The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

Return of the KingI am very happy to report that I have finished reading the Lord of the Rings.  The Return of the King turned out to be much shorter than I always thought–only 340 pages (plus Appendices, which I skimmed…)  I might have read these books years ago if I’d had a clearer picture of their length!  But I’m happy I finally read them–and in time for Once Upon a Time.

The Return of the King finishes out the trilogy.  (Read my reviews of Fellowship and Two Towers, if you like.)  Like Towers, the book is really in two separate sections.  The first half deals with Sauron’s forces attacking Minas Tirith, capital city of Gondor, and the various forces rallying to fight him.  The second half brings us back to Frodo and Sam, and the final stretch of their quest–followed by a hundred pages of the aftermath.

Overall I enjoyed the book quite a lot, although parts of the first half dragged for me.  I enjoyed the setting, and there were wonderful moments in there, especially ones centering on Merry or Pippin.  I loved anything with Faramir or Eowyn (more on them in a bit), and Gimli had some nice moments too.

As I write this, it’s becoming even clearer to me why I liked some parts better than others.  It comes down to characters.  When the focus narrows down and is just on what one individual is doing, feeling, thinking, I was engaged.  When we pull out and it becomes the epic sweeping clash of armies, then it lost me.  I thought this part went on a bit too long in the movie too (until the Riders of Rohan showed up, because they always make battles awesome).

I was happy when we (finally) got back to Frodo and Sam.  I love their sections, because it’s exactly what I wanted in the previous section–we zero in close on Sam, and we get nearly all of the quest from his point of view.  It’s immediate, it’s personal, it pulls me into the story because I’m not watching an army, I’m pushing through Mordor with Sam.  It’s funny, I think of Tolkien as being a very dry, detached writer, but he really was capable of writing beautiful, deep character stories (just not often enough…)

There are two other parts I wanted to look at, and they’re very late in the book, so spoilers ahoy!

I was thrilled to pieces by the Faramir/Eowyn romance.  I knew it existed (and the extended cut of the movie did lovely things with it, even though it only got about a minute and a half of screentime) but I wasn’t expecting much.  By this point, if a woman was identified by name I felt like we were ahead.  So when there were actual conversations, and entire scenes, and really sweet, cute lines back and forth, and an exploration of Eowyn’s feelings…it was still probably only ten pages but it was beautiful.

I was expecting something much more like what the Aragorn/Arwen romance turned out to be–she shows up just in time to look pretty and marry him!  Otherwise, not really in the story.  (The Appendix fleshes it out a bit, but not much.)  So I was so happy to get something actually romantic for Faramir and Eowyn, and I just love the two of them as characters besides.  They’re two of the most relatable characters, because they struggle more than most.  Faramir’s father never thought he was as good as his brother; Eowyn chafes against society’s role for her.  Most of the characters here are great fun to read about, but too perfect in some ways.  I love that Faramir and Eowyn are awesome, but still human.  (I think it relates to a lot of the reasons of why I love Sam too…)

The other part I wanted to talk about–the Scouring of the Shire.  This section (and its exclusion from the movie) seems to be highly controversial among the faithful.  I have to say I didn’t mind the long wrap-up, and I didn’t mind the concept of trouble coming to the idyllic Shire.  It did bother me what the specific trouble was, though.  The whole trilogy exists in this very high fantasy, very Medieval realm.  Then we return to the Shire to find a metaphor (surely not an allegory…) about the Industrial Revolution and Communism.  Or so it felt, anyway.  And that jarred for me.  I’m also not quite sure when Merry and Pippin became generals…they were soldiers, yes, but when did they learn how to organize battle plans and command an army of Hobbits?

On the other hand, while the nature of the trouble felt strange, I actually quite liked it that there was work to do when they returned to the Shire.  The end of the movie feels very empty to me.  The whole time the Hobbits dreamed about returning to the Shire, but when they actually come back from their grand adventures and find nothing at home has changed…I don’t know, I always like to believe people can go home again, but it just seemed to me that they would all find their daily lives so meaningless and dull, after the incredible events that they’d been involved in.

I really liked that in the book, after saving the world, they had to save the Shire too.  The scale is smaller, but the work is just as important, and you could see how everything they had done then enabled them to become leaders in their own community and to set about making things better there too.

I feel like I should have some succint, summing up words here.  I’m happy that I finally filled in this gap in my fantasy knowledge by reading Lord of the Rings, and of course it wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I always thought.  The Two Towers is my favorite, book and movie, although there are wonderful moments in all three.

I don’t have plans to read The Silmarillion…but I am very much looking forward to the next movie installment of The Hobbit!

Author’s Site: http://www.tolkiensociety.org/

Other reviews:
Rawr Reader
Suzie Hunt
Carol Rae’s Random Ramblings
Arrow Through the Sun
Anyone else?

Buy it here: The Return of the King

Saturday Snapshot: Lord of the Rings Nostalgia

I’ve been working my way through the Lord of the Rings novels, and as part of the very elaborate process, I’ve also been rewatching the movies.  I saw them all when they originally came out, but never read the books then.  I did, however, collect bookmarks.  I think they were available at my school’s library–the memory has gone a little vague.  But I collected them some ten years ago, and haven’t much thought about them since.

However.  While I had never read the books, my dad had them, so they were in my house.  And in my typical, over-organized fashion, where else would I store LOTR bookmarks…but in copies of LOTR?  So in the course of reading the books (those same copies that were sitting there all along) I’ve also unearthed the bookmarks.

I somehow don’t have the set from Fellowship, but I do have Two Towers and Return of the King

Lord of the Rings Bookmarks (2)Lord of the Rings Bookmarks (3)The bookmarks are two-sided, and I’ve kept them in the same order so you can see which characters were paired.  Some make sense…others don’t.

Lord of the Rings Bookmarks (1)Lord of the Rings Bookmarks (4)My one regret here…no Faramir bookmark.  He gets more screentime in the Extended Edition and…I just love him (this scene!)  Ah well…aside from that, I’ve quite enjoyed rediscovering a collection I all but forgot I had. 🙂

Visit At Home with Books for more Saturday Snapshots!

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

Two TowersThe quest continues–I finished reading The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien this weekend, continuing my journey through the very-intimidating Lord of the Rings.  I enjoyed Fellowship pretty well (review here), and I think I liked Towers better.  Tolkien is still not exactly a high-speed car chase of a book, but there is more of a sense of things happening in the second book.  I’m not sure why I think that, when the entire second half is Frodo, Sam and Gollum wandering about…but still, it felt like at least they were going somewhere.  And I actually really liked that half!

The big surprise for me here (after seeing the movie) was how divided the book is.  It’s really two separate novels–the first half focuses on Merry and Pippin with the Ents (tree shepherds) and Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn and Gandalf fighting against Saruman’s forces, most notably in the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  The other surprise was that Helm’s Deep was Chapter Seven of Twenty-one, instead of the big, final, epic battle!

It was still pretty epic, though.  I’m not one for war novels, and I can’t say that I normally enjoy a major battle (swordfighting is different).  However, Tolkien (and Peter Jackson) pulls it off very nicely.  He sounds some interesting notes here.  Helm’s Deep emphasizes the bravery and glory of the defenders, fighting off mindlessly evil Orcs.  But then we get a different side in the second half, in a battle between Men.  Sam sees an enemy soldier killed, and wonders who he is and what his story is and whether he believed in his cause too.  It brings much more humanity and realism to the warfare.  I’ve heard Tolkien was a soldier in World War I, so I imagine he knew of what he wrote.

After that somewhat heavy observation, the other big surprise for me was that Legolas and Gimli actually have a competition in the book over how many Orcs each can kill at Helm’s Deep.  By this point, I was assuming that anything funny in the movie would not be in the book…

This first section of the book also introduced us to Eowyn, and I was happy to see another female character.  She didn’t have much more screen time (page time?) then Arwen, but slightly more, and I thought Tolkien did a better job of painting her character even in a short time.  From Tolkien, that’s about all I can  hope for with a female character…

I loved Merry and Pippin and the Ents.  That was much funnier in the movie (of course) but was pretty fascinating in the book too.  In typical Tolkien-fashion, we got the whole history of the Ents, these incredibly long-lived creatures.  It was (of course) a divergence from the main plot, but I found their history very interesting too.

The second half of the book brings us over to Frodo and Sam, on their quest to get into Mordor to destroy the One Ring.  They’re guided for much of the book by Gollum, and he is such a wonderful character.  He’s so distinct, so weird and strange, so interesting to read.  Maybe it was the focus on a smaller number of characters, but I felt like Frodo, Sam and Gollum all emerged much more strongly in this second book.  I was especially happy to see a lot of it from Sam’s point of view.

With the exception of Boromir, I like all the characters from the original Fellowship (although that may be more Jackson’s influence than Tolkien’s), but if I had to choose a favorite, I think it’s Sam.  It was Frodo when I watched the movies back when they came out, and I still like him a lot, but on this go-around, I think it’s Sam.

I think it’s Sam because he’s not the strongest or the smartest or the heroic type who ought to be on a quest.  But he’s so loyal and he’s so plucky and he’s going to stick by Frodo right into the depths of Hell–literally.  He’s not a saint;  he doesn’t like Gollum and he makes mistakes.  He’s a Hobbit, but he’s very human.  And because he’s in many ways the most ill-fitted for the adventure, I think he may be the bravest too.

The fact is, I (and probably most people reading the book) am much more the “sit at home and garden” type, rather than the “stride through the wilderness seeking evil” type.  I’m never going to be an Aragorn, but if life thrusts challenges at me, I would hope to be a Sam.

I also love that Sam is so aware of stories.  He keeps thinking about the epic tales, and how their adventure is just like one…but feels so different when you’re actually in it!

My favorite moment of both books so far…is a spoiler, because it’s near the end, but you’ve been warned…is when Sam believes that Frodo is dead, and resolves that he will take the Ring into Mordor himself.  He doesn’t want to do it, he’s afraid to do it, it’s not what he ever signed up to do, but it’s what needs to be done, so he’s going to do it.  Tolkien makes a U-turn about two pages later and it turns out it’s not the path Sam needs to take, but still.  In isolation, taken as itself, that one moment is just so beautiful.

Yeah.  So I kinda love Sam.

In fact, I’m glad I’m writing this review, because the more I think about the book, the more I think I liked it.  I mean, I knew that–I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed reading it and didn’t have any big complaints (just still a little bit slow…) but as I think about parts of the book more, the more I think I really quite liked it!

And I have Return of the King sitting on my DVD player, and the book on top of my reading stack, so we’re good to go for the final installment…

Author’s Site: http://www.tolkiensociety.org/

Other reviews:
Rawr Reader
Snuggly Oranges
Books, Tea & Me
Anyone else?

Buy it here: The Two Towers

What Are You Reading: Lord of the Rings Edition

Time for another post for What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Journey.  I have been reading…a lot of Lord of the Rings.

On my last WAYR post, I was about to attempt The Fellowship of the Ring.  I am happy to report I finished that one, and didn’t find it nearly as difficult to get through as I feared.  I didn’t madly love it–but it was a good time.  Posted my review here.  I read a few other books, but pretty quickly went on to The Two Towers.  Have to keep the momentum up, now that I’ve begun!

P1020482I have a few books lined up for after The Two Towers.  I’m thinking Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier next, then The Master of Heathcrest Hall by Galen Beckett to finish the Mrs. Quent trilogy, and then The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, since I just reread The Blue Sword, the companion book (review here).  And then–on to Return of the King!

So I’m actually reading a fair bit that isn’t Lord of the Rings…but Tolkien looms rather large.  All three books have been these big icons in my reading plans, and all the other books have been selected and viewed as fitting in around Lord of the Rings.

Can you tell that I sort of make a big deal out of these books?  But after having them loom at me for ten years, it is a big deal to finally read them! 🙂

What are you reading this week?

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