Monday, 26 March 2012

'The Lord of the Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954-55)

Synopsis: The Lord of the Rings is the sequel to The Hobbit. It is not a trilogy even though it's often split up into three parts. It begins in the Shire with the hobbit Frodo Baggins inheriting a ring from Bilbo Baggins, his cousin and guardian. But little does Frodo know that this ring isn't just any ring. It is the One Ring. It was forged by the dark Lord Sauron thousands of years ago to dominate the peoples of Middle-earth and is evil and malevolent. Sauron has recovered some of his old strength and has now sent out his servants, the Ringwraiths, to look for the Ring. If Sauron recovers the Ring he will regain all of his old strength and power. When Gandalf the Grey, the wizard and long-time friend of Bilbo, discovers the Ring's true identity he advises Frodo to leave the Shire for his own safety. Frodo then goes on an epic quest to destroy the Ring.

Oh, boy. Others could probably give much more eloquent, detailed reviews of why exactly this book is so awesome but I'll do my best. Well, The Lord of the Rings is basically one of my favourite books and it's one of the greatest stories ever written. It's an astonishing work of fiction and deserves all of the praise it gets. Tolkien drew from Norse mythology, his love of the British countryside and his Catholic beliefs when he wrote the book and he created this brilliantly-written, amazing, sprawling, epic masterpiece full of action and adventure. This book has so much. It's got themes of good and evil, temptation and redemption, love and hate, friendship, loyalty, self-sacrifice, courage and hope in the face of overwhelming odds. The Hobbit is a fantastic book as well of course but LOTR is the superior work, partly because it has more character development. All of the major characters change and grow from their experiences in this one. Frodo starts off as an "everyman" hero who dreams of a life full of excitement and adventure only to end up missing the simple, dull life he had once he's been deprived of it. His mental deterioration is actually quite sad and poignant, mainly because he knows he's deteriorating. Samwise "Sam" Gamgee is loyal and shy and he gradually grows in courage and self-confidence as the story goes on. Gandalf is easily angered but he is kind and he becomes more powerful. Merry and Pippin are both rather immature to start off with but they mature through their harrowing experiences. Aragorn is noble, kind and intelligent but he has a dark side to his personality that makes him human. Legolas and Gimli initially get on each other's nerves but they gradually overcome their prejudices and end up becoming close friends.

The Lord of the Rings is a classic and it always will be a classic - no matter what the haters might say. I mean, I know that we all have different tastes and it would be a pretty boring world if we all thought the same...but some of the negative responses and attitudes to this book that I've come across are absolutely ridiculous! Yes, there aren't very many female characters in this book but the female characters that are in it (Galadriel, Eowyn) are hardly weak and insignificant. Yes, none of the male characters in this book express any interest in sex but, y'know, I think they may have had rather a lot on their minds - what with the constant sleeping outdoors and the threat of Sauron and Saruman and the Orcs and the Balrog and the Ringwraiths and Gollum after all. Yes, there are different peoples in this book that have prejudices against each other but as they're mythical species that aren't human and belong in a fantasy world I really don't see how this book can be called racist. And yes, no explanation is given as to why Sauron is evil but does a reason always have to be given for why a character is evil? What would the alternative be? That Sauron was brought up in a dysfunctional family?

LOTR is an AWESOME book and there isn't a single page in it that I don't love. I even love the Tom Bombadil section in the Old Forest although I readily admit that it could never have worked if it had put in the Peter Jackson films. It would have killed the pace stone dead. The Peter Jackson film trilogy is brilliant of course. They're three of the greatest films ever made and I believe that they're three of the greatest book-to-screen adaptations ever made. But as fantastic as the films are they still can't compare with the scope and depth of the book.

Oh, one more thing - read the appendices! Don't make the mistake that I did when I first read the book! When I first read LOTR I glanced at the first few pages of the appendices and thought "Hey, the story's ended but there still seem to be quite a few more pages left. What's up with that? Oh, it just looks like boring background stuff! I won't bother then." Again, this was a big mistake. Yes, I'm not gonna lie, the appendices do consist entirely of background information but it's interesting background information! You find out what Legolas and Gimli got up to on their travels and where they eventually ended up. You get a lot more information on the Aragorn and Arwen love-story than you get from reading the main plot of the book. Unless you bother to read the appendices then Arwen just comes across as a trophy bride, something that Aragorn wins for becoming King. This is the main reason why I actually approve of Peter Jackson's decision to give Arwen a larger role in his film adaptations. His decision to have Arwen turn up to fight at the Battle of Helm's Deep would have been going too far though. The only reason why it never happened was because Liv Tyler was useless at firing a bow and arrow. Good job, Liv Tyler! You also get Tolkien's fascinating notes on the languages of Middle-earth in the appendices. I'm a Tolkien nerd and proud : D

Rating: 5/5


Anonymous said...

I'm re-reading this at the moment. Truly an amazing story, and I strongly recommend The Silmarillion. It explains a lot of the stuff that's briefly mentioned in LOTR and puts the whole story into context- makes you appreciate it on even more levels. Also people who criticise LOTR for not giving a reason for Sauron's evilness clearly haven't read The Silmarillion. It's all there!

Indigo Montoya said...

I think the racist/sexist arguments irritate me more. I have read a few reviews from people in the past who say "Tolkien portrays an entire race as evil! All of the Orcs are bad! Tolkien must therefore be a racist!" Er, no he bloody well isn't! The Orcs can't be a race because they're not even human! Tolkien calls them "goblins" in The Hobbit and they're creatures famed throughout literature as being evil! Just like vampires! The Elves and the Dwarves and the Hobbits aren't human either. And the sexist argument is daft too. I don't see how a book can be regarded as sexist just because there aren't very many females in it - and I AM a female. I could understand the sexist argument more if the females were all really stupid and annoying in the book but they're not. Tolkien says that Galadriel is wiser and more powerful than her husband and Eowyn is a seriously badass heroine, especially for her time. We don't get as much information on Arwen but she seems decent and likeable enough. I honestly don't know where people are getting these idiotic arguments from! (Rant Over)
Ooh, I looking forward to The Silmarillion even much now! One question: does Tolkien give more information on the place where Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Gimli and all the elves ended up in? Valinor, I think it's called? I always wanted to know more about that place.

Anonymous said...

Yes it does! :) The first part of the book is about the creation of middle earth and Valinor and then it goes into how/why the elves left and why they want to return. The Silmarillion is really the back history of the elves and with a bit about men and dwarves thrown in. Hobbits are barely mentioned which is a bit of a shame, though I've always found the elves the most interesting of the races. One of my favourite stories involves another badass heroine- Luthien who is briefly mentioned in song in Fellowship of the Ring. She actually manages to steal one of the Silmarils right from under the nose of Morgoth. Admittedly Beren helped a bit but she did most of the work and had to rescue him on numerous occasions.
It is utterly ridiculous that people can think Tolkien's works are sexist! If anything I would say they are ahead of their time in their portrayal of strong, pro-active women who don't sit around waiting for their men-folk to rescue them.