Ossus Library Index Fantasy Index

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

A novel by J.R.R. Tolkien (1991, Harper Collins [original copyright 1954])
Book 1 of The Lord of the Rings

A group of Hobbits set out on a dangerous adventure with the goal of destroying a Ring of Power.

 

 

Read January 2nd to February 22nd, 2016, for the 4th time  
    I started out reading this book to my older son, much as my father did with me. Whereas my father got as far as Rivendell reading to me at night, I only got as far as Bree before my son decided to take matters into his own hands, and finish the book for himself. He completed it only a short time before I did, and was anxious to see the movie version. When I first saw the movie, I was completely blown away, while he has the benefit of the well-made Hobbit movies, so the style isn't so new to him. Pity, but so be it...

Reading it to my son, I understand now why so many people have trouble getting through Book I. It meanders a lot, especially through the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil, and the Barrow Downs. But even in those chapters, there is so much detail, so much to love, if you can take the time to devour it. One aspect that some people seem to have trouble with is the huge amount of names, most of which are simply thrown out by the characters or the narrator, and which have no real reference, even within the context of the Lord of the Rings. Most come from the Silmarillion or the Appendices. Still, I think this book deserves a second reading, at the very least, because there is so much more to discover. For myself I try to read it every ten years or so, and it never fails to thrill.
 

 

Read December 13th to 29th, 2005, for the third time  
    I resisted for the longest time re-reading this trilogy of books, while the movies were still in-progress, and fresh in my mind. Now, it has been a year since even the extended edition DVD of Return of the King came out, so there are no visual surprises to come (until the inevitable deluxe editions sometime in the future).

The Fellowship of the Ring is unique in many ways. It starts out very small, and although there is the menace of the Dark Lord Sauron throughout, it is a very vague menace. It isn't until we get to the end of Book I that things start to feel very threatening. Even through Book II, while the company of the ring is traveling south, the threats are vague. The wolves, the mountain snows, and even the Balrog, are not affiliated directly with Sauron. Spending the last chapters of the book with Frodo, we don't even get to see the orcs that attack at the river.

Within two chapters, the characters of the hobbits are already well-defined and distinct, which I find amazing. We can identify with Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, which is good, because the threat is so vague that we are as lost as Frodo, and just as ignorant as him as to why they are being chased. However, the vague threat leaves us very anxious, which is much more effective than having them fight their way through a series of dangers. I think that is what makes this book so effective.

I have the advantage this time, of having read the History of Middle Earth books 6-9, which describe how the book was written, and how Tolkien didn't know what the threats represented either, and how he didn't know if Strider was good or bad. It is quite obvious from the early chapters that Tolkien didn't know where the story was going. The hobbits wander here and there, meeting various people as they go. The book is focused, as it must be after so many rewrites, but is still visibly aimless in parts if you know what to look for.

After being completely amazed by the movie version of this book, comparisons are inevitable. Right from the beginning, I was amazed at how much dialog from the book actually survived into the movie, though much of it was transferred to different places and even different people.

Most of the parts of the book that were not in the movie are those that I had little or no memory of even before watching it. The journey to Crickhollow, the shifting of the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil's house and especially the Barrow Downs all provide us with more mystery and terror. On the other hand, the Bombadil chapters are nearly all unrelated to the rest of the story and the rest of Middle-Earth. Losing them in the narrative would not have cost anything in terms of story, and would have sped some things up, as they did in the movie.

Re-reading this book with so much conscious knowledge of the Eldar Days gives me new insight into a lot of the narrative. I can't help but wonder what a first-time reader would get out of all the talk about ancient times -it would probably just be skimmed over without a second thought, I suppose, not understanding what was being referred to, and not really caring. But knowing the history of Sauron from his first defeat by Beren and Luthien, to his role in the downfall of Numenor, his enslavement of the Rings of Power, and his influence even as he had no form to speak of, makes the story even more fulfilling.

The Council of Elrond may stop the action in the middle of the book, as Peter Jackson said in one of the features of the movie, but it does an excellent job of filling in everything that happened while we were with Frodo. For a movie, putting everything sequentially is a good idea. For the book, however, things are better as they are: first we are slowly introduced to the hobbits, then Aragorn, then others later on. We learn of Saruman only through his treachery of Gandalf, much later in the story than in the movie.

Book II opens with the chapter Many Meetings, which reminds me of the writing style of The Hobbit, condescending, even when the target audience is young.

There are a lot of little things that make the book so much fun. I think it's hilarious that Bilbo talks back to Elrond in his own house! And it does serve him right to be reproached for trying to sing about Earendil in the House of Elrond.

Would it not have been better to leave the mountain crossings as in the book, with a silent but growing disagreement between Gandalf and Aragorn about whether to go over the mountains or through them? Instead, the movie inexplicably has Frodo choose which way to go, though he has no knowledge of either path!

Gandalf's fall in Moria was less dramatic than I remembered, probably due to the amazing effects of the movie. The whole battle with the cave troll is much less of a battle in the book, with Gandalf encountering the balrog in that same room, before being forced onwards. In both the book and movie, I dislike that Gandalf was taken down by the tip of the balrog's whip, after he thought the danger was past.

If anybody thought that there was not enough time for grieving for Gandalf in the movie, there is actually less in the book! Their welcome into Lothlorien is even less welcoming than in the movie, and I liked the blindfolding of the entire Company as they made their way to Parth Galen.

The journey down the river Anduin is very long, and with many stops to camp and rest, and even an encounter with Gollum! I think I like both versions of what happened on Amon Hen. Frodo using the seat of seeing was impressive (and I suspect that the forces he felt battling while he had the ring on were Sauron and Gandalf-returned), but I like the way Aragorn in the movie saw Frodo before he left. It provides closure. Also left unclosed (at least for this book) is the death of Boromir. The actual battle belongs here, but there is no point of view to deal with it until well into The Two Towers.

Finally, I liked the way Legolas killed the Nazgul mount above the falls of Rauros, and think it would have made a great moment in the movie.

This is a great book, just as the movie was great. More than anything, we are set up with wonderfully-realized characters, a situation that is still rather vague, but with purpose, and a sense that things are moving rapidly while the company of the ring moves. In the next book, of course, the world will suddenly expand tremendously, and we will no longer get to be as close to the characters we know, because there are so many others. I think that is why this is my favorite of the three movies. As for the books, I have yet to finish the trilogy, so I can't decide at this time.

 

 

Also read August 14th to 21st, 1993 (and also sometime in 1985)  
   

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