The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien – Book Review

Four old hardback books on top of each other, in different colours and sizes

It’s that time of the month again. I cannot believe it, where did time fly? It seems like yesterday that I have written my review for June, and then basically fell silent because hormonal migraines are the absolute.worst. I aim to get better at not writing and publishing at the same time, now that I kickstarted stuff over at Good Works again.

Today is the first of 3 instalments talking about one of my all-time favourite books, the Lord of the Ring Trilogy, which was also my long read for CathLit2019 because it’s one of the Catholic Literary Classics (and I’m really not over studying Dante in school to pick the Divine Comedy…). As always, you can read Rory’s view over at According to Rory.

The trilogy begins with the birthday party of a character that would be known to those who read the children book that acts as a prequel to the saga, the Hobbit. Basically, if you had any doubt something is about to disturb the peace of this idealised version of rural Worcestershire called “The Shire” in “Middle Earth” (I mean, c‘mon, it is obvious) from the fact there is a 3-volumes novel about it, they will soon disappear as the wizard Gandalf appears at the party, which is not just Bilbo’s but also his nephew and heir Frodo’s. And Bilbo disappears (but don’t worry, he’s OK), because it’s (almost) time for Frodo to shine.

Gandalf has a tendency to be the bearer of mixed news. He will soon go on his way leaving Frodo with a secret that he won’t explain to him for 17 years, at which point he would return to the Shire as the bearer of mixed news he is. Basically, a war’s going on, evil is about to win over Middle Earth, and Frodo is the only one who can save the day because he is in possession of something (a ring) that can stop the enemy (Sauron), although it won’t be easy. I mean, it’s a saga in 3 volumes of more of one book each…

The title of this first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, refers to the fact Frodo is not going about his mission (which is to destroy the ring) alone. As a matter of fact, the whole story is a great indication of how rarely there is a hero who can count on his own strength, which in my opinion is a bit of a metaphor for our need of the Church and each other in our journey to salvation, but that’s a topic for another time. Not only characters will join the Fellowship as the original Hobbits travel towards Mordor, but many characters that they encounter and leave behind are significant to the success of their journey, including those which appear less likely to be any help.

It is a carefully curated universe in which everything has a part to play: while there is no religion, Providence is implied. It isn’t without reason that it’s considered a Catholic book despite the lack of Catholic content in the sense that you see it in say, Brideshead Revisited (surprise surprise). Tolkien is often called a genius because of the level of detail that he put into his work, which is mad even for a perfectionist like me. He wrote entire languages, and a whole mythology to support Middle Earth, with the end result that, unlike C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series (which, don’t get me wrong, I love dearly), there is such a coherence of his fictional universe, it’s as realistic as the world we experience every day.

Some people who don’t like too many descriptions and filler details will find the book too much, and probably find it even harder to follow the story than everyone else (honestly, the first time you read it just enjoy the prose and what you get of the story, then get yourself a notebook and make timelines and diagrams the second time to understand the story, and read it a 3rd time after you know what’s going on -but if you watch the films before reading I won’t judge you).

The symbolism is so heavy there is so much to see and discover that you can never read it enough no matter how many times you read it, and depending on what interests you there is scope for both leisurely reading and scholarly study. Plenty of people credit its symbolism of Catholicism for their conversion, including myself (initially I got closer to Christianity with Lewis, and then dug deeper). Plus, it gave us brilliant corollary things such as an awesome film soundtrack to read it with, and the dance hit of all times (yes, I legit start randomly singing “They’re taking the Hobbits to Isengard”).

The language is also often high and literary, so don’t read it before bed (to be honest, I can only fall asleep to the audiobook now because I’ve read it what, 3 or 4 times at least, if I didn’t know what’s happening in the story I’d be awake all night to hear what’s next -and still do so in some chapters!-) or before coffee if you’re a morning reader. It’s the kind of book you want to take with you on holiday, preferably not as the single book paperback if you are flying with only a hand luggage, or keep for a rainy weekend when you can curl up on the sofa with tea and a blanket and do nothing but read for about 8 hours. Or however long you can read, if you have a good memory to pick up and put down books every little while.

The complexity of the plot is a downside if your attention span is little, and your time to read as much, because you will have to hold together a lot of information, but I’m sure there are people who have successfully read it and understood what’s going on even with a few pages at a time over a really long period of time, instead of binge-reading like a literature student with a month to prepare an exam and a list of 20 books for it (hi, that’s me). Having said that, I am really forcing myself to find something to say other than raving about it, because I don’t want people to be disappointed and think I was overselling it.

I am a bookish girl who actually read Proust, take my raving about books with a bit of salt: my taste in literature is not for everyone (and that’s OK). Still, if you like things that have meaning on different levels and have voluntarily sat through an Aesthetics class at 8.30am (or even if you never had a chance to, but if you did you would), this book is for you.

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