by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is bullshit. The language is ancient, the characters are boring, there are stupid poems and songs in the middle of the text! And there are no queer or diverse characters! It’s escapism and has nothing to say about the issues of our modern world! And it’s just so boring!
“May your beer be laid under an enchantment of surpassing excellence for seven years!”
Well y’all, if that’s your take on this, sorry to say so, but then you’re probably a bad person. Really. The experience of reading books is very subjective, blabla, this and that, but this right here is where I draw the line. Because I do love these books from the bottom of my heart. I don’t only love them for the immeasurable impact they had on fantasy as an established, respect genre, no, I love them because they’re fucking awesome. Of course they’re not written the way one writes in the 21st century, but they’re in modern English. Seriously, if this is too hard for you, then maybe you work on your reading skills.
„The third was taller than the others: his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown. In one hand he held a long sword, and in the other a knife; both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light. He sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.“
And this series has A LOT to say about the ‚real world‘, everyone. Take a look at deforestation at the Amazonas, for example, and then take a look at what The Wizard Formerly Known As The Wise does to Fangorn. The Lord of the Rings deals with environmental issues, the horrors of war and a world that is determined by two blocks that face off against each other – this isn’t as actual as it was during the Cold War, but I guess there’s still a lot of people out there who can relate to living in fear from a terrible ‚Shadow in the East‘. Most of all, this is a book about power and temptation, and how power can corrupt even the most noble of people.
„Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.“
SO: The Fellowship of the Ring. And yes, I did give it only four stars. It’s the weakest of these books in many terms, and I’ll point all of those out. Regarding the language: it gets a bit Victorian near the end, but especially in the Shire, all is well. I love Tolkien’s writing, I love the incredible irony, the wit, the fucking epicness of it. Obviously, what I love the most is the flawless, and truly unparalleled worldbuilding. People, all of this was only written so that Tolkien, this overlord of nerds, could have a world in which he could implement the languages he created. He has written a bible for this, there are thousands of pages filled with backstory and songs and just EVERYTHING.
„The world is grey, the mountains old
The forge’s fire is ashen-cold
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls
The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dûm
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere
There lies his crown in water deep
‚Till Durin wakes again from sleep.“
And you see that in this one: you see the stories that have shaped this world and its characters, you see that everything has its place in this world. Of course, sometimes Tolkien does too much world-building in a way, which is the first weakness of this book: he introduces a lot of different cultures within these pages, maybe too many. There are several magical races including Elves and Dwarves, and he shows all of their culture while the Fellowship travels his world: the fallen Kingdom of Moria and the secluded dreamland of Lórien would be enough of a setting to fill a whole book, but there’s also the wonderful shire, the terrors of the Old Forest and the Barrows, and Tom Bombadil and SO MUCH. It’s overpaced regarding this, as many first books in a trilogy are. But it gets better after this one, so much better. So: plot, characters, writing, setting.
‚I will take the Ring‘ he said ‚though I do not know the way.’
Plot: bitch, please. Everybody knows the plot. It all starts in the Shire, this idyllic, protected village next door where the people have nothing to fear other than bad weather and are enjoying their life sipping beer in the Green Dragon. Lovely. We get a lot of info after Bilbo’s birthday party, but until they actually leave Bag’s End, it’s ironic, hilarious, and funny.
„Pippin was sitting on his pack in the porch. Sam was not there. Frodo stepped inside the dark door. “Sam!” he called. “Sam! Time!”
“Coming, sir!” came the answer from far within, followed soon by Sam himself, wiping his mouth. He had been saying farewell to the beer-barrel in the cellar.
“All aboard, Sam?” said Frodo.
“Yes, sir. I’ll last for a bit now, sir.”
Once the four hobbits leave the Shire, the plot meanders around for a while: seriously, I never was a fan of that Bombadil thing. I always felt that it gave as good as nothing to the book apart from showing that there are forces within this world that can’t be corrupted by the Ring. So this is my first problem with this book: that part felt useless to me. There are two big info-dump chapters in this book: the first one is ‚The Shadow of the Past‘, the secone one ‚The Council of Elrond‘, but I’ve never been dumped as great as within these two chapters. Tolkien shows us the whole backstory this world has, and just like Frodo, we soak it up like sponges.
The pacing of the plot feels off for modern readers, of course, because the climax isn’t at the end – the climax of this book is at the bridge of Moria when the fools fly, and then there are still almost a hundred pages of relaxing in Lothlórien after that. But that’s isn’t the true climax: this book was called ‚The Fellowship of the Ring‘ for a reason. It’s about the creation of the Fellowship, about their journey together, about how the power of the Ring tempts each of them, and finally, it’s about the end of the Fellowship.
Characters: I love the characters. What else is there to say? They’re all themselves and at the same time they’re excellent embodiments of the people they represent within the Fellowship. Borimir, Legolas, and Gimli are both individual characters and their races and people in a nutshell, and the hobbits, especially Sam, are us, the readers: the ordinary people who look at this world and are amazed at its beauty. Gandalf is a living mystery, and Aragorn represents destiny. Both of them together are the living representations of the central conflict: light against darkness, the line of Elendil against Sauron.
„All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.“
I get goosebumps at a lot of scenes within this trilogy, but there are two scenes that always get to me the most, and they’re both about Aragorn. One is his arrival at Pelennor Fields, and the other one is his introduction, sitting in the Prancing Pony which has been absolutely nailed in the movies.
„A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drown close about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits.“
Writing: yes, it’s hard for many people to get into it. If you feel that way, it gets better in the second book, I promise. Myself? I love it. Period. There’s easy irony in the Shire, and as this story gets more epic and grand, so does the language. Of course there are a lot of songs and poems within this, but I’ve always loved them (which is why this review is full of them, obviously). There could’ve been more reflection upon what happened in Moria afterwards instead of just saying ‚well, they wept for a long time‘, but I think the sadness of the Fellowship came about convincingly later on in Lórien. And one thing Tolkien certainly never fails to do is to underline the epicness of the whole thing.
„Fear not!“ said a strange voice behind him. Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weather-worn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skilful strokes; his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land.“
Setting: this is Middle-Earth. It’s the best, wholesome, fleshed out fantasy world that was ever created, and you feel that on every page. There is a story and a song behind every name, behind every stone, behind every step of the way. It’s extraordinary how Tolkien shows us this world, especially in this book: the idyll of the Shire, the threatening athmosphere of the Old Forest, the peace and quiet of Rivendell, the harshness of the mountains, the fallen grandness of Moria, the wonder of Lórien. It all comes together perfectly.
All in all: it’s awesome. It has its flaws, it has that Bombadil part that can be skipped, and although it’s brilliant, it’s not just as captivating as the sequels…four and a half stars.