Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (1988) – There are several books on my shelves that I must reread every couple years because I miss them. The Lord of the Rings is one of them (along with Dune, Harry Potter, and the Modesty Blaise books). I guess I originally read it in the seventies and have reread it consistently through the years. Although I’ll try not to compare the book with the movie, after you’ve seen Viggo and Elijah as Aragorn and Frodo, it’s difficult to see them as anyone else.
While there are things in the movies that are dramatically different (i.e., the addition of female characters and the depiction of hobbits as clumsy simpletons), I will mention that I totally approve of the absence of Tom Bombadil. I never really understand what purpose he served in the books. I said I wouldn’t review the movie, and I won’t.
In case you’re one of the lucky few who haven’t read the Fellowship of the Ring, I will warn you that the entire series is written as one book and you’re only getting the first third, so don’t expect a story arc in Fellowship of the Ring. Think of it as setting up the characters you’re going to learn about in the rest of the book. Another warning: J.R.R. Tolkien was a linguistics professor who loved inventing languages and script, so the writing style is a little lofty. Leaves on twigs on branches on trees the travelers pass by are frequently written about in great detail, but let yourself be immersed in the atmosphere of the writing and you’ll be fine.
One last head’s up: while the quest trope and the stereotypical characters seem old hat, remember that these are the prototypes that began the entire fantasy genre. Show some respect.
The Fellowship ties in very closely with The Hobbit, mentioning how Bilbo passes on the torch (and the ring) to his younger ward, Frodo. Characters from The Hobbit are at Revendell with Elron when the Fellowship comes together. I’ve always thought that The Hobbit is simply a rough draft of The Lord of the Rings with Smaug being replaced by Sauron, so the Fellowship doesn’t really need to refer back to the Hobbit but it does.
Bilbo walks into the West after his hundred eleventh birthday and leaves the ring behind. Gandalf has his suspicions about the plain ring and warns Frodo not to wear it before Gandalf the Gray departs to look for answers as to why Sauron is searching the countryside. Unfortunately, the Dark Riders are looking for Frodo’s ring and are closing in on the shire. Not enough is made, in my opinion, of the fact that hobbits seem to be the only ones able to bear the power of the ring for any length of time.
Frodo and the conspiracy, Sam, Pippin, and Merry, flee the shire to save it from the Dark Riders. They meet Aragon in a nearby inn who takes them to Revendell after Frodo is stabbed by an evil blade. There, they meet other warriors who have come to the elf lord to find out why the country is uneasy. Elron says the ring must be destroyed and only the ring-bearer Frodo can take it to where it was forged, Mount Doom. Other heroes, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Biromir join the hobbits and Gandalf in ensuring the hobbit makes it to his destination.
A severe storm cast by Saruman the White, a former member of the spectrum of wizards who has sworn allegiance to Sauron, forces the Fellowship to cut through the deserted dwarf kingdom beneath a mountain. There, they encounter Orcs, trolls, and a giant fire demon which apparently kills Gandalf during a fierce battle. Heart-broken, the hobbits enter the elf woods and meet Galadrial who wears one of the rings of power. She helps them with their journey and laments the loss of her old friend, Gandalf. She also warns them of troubles ahead and gives them gifts to help them on their quest.
Attacked by Orcs by the river, the team scatters. Biromir is killed (after trying to take the ring from Frodo) and Frodo and Sam set off alone to reach Mount Doom. Aragorn warns them that Gollum, the poor creature who originally wore the ring in The Hobbit, has been skulking about and will try to retake the ring.
Throughout the journey so far, Frodo has used the ring sparingly to turn invisible when he’s in danger, but it is beginning to wear at his mind. The ring wants to return to Sauron and casts doubt and suspicion about Frodo’s companions, making him sad and a little paranoid.
The Fellowship is as good as the first time I read it, and now I have the added benefit of knowing what they look like (from the unmentioned movie). Happy reading!