Book Review: Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring, written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published by Harper Collins, is a third-person, fantasy novel primarily told from the point-of-view of Frodo Baggins, heir to the Baggins family wealth and otherwise good, young chap. The Bagginses are Hobbits, creatures like men but much shorter and with hairy feet from the realm of Middle-Earth that keep to themselves in their own little shire, The Shire, until one day, a ring bestowed upon Frodo by his uncle, Bilbo, is revealed to be a tool for an evil sorcerer, Sauron. Though Sauron died, in theory, Frodo’s friend and confidant, Gandalf, a powerful wizard who once helped Bilbo on his own journey, encourages Frodo to go to Rivendell, a High Eleven outpost, with the ring, to determine the fate of all of Middle-Earth. The ring itself holds many strange powers, though for Frodo, it makes him invisible, but otherwise, it can unlock the physical manifestation of Sauron again and end the world. Encouraged not to use the ring, Frodo depends on those he meets on the way, like his other friends who join him, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, and of course, Gandalf, in addition to a slew of other strange people from mythical backgrounds: Strider, the mysterious ranger; Gimli, the dwarven son of one of Bilbo’s companions; Legolas, a wood elf with remarkable talents; and Boromir, a great human warrior from Minas Tirith. These nine together must overcome Sauron’s minions: powerful black riders serving directly under the dark lord, monstrous orcs hungry for blood, and one ancient demon of fire known only as a balrog. The goal is to cast the ring into the pits of fire from where it was forged, so Frodo and his companions set out as the fellowship of the ring.
This is my second Tolkien book—the first was The Hobbit, Bilbo’s adventure into ancient realms to steal the treasure of Smaug, this asshole dragon. Of course, like The Lord of the Rings, it’s being made into a major motion picture in three parts—which makes a lot more sense for The Lord of the Rings than it does The Hobbit, but we’ll talk about why Peter Jackson is a douche later. In the meantime, The Lord of the Rings has played a very profound role in my life, even for a guy who never read it. My brothers are big role-players, and I don’t mean in the bedroom, though who knows. Maybe. Probably. Either way, having spent the majority of their lives organizing Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, The Lord of the Rings in my splintered household was very much like The Bible in an ordinary, Christian family. It was important for me, in my teenage years without a mother around and living with my brothers alone, to know the difference between an elf and a dwarf, the value of mythril, and just what spells work best against the undead. My older brother, Thomas, owned an arsenal of medieval weaponry, including maces, swords, daggers, flails, and any number of additional weaponry that he hung proudly off the walls of our suburban home. Our library consisted of cheap fantasy novels, role playing compendiums, and franchise books that bordered on fan fiction. It’s no surprise that I too rarely write fantasy, a rebellion against my very upbringing, but you can’t abandon your roots forever.
(As of the time I’m writing this, this is a 12 year old picture, okay.)
But I’ve grown older and come to see the value of it. After combing through The Hobbit in anticipation of those films, I discovered how fantastic the journeys in fantasy stories really are, scouring the realms for treasure and some ethical ideal of heroism. My immersion in games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and television shows like Game of Thrones were particularly powerful reminders of the intentions made in my upbringing, so when I saw a trailer for a video game called The Shadows of Mordor, I thought I’d give it a shot. You can read the linked post, but it’s essentially Assassin’s Creed set in The Lord of the Rings. Pretend like that’s not fucking awesome. In any case, I’ve decided to throw myself back into Middle-Earth again as a result.
(How every girl I ever dated reacted when I asked for head.)
The Fellowship of the Ring is weak in a lot of places when taken into the context of the recently made film adaptations. As I read these books, I had to remove myself from my expectations of the book based on the film in order to fully understand what the author was doing. That’s not to say that the film is so good, it overshadows the books—quite the contrary, in fact. As I read this novel, I kept finding myself awaiting moments from the film, anticipating things to happen as they did in the films. Halfway through the novel, I began to acknowledge that habit and realized that the film bastardized large portions of the novel, considering how long I waited to see what came next. That’s not to say that the films are bad, but the novel shows a lot more skill.
The thing you have to remember is that in spite of the existence of Sauron, the selfishness of Saruman, and the feverish attacks of the orcs, none of these play a central antagonist in the book. Rather, it’s the ring itself that plays the main villain. Very rarely do you read of an author who uses an object to create both fear and antagonism to move the plot along, a simple item that the characters carry with them which also acts as a plot device because of it’s unusual behaviors. After all, it’s not Sauron that inevitably breaks up the fellowship (God, I hope that’s not a spoiler for you at this point), but the ring itself and how it comes between Frodo and the rest of his party. The dangers that lurk around every corner don’t threaten the fellowship half as much as their own yearning for the ring, as it slowly disseminates our heroes without their knowing. Using an item alone that serves no single purpose to forge a conflict that extends through three novels is feat I can’t imagine will ever again be done quite so well. At the moment, I’d be hard pressed to write a short story with the same kind of conflict, let alone a single goddamn novel about it. However, it’s this same vilification of an object that makes The Lord of the Rings so epic.
The Fellowship of the Ring isn’t about the ring so much though, as it is about building the relationship between the characters of Aragorn and Frodo. When they kick things off, Aragorn is a stern, paranoid ranger that poses as much danger as he does friendship, but over the course of the novel, Frodo begins to trust Aragorn. Tolkien accomplishes this by, essentially, killing off or creating distance between Frodo and those he naturally trusts in the story and forcing Aragorn into their position. As trouble manifests as a result of Frodo’s evil ring, Frodo’s dependence on Aragorn grows through the dissolution of Frodo’s own child-like naivete, represented by the other hobbits in his party. At the same time, Aragorn’s own natural leadership is juxtaposed against the feelings and beliefs of the other surviving party members, especially Boromir who shows nothing but contempt for Frodo being chosen to carry the ring to Mordor. By using other characters to both represent and uniquely define the central characters of this novel, Tolkien encourages communication and relationship evolution between his central characters that ultimately creates a dynamic of genuine friendship, comparable to a romantic kinship in spite of the obvious opposites between the two characters.
The highlight of this novel is its description. It’s no surprise that Tolkien considered himself a poet, because the word choice in every description is downright phenomenal. Everything is colored and portrayed with words to the extent that you can’t help but see the images as beautifully as they appeared in the film. Though his dialogue is a bit stunted, the careful, yet powerful, descriptions, enhanced by their eloquence, make up for whatever we miss as we progress through the novel. Every step of the journey is tracked and every lineage is marked, but it never bored me. I was engaged in spite of how mundane some of these ideas were, because of how skillful Tolkien wrote, avoiding cliches in a day rife with them while building on even the most regular of sights with descriptions enough to make them sound as though they’re the most beautiful, or in some cases most horrible, things that I’ve never before seen.
(“So when does the gang bang start?”)
It’s more than likely that most audiences have seen the films, but haven’t read the books. I’m not going to tell you what you’re missing—that wouldn’t be any fun, but I will say that Jackson chops out whole sections of the book, shortening things to the point where months in the story feel like mere days. I can understand a bit of heavy cutting in some cases, but what remains isn’t true the novel either. Dialogue is added, most notably humor, as well as events that were never written, meant to emotionally charge the audience. When I think of a film adapted from a book, it’s okay to permit that kind of stuff with what have generally been accepted as lousy books. Who’s to say a book is lousy? I don’t know, I’ll leave that to the general masses who made the film, Drive, into a masterpiece but left the book hinged on, “Eh…” What I like about what Jackson does is that he creates moments of humor that didn’t previously exist in the book to lighten the subject matter. However, he also falls off on various thoughts that Tolkien, I can only imagine, preferred to keep. When Boromir comes striding into Rivendell on a horse, I only thought, “Why would you include that?” After all, in the story, Boromir fucking walked to Rivendell to meet with the council, having lost his horse along the way. That may not be important to you, Mr. Jackson, but that’s important to me, in spite of your efforts to find a villain while overlooking the obvious. My negative feelings on the subject matter of Jackson’s films go beyond just disapproval in the details, considering how he’s stretching The Hobbit, a novel shorter than Fellowship of the Ring, into three separate parts, but a guy has to make money, right? Even if he is a Jabba-the-Hut, Lucas-esque piece of shit. In spite of all that, Jackson makes pretty movies and if I owned his trilogy on Blu-Ray, I may have kinder feelings for him. Too bad that I don’t. As far as my opinion goes, Jackson can eat shit for all the money he’s trying to make off Tolkien.
(If you’re still looking for Han Solo, he was in that other trilogy…)
If you even liked the movie remotely, read the book and enjoy it for what it’s supposed to be. It certainly feels like the beginning of a trilogy, but in-and-of-itself, it’s an epic tale of friendship, discovery, and finding not all good and evil come in tremendous extremes but in the most unexpected of places.
The Riahi Rating:
Other reviews of Harper-Collins books:
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley