Once, many years ago, I tried to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It was when The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie came out, in 2001. Never having truly read high fantasy before, I was not really sure of the genre. I wasn’t even aware of the fact that Tolkien birthed fantasy lore as we know it today. In all, though, my foray into fantasy failed as I tried to read the forward about hobbit-lore, and quickly lost interest. I never even saw the movies in completion until a couple of months ago.
Since that fateful attempt, I have broadened my horizons beyond the fare I was reading at the time (mostly contemporary and literary fiction, as well as my first forays into paranormal romance). Having completed the high fantasy Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind, as well as numerous other works in the fantasy genre, I felt it was high time that I read the Good Book of Fantasy, as it were.
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is a single book, though most consider it a trilogy consisting of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Though published separately, these works are intended to be read as a single book, and are therefore referred to in this blog post as a singular work. The book is quite hefty, and more than once I was glad I had it in ebook form. I’m fairly certain that if I had the volume in hardcover, I could successfully fight crime with it as a bludgeon.
Both the story and characters are rich and full of life. The end of the book and parting of friends is quite sad, because after spending so much time with them, you truly don’t want to let go. It is epic in every sense of the word, and the scale of the great battles and journey itself is mind-boggling. You’re taken to dank, marshy bogs and lush, magical forests; you gallop across wind-blown grassy plains and climb craggy mountains; you delve into the depths of the earth and enter realms where light and hope are things of the imagination. It is awesome in its size, complexity, and storytelling.
That being said, there are flaws in my eyes. Much of the lore was so dense and riddled with people, places, and things of fantastical nature that it was often wearying to read an entire page. The history of a sword could span many pages, and make you forget what you were even reading about. Huge chunks of dialogue with little action are also present, where opinions are often rehashed and the reader is given information over and over. Sam, Frodo, and Gollum’s journey toward Mordor is downright boring and flat. At that point, Frodo’s character is struggling under the weight of the Ring, Sam is brooding and suspicious of Gollum, and Gollum is, well, Gollum. I found none of that part to be compelling, and was quite relieved when it was through.
There are parts that do lift your spirit and make you feel as though you’re reading enchanted words. However, there are also parts that are dull, lifeless, and could have easily been left out. Reading felt arduous at some parts, and fleetingly easy at others. Seldom does finishing a book feel like a true accomplishment, but this one was one that felt that way.
I know many people may love the very things that I found fault with, so I don’t try to say that my opinion is much better. Often, readers of high fantasy relish descriptions of sword-history that span chapters and love the intricate descriptions of everything. I, for one, do not share that love in the same intensity.
There also seemed to be a few loose ends in the story, such as the prediction of Legolas coming to trouble after hearing a gull. He most certainly hears a gull, but nothing bad ever comes of it. It didn’t really mar the story for me, but seemed a bit odd. It was weird that the Lady of Rohan, Eowyn, was portrayed as both a duty-bound shieldmaiden and flighty woman. I understand that people are complex, but I feel that the same woman that smites the King of the Ringwraiths would not pine wearily and attempt to abandon all duty in order to follow a hot guy.
All that being said, I am happy to have read the books and I would recommend them to anyone wanting to appreciate the roots of fantasy and a great, if long, story. If you’re looking for epic high fantasy, than look no further; however, I feel that many could easily be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the books.
*A note about the movies versus the book: There were many parts left out and added in turn to the movies. This happened, in my mind, for two reasons: the movies couldn’t each be 19 hours long and changing certain parts was necessary to make it flow well. I don’t particularly like the dramatic amplification of the romance between Arwen and Aragorn. It seemed a bit much, but I suppose it was Hollywood’s duty to add that aspect of it. There was also some business with Sam and Gollum that was added in (the treachery and bit of breadcrumbs) that I think served little purpose. Ah well, I suppose.