[Sam] wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace - all in a flash of thought that was quickly driven from his mind.
I admit it: This book aggravated me to no end the first time I read it. Where are Frodo and Sam?!!! Who are all these Rohirrim and why are they so obsessed with their horses? No, really, are Frodo and Sam still alive? Who is Gríma and Théoden and why am I supposed to care about them? Ok, I was worried about Merry and Pippin too since they got carried off by the Uruk-hai in the first chapter, but we find out pretty quickly that they're just fine and dandy and then the good professor makes us wait more than HALF THE BOOK to find out what's going on with Frodo and Sam. He is EVIL and CRU-EL. I kept sneaking peeks ahead because I just had no patience for anything going on in Rohan. Gandalf kept flashing his whites at everyone, and Aragorn was practically swooning over his sword and name-dropping his ancestors like there's no tomorrow. Which, admittedly, there could have been no tomorrow, but still!
Where now the horse and the rider?
Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and hauberk,
and the bright hair flowing?
NO! WHERE ARE FRODO AND SAM?! You are beautiful, poem, but you are asking the wrong questions. :P
Way back when I first read this, it was my plan to read each book after each movie, but that didn't happen, and I went right into TTT after finishing FOTR. I got to experience the book as its own thing, and got to see just how diabolical and brilliant a storyteller Tolkien was. He ended this book on the cruelest cliffhanger ever (Shelob) and those poor saps who were reading these books as they were originally published had to wait a whole year to find out what happened next. I can't even imagine that. I read ROTK in one day, y'all.
As aggravating as my first read was, I've learned to enjoy it on rereads. It has some of the best writing in the series, and I was pleased as punch when many of those lines and poems made it into the movie. Treebeard and the Ents are amazing, and Merry and Pippin are just having this whole walk through the park while everyone else is fighting for their lives. Their reintroduction to Gandalf and the Three Hunters was fantastic, and nothing warmed me to Théoden faster than his kindness and genuine interest in the hobbits when they meet.
When we finally get to Frodo and Sam though, holy moly, does Tolkien ramp up the tension even more and keeps it going through to the last sentence. Everything about their journey was so desperate, and knowing that the Dead Marshes were inspired by Tolkien's experiences in WWI made that chapter even more haunting. Gollum alone added a very tense dynamic to the group, and knowing that he was up to no good, despite his oath to Frodo, just made things even more tense. And then - Faramir! Despite the fact that he was nicest guy ever, he still had a job to do and it was fantastic how Tolkien could make us empathize with everyone in those chapters, even when they're all seeing things from their own perspectives and their own goals, or in Faramir's case the rules of his father, the Steward.
'So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way - to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halfings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune. A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality.'
And show it he does (much more believably than his movie counterpart), and those chapters show how complex this story is and how real and nuanced these characters are. None of them have easy choices, they have to constantly weigh what they think is right versus what tradition would tell them is right, and it all culminates into "The Choices of the Master Samwise," the most heartbreaking chapter in all of LOTR, at least in my opinion.
Also, Tolkien totally tells us exactly how the Ring is going to be destroyed and it's not a spoiler. :D That's doing foreshadowing right.
PS - Frodo would never take Gollum's word over Sam's, and Sam would never leave. He made a promise! (Movie vs. book splits make this tricky, but since this is a review for the book, I'm sticking to scenes that are actually in this book, rather than the movie.)
PPS - Cupid playing Éomer was a delight. All the Rohan stuff was great, as was most of Helm's Deep, Éowyn, Gollum, the Dead Marshes, po-ta-toes!, the Palantír scene, etc.
PPPS - The movie has more pluses than minuses, of course, but what's with all the fake-outs deaths? And nothing about Osgiliath makes sense. Gimli has a poetic soul, he's not a punchline. Treebeard was smarter than that.
PPPPS - Shelob was awesome though.