Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Fellowship of the Rings, a Review

The Lord of the Rings is arguably the most important work in fantasy. Tolkien's masterpiece is generally considered the foundation for so many aspects of modern fantasy that it's beyond the scope of this reviewer to even consider. His works inspired countless carbon copies, some good, many terrible, but not a one as wonderful as The Lord of the Rings.

I first read The Fellowship of the Ring in 2000. I was graduating junior high and just discovering fantasy. A friend bought the entire trilogy, plus The Hobbit, and once he'd read them he loaned them to me. As an eighth grader, my understanding of the book was rudimentary at best, picking up on the obvious, but losing much of the beauty. I was concerned with The Quest, to see Frodo and Sam make it to Mt. Doom and destroy the Ring and free Middle Earth. The importance of the journey, though, I mostly missed out on. Now, years later, I've finally began re-reading the series.

I imagine nearly everyone knows what The Lord of the Rings is about, but for the sake of normalcy, I'll give a brief summation. In short, the Dark Lord Sauron is searching for his lost Ring of Power and a group of heroes is trying to destroy it before the Shadow can rise again. While this may sound trite, I offer that it is far from it, that Tolkien was deliberate in his story and that he was the originator* of the cliche.

As I mentioned before, I didn't fully enjoy the journey on my first read-through of The Fellowship of the Ring. This time, however, I relished in it. The quirky songs that seemed to erupt at any given time. The odd and ancient Tom Bombadil and his beautiful Goldberry. The dreams of Boromir for Gondor. The longing in Aragorn's voice. The mystery behind Gandalf. The omnipresent optimistic hobbits and their desire for food and comfort. And this only scratches the surface. While some say that Tolkien used too many words (do trees really deserve that much description?), I think that without the lengthy prose the tale would not be what it is.

Another thing I became fascinated with while re-reading this was the mythology of Middle Earth. Tolkien's worldbuilding is so enormous and vast that some colleges offer courses on it. He created many races, each with their own language or languages. Many had their own histories and legends as well, not to mention architecture style and culture. Tolkien was a renown philologist, and his creation of the many languages adds to the "reality" of Middle Earth. I loved hearing old Elven tales or Dwarven history. I even enjoyed the bits of hobbit history, though it was scarce.

It's impossible to not compare the book to Peter Jackson's superb 2002 movie. Some fans do not like the omissions the film makes, and to an extent I agree. Would I liked to have seen Tom Bombadil or Farmer Maggot? Could Lothlorien or Moria have been better done? Yes. But do I dislike the movie? A resounding no I say. I love it. I think Jackson did a heck of a job making his trilogy and it's atop my list of favorite films. Still, reading the books offers plenty of surprises and differences from the movies, and this re-read helped me see a few of the things I had forgotten.

There is absolutely nothing I dislike about The Fellowship of the Ring. The characters develop nicely through the plot, growing as they transform from rubes to world-weary travelers. There is a quote somewhere in the book about Middle Earth's history being filled with sad tales, and reading The Fellowship of the Ring certainly carries a heavy, tragic tone. Yet, through it all, there is a glimmer of hope, of defeating Sauron and destroying the Ring, and this chance keeps the reader glued to the pages.

If you've never read The Lord of the Rings, then I easily recommend you do so. Tolkien's command of the writing done masterfully, such that there are few dull moments in the book. The story is epic and genre-setting, as evidenced by nearly every run-of-the-mill fantasy book from 1955 until recently. You may think watching the movies are good enough, but I urge you to explore deeper into Tolkien's genius and see the wonderful world he has made.

*I realize Tolkien got his inspiration from surrounding myths, but that's beside the point.


Anonymous said...

wonderful review.

I sat in while my husband read this to our daughter recently. (we are reading our way through having started from 'The Hobbit' we are on to book two next.)
I, too, skimmed over the journey for the sake of the adventure when I first read it; but upon the second experience I loved hearing the songs and the lengthy descriptions. I kept trying to figure out how I had missed so much of the humor before--it was a fantastic experience.
My husband loves the Tom Bombadil parts and missed him in the film version. The daughter took immediately to Glorfindel (who was completely absent from the film). but Jackson's film was spectacular and I do not think they could have cast a better Strider than Viggo Mortensen, especially in light of his description/demeanor in the book.

naida said...

I do agree, Tolkien was a genius. The LOTR books are some of my favorite reads. It amazes me how he was able to create Middle Earth and make it so intricate and detailed. I wanted to live in Rivendell for a while :) The films were great, but the books really are amazing.
Great review! I need to re-read these one day as well.


logankstewart said...

@L: Indeed, Mortensen fits Aragorn perfectly. Enjoy the rest of the series; I know I will.

@Naida: Rivendell would be nice, but I think I'd prefer the Shire for a vacation destination. Thanks for stopping by.

Carl V. said...

Tolkien was truly a genius. Yes, Fellowship gets off to a rocky start, at least in my opinion, but once they get to truly traveling it becomes such an amazing journey all the way through to the appendices of The Return of the King. I'm so glad that Peter Jackson's excellent films made me decide to read these for myself. I always consider the books filling in gaps for what they couldn't do in the movie given time considerations and to me the two go together to tell one amazing story. I've since read several nonfiction books about Tolkien (and thankfully have many more to read) and I am more and more impressed each time I read something with what he accomplished.

Great review Logan.

logankstewart said...

@Carl: You know a book is good when you read the appendices, and I don't know anyone who's read LOTR and didn't venture into them.

Carl V. said...

Yes indeed. I've actually read the appendices, and The Silmarillion, more times than I've read the three novels.

logankstewart said...

@Carl: Believe it or not, but I've never actually read the entire Simarillion. As mentioned above, I wanted the Quest, and the Sim. was too much like a history book. All I did was read the first chapter or so and then skip to the Rings of Power section. But I'll get to it for sure. Maybe after this current LOTR re-read.

Carl V. said...

The Silmarillion is most certainly like a history book, which is honestly one of the reasons I enjoyed it but is one of the reasons why many others don't, which I completely understand. When I reviewed it I likened it to reading parts of the Old Testament, which are interesting if you are in the mood for that kind of broad overview but is also pretty dry if you aren't in the mood. I loved it when I read it, but I think the desire to read it the first time, and any subsequent dips I've made into it, are always done when I'm in the midst of one of my LOTR frenzies.

I would also recommend you read Children of Hurin if you get a chance. Skip all the part about how the book came into being unless you are really interested in that and just get into the story. It is a tragic tale, but one that is well told and very interesting.

logankstewart said...

Being currently in Tolkien-mode, I very well may dive straight in after ROTK. And Children of Hurin sits next to the Sim., which sits next to my Languages of Middle Earth book and Lost Tales. But thanks for the advice to skip the intro to Hurin; now I don't feel obligated to read it.

Carl V. said...

The intro is better read if for some reason you are really wanting to know how much of the work is from J.R.R. vs. Christoper. Suffice it to say that most of it is from J.R.R.