To take my time I'm going to divide up my reviews into three, for the traditional separate volumes. But don't kid yourself; if you decide to read them, they aren't three separate books. The Lord of the Rings is one story, even though for convenience' sake it was broken into three volumes. Read them all at once, for they are only complete all together. (But I really don't have to worry about that, for once you start, you won't stop until you're done. :)
So today, we will talk about The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of The Lord of the Rings. I had the pleasure, though totally unplanned by me, of reading the editions illustrated by Alan Lee. I would definitely like to own these editions at some point. The pictures greatly resemble the movie casting--does anyone know if he drew them after the movies were made?
And I conscientiously started out with reading Prologue: Concerning Hobbits and Other Matters. ;)
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for the Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
I was thrilled, when I opened to chapter one, to see that I would be hearing more of dear old Bilbo--and Frodo, a delightful new addition. Bilbo is celebrating his eleventy-first birthday, with his adopted heir Frodo Brandybuck, and all the inhabitants of the Shire. At the end of the evening, after the guests have eaten and drunk their fill (and enjoyed some of Gandalf's fireworks), Bilbo puts on his ring and disappears. He leaves the Shire for good, to spend the rest of his days writing his memoirs with the Elves.
Frodo, his inheritor, lives undisturbed for years until Gandalf returns to the Shire with the tale of the ring. It is the One Ring, the ring of the power of evil, Sauron. And Sauron is out to reclaim it. I won't go into the history of the ring, but leave you to find it out for yourselves. In short, the ring must be carried to the Cracks of Doom in Mordor and destroyed before Sauron can find it. If Frodo does not succeed, then the whole of Middle Earth will be chained under Sauron's evil power.
So he sets out from Bag End to reach Rivendell and take counsel with Elrond. Not alone. His friend, Sam Gamgee, sets out with him, determined not to be left behind, and the hobbits Merry and Pippin come too.
Little by little, Frodo begins to realize the darkness of his quest. Dark horsemen called the Black Riders follow them stealthily, and they have a legitimate creep factor. And every evil he faces seems to know that he and he alone possesses the Ring. Through disastrous shortcuts, a meeting with old Tom Bombadil, fog, Elves, a belated message from Gandalf, and a meeting with a mysterious guide called 'Strider', they are well on their way in the adventure. After Frodo is pierced by the leader of the Black Riders, time begins to run short. Weary with his wound, which weakens him more and more every day, he must yet overcome it, if he is going to reach Rivendell in time to seek sanctuary and counsel from the Elves.
Though he almost dies, of course Frodo can't quite exit the scene yet. :) At Rivendell the real journey begins. Frodo sets out on his journey into the unknown, and nine companions gather around him:
Gandalf the wizard--definitely useful when fighting Balrogs.
Sam Gamgee--faithful gardener and a jolly good fellow.
Pippin--very nice for the humor factor.
Merry--can't be left behind. Goes with Pippin as an indispensable comrade.
Legolas the Elf--excellent with the bow and for running over snow to find ways of escape.
Aragorn son of Arathorn--a kingly leader who does not hesitate to step up and fulfill his calling.
Boromir--eager to persuade the company to come to his city, Minas Tirith. Seems to take an unusual interest in the Ring.
Gimli the Dwarf--eager to use his axe on some enemy. He and Legolas have some very funny lines together.
And not to be left out:
Frodo--a humble little hobbit, rather overwhelmed with his responsibility, but willing to take it on.
And so, Tolkien sets up the cast of characters for the rest of the tale. But as the journey begins, danger turns into tragedy. And by the end of part two, they are no longer travelling all together. I will leave you to find out Who and How and Why.
Tolkien's style, his history, and his songs are quite beautiful. While The Hobbit possessed mostly merry ones, and the Lord of the Rings certainly includes the Middle Earth 'folk song' factor, the songs in this trilogy run the gamut from downright morbid to beautifully heartbreaking. Tolkien is one of the writers that leaves you gasping in awe, just with his syntax. He is worth studying more of for anyone who likes to write, or who likes philology. He is truly among the greats in the literary realm.