely these scenes seem to most bookies) and in doing this he severs the link with Merry (he already did that when he took off the brooch, and he does it again when he instructs Treebeard without consulting Merry beforehand).

Merry, on the other hand, doesn’t… yet. Of course we can’t really say anything real based on only two movies, but so far Merry’s still Merry: he’s still the smarter Hobbit, he’s still a bit of a silent thinker and he’s still half of a twosome.