"So do I," said Gandalf. "And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
Author: JRR Tolkien
First Read: 6 or 7 years old.
I can’t remember when I first read the Hobbit. I do know when I first read LOTR. It was when I went with my mom to the eye doctor. She started reading it to me, and when she couldn’t continue because of the eye drops, I started reading it on my own. About four years later, I received my own illustrated copy of the Hobbit (with Hague illustrations, so he is my first LOTR artist), and then a few years after that, I brought my own copies of Fellowship, Towers, and King. When the movies came out, I caved and brought hardcover editions of the trilogy. Additionally, it is one of the few books where I own multiple versions – not only physical books, but kindle version, audio cassette versions, and Audible files.
And that’s not counting the movies.
But let’s not count those because I will keep bitching about the lack of a thrush.
I have read the books so many times, that I got a little po’ed when I reviewed the kindle version of LOTR and somebody thought it was the first time I read the books.
When I first read the books, I found everything before the Council of Elrond boring and after the first two times I read the story, skipped it for a bit. I liked the bit at the Ford, but the Council of Elrond was where it was at because it had Elves. I loved Elves because they had bows like Robin Hood. Flynn’s Robin Hood was the first movie I saw, the Pyle version of Robin Hood was one of the first books I owned. Bard was my favorite character in the Hobbit because he had a bow. You see how it goes. I also couldn’t figure out why Arwen married Strider because she didn’t do anything but sew.
While I agree with Pratchett -that if you think LOTR is the greatest book every, you haven’t read it enough, I love this book. It isn’t perfect, but it holds up well. And yes, there are parts that don’t quite fit – Tom Bombadil for instance, but their friendship and bonds that run though the novel are the joy of the novel.
As I got older, I grew to love the Arwen story at the same time I got angry with how it set such a standard of elven maiden giving up immortality to marry a human man, something in reverse that you tend not to see too often. I realized that there are aspects of the Prof in many characters, perhaps mostly in Eowyn when she complains of being left to burn in the hall when men have more use for it.
What the Prof did was not only give Britain a saga, a story that Milton wished to do. He didn’t just simply set the standard for world building or create a template that writers like Terry Brooks would “borrow” (or steal) for years to come.
It’s humanity. Really.
I read this for the first time in 2004 and several times since then. What can be said about this epic tale that has not been already said many times over? The Professor is a master story-teller, loving the world of nature as much as the world of Men, Hobbits, Elves and Dwarves. He is also a master of suspense in heating that kettle just a little a time, hinting at threats that may or may not be imaginary, as in Frodo's uncertainty whether he really sees and hears someone following them or not and the sound of a hammer that may or may not have to do with Pippin throwing down a stone in Moria.
Middle-earth is a real place because it is our world. The people who inhabit it have so much to teach us. The lessons begin here with Merry and Pippin's beautiful words about their love and friendship for Frodo and what lengths they are willing to go because of it, Frodo's fearful and courageous embrace of his terrible calling and the grace that sustains him and his companions, Sam dogged faithfulness and support and his wonder to see the Elves, and so very much more.
So finally getting around to reading the LOTR series. I've also booked tickets to go and see all extended editions back to back at the cinema in London in a week. 12 and a half hours in total. I hope I have the stamina to make it through, it's been interesting as someone who was a huge fan of the films to finally read the books and see the similarities/differences. I expected it to be wildly different, but I thought as far as book to film usually goes, Jackson and co stayed quite true to the books with slight alterations here and there. I'd wager it's probably to enhance the drama as the ideas moved to screen.
But anyway, back to the books. My favourite section of the whole book is the council of Elrond. I am for better or worse a political animal and I think the discussions over the ring and strategy most likely engaged that part of me. I thought it was the most tastefully written section of dramatic consequence in the book. The back and forth between Aragorn and Boromir and the stern nature of Elrond blend quite nicely to make the dialogue riveting.
The lore in particular is important. That is what the films struggled with at times, I never felt that the rings of power and their significance was properly fleshed out, although I'm aware the beginning sequence of the fellowship is dedicated to the rings of power and their story. With the books you see Celebrimbor brought into the fold, albeit briefly, as the forger of the Elven rings which he deceived Sauron with, thus hiding them from the rings pull and protecting the Elven elites from becoming wraiths like the kings of men. Then there is this interesting section I think in Lothlorien with Galadriel where she explains that if the one ring is destroyed, the power of the Elven rings will either be freed or wilt with the one ring. Should it be the latter the Elves culture will regress and so they must leave middle earth. It may have been Elrond thinking about it who details this properly, but I'm sure the lady of the wood has her piece on it.
This all goes some way to explaining why the powerful, elegant race of Elves who seem so wise and able are in fact declining and not in a better position to help the others defend middle Earth from the shadow.
One of the other things I noticed in the fellowship was the observations on human character portrayed through the different races. When the company is being led to Lothlorien by the Elves and they insist on blindfolding Gimli because he's a dwarf, at a time when there is an evil lord with the upper hand seeking dominion over all peoples creeping closer to all places of goodness. I just thought that was typical of the short sighted, tribal instincts that we tend to see in our own characters. People willing to forsake the easy, rational choice and the greater good for their own pride and political point scoring. Relishing in petty squabbling and stubborn, blatantly biased view points.
It's a good lesson on the dangers of division of good people in the face of encroaching danger and the folly of allowing petty, selfish grievances to get in the way of bonds. Further to this never admitting fault or blame, only seeking to look outwards when something goes wrong and point the finger and the division and resentment this causes. All based in a lack of wisdom, reason, empathy and humility.
I think the great strength of this book is its recurring theme. This idea that no matter how bleak things look and how marginalised the purity of the world is there are always things to cling to that can help change the tide. There is always hope no matter how unbelievable the odds seem to be. It doesn’t matter if you’re a minuscule hobbit constantly overlooked and underestimated. There are strengths that aren’t always considered or apparent that can tip the scales in a big way.
This also then leads on to the touching of philosophy and how Tolkien sort of alludes several times to the idea that very slight variations of action or chance would throw the entire fate of middle earth one way. Gandalf says that Frodo was meant to have the ring and that bodes well for the fate of middle earth, suggesting there's a pulling of the strings behind the scenes, but then there are times when it is suggested that if the person's character does not stand up to the test and they do not act the appropriate way to a challenge that will change the outcome of the war between good and evil. There are some spiritual ideas in play. I think as well this is what attracts me to LOTR ahead of A song of Ice and Fire. I find Martin's analysis of humanity to just be profoundly depressing and cynical and I have enough cynicism about the real world to want my fantasy escapism to be filled with the same.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship and I look forward to the two towers. Enjoy your weekend my tragically estranged (because I barely use BL anymore like a fool) BL companions.
This remains my favourite of the three LOTR books: I love the magical early chapters in the Shire and the Old Forest and Bree when the tone is still slightly whimsical and the world wild and wide and magical - before the Fellowship heads on out into the Wild and the book becomes much more dour. After those early chapters the world feels like mainly landscape, with lots of orcs and a couple of Lovecraftian monsters (the Watcher in the Water particularly feels...unTolkien-y?).
I mean, I like landscape, it's just a different feel to the book.
Particularly feeling the plight of the Elves, too, their inevitable loss of the land they love - either to Sauron or to the rise of Men.