The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring | J.R.R. Tolkien | Fiction, Fantasy | 1954
Before you say anything, yes I know I’m late to the party, no I haven’t seen the films, and yes it took me ages to get through the book. More below 🙂
LOTR is one of those series that you always mean to read because it’s so famous, but never get around to doing so because everyone’s already read it, or you know how the films end, or it’s too hard to get into as you read the first couple of chapters. I used to be one of those people, but now–no longer! Actually, I’ve only read the first book so I suppose that’s a bit premature…
I always thought I was missing out by not having read LOTR. There’s such a huge fandom, countless repeat cosplayers, and excessive amounts of paraphernalia out there; it must be this incredible, mind-blowing, life-altering series right? I even refrained from watching the films because I knew I wanted to read the books one day. And also maybe because the dark riders from the first feature scared me in my youth.
Anyway, now that I’ve put in the time, I can finally join in on all those conversations LOTR fanatics rage in.
The Fellowship of the Ring follows the story of a young hobbit named Frodo, who is thrust into a long and perilous journey all thanks to a mysterious and magical ring gifted by his dear uncle (cousin), Bilbo. Frodo is unprepared for this turn of events, but takes it in stride as he is pursued by evil beings who want to reclaim the ring for their master. With the help of some unlikely allies (humans, wizards, elves, dwarves, and more hobbits), Frodo and his party traverse across the land to find a place where they can destroy the ring and prevent the evil master from returning to full power.
1. The style of writing is hard to follow
LOTR is supposed to inspire awe and mystery and you can tell that it was written as such (e.g. ‘the sword of Boromir was drawn’ as opposed to ‘Boromir’s sword was drawn’), however, at times I felt that I was reading a bunch of facts instead of having to infer things by myself. Also, I understand that this place is fictional and the characters are supposed to speak differently, but I found it difficult to keep up with text that was written in whimsical riddle, foreign language, and/or in song. And whilst we’re on the topic of songs and languages–were there secret meanings behind them? Was I supposed to carefully read through each verse and decipher its meaning? They’re pretty full on. For the most part I ended up glossing over those sections, but I can’t help feel I probably missed something.
2. A slow start
It’s slow going through the first couple of chapters; not a lot happens apart from Frodo dabbling about the Shire for a while. The pace doesn’t really pick up until Frodo and the gang leave and the dark riders (wraiths) begin to chase them around. If I were to read it again, I think I’d appreciate the way Tolkein set the scene for this epic adventure and pick up on things I missed the first time through, but I admit I was a bit bored starting off.
3. There is a lot of detail to get lost in
The beginning of every story usually covers a fair amount of information to equip the reader with sufficient knowledge to get drawn into the world, visualise and understand events, get attached to the characters, etc., as he or she makes his or her way though the book. Unfortunately, this can lead to information overload if the writer focuses too much on the details, and less on story progression. At the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, we were introduced to so many characters, mainly hobbits, who had backstories and family histories which are probably not that relevant to the plot. I get that a lot of these tidbits help the imagined world feel more real, but it’s a bit much for people like me who tend to mentally store that kind of stuff (in case it shows up later in the book), but then ends up being pretty useless.
What I did like in detail were the terrain and geography descriptions. Marshes, mountains, forests, swamps, wastelands, villages–all of it was beautifully described. Sometimes, however, I had trouble following Frodo’s party on the map provided. In truth, I love maps in books; they’re really good visual accompaniments. Unfortunately, throughout the book I only had a vague sense of where Frodo and friends were, and sometimes I’d try to track their journey only to discover they were in a completely different spot on the map to where I thought they’d be. Tolkien does use cardinal directions quite a bit though, and I probably just wasn’t paying close enough attention.
And finally, I of course enjoyed the detail about the food. It seemed like whenever dinner came around, it was either the greatest meal of their entire lives, or a slice of bread. Down with mediocrity! Every single banquet had my mouth watering as the food was lavishly described. How I yearned for “bread, surpassing the savour of a fair white loaf to one who is starving; and fruit sweet as wildberries and richer than the tended fruits of gardens.”
It seemed like the best dinner parties were always thrown by the elves. In fact, the best of everything always had something to do with the elves. They’re pretty much perfect; tall, lean graceful, beautiful, great singers–genetic lottery winners. If I got to pick a race, I’d definitely be an elf.
4. Likeable characters
I admired pretty much all the characters I came across in The Fellowship of the Ring. You can tell the protagonists aren’t perfect and tend to make mistakes more often than not. They have clear personalities, prejudices, and flaws, which create dynamic interactions amongst them.
Frodo’s honesty and moral compass is so child-like; I just want to eat him up! You get reminded time and time again that Frodo is this scared, but brave little hobbit who just wants to do the right thing. And Sam, bless him, he’s not very bright but his devotion and loyalty to Frodo is so endearing.
5. Is LOTR so mainstream the magic is lost?
If I’m to be completely honest, I was a bit underwhelmed by this book. I think if LOTR wasn’t so famous it might have been more magical for me. You know how you sometimes get satisfaction from reading a book that hasn’t been read by many others? There’s a bit of that satisfaction missing, plus the fact that I was already aware of a lot of the major plot points. Even though I haven’t seen the films, LOTR is so popular and talked about, most of the surprises have been spoilt. I’ve heard so many jokes and seen so many memes about Gollum, Legolas, and Gandalf, the seriousness of their roles in the story has severely declined. It’s kind of like how Game of Thrones has pretty much been ruined by the all trolls on my Facebook. How can I know so much about something I don’t even follow?! It’s a shame I didn’t read this trilogy earlier, but no use crying about it now.
Is it for you?
As most people seem to have read the book, it’s probably too late to offer my two cents, but here goes anyway. I wouldn’t say this is a ‘must read’ for everyone. As I’ve said, due to its popularity a lot of the major plot points have probably already been revealed to you, and you’ll miss out on trying to imagine what the characters would look like without the help from Hollywood. I think if you’ve been meaning to read it just do your best in getting through the first part, it does get more exciting. If you’ve seen all the films it might be fun to compare the books as you go through, but they will probably seem slower than slow. You do feel a sort of pride after finishing the book because it’s long and one of the classic fantasy fiction stories out there. So let’s go with yes, read this book and join the fan club–there’s room for everyone.
I do think LOTR is something you could read over again due to the sheer amount of detail, I just think the hype has passed and there’s probably newer stuff to get into if you like keeping up with current fiction. I probably will read the rest of the series one day, but I think I’ve had my fill for the time being. Now I can finally watch the first film!