I am so excited to finally share my full review of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. This was on my reading goals for 2018 as a reread. I last read this series/book in my senior English course during my undergrad. It was an amazing class and the first time I read the full series back to back. I loved getting back into this one again!
I decided to do one review of the books as they are really one story. I even have the one volume edition with all three parts included. It helps me to think of this book as one story. And on this reread, I was completely blown away by LOTR!
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien chronicles the quest to defeat Sauron by destroying the one ring. According to Goodreads: “In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. . . . When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom. The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.”
I have heard this novel described as an epic, and I complete agree.
The scope of this novel is incredibly large. Tolkien creates an entirely new world, complete with extended history, several complete languages and complicated geography. And he gives us so many details in the text. While I enjoy Narnia and Harry Potter (a lot!), this is a different kind of fantasy. It is bigger and seems to have multiple layers of meaning and direction. I’ve read that Tolkien wanted to create something beyond a single allegory. He wanted to create a world that could be interpreted in any direction. I think he succeeded.
- Sam. I cannot say enough good things about Sam. Without him, the entire quest of the ring fails. But with him, Frodo finds strength beyond his own, is saved from certain death a few times, and is able to remember the good worth fighting for. I love Sam’s passion for gardening, the way he brings his pots and pans all the way to Mordor, and his simple devotion to his master.
- Aragorn. It is fascinating to see Aragorn’s transformation through the series. He begins as a humble ranger with unique skills at healing and he becomes the king of the age. But throughout all his adventures, he remains humble and true to his friends. There are so many things to love about Aragorn. Most of all, I admire his loyalty, his bravery, and his devotion.
- Faramir. I have always liked Faramir in the movies and the book just made me appreciate his character even more. He is a truly good man with strong morals. His ability to resist the power of the Ring and his dedication to defending his country are both admirable. His sweet love story at the end of the epic is well deserved.
- Merry. This time I really enjoyed Merry’s journey and his adventures. I appreciated his different perspective on the events concerning the ring. But I also liked seeing him grow and become a mighty leader and warrior. His defeat of Sauron’s captain is incredibly brave.
- The Ents. I love the Ents! They are so other worldly. Their unique position in Middle Earth offers such compelling views of war and power. I laugh at their slow Entish and search for the Ent wives. And I cheer when they finally march on Isengard.
Most Thought Provoking Characters:
- Gandalf. There is so much that could be said about Gandalf. He is a truly fascinating character. From his sacrifice in the mines of Moria to his role as the white rider in the battle for Minas Tirith, he is compelling in so many ways. Plus, he is the third ring bearer of the age of the elves!! I totally forgot that detail and love the way it adds depth to his character. You can read him as a Christ figure, you can read him as a man, and you can read him a dozen other ways. He is one of the most interesting characters in Tolkien’s work.
- Sauman. I found his rise and fall from power fascinating this reread. He becomes so powerful but falls when he seeks evil power for himself. I was surprised how many times he is given a chance to return to the good, or at least make amends for his treachery. The final battle between him and the hobbits is fascinating. It takes us beyond a simple battlefield to a battle for home, health, and posterity. Truly fascinating.
- King Theoden. We first meet the King after he has spent years in the clutches of Wormtongue who is poisoning his mind. But he is able to overcome that (with some help) and leads Rohan to victory in several pivotal battles. I find the moment when he decides to aid Gondor fascinating. His people are tired and battle worn. But he does not hesitate to help. And in the end, he says he feels that he belongs in the halls of his fathers. Honor and loyalty help him earn that spot.
- The Battle for Helm’s Deep. It’s a classic battle of good versus evil. And those fighting for their families and homes seem almost lost when the light of the new day and several unlikely allies help seal the victory.
- The March of the Ents. I love when the Ents get involved in this war because it shows the scope of Sauron’s influence but also how much he underestimates light. I also enjoy the counsel of the Ents and Merry/Pippin’s interactions with them.
- Visiting Lothlorien. The few weeks that the fellowship spends with Galadriel and her people are peaceful and poignant. They learn much and observe more. Plus, I enjoy the descriptions of the elves and their country.
- The End of the Quest. The ultimate end of the quest to return the one ring to the fires of Mount Doom does not disappoint. It does not go as planned. But in the end, the task is finished with remarkable chance and choice.
- The Age of the King. Everything is brought together and ended so well. It is one of the most satisfying endings I have read. I appreciate the details about each member of the fellowship and the friends they made along the way. The final defeat of evil from the Shire is especially compelling.
Most Compelling Themes or What I Learn from LOTR:
- Good will always battle against evil. That is at the heart of this novel. Sauron’s forces versus the free people of Middle Earth. There will always be those willing to fight for what is right, good, and true.
- Evil is often blind to the power of goodness. Because Sauron underestimates Frodo and his companions, he is defeated in battles and ultimately overthrown as well. He does not understand the power of loyalty and friendship (sounds like Voldemort, doesn’t it?)
- Great things can be done by average people. Hobbits are not particularly special creatures. But they are able to accomplish some of the greatest things in Middle Earth and truly change the course of history. Seemingly small choices (like Bilbo taking the ring from Gollum) can create drastically important shifts in the history of the world.
- Those touched by evil cannot survive in a world without it. Or lasting peace is not of this world. All the ring bearers leave Middle Earth with the elves after Sauron is defeated. Although they are central to reestablishing peace, they feel unsettled, especially Frodo. I find that idea fascinating that to find ultimate peace, Frodo must leave his world. He must move on. As a Christian, I believe that everlasting peace is found only in the eternities. We have to move on from our mortal experience to claim it.
Book vs. Movies:
There is, of course, a good amount of differences between the book and the movie adaptations. First, let me say that I love the movies. I watched all three of them with my husband while rereading this book. They are really incredible for their scope and details especially considering they were produced over 10 years ago! Shout out to the game Gimli and Legolas play in battle to see who can kill more orcs. That is totally in the book too! The acting is well done overall and I think they portray the tone and intensity of the books well. That being said, I was surprised at how much more the book gives us! We get so much more background on the characters, so much more time between events, additional characters, and a sweeping history of Middle Earth.
Tips for Reading The Lord of the Rings:
- Watch the movies to get a grounding in the story and characters. Like with Les Miserables, seeing LOTR first can help motivate you to read the book and can keep the many details straight.
- If it’s your first time reading it, read it in three separate volumes. The single volume is a bit awkward to actually read from and can feel daunting. Breaking it up by the three books helps it go quicker.
- Make a schedule or smaller goals. There are slower parts to this series. If you try to read a chapter a day or 20 pages a week, I think it makes it easier to keep going when it’s not as exciting.
This is a unique and fascinating fantasy epic that teaches readers the importance of choices, loyalty, and bravery. I think everyone should read this book.
Have you read LOTR yet? What do you love about it?