The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
HarperCollins, (2001), Paperback, 1137 pages.
I feel somewhat embarrassed to be reviewing a book I’ve already read many times and is one of the best-known works of the modern era. However, my brief to myself on writing this blog was to review everything I read, no matter how old or well-known and no matter how many times I had read it previously. Having thus neatly trapped myself (something I realised about halfway through reading it), I am therefore committed. Not that it’s a trial to review this unsurpassed work of genius, the second best-selling novel ever written, although it is a trial to find anything to say that hasn’t been written many times before. I was introduced to LOTR quite late, having read The Hobbit at high school, I didnt find it within me to tackle LOTR until university. However, when I did finally get around to reading it, its impact upon me was profound. Apart from awakening my love of fantasy writing which has never left me, it is just such an epic story, based upon one of the oldest literary tropes in existence, the quest, that it can’t fail to leave the reader unaffected. The book’s underlying theme, that the most insignificant of us has it within ourselves to achieve the impossible, is truly inspiring. Despite the fact that the book deals with themes of quite horriffic evil, despair, death and destruction, it remains always profoundly upbeat, something many subsequent fantasy writers have seemingly found difficult to comprehend or copy. It is also compellingly honest in dealing with its characters’ failings. For example, Frodo’s failure at the last to destroy the Ring of his own volition shocked me deeply when I first read it. It seemed so out of keeping with the nature of the quest for the hero to fail in such a dramatic fashion at the very moment of climax, and then for there to be no conclusion whereby the hero redeems himself. Tolkien masterfully leaves this very understated, but the brutal fact is that Frodo did fail, and the Quest was only saved (albeit inadvertently) by the most despised character in the book. I have no doubt Tolkien intended this to reinforce his message that the least among us is capable of the greatest deeds. I believe that it is things like this that have given the book its appeal and grip upon the public imagination. I must also mention the other thing which grabbed me when I first read the book, which is Tolkien’s incredible massive backstory. One of the key reasons this book is so gripping is simply that it reads like this is a real world, with a rich, incredibly detailed history, a whole book’s worth in its own right. What other fantasy work comes with such incredible appendices, worthy of any academic work, that give minute details of language, origins, history and fill-in details. Its shouldn’t be any surprise, really, since Tolkien was an academic, and he knew that such attention to detail, to have accurate references to back up his arguments, was essential to having academic work accepted by his peers, and he applied that same principle to his fiction. But it still doesnt make this incredible backstory, something so comprehensive that it has been often studied in its own right, any less amazing. For me, any way, it has always been one of the outstanding features of this work, and one that separates it definitively from its many imitators. There’s not a great deal more I can say about this great work that hasnt been said many times before. Suffice it to say I found it as arresting on the 1oth reading as I did on the first. Nor can I put in a recommendation to read it, since everyone has either already read it, or otherwise has been living on Mars for the last half-century, or simply doesn’t want to read it, in which case any recommendation from me would be doubly pointless. It is simply among the best products of the human imagination ever put to paper. There is nothing more to say.