Friday, September 19, 2008

The Lord of the Rings

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

After the successful publication of The Hobbit in 1937, J. R. R. Tolkien's publishers begged him to write a sequel. It took twelve years, but the result was what is considered by many to be one of the best novels of all time. Since its publication, The Lord of the Rings has become one of the world's most loved books, appearing on many surveys on favorite works of literature and setting the tone for almost all modern works of fantasy.

The Plot:

It has been many years since Bilbo Baggins returned from his adventure with the dragon. Now he is ready to go on one final adventure, so he leaves all of his belongings to his second cousin once-removed, Frodo Baggins, including the ring that he had "won" from the creature Gollum. Not long after, Gandalf the wizard discovers that the ring is in fact the One ring that, in the hands of the Dark Lord Sauron, could destroy Middle-earth. Now, Frodo must join with his fellow hobbits and the men, elves and dwarves of Middle-earth to reach Mount Doom in the evil land of Mordor to destroy the ring and defeat Sauron once and for all, before he himself is destroyed.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers!):

This story is one that I have heard so much about for many years but, for various reasons, had never gotten around to reading it. So, I guess the main question is, did it live up to my expectations? In a word, yes!

Though in the end, I think that The Hobbit was a more pleasant read (less complicated plot, fewer characters, faster pace, etc.), The Lord of the Rings certainly deserves much of the praise that it gets from critics and readers alike. One of the most amazing things about this book is that Tolkein didn't just make up a story, he created a world. His attention to detail shows forth in his meticulous creation of thousands of years of Middle-earth history as well as various languages, especially that of the elves. It was a little hard to pay attention to it all at first, but in the end, it is this detail that gives the story its richness.

One of the other great things about this story is how Tolkein manages to engage your emotions throughout the book. As I read, my emotions would often reflect what was happening in the story. From buoyant hope as the Fellowship set out to utter weariness as Sam and Frodo made the last push for Mount Doom, Tolkein was able to connect my emotions to his tale. Because of this, I felt that I was not simply a reader, but rather another ring-bearer.

I won't lie to you and tell you that this is an easy story to read, because it isn't. Reading The Lord of the Rings requires patience, perseverness and concentration. There are times when the book can seem unbearably long and dull. This is especially true concerning the many songs and poems found in the story. Though all are very poignant and lovely, there are a lot of them and by the end I was beginning to skim through them rather than really read them. The other thing than can make this difficult is the age at which you are reading it. I would say that the best age at which to read this story is during the mid-teen years, when you are mature enough to understand the writing and the plot, yet young enough to still have a fascination with fantasy. Though I certainly enjoyed and appreciated the fantasy aspects of the book, I don't think that I could fully identify with it and would often feel as if I was reminiscing rather than experiencing. As with The Hobbit, my main regret is that I didn't read it sooner.

Having said that, I honestly think that this is one of those books that everyone should read at least once in their life. It is not an easy journey, but it is certainly one worth making, no matter what age you start at.

P.S. It isn't necessary to read all of the appendices, but I would definitely read Appendix A since this gives the back story for Aragorn and Arwen as well as the fate of other members of the fellowship.

The Movie:

Not only had I not read The Lord of the Rings, I had not even seen the movies directed by Peter Jackson. But I have now emerged from the Dark Ages and viewed these Oscar-winning films. I was glad that I had put it off for 2 reasons. First, reading the book ahead of time certainly put a different spin on the movies than if I had seen them first. Secondly, I didn't have to wait a whole year to see what happened next!

As films, they are superb and as adaptations they are very good. Plot changes are minimal and understandable, and, most importantly, the spirit of the work remains firmly intact (unlike the new Chronicles of Narnia movies). The casting is also good with most of the characters being spot-on, especially Gandalf, Sam, Frodo and Gollum. There were a few things that bugged me, however:

-Aragorn's portrayal, especially in The Fellowship of the Ring. Instead of a man who was finally fulfilling what he had been preparing to do for his entire life, we have someone who is almost forced to take responsibility. To me that severely weakened his character and I lost some of the respect I had had for him.

-Arwen. She is barely in the book but she seems to be EVERYWHERE in the films. Every time you turn around she's there. It got downright annoying after awhile.

-Eowyn and Faramir. Faramir was probably my most favorite character in the entire book and Peter Jackson ruined him. We all know that Faramir is a much better man than his brother Boromir, but Jackson makes him just another guy with a complex. And poor Eowyn could have been developed much further if Arwen wasn't always there. Plus, Aragorn and Arwen are kissing every two seconds and all we get for Eowyn and Faramir is a smile? Give me a break!

-Portrayal of certain other characters and places. Elrond was definitely not what I had pictured him to be and neither was Rosie Cotton (a barmaid?). Also, Lothlorien (probably my favorite place in the book) was much different from the natural peaceful place of my imagination.

Ultimately, these are great films and even with these little problems they were great to watch, though I am not sure if I would have felt this way if I hadn't seen the extended edition. If you are going to watch it, that is definitely the version I would suggest since each film has about an hour of extra scenes and dialogue that help round them out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! Maybe sometime, I'll actually get these books read--since they've been sitting on my shelf for 3 years! ;)