It took a while to read but it was well worth it.
The Fellowship of The Ring
I thought The fellowship of the Ring follows pretty closely to what we saw in the movie version although events take much longer to unfold in the book than the movie with the passage of time being many years between the discovery of the power of Bilbo’s ring and Frodo’s journey. The opening pages go into some detail about Hobbit pipe weed, the history behind it which seems a little strange as an introduction to Hobbits and their culture but understandable since Tolkien was an avid pipe smoker.
The book later discusses in great detail the One Ring, it’s history, it’s power on man and others and why it can’t be just hidden or thrown into the deepest sea. It beefs up the importance of the quest. Gollum’s back story is discussed here too giving a fascinating insight into the character. Gollum’s History is sprinkled throughout the movie trilogy, but here, having already been introduced in the Hobbit the character’s back story is filled in by Gandalf to Frodo. There is a defining moment here where Frodo says it’s a pity that Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum, but Gandalf lightly scolds him on this, stating that who is he (Frodo) to decide who lives and who dies for life is not always just and it is through Biblo’s pity on Gollum in the Hobbit that he receives the Ring unlike Gollum who killed for it. This is a defining moment for later in “The Two Towers” does Frodo remember Gandalf’s words and spares Gollum himself which has an even greater impact on the story. The Birth of Gollum is seen to be not just through murder and the weight of the Ring but from himself becoming a trickster and listening in on peoples conversations which he should never hear in the first place, letting the private words of others poison his mind. There is certainly a lesson to be learned.
The Ring itself is far too powerful for anyone. It’s the power more than the evil it possesses that is the danger. Having such great power, can a person control it or would they lose themselves into giving into their worldly desires. The abyss looking into the holder of the Ring so to speak.
The Tom Bombaldi chapter feels a little out of place in the Lord of the Rings and is pretty much a mystery, even to the characters themselves. A bit of a Deus Ex machina in a way. It’s a rather frustrating Chapter to read in the book and I found the character to be a little bit annoying.
As usual Gandalf is coming and going and as with the Hobbit he is off missing much of the time on errands, dealing with other things that need his attention. Gandalf is one of those characters that’s sometimes handy to have around in sticky situations and his absence is truly noticed when the characters no longer have him in their company, this certainly adds to the level of threat without him and I think Gandalf himself knows that the people of middle earth need to stand without his power at times. What he is really trying to do is level the playing field between the people of middle earth and Sauron. But he himself is not infallible. I liked the sense of foreboding he has with mines of Moria and what lies in wait for him. He tries to escape his own destiny but there are powers as great and greater as he. This didn’t come across so much in the movie but here it’s done very subtle.
Favorite Quote: “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” – Gandalf
The Two Towers
This book is split between Frodo and Sam’s journey and Aragorn’s Journey. Both stories are equally exciting but I’d personally would have preferred interchanging chapters, switching back an forth between characters.
We get a lot more of Saruman, less in league with Sauron and more wanting to take power for himself. But he is utterly fooled by his own making and has fooled himself into thinking he actually ever had a chance against Sauron. The battle of helms deep is rather short compared with the movie and there is more emphasis on the parley with Saurman and his twisted ways.
In the second half of the novel the focus switches to Sam as Frodo becomes more and more distant, not just to Sam but to the readers also. We read less of his inner thoughts and we too start to fee what Sam feels, not knowing what’s going on. At this point things change. Sam becomes the real hero of the story. He perhaps became one of my favorite characters in LOTRs because of his devotion and love to his friend and master Frodo. He is even willing to forget all about the Ring, their quest, and let the world end just for the sake of his friend. To hell with the consequences, he aint leaving Mr. Frodo behind.
Mordor is a hellish place and there is a great sense of burden and doom as Sam and Frodo travel through these lands. It was at around this time as I read these bleak descriptions of the place that the March 11th earthquake in Japan had struck and there seemed to be a resemblance between the dark hopelessness described in these chapters as there was in the atmosphere of life and people that I saw as I lived in Japan in the weeks after the earthquake. Doom hanged in the air. Not only were there constant earth quakes but the threat of Radiation from Fukushima was becoming rapidly apparent. I couldn’t help but associate these things with the images and dread described in Mordor. The thought that this journey to destroy the Ring would really be a one way journey but also no matter how dark things got there was hope inside these characters, in Sam. That’s the beautiful thing about books and the places you read them in. They hold some significance to that time and place you’re in and what you’re going through at that moment. The place and time you are in becomes part of that book.
Favorite Quote: He peered out at that high stony place where all his life had fallen in ruin. ‘If only i could have my wish, my one wish,’ he sighed, ‘to go back and find him!’ Then at last he turned to the road in front and took a few steps: the heaviest and most reluctant he had ever taken. – Sam
The Return of the King
As with the other books the scenes are so detailed and vivid in the mind. What sticks out is the battle of Pellennor fields. The end of the Witch King. Sam and Frodo’s journey flows smoothly on from the two towers andis quite compelling considering their predicament at the end of the Two Towers. It’s the story I looked forward to completing most however The first part with Aragorn, Gandalf and Merri and Pippin is equally exciting and from their perspective there is a bleaker end for them midway through the book until all the characters return to the same page.
The story wraps everything up very well and by the end the Hobbits that return are a few feet taller figuratively and literally speaking. They’re men, back from a war with the proof of it weighing on their shoulders. They finally come into their own as Gandalf and the Elves pass into the undying lands these Hobbits are the next race that grow up to defend themselves from the evils of the world. It’s rather touching and fitting to see Sam get the ending the movie didn’t have time to give him. But as noted already he is such an important character more so than the movies. He is a Ring bearer. He has carried it and he too has his own ending that brings a close to the world he came from.
The appendices at the end are a nice companion piece to the book and might have even deserved a book of their own.
For anyone who has only watched the movies the books go into such detail and explain the backgrounds on events that might have confused viewers. It certainly adds a richer experience to the films and you feel as you are part of something bigger after having read them.
Favorite Quote: There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. – Book VI, The Land of Shadow