Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Fellowship of the Ring--J.R.R.Tolkein

Tried to read this book a few years ago, and then many years before that, and always got frozen at the Tom Bombadil part.  Never could get past it, don't know why.  This time, I flew by it and read the whole thing in a few days.  I truly believe that I wasn't ready for it until now.  Doesn't hurt that my better half and I saw all three Peter Jackson films in the past week or so...

I don't have too much to add about its awesomeness; if you've come this far, you already think it's great.  I guess I'm interested in why I think so.  Let's face it, the writing isn't great.  Yet, it is, in its own way.  Open a page at random, and read a sentence with Isengard, and many other names; I dare any other writer to write like that and get away with it.  Tolkein did.  Why?  I think it's the way it's so solid in his head.  And it's so consistent.  He writes it all like the names are so common.  It's like you don't have to flip back to the map in the beginning a few thousand times--but I did.  The descriptions would be weary but for those who weren't sold on it all as I was.  That stayed me the second time.  All that fauna, that grass, those woods and mountains.

Or maybe it's the simplicity.  Hobbits, grass, round homes, sticks, bread, sleep, warm and cold.  Walking.  Horses and swords.  The basics.  Life is basic, in a way.  The Ring is evil, pure and simple.  But people struggle against using it anyway.  Evil is so obvious, but it pulls.  The writing is simple.  Very simple.  And Tolkein simply relished the simple life and railed against technology, and lack of manners.  The art is not in the writing style or ability, per se, as much as it is in its completeness.

Or maybe it's the duality.  It's obviously Ireland, or northern England, especially the Shire--but it's not.  The swords, shields, emphasis on kings, and breast-beating is so Beowulf (as Tolkein famously translated)--but it's not.  The castles and such are so medieval Europe--but it's not.  (And Aragorn=Aragon, but not.)  Mordor and the Orcs are obviously WW1's Germany, and maybe a bit of WW2's Germany (despite Tolkein's protests)--but it's not.

I think it's the emphasis on friendship, more than anything else.  The movies got this.  Frodo and Sam; Aragorn, the Elf and the Dwarf; Pippin and Merry; Frodo and Gandalf; in the book, Aragorn and Gandalf.  Notice that Boromir's big sin wasn't struggling with the Ring--as they all did--but was instead his mistreatment of Frodo.  (Boromir and Aragorn are friendlier in the movie than in the book.)  True friendship can overcome powerful evil.

You get swallowed into the world--the grasses, the different beings, the simple attitude of the hobbits (shared by Tolkein himself) and the simple lessons of life:  Eat hearty, be merry, be a good friend, stand against evil.  I don't believe it's the fantastic elements that keep us.  First, they're too inconsistent.  Gandalf can battle Saramon with his staff--but he can't melt snow with it?  He can light up the mines in the mountains with it, but he can't clear a path ON the mountain with it?  And it's all too Ireland/England, Norse/medieval anyway, not complete fantasy.  And where are they, anyway?  On another world--or are we led to take for granted that it's Earth--but not?

Ingenious in its own way.  Like the writings of Chandler and select others, easy to emulate, hard to surpass.  But that hasn't stopped millions from trying...


  1. Yes! LOTR is awesome. I've read the Hobbit about 15 times, no joke. It is vastly different in voice and tone than the trilogy, though I loved them both. I think it is the world building and the feeling of ancient magic, and good and evil, and the simplicity of all that. Good stuff!

  2. STTTTEEEVVVEEE, why don't you come to WWG?

  3. Alexia, you're right. Despite the unbelievable totality of the world-building and history-creating, it is the simplicity of some themes--of friendship, of fate, of a bit of zen, and of a love and appreciation for nature and time, outside of our homo-centric attitude--that makes it stand out from all others of its ilk. The genius, here, really was in the details.

    C--I do want to come. This time, too exhausted, too overwhelmed with work and moving in (the storm put us back), and getting the house ready for a lot of people on the 23rd, as we are hosting a Texas Hold 'em tournament to benefit the Lung Association in my father's name. I mean, most of my belongings are still in boxes in the garage, and I'm having about 20+ people over here in 9 days! (You and your better half are invited; there's plenty of room to stay overnight if necessary.)

  4. This post kind of peaked my interest in actually reading the book. I see it at the library all the time and pass it over for something more fast-paced, gross or gory - though Orcs cover all three.

    You say it was an easier read after having watched the Peter Jackson trilogy, so I may try reading chapters of it as a bedtime story for my boys. They loved the movies and seeing they adore Roald Dahl, who can be quite graphic in my opinion, they should be able to handle it - what do you think?

  5. The first two books of the LOTR are surprisingly bloodless. Certainly Tolkein could have made it much more so had he wanted. In fact, in the part I just got past, Tolkein had Merry and Pippin narrating what had already happened, rather than go back in forth in 3rd person limited narration and showing what happened. Had he done that, it could've been a more bloody story. Interesting writers choice. It's choices like that that make the whole work a bit dry and fairy-tale-narrative, but that works in your favor when you read the chapters to your sons at night. The movies are MUCH more bloody and violent than the books, so if your sons can handle the movies, they can definitely handle the books. The writing focuses much more on the Viking-like songs of the different Middle-Earthers, the history of the different beings living there, etc. If your sons like bloody, violent things, I fear that they may not be as entertained by the books. Let's hope not! Let me know how it turns out, and thanks for commenting!