The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Having finished the individual chapter posts for the Silmarillion Blues project, it’s time for a proper review of the book as a whole.

As I’ve made no secret whatsoever that this is my favorite book of all-time, I’m sure it’ll come to no surprise to anyone that I’m beyond biased in my praise because my assessment has not changed.  If anything, the deeper reading combined with a greater understanding of World War I, a greater understanding of Medieval history and literature, a recently acquired appreciation for poetry, multiple reads of this great story in particular, and the wisdom that comes with age… these things have conspired in my imagination to ensure this status will likely not change anytime soon.  Before this is over, I may end up like Christopher Lee, enjoying a reread every single year until I expire.  There are worse fates.

This time is different, however, and I realize that this may very be the only time I read The Lord of the Rings at this level.  Sure, I’ll be aware of what I learned in subsequent readings, but it won’t be the same.  I walked into this with a specific goal in mind and a pacing I’ve maintained with only a couple of minor stumbles since I first cracked open The Hobbit.  This time I walked the paths of Middle-Earth with a leisurely, yet scholarly mindset.  Instead of burning through it with a sense of the grand adventure, I stopped to look at every piece of artistic worldbuilding.  I incorporated the songs and poems as recorded by The Tolkien Ensemble, allowing what they’ve added to this world to truly inform me on this journey.  Nothing was overlooked, even by accident.  Nothing was skimmed.  Indeed, everything was cross-referenced and expanded upon, thanks to the internet and my ever-expanding personal library (which has been steadily growing from the onset of this venture).  I feel like this time around I’ve truly come to understand Hobbits (and thus Tolkien himself) on a deeper level, to say nothing of the other races that inhabit Middle-Earth.  Like Sam, the Elves continue to hold a special fascination for me.  But in times past, this book has always been an end in itself.  This time I climb this mountain so that I can scout out the other mountains beyond it.  When this began, it was all about The Silmarillion.  This has changed with new perspective.  Before, that book was hard for me.  I feel like now I’m in a place where I can consume it easier and with greater understanding, having unlocked new pieces to the puzzle.  Now I realize The Silmarillion is going to inform other works as The Lord of the Rings has done, and The Hobbit before it.  More than that, these three books will light my way into less familiar territory as well as into territory I’ve never seen before, as my new end goal after everything else has been exhausted, is the mammoth 12-volume History of Middle-Earth.

As you can probably tell, it’s difficult this time to merely review The Lord of the Rings on its own precisely because of the intent behind this reading.  In some ways, I’ve read it multiple times just this time around.  I listened to the audiobooks each week as narrated by Rob Inglis, I read the chapters, I studied so much ancillary material from my library that hasn’t even been discussed in the blog posts… I’ve been living and breathing Middle-Earth like never before on this quest.  How I approach this has helped me to unlock other doors, historical, literary, and even musical.  I’ve grown as our Hobbits have grown, emerging on the other end completely different from when I first stepped out my door.  If that’s not the entire point behind great literature, I don’t know what is.  As such, there is really no higher praise.  When I look back at the life of Christopher Lee, a man whom I greatly admire, I see in this book something that – given everything else he accomplished in his worldly life – he respected to the very end.  And it’s easy for me to understand why.  It’s because this book, and the world it helped to build, represents so many different aspects of the human adventure all at once.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The human adventure is about growth through change.  The world is changing around us.  We change in it, through our choices, through our actions or inactions.  We take the joys where we can, push through the sorrows and pains as we must, and dream of a better life somewhere into the West at the end of it all.  I’ve spent my entire life wondering about my place in it, often pounding my head into the proverbial wall repeatedly after I slam up against it the first time.  I’ve explored so many facets of the jewels that make up literature, art, music, religion, mythology, history, and virtually anything in between you can name in the effort to make sense of myself.  My journey begins with Star Wars, and in the end, it always comes back to The Lord of the Rings.  My adventures are always in my head and in my heart, always looking beyond the horizon in search of something greater, and always coming back home with the greatest wisdom of all…

“It is no bad thing celebrating a simple life.”

5 stars

5 thoughts on “The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

  1. “My journey begins with Star Wars, and in the end, it always comes back to The Lord of the Rings. My adventures are always in my head and in my heart, always looking beyond the horizon in search of something greater, and always coming back home with the greatest wisdom of all…”

    Some literary work has that effect on us. Who said books cannot change us? Obviously a work of fiction cannot ‘change’ your life in a material sense but I think that they can have profound effects on the way you frame choices or even conceptualise the world around you. I don’t think this is far from true; even if I wouldn’t phrase something quite as glibly as the ‘fundamentals of our being’. The phrase implies some instant metamorphic shift in the essence of our character: not just a new opinion on whether something is right or wrong, but a shift in the very fundamentals of our being. Great fiction gives us an impression of the world’s complexity and of our own powerlessness — which perhaps encourages humility — and it gives us an avenue to express feelings which we might repress when we experience them in relation to events in our own lives. Rather than either allowing ourselves to change or confirming who we really are, I think that we experience fiction in order to express sides of ourselves that ordinarily make us uncomfortable, or even ashamed.

    What other books would you put into this “life-changing” category?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said, my friend. I’m in total agreement with your assessment here.

      I think as far as other life changing books, Frankenstein is on that list, Sherlock Holmes, my early encounters with Star Trek novels, and most recently of all, Shakespeare (now that I’ve learned enough to approach him properly).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: My 50 Favorite Books | Knight of Angels

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