Drumroll and fanfare…I have successfully finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring! And yeah, that probably wouldn’t be a big deal to a lot of you fantasy readers out there. But I’ve been intimidated by the Lord of the Rings for, oh, about ten years now, so I’m rather proud. Not hugely surprising, the book wasn’t nearly as hard to get through as I was afraid it might be!
The plot is a classic quest, centered around the One Ring of Power. The ring corrupts everyone who touches it, and if it falls into the hands of the Enemy, Sauron, the situation will be very (very) bad for Middle Earth. Frodo and his companions set off to take the ring to Mordor, Sauron’s country, the only place it can be destroyed.
Having seen the movies, there weren’t many surprises for me in the plot, but I was hugely curious to see what Tolkien’s writing would be like. It wasn’t as dense as I was afraid it might be–I found him an easier read than, say, Dickens. In fact, I didn’t find Tolkien particularly slow on a sentence-by-sentence level. At the same time, I didn’t feel like the book on a whole had a lot of urgency.
There was tension–there was clearly a rising threat and actions that must be taken to counter it, and there were sometimes moments of more immediate danger. And yet, it seemed like there was always plenty of time for the characters to stop and think about their next move, or to recite an epic poem. Even when they were on the move, often days and days would go by of just traveling. And I was completely floored to discover that Frodo didn’t leave the Shire until seventeen years after Bilbo left. I think the movie compressed that down to a week.
It’s almost odd how much tension there is, combined with so little urgency and such a slow pace. I feel like this may be an indication of how culture has changed. Tolkien was writing from a slower-moving time, one without high-speed planes, instant communication around the world, a 24-hour news cycle and 30-second YouTube videos. On the other hand, C. S. Lewis wrote from the exact same time period and didn’t move as slowly, so maybe it’s not all culture!
As an aside, Tolkien spent years and years on LOTR, while Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in a few months, which I’ve heard annoyed the hell out of Tolkien. That may just be a rumor, though…
Anyway, the slow pace didn’t precisely bother me, I just found it an interesting element. I wouldn’t want every book I read to move this slowly, but I so completely expected it here (everyone warned me) that it wasn’t much of a problem. Even the Council of Elrond was all right–and the most devoted LOTR fans had told me that went on.
I enjoyed Tolkien’s world, and the depth of detail about the different races, especially the Elves. Many of the legends are really beautiful, and I was fascinated by the Elves’ role as incredibly long-lived, almost ephemeral beings in the midst of a changing world. We got a bit more about dwarves, Hobbits and wizards too, all interestingly different from one another.
I did get a little stuck on the idea of all these apparently isolated settlements or fortresses, in the midst of vast stretches of empty wilderness…how exactly does your economy function? Do you have an established import/export system? But never mind that.
I find it very hard to talk about the characters, because I’m not sure what I’m getting from the movie versus from the book. I feel like the book has amazing characters who are difficult to see clearly. I know they’re amazing–but I’m not sure how much of that impression comes from the movies, and how much is, eventually, revealed within the book.
I was disappointed by the very tiny role of Arwen in the book. It takes serious detective work here to figure out that Aragorn and Arwen have a romance going–and if I hadn’t seen the movie, I don’t think I would have picked it up at all. I’m not at all sure that Arwen even had a line of dialogue. Sigh. Disappointing, but not surprising. Women really are not Tolkien’s strong point. After all, the Fellowship has five different races, but they’re all male.
If this wasn’t Tolkien (by which I mean Tolkien, classic writer and vast influence within the realm of fantasy…) I would probably not rush to read the next book. I would eventually, no hurry. But I did enjoy Fellowship pretty well, even if I didn’t love it, and because it is Tolkien and I’m immensely curious about the whole trilogy, I plan to go on to The Two Towers in a few weeks. Stay tuned!
Author’s Site: http://www.tolkiensociety.org
Buy it here: The Fellowship of the Ring