Hello all. You all know how much I love Tolkien and his works, and I’ve been gearing for this for a while. This is going to be a mega review of my favourite book(s) of all time, The Lord of the Rings. I say book because to me, LotR is simply one book told in three parts. The result of this review may be obvious, but maybe it’ll be of interest to somebody. In part, this review aims to inspire people to re-read the books, or pick them up for a first time. If you haven’t read then, consider your life incomplete (in the kindest of ways, of course).
The Lord of the Rings’ story does not belong to one many, but to all (reference there, any takers?). It is the story of the War of the Ring of the Third Age. The Hobbit Frodo Baggins bears the Ring through toil and hardship, to the destination of Orodruin whence it was made and can finally be destroyed. It is also the story of the elves, and of the fight of Men against Mordor. A shortening of the plot will not do it justice, so I’ll leave it at that.
FOTR: In the Fellowship of the Ring, much of the plot is focused on the characters and their origins. Primarily the hobbits, as they are a new race to us. FOTR is not a ‘busy’ book, and the plot is not a roller coaster ride. I don’t think that would have suited it. In Tolkien uses FOTR to introduce the Fellowship whom will be the main characters, and send them the first step on their quest. We see a lot of diversity in setting, through Shire, Elven hall and Dwarven City. Through Elven wood and down great river. Tolkien does well to balance the notion of the quest in FOTR. It would be all too easy to introduce the quest as an impossible task, and simply a sacrifice. Tolkien does not use this idealism, but portrays the quest as a last, desperate hope. There are a few truly epic moments in FOTR. The flight to the Ford, Gandalf’s battle in Moria and the sacrifice of Boromir being paramount.
TTT: The Two Towers holds the bulk of the story of The Lord of the Rings, in the amount of time that passes and the distance travelled by Frodo and Sam. TTT boasts a more ‘full’ plot than FOTR, with more great deeds and scenes. The highlight of the book is of course the Battle of Helm’s Deep, but this is not the greatest struggle in the story. During TTT, the Fellowship has broken, so Tolkien has to swap the focus between character groups. The book is split into two halves; books ‘3’ and ‘4’. Three belongs all characters other than Frodo and Sam, and Four to the two Hobbits. Tolkien ensures to give the characters a harder time in TTT, and the weight of the quest bears down heavily on all.
ROTK: Return of the King is the final instalment of the trilogy. It is the tantamount pinnacle of the journey: Frodo and Sam are in Mordor, and all of the others gathering at Minas Tirith. The battles in this book are of epic proportion; Pelenor and The Black Gate. The final showdown is really something special. The true battle rests with Frodo and Sam though, in the final step of their journey. The ring weighs heavier than ever, and Frodo can barely walk. They have little food and almost no water. We follow as Sam gives truly inspirational words to his master, who is flagging ever more. Hollom returns to climax the whole quest just as Aragorn and Co. fight it out at the Black Gates of Mordor. Never has there been such high tension in a story. We truly care about the characters now, and Tolkien ensures that not all ends happily ever after. Brilliance.
One of the reasons that people can find LOTR a difficult read – although they don’t know it – is the chronology. Because of the way Tolkien writes, in chunks, the different characters are often at different stages in time. For example, the siege of Minas Tirith and the climbing of the Morgul Stair. These happen at the same point in time, chronologically. However, Frodo and Sam climb the stair at the end of The Two Towers, but the Siege of Minas Tirith doesn’t occur until about halfway through the Return of the King.
FOTR: In FOTR, we are introduced to the key characters of the story, as befits any series. Much of the beginning of the book is devoted to Hobbits, and the book actually has a prologue ‘Concerning Hobbits’ to introduce us. The reason for this is, we have some knowledge of Elves, Dwarves and the like through other tales and stories. Hobbits are likely new to the most of us, so Tolkien takes some time to let us get to know who they are, their ways and fancies. This is also a chance to give throwback to the Hobbit, and the title of the first chapter is ‘The Long Awaited Party’. In The Hobbit, it was ‘The Unexpected Party’. A nice touch. However, it almost seems like Tolkien introduces the characters to us in order of importance (with some exception). Bilbo first, of course. Then Frodo, Gandalf, Sam, Merry and Pippin. On to Bree and we meet Aragorn, and finally to Rivendell where the Fellowship await. FOTR is much given to introductions , I think. We don’t learn too much of the characters themselves, but we meet them and set them off on the quest.
TTT: TTT holds the bulk of the actual story, and we begin to see the characters in their own right. This is because Tolkien begins to give harder challenges to the characters; and the way they react gives us an idea of their mettle. I think that this is a good method of writing, as it allows us to form our own opinions instead of being told about the characters off-the-bat. For example, I think Boromir is weak minded and pretty wretched. Faramir is the strong, wise one. Some of my friends see Boromir as a ‘badass’, however, and that he was corrupted by the ring. True, but it’s only because he was weak! We see bonds of friendship beginning to strengthen between characters. As Frodo and Sam are no longer with the others, we can see that they are more relaxed and they grow even closer than before. Gimli and Legolas begin to ease off of each other, and I think that Helms Deep is the pinnacle where they see each other as equals. We also return to the Horse Lords of Rohan in TTT, whom play an important role later on. I think Tolkien staggers his introductions so as not to overwhelm us. Indeed, in TTT we really begin to see the characters’ true colours.
ROTK: In ROTK, Aragorn really comes into his own. Shrugging off his years as a ranger, he steps up to accept the mantle of the king. I think that he truly accepts his lineage when he resolves to enter the Paths of the Dead, as he knows only the true king of Gondor will be suffered. The choice of Gimli and Legolas to accompany him is a great one, as it is a great risk to them. It reminds me of the part in The Hobbit when Bilbo is descending to Smaug’s lair for the first time, and Tolkien comments that it is the hardest battle he ever fights. Frodo and Sam, of course, are reaching the last leg of their journey, and they are holding each other up (well, Frodo is ‘dead’ at this point, but no matter). We gain an insight into Sam’s strength of character as he gives inspirational words to his master on the slopes of Mount Doom.
Tolkien’s characters are the best you can read about. He dedicates so much time into every aspect of his books, which is what makes them such a joy to read. However, you have to appreciate them over the whole of the story, not just as per book, as the way they develop and react is the main factor in their advancement. I think it’s impossible to read the books without settling on a favourite character, and for once we are not inclined to favour the hero. Some people love Gandalf, some Legolas and some Faramir. For me, it has to be Sam. The down to earth Hobbit whose gift from elven queen is simply a box of soil for his garden.
Tolkien’s writing style is not one you will come across much nowadays, and for this reason reading LOTR might be a bit alien to you. I know a lot of people struggle with the roundabout way things are laid out in LOTR. Please don’t let this put you off, as the books are brilliant. They wouldn’t be as good written the same way as Harry Potter or such like, as Tolkien’s style is resplendent of the plot. Persevere with reading them, you won’t regret it.
I think we can also talk about the LOTR movies here. A lot of the time, people will say ‘make sure you read the books before you watch the films’. I don’t think that this will work here, as if you want to read the books it’#s probably because you have read the films. Reading the books, then watching the movies again (especially the extended editions) will give you a much better experience of what’s going on, why, and events leading up to it that are not mentioned. You’ll get a lot more out of the books than the movies, so it’s definitely worth reading them. In some ways, watching the films will make it an easier read, as if you get slightly confused you’ll still have an idea of what’s happening due to the movie plot. I think that the films are executed very well, though definitely lacking in Tom Bombadil. If you haven’t, make sure you watch the extended editions too, it adds a lot more to the films. Just a little bit extra here and there enriches the films many fold.
At the back of the Return of the King book, you will find the appendices. Make sure you don’t miss them out, read through them. You’ll find out so much more on things that happen before and after the story, and to a lesser extent the events not mentioned. Find out that Gimli and Legolas eventually depart to Valinor, and that Sam lives a to a rich age as mayor of the Shire before he also rides over the tower hills to the havens. There are many family trees that are great to look through, and a detailed history of the kings and rulers of Gondor and other realms. Please don’t miss out on this information. There’s also the full tale of Aragorn and Arwen, how they met and their life after the war of the ring. It is depicted the death of Aragorn Elessar and what Arwen does afterwards. This is all such a brilliant addition to the books, you’d be crazy to miss it.
The Lord of the Rings are my favourite books, period. It is all of such epic proportion that you can feel swept away in the events as they unfold before your eyes. No, it isn’t an easy read, and neither should it be. The story is deep, moving and intense. You can really feel that there is a lot of weight on Frodo to complete the task, to do the deed, else the world will crash. There’s a sense of despair as we realise that either way, it is the end of the elves of middle earth. I don’t think a happily ever after ending would have suited this book, as the characters, especially Frodo, have been through too much to come out unscathed. The appendices are wonderful, rich with extra information and lore. Make sure not to miss them out.
10/10. I don’t think this needs further explanation.