Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

Part the next of "Books that everyone else read in high school but me": the Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien.

Brief synopsis: The first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Fellowship of the Ring follows Frodo as he embarks on a quest to destroy the ring left to him by his uncle Bilbo (of The Hobbit fame), which as it turns out is the tool of an evil overlord named Sauron who is regathering his strength to take over Middle-Earth. Along the way he takes Aragorn, heir to the scattered kingdoms of Men, envious Boromir, Legolas the Elf, Gimli the dwarf, Gandalf the wizard, and a Sam, Merry, and Pippin, a trio of hobbits. Barrow-wights, ring wraiths, orcs, lake monsters, wolves, and snowstorms do their best to stop them, etc.

There's no doubt that this trilogy is one of the most beloved works ever written, and it's easy to see why: Tolkien's Middle-Earth is such an amazing invention that I think it really speaks to the imagination and wonder of almost every one who reads it. Even now, when fantasy books filled with Orcs and Elves and Dwarves and crap are basically a dime-a-dozen, none seems so impressive and endearing as this one, and why should they? No other genre owes so much to one book.

To my surprise, these books are extremely readable: there are very few descriptive or expository passages, and a fair amount of suspense (I had imagined that much of the more suspenseful action moments of the movie were beefed up by Peter Jackson, but in fact most are quite faithful to the book). I suppose I ought to have known that a book appreciated by so many would be easy to read, though. However, some of the story seemed a little stale to me--probably, unfortunately, because I had seen the movie, which does quite well by the book. There were a few sections omitted by the movie, most notably the series of events involving Tom Bombadil, master of the wood. But the omitted sections are no grave loss, really.

What's really exceptional about Tolkien's works is the sheer volume of mythology he provides. Outside of the narratives provided here, Tolkien's construction of Middle-Earth (and Arda, the name for the entire world at this point in "prehistory") is a finely-tuned tome of myth, legend, history, invented geography and language--it's simply the most detailed and intensive universe created by any writer ever. As a result, even at the times when the book drags on a bit--lots of storytelling, and poems and the like--it's just an amazing thing to behold.

I think I will finish the series, since this book turned out to be less imposing than its 400+ pages, but I think I'll read another book before I take up the next volume, and something else before the final book as well.

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