Thursday, March 6, 2014
Have I Got A Book for You: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (Lord of the Rings - Book One) by J.R.R. Tolkien
Okay, remember how crazy I was over DRACULA by Bram Stoker saying (even shouting) that everyone should be reading it because I mean really, the book is so much MORE than what you expected from just seeing the movies and all? Remember how much I loved and enthused over THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins?
Well, here comes another book to drive us crazy. (Crazy in a good way.) And yes I know that a lot of you have read the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy already - so those of you for whom my words come as no surprise, just talk amongst yourselves until we're done here. A knowing smirk or two is allowed.
Of course I had seen the LOTR films but truth to tell, I was not all that taken by them. I felt that I was missing something. Of course what I was missing was the thrillingly established background and depth of character, the supreme and almost overwhelming sense of grand adventure which J.R.R. Tolkien had created in his books - the first of which I've only just finished reading.
(I know, I know, I should have been reading the stuff I brought home from the library last week, but sometimes, I'll just pick up a book lingering on one of my shelves - just to move it, you know - and then the next thing I know I'm gone. This time it's thanks to Dave who has been recommending the Tolkien books to me for ages. Dave it's all your fault!)
So this post is for those of us who have been dragging our feet when it comes to Tolkien's world and how best to approach it. Here's what I've learned: just dive right in - that's what I did and when next you reluctantly look up it will be days later.
I loved THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING from the getgo:
"When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return. The riches that he had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend, and it was popularly believed, whatever the old folk might say, that the Hill at Bag End was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure. And if that was not enough for fame, there was also his prolonged vigour to marvel at. Time wore on, but it seemed to have little effect on Mr. Baggins. At ninety he was much the same as at fifty. At ninety-nine they began to call him well-preserved; but unchanged would have been nearer the mark.
There were some that shook their heads and thought this was too much of a good thing; it seemed unfair that anyone should possess (apparently) perpetual youth as well as (reputedly) inexhaustible wealth.
"It will have to be paid for," they said. "It isn't natural, and trouble will come of it!"
From these cozy few moments at the beginning we soon learn the raison d'etre of Bilbo's youthful demeanor, how he came to be in secret possession of the Ring (to end all rings) and what must happen next once a hesitant Gandalf the Grey (a close friend of Bilbo's and his adopted heir, Frodo) explains it all (more or less). Bilbo plans to disappear from Hobbiton and leave the ring behind (not without strong regrets) for his heir to deal with. Poor happy-go-lucky Frodo's strength of character and purpose will be tested to the outer limits and beyond by the likes of this evil little circle of gold and the malice of all whose who covet it.
See, here's the thing: Trouble (with a capital T) is brewing in the outer lands surrounding the Shire. It appears that the hideous Sauron, the deadly lord of all that is rotten and mean - thought destroyed generations before - is on the mend. The 'Lord of the Rings' will rise again. All that's lacking is the return of the ultimate Ring and the master plan for Sauron's cruel and beastly domination of Middle Earth will be complete.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
But The Evil One hasn't reckoned with the gumption and steely spirit of one Hobbit and his three devoted hobbit friends. Nor their ragged troop of protectors: Gandalf the Grey, a wise wizard whose powers only deepen as the story progresses, Aragorn aka Strider the Ranger, fearless son of Arathon, a king in exile pledged to guard Frodo with his life, Legolas the elf, son of Thranduil, king of the elves of Mirkwood, Gimli the gruff but big hearted dwarf, stalwart son of Gloin, and Boromir, son and heir of Denethor, steward of Gondor. All will fight to the death to protect Frodo's task - a desperate journey fraught with danger and hardship and countless enemies who strike without mercy or pity.
Through it all, Frodo will not only have to fight against the ring's deadly allure, but also his own bouts of weakness of mind and spirit, even his naivete, his total lack of wisdom of the world. But this is one hobbit with enough purpose for three or four or more. In the end, Frodo is everyone who has ever undertaken a moral course of action and seen it through no matter what simply because it was the right thing to do.
Besides Frodo and the mysterious Aragorn, I was most taken with the Elves and their mysticism and strength of purpose and of course, who couldn't love Tom Bombadil, sage, poet, friend of the mysteries of the Old Forest. (A character not included in the films.)
Frodo's eventual destination is Mordor (home of Sauron and his ghastly ilk) - the only place where the Ring and its inherent evil may be destroyed, pitched into the Mountain of Doom's fires of hell. Over the course of three books, we will travel with him to the bitter end.
That's the basic story but as always, in the hands of a master story-teller, basic becomes something rich and strange very quickly.
I was soon caught up in the heroes' plight and consumed with their journey over dangerous hill and dale wondering what on earth would happen next. In a story like this, I think, the key is if you can relate at all to characters of myth and legend and I found myself almost instantly in league with all of Tolkien's trappings. The thing is: he has the gift of making everything - even the most outlandish - seem real and believable.
'A thumping good read.' That's the highest accolade I can give a book of a certain sort. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING earns that and more. Do not, I urge you, do NOT miss out on this book just because you've never read its kind before. Forget about that. Just pick it up and begin.
'Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you? But if you demand advice, I will for friendship's sake give it. I think you should go at once, without delay; and if Gandalf does not come before you set out, then I also advise this: do not go alone. Take such friends as are trusty and willing.
Now you should be grateful, for I do not give this counsel gladly. The Elves have their own labours and their own sorrows, and they are little concerned with the ways of hobbits, or of any other creatures upon the earth. Our paths cross theirs seldom, by chance or purpose. In this meeting there may be more than chance; but the purpose is not clear to me, and I fear to say too much.'
'I am deeply grateful," said Frodo; 'but I wish you would tell me plainly what the Black Riders are. If I take your advice I may not see Gandalf for a long while, and I ought to know what is the danger that pursues me.'
'Is it not enough to know that they are servants of the enemy? ' answered Gildor. 'Flee them! Speak no words to them! They are deadly. Ask no more of me! But my heart forbodes that, ere all is ended, you, Frodo son of Drogo, will know more of these fell things than Gildor Inglorion. May Elbereth protect you!'
'But where shall I find the courage?' asked Frodo. 'That is what I chiefly need.'
'Courage is found in unlikely places,' said Gildor. 'Be of good hope! Sleep now! In the morning we shall have gone; but we will send our messages through the lands. The Wandering Companies shall know of your journey, and those that have power for good shall be on the watch. I name you Elf-friend; and may the stars shine upon the end of your road! Seldom have we had such delight in strangers, and it is fair to hear words of the Ancient Speech from the lips of other wanderers in the world.'