||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
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
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
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
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
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.