The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkein, Book Review

lord of the ringsRight now, among all my many other projects, I am making my sixth pilgrimage through Middle Earth. Some of you, I’m sure, are wondering why I would read through the nearly 1,500 pages of the Lord of the Rings trilogy when there are three very good movies that cover the same material. And others are asking why the Sam Hill I’d do it six times! My simple answer is that I love this story. But what is it about this tale that brings me back again and again?

I confess I first picked up the books ten years ago out of mere curiosity. I had read that they were numbered high among the 100 greatest works of the 20th century. And I recalled a friend who in junior high told me they were his favorite story; a dumb jock sort that I didn’t know could read at all. Taken together, I had to see what LOR was all about, and I was amazed by what I found.

As a writer, the mere scope of the story astounds me. Tokien created an entire, detailed world that his characters traverse in a year-long quest to defeat Lord Sauron, the Great Evil who has bent all his malice on dominating and destroying it. Breathtaking mountains; wild, rocky wastelands; stinking bogs; grassy plains; dark, murky forests; and majestic rivers, all graced with such unforgettable names as Moria, Brandywine, Caradhras and the Falls of Ruros.

Then Tolkien fills his land with marvelous civilizations, each with a culture – even languages! – of their own. Dwarves, stout-hearted, faithful, and ever-wooed by treasure. Elves, the never-dying, with their long memories, merry songs and their wisdom. Men, easily corrupted, but in whose hands the fate of Middle Earth now lies. And hobbits, the little people content to eat six meals a day and smoke tobacco, caring little what goes on beyond the boundaries of the Shire, until the Ring of Power accidentally (or perhaps not so accidentally) comes to them. And to complete this sense of reality, Tolkien gives his land a history, with tales, legends, ruins, prophecies, and the memories of those who settled the land thousands of year in the past.

And I must consider the characters themselves. Who can ever forget Gandalf, the hot-tempered, long-seeing, affectionate wizard sent to earth for this very purpose? And the four young hobbits who would rather go home, but who play out their roles out to the bitter end? And what about Eowyn, the beautiful, sober, stout-hearted princess of Rohan who has her own important part to play? And who can help but admire Aragorn, exiled heir to Gondor’s throne with his strength, his leadership, his purpose, and his lingering insecurity that he might prove as unworthy as his ancestor?

And can I mention the poetry with which Tolkien writes? To me, the author’s prose is hardly the least of the books attractions. Consider these words of Gandalf: “Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone.” I’d like to write like that!

So why do I read the trilogy again and again? Maybe it’s the long shot, the chance in a million that Frodo can actually destroy the ring and save Middle Earth. Perhaps it’s the unfailing courage of the nine companions in the face of utter hopelessness. Maybe it’s the fight between forces of good and evil, the sacrifice of the companions, the overpowering emotions, the sweet victory, or the sense that every step of this epic adventure was meant to be, preordered by a higher, all-knowing Power, and worked according to a plan.

Or perhaps in this colony of the imagination I see much that is true and admirable and rare in our own world, and so it is to Middle Earth that I turn, again and again and again.

Read my review of The Hobbit.

 

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