Monday, 11 March 2013

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkein

Well I have finally done it.  It's taken the best part of two decades, but I've finally read the Lord of the Rings in its magnificent entirity. 

This series is my literary Everest.  My mum's cousin, who is as far as I know, the only 'reader' in my family, bought me the snazzy boxed set for my 9th birthday (which would be 1997, just in the interests of full disclosure).  I attempted many times over the years to read it.  I got further and further with each attempt, the latest of which was during the 1st year of my Undergrad degree.  I though  "I'm doing a lit degree goddamit, I should be able to read this".  Boredom inevitably took over each time, and I gave up, concluding that traditional Fantasy (of the Ork/Elf/Wizard kind) was just not appealing to me in the slightest.

Until one day, it wasn't boring any more!  Hurrah!  I know that the vast majority of the world has seen the film and/or read the books, so I kind of feel like it's mostly pointless recounting anything about the plot.  Although to be honest, there isn't a great deal of one, not for a while at least...

The worst kept secret in literature...
The salient points are as follows, I suppose.  A Hobbit, a species that is by its nature home-loving and adventure shunning, comes into possession of what is probably the most powerful object to have ever been created.  The One Ring.  He is as surprised as anyone to learn this, and sets about wondering how to get rid of such an item.  The first instalment sees Frodo, the heroic Hobbit set out on his journey with three faithful companions to the Ring's place of origin in order to destroy it so that dark powers may never gain possession of it.  During their early travels (and after a few perilous events) the ranks of their Fellowship are swelled by an enigmatic Elf (Legolas), a mysterious but inexplicable awe-inspiring hermit badass named Arragorn/Strider (he goes by many names, incidentally), Boromir representing the race of Men, heir of the Stweardship of Gondor, Gandalf the Grey and Gimli, the grumpy Dwarf.  The nine of them vow to do what and all they can to ensure that Frodo make it to Modor in as few pieces as possible in order that he be able to fulfil his quest and rid Middle Earth of the influence of the evil Sauron forever.  Sauron himself is conspicuous by his absence for almost the whole book.  He manifests himself briefly (Seriouly, of over 1000 pages, he gets like a single line of actual appearance) and only when he's defeated.  The whole book works on the concept that evil is an infection really, that Sauron may be the origin of the Evil vibes, but that weakness and cowardice in great numbers combined with even the most singular source of evil is what is threatens to destroy the world.

What can you say about a story that has been analysed and discussed in the most unimaginably minute detail? I mean some people live and breathe this. There are full blown Middle-Earth historians in real life. Tolkein has created a world that is so real that it has it's own mythology and lore, several of its own languages and calenders, its own history and legends.  It's much funnier than I remembered, Gimli and Merry & Pippin are all very funny characters and some of their dialogue is brilliant.  I feel like I must also give a special mention to Treebeard the Ent, as I just wished that Ents were real!  It's as British as socks and sandals too.  Even the most epic and deadly quest in fiction stops for tea and a pipe of tobacco.

Middle Earth in All its Glory
There's tragedy, there's treachery, sacrifice and sorcery, there are more songs, poems, ballads and odes than you can shake a stick at.  There are small battles, fought hand to hand, there are epic battles fought over entire realms.  If the word "Epic" did not exist, it would have been coined to describe this narrative.  There is heroism on a very personal scale, and the type of heroism that ushers in new eras.  I really don't think it's possible to describe just how rich and full Tolkein's world is.  Not just full in terms of its inhabitants and its customs and lore, but the fullness of the landscape- every forest and bridge and every plain and mountain range is painstakingly described and populated, the grass feels real and the leaves feel real.  It really is remarkable.  Enjoyed it so, so much.  It's a commitment, and it takes some powering through at the beginning, but it really is one of the most incredible narratives I've ever read.

My only criticism is of myself, for being so daft as to keep giving up on this.  But I suppose it proves that there really is no such thing as the wrong book, simply the right book at the wrong time.  Also Boromir never actually says "One does not simply walk into Mordor".  That, it seems, is a Peter Jackson invention.  I know.  Console yourself...

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