Monday, March 08, 2010

The Lord of the Rings

The Fellowship of the Rings
The Two Towers
The Return of the King
By J. R. R. Tolkien

I took the last two weeks or so to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This hardback edition is one that came out sometime when the Peter Jackson movies were playing. My husband gave it to me for Christmas and I had set it aside, though with a place of honor in my bookcase. I confess I was loathe to open the boxed set and it hurt me to break the seal to read the contents.

However, the covers are embossed and it is a really nice set. It has all of the appendices included in the last book.

I believe I read the trilogy long ago, probably well before I should have, as has been my wont sometimes with books. For example, I read Wuthering Heights when I was nine - far too young. But I cannot recall exactly when I read these books and sometimes I am not sure I read them all but instead perhaps read only the first.

I also remember an animated movie from high school; we took a field trip to the theater to see it. It must have been this one but the timing does not seem quite right, because it would have been my senior year (1980-1981) and Wiki says this film came out in 1978. Perhaps it took a while to show up in Roanoke.

At any rate, I have read the books now. While I enjoyed reading them and revisiting the characters, I have a confession to make.

I like the Peter Jackson movies better.

Which is not to say that these are bad books; not by any means. But the film is a marvel at keeping close to the books, right down to exact dialogue. I cannot imagine a better effort that would keep to the books and still bring this world to life.

I read these books as a writer, looking to see what worked and what did not. Someone told me once that until I had analyzed The Lord of the Rings, I could not write fantasy. So I thought I should get to it, since I read a lot of fantasy and wouldn't mind writing one some day.

Foremost on my mind was the author's voice - very noticeable with an omniscient narration. Given that in the Appendices it becomes clear that this is supposed to be a translation of a history of the Third Age of Middle Earth, that makes sense, but from a reader's standpoint it serves to create quite a distance.

The dialogue was also quite stilted and forced. Again this might have been part of the "translation" device Tolkien was using, but I suspect an editor in this age (being the 21st century and all) would have advised him to do something entirely different for today's readers.

Another issue is the lack of female characters. Eowen is the strongest human female character in the book; Galadriel is a strong elfish character, while Arwen (elf) is an after thought in the writing, it seems. Eowen, unfortunately, comes across as moody and rebellious and only happy when she is loving a man. The movie does a much better job of bringing a few females to life. Galadriel in the book is mostly mystic.

To be sure, I did not feel characterization was a strong point in the entire series and I know there are many who might argue that differently. Instead, this was an adventure in world-building and plot. Characters seemed to have a few main characteristics and were not fully fleshed out. Truthfully I ended up liking Merry and Pippin more than Frodo in the end, because they grew as characters while Frodo, at least for me, did not. I really wanted to love Aragorn in the book but I never felt any compulsion in that direction, either. He was already a king when we met him.

This is a full book. One could, (and others have, I suppose), devote an entire life to understanding the characters, looking for religious themes, life meaning themes, etc. etc. I know that is what makes a great book, a piece of work that has so much going for it, which can be read one way by some people and another way by others.

I know that there will be those who quibble with my short analysis, which is their right. I did not dislike these books. But I do not think I love them, as I do the movie.


  1. I have these books, but have not read them yet. They're on my list of books to read. I think I've started "The Fellowship of the Ring" several times, but I just couldn't get interested in it. Maybe one day ....

  2. I am with you. There are a few great paragraphs, and of course it is a classic for good reason, but one of the first and only times I can truly say that the screenwriter and producer improved the story!

  3. Okay, I'll quibble with you on these, but only as a reader; as a writer, you're the pro, and I'm the non-entity.

    I think that you need to take a closer look at Eowyn, especially as she was in the 3d book. I'll argue that it's not the need for the love of a man, but the need for glory, that drives her.

    What makes the books Important (deliberate capitalization) for me is that this is the generative work for modern fantasy; there is very little that C.J. Cherryh or Piers Anthony do that is not in large measure derivative of LOTR.

  4. I read the trilogy out loud to my sons and I remember most of it well. I enjoyed the books but didn't like the winded descriptions of landscape.

    I read Wuthering Heights as a young teen but don't remember anything, except that there was a feeling of angst.


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