The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

Fellowship of the RingDrumroll 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

Other reviews:
With Muchness
Words for Worms
Wondrous Reads
Snuggly Oranges
And no doubt many many more.  Tell me about yours and I’ll add a link!

Buy it here: The Fellowship of the Ring

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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18 Responses to The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

  1. Lynn says:

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed FotR! I’d imagine that the economy in Middle-Earth works in a way similar to that of (early) medieval Europe? And I’m always torn on Arwen in the movies. I love that she got a bigger role and more agency (because you’re right; women are NOT Tolkien’s strong point), but I’m always a little sad that it came partially at the cost of one of my favourite Frodo-moments as well. At least I remember it that way. Mine’s too terrible for me to feel confident even looking it up. 😦 I hope you’ll enjoy the rest as well!

    • That’s the hazard of it…with limited space, whatever you put in (or add) means NOT putting in something else. Otherwise you’d have a twelve-hour movie for each book. Oh wait–I guess that’s The Hobbit…

  2. Rachel says:

    I read the books so long ago that I can no longer remember the major differences between the books and the movies…pretty much the ONLY difference I remember is the fact that Arwen was made into a much more interesting character in the movies. 🙂

  3. lynnsbooks says:

    I love these books. I recognise that some people think Tolkien a bit wordy but I read these books many years ago and simply adored them. I even reread them recently and still thought they were excellent. I think this was a labour of love for Tolkien, he cut his teeth on The Hobbit and then came up with this – he even created a whole language!
    I hope you read all three. The tension definitely steps up with the next.
    Lynn 😀

    • Oh, I’ll definitely read all three. Once you start the quest, you can’t stop halfway, right? And rising tension may help it move along a bit quicker too. I’m not positive I’ll get all three read and reviewed by the end of Once Upon a Time, but I’ll definitely be continuing on.

  4. i’m always glad to hear someone has read these and enjoyed them. i used them as read-alouds when the kids were little, but i used different voices for the characters and i think that livened it up a bit 😉

    • Ha, that’s funny–my dad didn’t read me Tolkien, but he did read Lewis to me when I was a kid. With voices, of course. It always makes reading aloud better!

  5. I am really glad to hear you enjoyed this. It has been years since I read this trilogy I think I should really re-read them soon. And no that’s not just a rumour Tolkien couldn’t stand The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe he described it as a ‘hodge-podge’! I like Tolkien and Lewis but they have completely different styles!

    • I find it so funny that Tolkien and Lewis were in the same writing group but are so different…though I don’t know why, I don’t write remotely like many people in MY writing group! The resident horror-writer comes to mind…

  6. acps927 says:

    I’m intimidated by the LOTR trilogy as well, but like you have been wanting yo read them for a while. I’m not going to start tomorrow or anything, but this was encouraging!

    • I had to psyche myself up quite a bit…they’re very intimidating, aren’t they? You should try jumping in though! Once I finally started, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Maybe see if you like The Hobbit, and then go from there.

  7. Yay, you finally started these! Yes, there are definitely surprises for those who have seen the movies. The movies do give Arwen a much bigger role (be forewarned; she doesn’t get much page time in the other two books, either.)

    One reason Tolkien spent so much more time writing these than Lewis spent on his books is the world-building. The amount of back history, myth, language, maps, etc. that he created is staggering. A lot of it has since been published, but I would only recommend the Silmarillion and subsequent volumes to die-hard Tolkien fans. (I’ve read some, but by no means all, and I am a pretty die-hard fan.)

    I’m glad you enjoyed FotR, and look forward to your review of The Two Towers!

    • I’ve heard there’s extensive additional material surrounding LOTR (including more about Arwen somewhere, apparently). I’m sure that added to Tolkien’s writing time considerably. I like to imagine him talking to Lewis when The Lion, etc, was first written and saying, “What do you mean you didn’t create a language for every race in Narnia?” 🙂 Though on the other hand, what’s The Magician’s Nephew but a mythology/origin story relative for the rest of the series?

      • I can hear Tolkien saying just that. 🙂 And yes, the Magician’s Nephew is a myth/origin story, but I don’t think Lewis had written it when LW&W was published; I think it was an afterthought. Though he may have had some thoughts or even notes on the matter; I’m not sure. Lewis himself wanted people to read the books beginning with The Magician’s Nephew, but I always prefer (re)reading them in publication order.

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