Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest books I have ever read.  It is, in fact, so awesome that I cannot, by any effort, write a review of it that is shorter than 150 pages; left to my own devices, I would be reduced to waving my hands and shouting at you to go read it right now.

Because of this, I have shamelessly stolen a review from Amazon.

If you are one of the poor souls who have not read this mighty epic because you think all that talk of dwarves, elves and trolls is a bit sad, do yourself a favour - ignore the genre tag, ignore the thousands of third rate imitations that fill the bookshelves of the nation's book shops, and read this and be overwhelmed.

What does great literature need? A plot helps. Great characters. Tension - something to make you turn the page. Excitement, dismay, joy. And at the end, your should be sorry that it is over - and be tempted to start again from the beginning.

Not every great book has all of these virtues. But The Lord of the Rings does - and more.

It would be impossible to improve on the plot, the narrative flow, the brilliant pacing and masterly movement from scene to scene - many of which happen concurrently. And all this from a simple, single premise - destroy that ring!

The characters (of which there are legion) are immediately involving, fully drawn - but the simple old fashioned hooks are there as well. Good guys are likeable, bold, brave, honourable. The bad guys get what they deserve. Some of the Hobbits in particular grow enormously in depth as the book goes on, growing up before your eyes, their personalities re-drawn by the great trials they go through.

Tension, excitement, dismay, joy - you bet. Many parts of all three books are utterly rivetting, veering from edge of the seat, last ditch combat, through great chase scenes, to tense and draining treks through darkness and horror.

And the ending - greatly extended compared to the average work of fiction, and correctly so - is at once uplifting, joyous, beautiful and achingly sad. The sense of greatness and beauty lost, even in victory, is truly remarkable.

And most of all, Tolkien's use of the language he plainly loved is sublime. There are passages that hit extraordinary heights, sometimes lyrical, sometimes moving, horrifying, serene.

I've just re-read this again - perhaps the fourth time now - and it was just as exciting and rewarding as the first time. Put down your prejudices, be bold - it's not "fantasy", it's not "science fiction", it's not for childen - it is one of the very greatest works of English fiction, of any age.

If you have not read this book, turn off your computer and go read it.  If you have, go read it again.


I_am_Tulsa said...

hear hear!

moonrat said...

a bold move, this stealing a review from amazon. but thank you for observing the bookbook rule of not writing any reviews longer than 150 pages.

Froog said...

I am a dissenter.

It's a great premise - the Ring embodying the corrupting effects of power,and also the compelling but physically destructive nature of drug addiction. But Tolkien is not by any means a great writer. The books are very uneven, the pacing sags badly in many places, and there's scarcely any characterization (why are Gollum and Sam Gamgee the only two characters people really relate to? because they're the only two characters!)

There is a famous analysis of the trilogy (possibly by C.S. Lewis??) that compares it to the all-male (sexless/latent homosexual) world of the English public school: Aragorn is Head Boy, Gandalf the Headmaster, hobbits the excitable juniors. Girls are a rarity - and a mystery! - and have no real place in this world; idealised 'elder sisters', they are little more than cyphers.

Now that we have the splendid Peter Jackson film version, there's really no need for anyone to waste dozens of hours in reading the books ever again.

moonrat said...

oo, i like the schoolboy analogy.

fault Tolkein what you will in terms of style and, well, lack of women, but he did create the conventions of a genre that has entertained and filled the lives of millions of people. you don't have to like his work or him--although apparently he was a nice guy--but you just can't deny that he's changed the world that came after him in a way most writers only dream of.

my dad read me THE LORD OF THE RINGS when i was 5. seriously. he'd get upset and prod me everytime i fell asleep. it was introduced to me as the only religion in my house. i wrote and staged a sock puppet play for my first period class. but i never went back and reread it after that. maybe i should? or maybe i shouldn't.

doesn't seem likely the author of the treatise was CS Lewis--they were bosom buddies and best friends. but if you remember title/author, let me know!

Alan said...

I am in complete agreemnet with Kronski; Tolkien was a master along with C S Lewis and Austin Tappin Wright when it came to creating other worlds. Be sure to read "The Hobbit" and take a look at Christopher Tolkien's "History of Middle Earth. Tolken's son also edited his father's "The Children of Hurin" a story that predates the time of The Lord of The Rings when Mordore was Morgoth; a splendid tale and history.

Froog said...

I can't think where that school analogy comes from, but Lewis is definitely credited with the best one-line summary of LOTR. When Tolkien was subjecting his circle of literary friend, the 'Inklings' (I assume you've been to their hangout in Oxford, The Eagle & Child pub, MR?), to one of many readings of the gargantuan WIP, he is said to have interjected:

"Not another fucking Elf!"

Kronski said...

@ Froog:

The greatest thing about Lord of the Rings is not the characters. I give you that. But that does not mean that the Lord of the Rings is not great literature.

Tolkien's greatest strength was his world-building. He created a fantastic land of incredible depth, and in it, he played out a tale of of good and evil, entropy and rebirth.

@ J:

You never went back and re-read it?
I no longer respect you. What would your father say?!