Friday, September 23, 2011

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

I have long looked at lovers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy as an exclusive fan club with their inside knowledge of the books and their disdain for the rest of us illiterates.  I was half afraid to read the books just in case I didn’t “get it” and was forever barred from this privileged group. I’m even a little embarrassed about reviewing them now since there are others who have read the books multiple times and who understand them more than I do.

Fellowship is an epic adventure in the truest sense of the word: “an extended narrative poem in elevated or dignified language, celebrating the feats of a legendary hero.”  Simple, home-loving Frodo becomes involved in a larger-than-life battle between good and evil and he willingly sacrifices his own wishes and comforts to “do the right thing” as far as the powerful Ring is concerned. 

I don’t regret having seen the films first (something I rarely do) because a certain amount of foreknowledge kept me from getting bogged down in the many confusing names.   Not only do several people have more than one name (Aragorn/Strider, Gollum/Smeagol), but the mountains and even the swords have names.  Being familiar with the main characters from the movie was helpful as I worked my way through the book.  “Work” is the key word because The Fellowship of the Ring is no easy read.  This first book in the trilogy is 400 pages long, but by page 200 hundred, Frodo has barely left the Shire to head out for his adventures.  Still, the book is worth the effort.

Tolkien’s tale is compelling in its portrayal of friendship and bravery among Frodo and his companions, but it is made even richer by its use of beautiful language (at times reminiscent of the English in the King James Bible). 

An example from page 244: Sauran was diminished, but not destroyed.  His Ring was lost but not unmade.  The Dark Tower was broken, but its foundations were not removed; for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remains they will endure.

I’m very glad I took the plunge and began the LOTR trilogy.  Now I’m hoping I’ll find time to read the sequels.


Barbara H. said...

I only read them after the movies came out and sparked an interest. I saw the first film before reading the book, the second after reading the book -- I'm not sure which way is best. Either way takes some of the suspense out of the other, but each way helps to understand the other. And you've reminded me I haven't read the last one yet! I agree it's hard to get through in some places, but beautiful in others. Had to smile about all the names, even of swords!

Corey P. said...

Great review, and welcome to the world of the Tolkien enthusiasts! ;)

Tolkien's use of the English language is indeed amazing - it plays no small part in making the books as good as they are.

As for the films, I loved 'em. I thought they were brilliant adaptions, and have watched them more times than any other movies in my collection.

Can't wait to hear your thoughts on the sequels!

Unknown said...

I took on the challenge this summer and am now just over a hundred pages away from finishing the trilogy, so I encourage you to continue. I also saw the movies first, but it was a while ago, so I'm excited to watch them again. After you finish LOTR (or sometime down the road), I highly recommend the prequel, Silmarillion, which I read first - amazing book. I read the Hobbit after that, because I kind of wanted to read the whole history of Middle Earth in chronological order, but there was so much time in between reading them that it really didn't make much difference! :)

Sherry said...

oh, do find time. I am one of those fans who read the books when I was teenager before they were really cool. And I will admit to having read them more than once. Right now I am reading Fellowship to my ten year old (her request). Anyway, I predict that you won't regret the time you spend in Middle Earth.

Grace from Brazil said...

Bravo! Excellent write-up. As I read a few parts of your blog aloud to my husband, who introduced me to TLOR when we were first married 21 years ago, my children, who are all fanatics about the book, gathered around to listen, to smile and to nod their agreement with your insights. The only thing is that the other books are not sequels. It was, as you know, written as a whole and then divided up. TLOR would be a sequel to the Hobbit, for example. Of course we think you need to read them all...right away! : )

Carol in Oregon said...

Hope, I picked up The Hobbit as a teenager and couldn't get past the first page. What kind of name is Bilbo? What is a hobbit? It was too confusing and didn't capture me.

What got me to read it was hearing my kids' friends banter back and forth with quotes. "What do you mean when you say good morning?" I felt out of the loop. And it sounded like a lot of fun.

So I read Tolkien after my youngest son had devoured his writing. It surely helped to have a tutor by my side. How many times did I ask him: "Which one is Aragorn: is he a man or a hobbit or one of those other things?"

One thing I didn't like about the movies: when I read the battle scenes in the book, I didn't really care about them, so I didn't form any pictures in my brain. It was just stuff to read to get to the stuff I wanted to read. The movies *made* me see the battles and gore. It's not a large quibble, but I'm still glad to have read the books first.

I still haven't read The Silmarillion; I'm sorry, Elle, but I have found it tortuous reading. I bought the audio version to listen to, but I still find it heavy lifting. I hope to make it through, for the love of my son.

Thanks for the great review!

Semperjase said...

I hope you find time to read the other books. Tolkien wrote the set as one story. It was the publisher that split it into 3 books. So the other books aren't sequels, more like succeeding parts.

The first time I read them, I worked to get through the first half of Fellowship. It really picked up from there though. I think I read the rest of the series in less time than it took me to get through the first half of the first book.

Staci Eastin said...

I have been cataloguing my books this weekend, and I came across my son's copy of LOTR and was thinking that I really should read it. I'm pushing 40, and like you mentioned, to some people it's almost a crime not to have read them by now. Maybe this winter I'll get to them.

It's interesting what you said about seeing the movie first. I've been trying not to pay attention when my son and husband watch the movies, because I've been intending to read the books at some point. Maybe it would be helpful to see at least the first one. Hmmm.

Di said...

Hopey, don't forget "Return of the King" is my all time favorite book ever - so carry on!

Jeremiah said...

Good for you! I'm chuffed to hear of anyone entering Tolkien's world of written-word for the first time and enjoying it.

Many people scoff at those who saw the films first, but I think anything which brings you into the world of Tolkien is a good thing.

It might interest you to know that originally (although the idea was later abandoned) Tolkien planned on his body of work which dealt with Middle-earth to be a history of modern England.

Tolkien wanted strong myths and legends for our time...tales from which we can trace our own roots. England had no real myths of its own to look back on. For example, most famously, King Arthur, who is so often attributed to England, is in fact a Welsh tale. Thus Tolkien had a desire to create a historical myth / epic tale for England.

His great knowledge of language was the basis for his work. He created the languages used in his works (Quenya, Sindarin, etc.) but based them on actual existing languages (Welsh, Finnish, etc.), giving them an authenticity. He wrote their history...all the way back to the book of creation, "Genesis", in the form of 'The Silmarillion'.

These extreme measures, which I'm only just dusting the surface of, are what give the stories an air of authenticity...accountability... believability. When you read them as a tale for how the world...or own world....actually used to gives a whole new dimension to the Tolkien universe.

For example, "The Lord of the Rings" as a book (and it is a single book, not three) is actually "The Red Book of Westmarch"...which was written from the stories put down by Frodo & Bilbo in their own book. This was copied and re-copied over the years by Pippin (and others) and thus you hold the book in your own hand this very day. It also accounts for inconsistancies one may see in various "editions" of the book, you see.

For example, once "The Lord of the Rings" was underway, and Tolkien "discovered" how it would tie in with his previous work, "The Hobbit", he had to go back and alter portions of "The Hobbit" so that it would be consistent. This is then explained in the book during "The Council of Elrond". Bilbo tells his tale of finding the ring...truthfully...whereas before he'd told a bit of a little white lie to Thorin & Company about how "exactly" he'd come upon the ring.

You then find in the Appendices at the end of "The Return of the King" that Frodo et al could not bring themselves to alter anything The Old Hobbit (Bilbo) had written down himself, thus old copies of the story were still potentially in circulation...with the 'untrue' telling of events.

Thus, if you have a 1st edition (for example) of "The Hobbit" and you find that the tale is slightly different (particularly in the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter) from what you're used to hearing, you now know own a copy more closely akin to the copy that Bilbo wrote himself.

Anyway, I waffle on, but it's absolutely fascinating when you start to learn about the depth of the story...the detail...the time and love poured into it.

Many authors have written more...(Tolkien did have a full-time job at Oxford whilst trying to write this epic after all) but it's without any difficulty that I say it's very likely that few have written "better" than Tolkien.