The Lord of the Rings Book ReviewPosted: April 17, 2013
It is rare that I get the distinct impression while reading a book that my opinion of it really does not matter. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien is larger in scope than my ability to comprehend, and far deeper than I would ever explore. An attempt to “review” such a work of literature would be like attempting to review Homer’s Iliad, Beethoven’s 9th symphony, or the works of Shakespeare. When in the presence of genius, the most you can do is attempt to share your experience of it.
This was my second time through The Lord of the Rings. Since it has been almost 5 years now since my last reading, I figured it was time. I am no fantasy fan. As a military history buff, I typically get plenty of excitement out of the real world without studying the history and various problems of a pretend world. I make an exception for The Lord of the Rings. I think it must be the characters in the story that draw me in. Gandalf, Aragorn, and the great warriors have such command and wisdom that I feel like a Hobbit in their presence. I admire the crafty courage and unique cultures represented by Gimli and Legolas. The Hobbits can be the most frustrating to deal with, being evidently simple and out-of-touch, spending their time with things that seem to be such trifles in the large scope of things. And yet don’t they most represent us, and our tendency to speak out-of-turn and constantly think about our stomachs? The fact that Hobbits are the ones who end up saving the world is a reminder that even those who lack impressive skills and knowledge can still muster up enough courage to do the right thing when it counts.
When reading The Lord of the Rings, you find yourself in a world that just feels ancient. Tolkien took such loving care of his idea, and worked with it until it became something truly great. He created languages, and legends; histories of peoples and geography. Even the way that characters refer to each other and the names of various places reveals an understanding that Tolkien had for linguistics and the history of cultures. At times I can sense echoes of Beowulf or King Arthur. Through this story I gain a greater appreciation for old things and ages past. Even swords have history and stories behind them. The venerable towers and crumbling statues of kings leave the reader feeling young and inexperienced, and yet through reliance upon the wisdom of the old ones we can better understand what came before us and why it matters. We acquire an appreciation for natural things as well while reading Tolkien’s story. Forests are magical places that have moods all their own. The imagination can picture wide open spaces with majestic mountains, or cavernous passageways that lead deep into the earth, or a small forest clearing with friends gathered around a crackling fire. We follow our heroes running long distances hunting Orcs, while others gallop along on magnificent steeds bearing crucial messages, while still others trudge slowly along with their packs and the help of good walking sticks. Reading this story gives me a desire to be outdoors, and maybe even throw a few things in a backpack and wander down a trail or jog to a friend’s house.
The battles in this story are impressive to say the least.
Tolkien illustrates the timeless struggle between good and evil. Another reason I think many of us find satisfaction in reading these books is that if we must have enemies, we desire them to be obviously evil. If only bad guys were all as repulsive as Orcs! If only the presence of evil always brought a shadow or a chill, then we could more easily avoid it. How many important battles do we lose in our lives simply because we do not recognize what is at stake and fail to fight with all our strength against the Enemy?
Another appealing concept that is found in this story is genuine friendship and camaraderie. Someone could spend a large amount of time simply discussing the bond between Frodo and Sam. How is it that Sam (Frodo’s gardener) could be so sacrificial and subservient to his “master” Frodo? Why is it that as independent-minded as I tend to be, I find that I have a deep desire to serve someone with similar dedication? A life with that sort of clarity of purpose would be worth trading my independence for. Perhaps Christ has programmed me at a deep level to serve Him, and Tolkien is somehow able to draw out this feeling.
As the Ents might say, I must not be hasty in reading this story if I hope to get the most out of it. We need to look for opportunities nowadays to fight actively against our impatience. Reading The Lord of the Rings is a delightfully rewarding way to do it. It requires extra effort on my part to get through the “slow” sections of these books. But is that not healthy? By the end of the story I am thinking fondly of the entire saga. I think that the reason why it is difficult to restrain tears when Sam and Frodo wake up in their beds with their mission accomplished is because I have taken that long laborious journey with them, and therefore I can feel their inexpressible joy. Regardless of my personal struggles with impatience, I cannot help but be in awe of the quality of Tolkien’s writing. Even as I sigh my way through another lengthy elvish poem, I remember that the poems and songs reflect people, places, and history that are essential parts of the overall masterpiece. Cutting corners would lessen the reward. I am grateful that Tolkien took the time to give this great literary gift to the world.
If you have never read The Lord of the Rings, I encourage you to do it. I can assure you that by the time you have finished the trilogy, you will be glad that you did. Take your time. Find a comfortable chair in the peace and quiet, and journey to a distant place that will broaden your mind, stir your imagination, and give you a truly wonderful adventure.