Everybody knows Lord of the Rings (LOTR); it’s on all the must-read lists out there. I remember reading one day it’s the most read book after the Bible.
I’ve already written about LOTR, notably here.
I’m still starting with this one because it’s the book I’ve read the most (French and English): about 50 times since I first read it in 1995. There was a time I could write entire chapters from memory. Nerd!
It isn’t a perfect book. Many characters lack depth, or aren’t given enough ‘spotlight’ that we can see it. Few characters truly have an arc and none ends in a particularly positive way
- Boromir: he’s a proud, even arrogant man who can’t admit he’s misguided. He eventually finds redemption in death.
- Eowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan who seeks death on the battlefield ends up ‘tamed’, as she tells Faramir. She’ll be a wife and a mother, as is expected of women.
- Frodo, a carefree hobbit ends up shouldering the burden of saving the free world. He travels through the darkness (in all meanings of the term), does save the world but ends up no longer belonging.
Arguably Merry and Pippin have their own arc but in the end, Tolkien wrote that they didn’t change much.
Why then do I love this book so much?
I felt like Mary Poppins jumping into the drawing; the world was immersive and encompassing. I escaped to Middle-Earth from my daily life.
Middle-Earth is alive: Tolkien’s writing makes you journey through its darkest and brightest places. I could see myself riding through the Plains of Rohan or walk the levels of Minas Tirith up to the Citadel. I chocked in Moria. Caras Galadhon and Imladris felt as real to me as the Place des Vosges right by my school.
The History inside the book: it was part of the plot without driving it. It’s hinted at sometimes via poems: the Lay of Beren and Luthien, Bilbo’s recitation about Eärendil in Rivendell (One of my favourites, long before I realized Eärendil was Elrond’s father.) It gives layers to the story, teases you to read more.
The characters: they might not be multidimensional but they still found their way into my head and heart.
Boromir’s always been my male favourite character: weird? Maybe. He’s proud, arrogant, misguided. Yes… The only one not perfect.
It’s hard for a girl to connect with any character in the Fellowship: there are few women who aren’t really relatable. Galadriel’s power, Arwen’s feminine beauty incarnate. Lobelia Sackville-Bagginses? No comment.
The men? Legolas’s wise, Gimli’s sturdy, Frodo’s burdened, the Hobbits carefree. Gandalf’s powerful and Aragorn’s certain of his fate. I didn’t relate to any of these.
But Boromir? Refusing to acknowledge weaknesses, denial until they eat you: I could relate to that.
Then came Eowyn…
‘My friend,’ said Gandalf, ‘you had horses, and deeds of arms, and the free fields; but she, born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father, and watch him falling into a mean dishonoured dotage […] But who knows what she spoke to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing about her, a hutch to trammel some thing in?’
(The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, Harper and Collins, 1968, pp. 848 – 849)
Wow! Ok did you read my diary?
Could Tolkien have understood how frustrating it is for women to not have a choice in their lives? I don’t know. But it’s kind of spot on, isn’t it? Particularly for a teenager.
That’s when you’re expected to choose what you want to do in life without being advised there are some footnotes about what you can or can’t do as a girl.
And what about the words spoken in the darkness when the only feeling you have is self loathing? Thoughts you keep to yourself… What teenager hasn’t known these moments?
When I first read the book in English it was like opening it for the first time: translations are neat but not always perfect. I fell in love all over again with the story, with the world and with the language. I go back to it regularly; maybe because it was the first epic fantasy I read, it’s kept a special place in my heart.
So what about you? Have you read Lord of the Rings? If not, what stopped you? If yes, what did you like? Or didn’t? I look forward to reading your comments.