Review — The Fellowship of the Ring

I finished The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time last night. I feel stronger for it because I’ve tried reading it three or four times now, but this time I actually managed to get through the whole thing. It’s amazing how pivotal Tolkien’s writing was to the fantasy genre, but at this point being nearly eighty years old I would more readily attribute the books to literature than fun reading. I had a hard time getting through the last fifty pages last night!

Now, I know a lot about Tolkien, his life, and his universe in general, but I actually do not know much about the plot of The Lord of the Rings. I have seen the first movie several years ago, but I think I even fell asleep half way through. I suspect The Two Towers and The Return of the King will be much easier reads for me because I don’t know what happens.

Here is all the knowledge I have of things that occur after FotR (spoilers obviously): Sam and Frodo find and capture Gollum, forcing him to be their guide to Mount Doom. There are at least two large scale battles, and one of them is (I think) at Minas Tirith. Merry and Pippin find meet the Treefolk and they go fight in one of the battles maybe? Gandalf comes back as Gandalf the White. Saruman the White does die. Boromir dies, but since he does so in the first movie but does not in the first book, I’m not sure if it will just happen later in the book or if he won’t actually die. The Nazgul come back, and the Witch King gets stabbed because “I am no man”. Lastly, Frodo gets to Mount Doom and doesn’t have the heart to destroy the Ring, so Sam does instead. Also Gollum gets thrown in, too. Beyond that information, I don’t know what is going to happen for the next two books, but lets talk about the actual vices and virtues of the first book.
The two things I hate most about Tolkien’s writing are the fact that every single thing in the universe has at least two (but usually three or four) different names. The Great River, for example, is referred to as Anduin, the Langflood, Wilderland, and The Great River, and all of these names are used interchangeably. This problem is worsened by the fact that several landmarks with several different names are being thrown out to and fro and it can be quite difficult to follow along.

Second, everything in this world is handed to the heroes on a silver platter, and everything in the world is ludicrously powerful. Mithril is an obvious example, since its used in every fantasy book. When the Company is leaving Lothlórien, the Elves give them each magic cloaks that not only blend in with every single color they are to tread across, but also are pretty much water proof and will keep them warm no matter what. The only thing the cloaks can’t do is double as armor. They also give them super cakes. One can fill you up for an entire day of hard labor, they taste absolutely delicious, and they practically don’t spoil. If you were playing Dungeons & Dragons, it doesn’t matter how much the people of any one town love you, this stuff will be expensive. You can’t even really afford a new sword at level one, let alone magic super cloaks. My point is that in this universe, everything is handed to the company, whereas I’d say in modern fiction, the characters have to work a lot harder for what needs to be done.

I understand that virtually all of my criticism lies in the fact that these books are quite old, and this is basically the source of all fantasy cliches, but it leads to somewhat boring reading. I personally am not particularly enjoying the experience, but hopefully it will get better. I do like the tale of Middle-earth and the sense of wonder that the universe draws you into, but the writing is archaic and it makes achieving that sense of wonder much harder. As I said, though, since I don’t really know what happens next I’m sure I will enjoy them much more. I know that things only get more difficult for everyone, and no more silver platter gifts will be handed out to them. Also I have no idea at what point Gandalf comes back, so that will be exciting. We’ll see.

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