The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

Last year I began re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkien and when I finished it I had to carry on with the other two books of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They were first published between 1954 and 1955. I first came across it at the library when I was a teenager. I loved it so much that I decided I needed to buy my own copy for myself and have since read the trilogy several times. The three books are The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. Imagine my delight when I went to college and found that so many of the students on my course also loved the trilogy and I read it all again and could talk about it with the others.

What follows is not a review. It is some of my thoughts on reading this epic fantasy story about the quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring to destroy the One Ring of Power in the Mountain of Fire, Mount Doom in Mordor and thus prevent the Dark Lord, Sauron from conquering Middle-earth.

Re-reading The Lord of the Rings, I was delighted to find that it had lost none of the magic I found the first time. It is one of my all time favourite books and this time round I was struck by Tolkien’s world building and his powers of description of the characters and the locations, but most of all by Tolkien’s storytelling – superb. I read it slowly, taking my time over it, just a small section each day – letting the story soak into my mind.

The members of the Fellowship are Gandalf the Grey, a wizard; the hobbits Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider (later revealed as Aragorn, the heir of Isildur, an ancient King of Arnor and Gondor). And there’s a whole host of other characters.

Alongside my reading I also watched Peter Jackson’s three films, adaptations of the trilogy. When I watched these when they first came out I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t live up to my visualisation of the characters, except that Ian McKellen was just perfect as Gandalf, or of the locations, beautiful as the locations in the films are, Lothlorien is nowhere nearly as magical as I had imagined from reading the book. But the main difference I noticed this time is that the book is very descriptive, going into great detail about the routes of the journeys, of the places and of the characters, it is very long – The Fellowship of the Ring alone took me a month to read. Whereas the films are very much action movies with long and violent battle scenes, against the backdrop of the locations and the running time of each one is approximately three hours – with the extended versions being even longer.

So, inevitably there are changes from the books rearranging the sequence of events in places and cutting scenes – most notably for me the hobbits’ meeting with Tom Bombadil, one of my favourite episodes. Tom is a nature spirit and like the wizards he appears like a man. I loved that episode – when Tom rescued Merry and Pippin from Old Man Willow, the malevolent tree in the Old Forest that had grabbed them and enclosed them within the folds of his trunk. He lives in the Old Forest, near the Barrow-downs, with his wife Goldberry, ‘Daughter of the River’. Goldberry says he ‘He is the master of wood, water, and hill.‘ He has lived in Middle Earth from its earliest days and when Frodo asks him who he is he says

Eldest, that’s what I am. … Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from Outside. (page 171)

Other characters and episodes that stand out for me are:

Frodo and Sam, two hobbits. I prefer to think of them both as they are in the books, rather than in the films, because the actors are totally different from how I first visualised the characters. Frodo was adopted by Bilbo Baggins, a distant relative and lived with him at Bag End as his heir and so he inherited Bag End and the One Ring. He and Bilbo shared the same birthday and the same party to celebrate Bilbo’s 111th birthday and Frodo’s coming of age birthday at the age of 33. On his 50th birthday Frodo left Bag End with Sam, his gardener, beginning his quest to destroy the One Ring. So, the depiction of the hobbits by the actors wasn’t right at all, they are far too young, and I had to remember that the films and the books are two separate creations (but it still rankles).

My favourite characters, in no particular order, are Gandalf the Grey, later known as Gandalf the White, especially his battle with the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Strider/Aragorn, Gollum, all the Elves and the Ents.

This post is left over from last year when I stopped writing it just before I went into hospital and I have now finished it. I had intended it to be more detailed but it was not to be …