Well, I did it. I finally finished reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy. What started as a New Year’s goal for 2011 to read only the first book, (The Fellowship of the Ring), soon became a desire to read them all. If you would have asked me years ago, maybe when the LOTR’s movies began to release in theaters, if I HAD ever or WOULD ever read these books, I would have balked and laughed and given you a resounding “No!” One flip through those one-thousand plus pages, seeing names I don’t know how to pronounce or places I’m not familiar with, would have been clue enough that I did not want to read it. I’ve never been a fan of fantasy literature. All the different pronunciations for the regular phonics that I know and understand frustrate me. But there is another reason that I never wanted to read it. Honestly, I thought that it would be too difficult and therefore, I would not enjoy it. Clearly, I am not a student any more and am not being required to read anything so if I choose to read, I want to read something enjoyable, and at the very least, something I can comprehend. I never felt that the LOTR series would meet my criteria for enjoyable reading. But at some point I became intrigued with the story. This probably began with the release of the movies and all the chatter and acclaim that came with them. Couple that with a sudden urge growing within me to just get some brain fitness and challenge myself to read something tough, and survive, and I had myself a goal.
So in early 2011, I began reading The Fellowship of the Ring and I drug my poor little Bookclub members along with me. This was my second not-so-popular pick for my club and they were probably wondering what they were keeping me for. But we traveled on with Frodo Baggins, our heroic hobbit, through evil snowstorms, deep mountain caves, and into far-away beautiful lands. We read about every stone in the road and every fire the Fellowship made along their journey. (Did I ever mention how much I HATE descriptive literature????) I have no interest in what kinds of trees or leaves dressed the mountain sides or how the rays of sun-light played upon the ripples in the pond, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. But I hung in there, and along the way encountered such beautiful language, that at times I just had to go back and re-read what I just read, just because it was worthy to be read again. As I mentioned before, I don’t like strange and unusual language, but beautiful language I can’t get enough of.
Admittedly, I am not skilled in analyzing what I read, but I did find something in the first book to be note-worthy. There was no Deity figure in this story. It just occured to me after they had been through a great many trials and dangers and deep loss that not once did they look to the heavens to pray, or mention any hope for deliverance. Yes, they did rely greatly on Gandalf and he provided care and wisdom for them, but once he fell to the Balrog, all their hope was lost. There was no one greater than Gandalf and the Fellowship demonstrated a great deal of courage in their committment to go on in their quest knowing that they had no hope. I found this astonishing! Being a Christian, it’s just so natural for me to pray for help, or at least acknowlegde that someone Other and Greater than me is in complete control and the authority over all. It is just plain weird not to go there in my mind. But these guys did, throughout the entire journey. Here it is quoted, “‘Farewell Gandalf!” he cried. “Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true! What hope have we without you?’ He turned to the Company. ‘We must do without hope,’ he said.”
I am so thankful, that in my Faith, we are never without hope. Even at the worst times.
Book one ends, not only in peril and despair, but also with the breaking up of the Fellowship.
It took me five weeks to read the first book. I’m a slow reader, but I tend to take it all in, and think about it a lot after I put the book down. If I were a high school English student, my teacher would love me for my interest, but I probably still would struggle because I just CAN NOT choke these books down as fast as they like. Jessica (from my book club) and I decided that after completing the first book, it was fair and reasonable to list it on a job resume.
I began The Two Towers in July and thought I would finish it the same month. After all, it is the shortest of the three and so many of the folks that I had conversation with about the books all said that it was their favorite. I was really looking forward to it. I should have taken note that most of the people I spoke to about it were men or high school boys. They tell me this is their favorite because it has so much action in it. I was encouraged by that because as beautiful as book one was, it was hardly fast-paced and I was ready for some excitement. Well, what I got was an overload of Orcs. Those from the north and those from the east. Some belonging to Sauron some to Saruman. They had names, weapons and armor, and spoke a plethora of conversations I couldn’t really decipher. I had a hard time following, I’m not a boy. There were also several battles in this book and what I really enjoyed about them was the contest between Legolas and Gimli over who could kill the most orcs. Those two characters were VERY entertaining. I decided to not invest too much mentally into the orcs and such and gave more attention to the hobbits and their friends.
This book is also where we meet Treebeard, a talking tree, and the King of Rohan has a fantastic, supernatural, youthful transformation after an evil influence is removed from his kingdom. Gandalf has returned more powerful than before and Sam and Frodo hold their own against Gollum, dead people in a pond and a nasty, gigantic, evil spider. One highlight worth remembering is Sam preparing a meal for himself and Frodo by cooking in the wilderness. It was a nice moment of normalcy in the midst of horror. I didn’t even realize that Sam packed cooking supplies. Everybody’s gotta eat, right? The number of weeks it took me to read through The Two Towers, I am uncertain of, but it basically ran through July and August.
I waited until the first of the year, 2012, to begin the final book. I have my regular list of books I am reading through so I have to pace myself for these longer works. Of all of the LOTR books, this one is my favorite! It was the one that I really didn’t want to put down. It seemed to move quickly and if you read any of my statuses on facebook, you know that this one had me torn up inside! When I finally realized that all my good guys who were trying to save Middle-Earth were setting themselves up as bait, intentionally, so that the Eye of Sauron would be drawn to them so that Frodo and Sam could complete their mission, I could hardly stand it! Just the thought of Gandalf or Aragorn or Legolas or Gimli sacrificing themselves for the success of the mission was too much for me. What a tremendous loss ANY of them would have been. Even if the cause was most noble, I had come to love these characters and did not want to let them go. I was watching desperately and wondering how in the world they would EVER succeed. At times I was afraid to read. I thought to myself, how could Aragorn die, I mean, the book is titled The Return of the King, and I knew he was the rightful heir of Gondor, still, I thought Tolkien may be pulling a surprise finale on me, and I wasn’t happy about it. Then when we returned to Frodo and Sam, and Frodo was so pitiful and Sam was so devoted and courageous and he demonstrated such sacrificial love to his master like I’ve never seen, and I realized that he was the most likely candidate to die. He would help his master complete his task and give up his life to do it. Sam would have been happy to do that and his service to Frodo was the most beautiful thing I think I have EVER read. And speaking of beautiful language…you should see my book. I dog-eared every page that I thought had something written beautifully, and thought that I might post on facebook, but the pages just grew too many.
Here’s what I did not expect in reading this book. I did not expect to weep at the end. I mean, my impression has been all along that this is a boy/man story and I never expected to be emotinally drawn in. The whole purpose in me reading this, if you remember, was for brain fitness; to conquer a challenge and celebrate my victory in finishing. Instead, I’m touched by the truest friendships, several final partings, and the languishing of the one character that I never expected to lose. What a surprise! What a sad and beautiful and wonderful surprise!
So there the three books sit, on the top shelf of my book shelf; the shelf that is reserved for favorites and “I’m proud of myself for reading that”. And I AM proud. But not only am I proud that I read them, I’m also just really glad.
Mr. Tolkien, I did not find you too difficult to read, though I’ll never comprehend how a story so rich and layered and so deep could come from just one mortal mind. It seems impossible that one could be so gifted in writing, and weaving such a tapesty of life on pages when all I want to do is write a decent enough article about my experience of reading that tapestry. Thank you for creating that “world unto itself” as my friend calls it. Mr. Tolkien, you did not disappoint.