The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Rating: ★★★★★ // nothing compares.
Opening Line: “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”
This summer my book club took on The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, which gave me a wonderful opportunity to re-read my favorite book series of all time. I think this was my second time reading the whole thing, I have read the first book maybe four times, and the second a few times, but for the whole series one after the other, this was the second time, and I have to say it was amazing.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
There are so many reasons why I love this series: the characters, the plot, the setting, the mythology, the chivalry, the good vs. evil battles…seriously I could go on for so long, but I’m not going to spend time talking about the character or plot because everyone knows those things, and it would be way too long of a blog post. What I want to talk about first is the historical world of Middle Earth, and second I want to quickly talk about a neat writing trick Tolkien used.
The world of Middle Earth has such an extensive history and documentation that when you are reading it and when you read other books by Tolkien, it is really easy to forget that this is not true story. I know this is extremely nerdy to say, but I’m a nerd so here it goes, when I read The Lord of the Rings, I have such a hard time believing this world didn’t actually exist somewhere, somehow, and this is solely because of the genius that is J.R.R. Tolkien.
“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
One thing that stuck out to me when I was rereading this trilogy was all of the implied history and tales that were told throughout the book–they almost take up as many pages as the plot does. I can’t think of many books where the backstory takes up so much space and is treated as important as it is in this book. So why did Tolkien do this? My theory is that he wanted to show us that this story, the story of the Fellowship and the destruction of the Ring of Power, is only just one story in the world of Middle Earth. I mean, think about it, why would he go through all this trouble to write stories, some of which have no direct impact on the plot? I think it was to show that this one of many stories worth being told.
Now, of course, this was a pretty important story, they saved the world from being controlled by a evil master, and after it took place, it was probably seen as the greatest story, but to the characters at the time of the story, they doubted they would even be remembered in future tales. It was kind of their fantasy to be in a tale as wonderful as the ones they were told as kids. Tolkien reminds us over and over again that this story is not alone, which, in its own way, shows us how important the story is. Hear me out, when reading this, or any, book, and we keep hearing about “the stories of old” within the plot, we start to connect the old great stories to the one we are reading about, making us realize that this story is equal to those, even if the characters do not recognize it to be so.
While many books have fantastic back stories and make you really fall into the world created with those backstories, there are few that actually have all those physical stories written down like a history book. Tolkien wrote close to 20 separate works on Middle Earth and only 4 of those have anything to do with the Ring of Power. He created a universe, not just a story.
“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”
The second, and last, thing I wanted to mention about why I love this trilogy so much is that, while it is long and very detailed, it really isn’t confusing and the reader is not constantly questioning what is going on, which is very helpful in a book like this. Sometimes cliff hangers are very important, but in this book they do not play a large role, and this is mainly thanks to Tolkien’s style of almost always telling the story from the point of view of the character who knows the least. For example, when the hobbits are with Aragorn, the view point it from the hobbits perspective because they are the reader in the situation, they are the ones trying to figure out what is happening and so when they learn something, we learn something. This even happens when Gandalf and Aragorn are speaking (arguably the two smartest characters in the fellowship), Aragorn is constantly asking Gandalf to further explain what he is talking about, giving the reader all the information they need to know.
These are just two of the many things I noticed when I re-read this trilogy, but I thought they were very interesting points about how Tolkien wrote and grew the world of Middle-Earth. Tolkien created something that has yet to be matched when it comes to the extensive amount of information and the details of the world. He was truly a genius and I have no doubt that he will never go out of style.
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”