My first encounter with the enormous doorstop that is Tolkien’s classic was when I was ten and my dad read it to me as a bedtime story. I blame him, and these books for my obsession with fantasy and the ridiculous amount of Pinterest boards I’ve dedicated to LOTR and Hobbit fan art. Even so, sitting down to re-read the doorstop is a commitment I’m not usually ready to make, so for a long time, the movies have kept my obsessions alive.
But pandemic lock down seemed like a good time to do a reread. I’d last read the saga from cover to cover in high school, and eighteen years was plenty of time to forget the details.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the movies. Peter Jackson, the writers, and all the actors did the most amazing job and I can lose myself in those 18 hours of film every single time. But there were so many fantastic details and side stories in the books that I’d forgotten about. Aragorn’s coronation at the end of the books and all the little prophetic moments leading up to it made the moment of his crowning so much more poignant in the books. All the details of Merry and Pippin’s time with the Ents, and even the scouring of the Shire at the end were so expertly written that reading them was almost a gut punch. How could I have forgotten these moments?
Perhaps it’s a testament to the films that they’re so seamless that I forgot all the beautiful details and side quests and back history embedded in the pages. And while the movies do capture the spirit of Tolkien’s world, they don’t capture the almost aching, painful beauty of it all. His micro to macro writing style brings you so close to the characters and then far out to the end of their lives or of their time in the same paragraph, and you just want to cry. You’re literally watching the end of an age unfold through the pages and the level of detail about what once was and what now is, hurts even though you know in the back of your mind that it’s not real and never was.
As a writer myself, I was also blown away by the amount of careful plotting, symbolism, and foreshadowing Tolkien weaves through over a thousand pages of text with a cast of characters bigger than the Avengers franchise. And yet as big as it is, it’s also so personal. When Sam and Frodo are huddled at the base of Mt. Doom, these two little hobbits with the fate of an entire age on their shoulders, you feel what Tolkien was going for. Major world change is at once global and personal; the tiny small choices of tiny, small people all adding up to gargantuan turning points. As a young soldier who fought in World War I trench warfare, and then lived through World War II, it’s easy to see where he pulled the emotion and reality from for his characters.
Do I wish there were more bada** lady characters? Yes. I mean, we have Eowyn, and she’s definitely awesome, but she’s also totally a female character written by a white man. Do I wish there was any character of color anywhere? Absolutely. But taken in the context of when it was written, and the values of the world at that time, Tolkien’s timeless epic is still epic and timeless, and I’ll never stop loving getting lost in his world.
5 stars forever and always.
Bingo Square: Adaption