The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)

ISBN: 0618153977
ISBN 13: 9780618153978
By: J.R.R. Tolkien

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About this book

The original ‘fantasy’ series, and still the greatest, The Lord of the Rings has sold over 100 million copies, been translated into more than 40 languages, and has been voted the best book of the 20th century, while The Hobbit has never been out of print since first published in 1937. If there are any works of fiction that deserve to be owned in magnificent editions – these are surely the ones.Successive generations have been spellbound by the exploits of Frodo, Gandalf and their comrades as they journey towards Mordor to do battle with the Dark Lord Sauron. There is something about the alluring world of elves, dwarves and old magic which has proved exceptionally popular, working on the imagination both as an enthralling adventure story and, at a deeper level, as 'a comprehensive counter-myth to the story of the twentieth century' – Independent. Tolkien’s treatment of the eternal struggle between good and evil, from stirring battles (‘as good as anything in Homer,’ according to C. S Lewis) to the conflict within every individual, is subtle, lyrical and profound.Illustrated by Eric Fraser, one of the foremost British illustrators of the 20th century, his images – a total of 7 full-page images and 57 head-pieces – are based on original designs by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. Tolkien had seen her sketches and was so impressed that his executors gave special permission for Fraser to interpret them for these Folio editions. Covers blocked in gold and maps of Middle Earth as endpapers complete this superb edition of one the world’s favourite stories.

Reader's Thoughts

Baylee

Leggi la recensione su Lovely Dreams!La mia storia d'amore assoluto con Il Signore degli Anelli è iniziata quando avevo 12 anni. Me lo prestò una mia amica - sia benedetta! - e mi tenne incollata alle pagine fino alla fine (Appendici comprese). Da allora credo di averlo riletto almeno (e sottolineo almeno) una volta l'anno. E ogni volta mi emoziona come la prima.Credo sia impossibile rimanere indifferenti di fronte alla bellezza - alla perfezione - di questa trilogia. Non c'è niente che sia stato lasciato al caso, ogni elemento, ogni personaggio, ogni descrizione è lì per un motivo, per incastrarsi con precisione per formare il disegno della narrazione. Tolkien è semplicemente il Dio Creatore del suo universo e la sua Provvidenza dà il giusto Ordine agli eventi.Nessuno che dica di amare il fantasy può permettersi di non aver letto questo capolavoro. Sembra quasi un trattato sul fantasy tanto le sue pagine sono dense di significati. Non è mai banale, ma è al contempo è grandioso e magnifico, semplice e umile. Tolkien amava la bellezza e ne ha riversata con generosità nelle sue opere - e non solo la bellezza abbagliante degli Elfi, ma anche quella quotidiana e casalinga degli Hobbit. Ma conosceva anche l'orrore della guerra e lo squallore dell'odio: mai come ne Il Signore degli Anelli si avverte la follia del Male, ma anche la sua forza persuasiva.Il Bene vince, ma a quale prezzo: quello che è rotto non può tornare alla primitiva bellezza. Chi è stato ferito a fondo non può godere della vittoria, sempre memore dell'antica - e perduta - bellezza. Ma egli non ne sarà dispiaciuto: altri godranno della pace, prospereranno e vivranno la vita che lui non può vivere. E non è questa la suprema vittoria del Bene?

Werner

Actually, I read Tolkien's masterful Middle Earth fantasy corpus, beginning with The Hobbit in the early 70's and finishing the Lord of the Rings trilogy almost a decade later, before this anniversary edition came out. (I also read all four books to my wife in the early 80's; she loved them too!)This body of work is, of course, the genre-defining classic of modern fantasy --especially epic, or "high" fantasy -- which popularized the genre as the publishing market force it is today, exerted enormous influence over practically all subsequent fantasy authors (including R. A. Salvatore and Terry Brooks), and set the conventions readers would come to expect: a pre-technological setting, an epochal struggle between good and evil whose outcome is determined by magical factors, and a demand for personal moral growth on the part of the characters thrust into a pivotal role in that struggle. And Tolkien's depictions of wizards, elves, dwarfs, dragons, etc. became the template for all subsequent portrayals of these creatures.Part of the success of Tolkien's work derives from the breath- taking scope of his world-building, which reflects his day jobs as a philologist and medievalist; he created entire languages and folklores for his "Middle Earth," as well as a detailed, millenia-spanning history. But more importantly, as a devout Catholic, he embodied his deeply Christian world-view in the writing: his fantasy world (though he doesn't employ the kind of explicit Christian symbolism that C. S. Lewis does) is the scene of conflict between and evil with world-altering significance, under a superintending Providence, in which the individual moral choices of both the high and the lowly have significance, and temptation is an ever-present danger.

Mike (the Paladin)

The epic fantasy against which all other epic fantasies are measured. And there is reason. Beautiful, lyrical, depth, enthralling. I love these books. I've read them many many times. Really they are not to be missed. Highly, highly, highly recommended.'Nuff said!

Joe

1985-First read when I was about 12. Thoroughly enjoyed it then.7/97-Although the battle scenes were difficult to follow, the Elven stuff sentimental and dialog of less developed characters (Legolas, Gimli) sometimes melodramatic, there were plenty of tense moments that made up for at all. The black riders in the 1st book, the tenuous alliance with Gollum and the horrifying scene with Shelob were the most exciting parts of the trilogy. The cleansing of the shire was triumphant. 2001--[Audio]. I started reading this to my daughters, but they were too young still. I couldn't put it down once I began, though, so I got the tapes so I could "read" it despite grad school and church duties. I absolutely loved the reading by Rob Inglis. His voice characterization is delightful. I don't know why I enjoyed the story less the last time. This time, I was totally engrossed. I found so much depth of meaning in the struggle of the ring bearer, Frodo. I also have decided that Sam is the most heroic character in all fiction. And his bravest moment is not when he takes on Shelob. It is when he takes the ring and makes the terrible choice to continue on alone. I can't wait for the movie!

Brad

Twenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. I came to Tolkien's masterpiece on my own, and that meant much to me at twelve. The only books that had been reached by me alone were books on mythology and horror. Everything else I read, from DH Lawrence to Hemingway to Dickens to Shakespeare (and this also included Dracula and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde because they were "true" classics), was suggested and sanctioned by my mother (for which I will always owe her deeply).But The Lord of the Rings was mine and mine alone. It is easy to forget that The Lord of the Rings was not a pop culture phenomenon in the seventies and early eighties. It was a fringe book (at least in North America), something that was not yet considered a part of the canon, something that was not a name on every boy's lips (even if they were just getting to know D&D) let alone every child's lips. Sure it was respected and loved by those who knew it, but knowing it was not a foregone conclusion as it is today, and its audience was almost completely genre oriented. In my little community (my school and the blocks surrounding my home), I was the first kid to read it.And that first reading was a revelation. Sure I'd read The Hobbit, but that didn't prepare me for the breadth and depth of The Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth in its grandest incarnation. To create a fantasy world is one thing, but to breathe life into ages of that world, to keep all the pieces together with such magnificent detail and rigour, to create character after believable character and make us care about most of them, even poor Smeagol/Gollum, that is a literary labour of Hercules. And by pulling it off, Tolkien created the single most important manifestation of Fantasy that has ever and will ever be written. The Lord of the Rings has rightly been named a classic. It is part of the canon, and it deserves its place. It is entertaining, it is weighty, and it is loved by nearly all.Aye...and there's the rub.Its indisputable greatness has made it indisputable. It has become dogma among fanboys and fangirls that the bastions of The Lord of the Rings are unassailable. Criticize Tolkien's work -- academically or otherwise -- and you put yourself in almost as much danger as a chatty atheist trying to engage in a theological discussion in a coliseum full of Jehovah's Witnesses (how many of those folks will make it into the afterlife? Isn't there a limit?).Feminist critics point out the lack of women in The Lord of the Rings, and that those women who are present fulfill only the narrowest stereotypes. Éowyn's strength is dependent upon adopting male gender qualities, a typical stereotype of "powerful women in fantasy," and she is alone amongst the Rohirrim as a woman who can and will fight. All other women in her culture are present as a reason to fight rather than as integral parts of the struggle. Arwen's place (in the books, at least) as a maiden waiting for the hand of her king takes the "reason to fight" to even greater heights. And the only powerful female, Galadriel as the terrible, beautiful elven Queen, is too far removed from mortality and reality to be anything more than a mid-tale deus ex machina, thereby removing her from the realm of women and men and making her a pseudo-god whose power is allowed only because it is arcane and mysterious. Post-Colonial critics have latched onto the racism inherent in The Lord of the Rings, pointing out the hierarchies between the races: from the "superiority" of the elves, to the "chosen" role of "European" Men of the West under the leadership of Aragorn, to the lesser races of Dwarves and Hobbits (the former are "lesser" because they are "too greedy" and the latter are "lesser" because they are children). Post-Colonialists look to the "orientalization" of Sauron's forces and the configuration of evil as an inherent quality of Orcs and "the dark folk." They point out Tolkien's family's history as a cog in the mechanism of English Imperialism, and his own birth in one of the most blatantly racist colonies of all, South Africa (while he did leave at three years old, his family's presence there at all suggests that some of the classic colonial opinions about the colonized "dark races" helped form the man who wrote these books), as possible reasons for this racism. These criticisms further suggest, at least to me, that the archetypal source of all fantasy's entrenched racism -- even those books being written today -- is The Lord of the Rings. Those fantasy authors who have followed Tolkien consistently and inescapably embrace his configuration of the races (yes, even those like R.A. Salvatore who try and fail to derail this configuration) and the concepts of good and evil that go along with them, which leads to the stagnation and diminishment of their genre.The fact is that these flaws do exist in The Lord of the Rings. They are present. They are easy to find. But few of Tolkien's rabid fans want to hear about them. And even when the criticism is not necessarily suggesting a flaw in Tolkien's work but merely the presence of some subtext, the dogmatists react with rage and condemnation. A fine example of this is when Queer and Gender theorists point to the overwhelming relationships between men, and how the relationship between Frodo and Sam is homosocial, at least, and possibly even homosexual. The only true intimacy in the book occurs between the men, after all, and to ignore that fact is to ignore one of key components of why The Lord of the Rings is so emotionally satisfying, especially to young men. Even faced with these ideas supported by convincing arguments, however, many fans either strive for ignorance or attack the messenger. This may have much to do with the worry -- unreasonable though it is -- that to admit that a flaw or something uncomfortable exists in any of these books, which so many people love so deeply, is to accept that The Lord of the Rings is neither great nor worthy of love.But this is not the case. I love The Lord of the Rings even though I subscribe completely to the post-colonial criticism, and see the merits in both the feminine and queer criticisms, not to mention the countless other criticisms and subtexts that are floating around.The books are racist; they are sexist. They are not perfect. And I must criticize the elements of The Lord of the Rings that make me uncomfortable and deserve no praise. But my complaints and the complaints of critics make Tolkien's achievement no less great. Tolkien created the most magnificent imaginary world ever conceived, and, for good or ill, Fantasy would be nothing today were it not for him. The Lord of the Rings is a triumph on countless levels, but it is not the word of God, nor should it be elevated to such heights.I love The Lord of the Rings, but I love it with reservations. I love it because of its place in my personal mythology, its genuine originality, its creativity, its power, but I love it with my mind open to its flaws, and I refuse to make excuses for Tolkien or his work.Twenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. Not today. But I am still willing to admit my love.

Shawn

I first read The Hobbit and the three volumes of Lord of the Rings (earlier editions, obviously)in the late summer of 1969 after being given The Hobbit by a friend I'd worked with that summer on an archaeological dig on Washington Island, Wisconsin. I'd scoffed at the idea of college students reading these (as I described them) "children's books", but when she gave me the book I promised I'd read it and began late one night shortly after, while I was staying at my parents home before heading off to start my senior year. I was just finishing when my father got up to go to work. I napped for a couple of hours until the book store opened and went to purchase the trilogy. During the next three days, I read them all, stopping only for food and sleep. I was entranced, and my parents thought I had gone insane in the course of my summer on the island.I read all of the books twice more in the 80s and 90s, and even read The Hobbit in German. Today I suppose I'd give them 4 rather than 5 stars, but at the time there's no doubt that I found them absolutely amazing. Thanks, Anne, wherever you are!

Dolly

I read Lord of the Rings first when I was about eleven or so, and then stayed up all night at a hip boy/girl party in the bathroom with Nathan O. ... talking about ents and elves and whether Tom Bombadil was God. Yes, I was a geeky child. However, all these years later, the story has stuck with me. First a warning: Don't read Tolkien if you don't appreciate true-omnicient-narrator-style epics. Tolkien isn't a master character builder: he leaves all that to the reader's imagination. The agony in the Aragorn/Arwen romance -- so blatant and operatic in the movies -- was a longing look on Strider's face at Rivendell, an odd comment from Bilbo, and a short no-nonsense Appendix. As with many of the themes in this work, the romance and deep character relationships must be picked from between the lines.And there is so much between the lines here. The world of Middle-earth lives, utterly lives. Instead of tugging on what-ifs, this fantasy forces readers to imagine. Tolkien's work is the fullest realization of literary world building ever penned.It is also sophisticated writing, drawing on older forms (epic, romance, tragedy). Tolkien doesn't waste time writing snappy dialogue: the story is too epic to dwindle to individual persons. However, voice shifts subtly depending on point of view: chapters dealing with hobbits contain much more dialogue and detail; chapters dealing with Rohirrim have a poetic rhythm reminiscent of extant Middle English works; chapters dealing with elves are magic and blurry and hard to wrap a mind around. These shifts in style, far from being a novice writer's oops, are intentional and serve as mass characterisation of races and groups. So, what Tolkien foregoes in terms of dialogue he replaces with style and action: a classic example of show not tell.Having just spouted all that praise, I have to admit that all the criticisms are true: the story does resound with Luddite anti-industrial metaphors, overt Christian themes of salvation and spirit, a structural decision to include songs that doesn't quite work, and fantasy tropes that are now cliche ... now that everyone else has copied them, that is. The thing to remember is that this book started the genre: everything fantasy, from Philip Pullman to George RR Martin, exists in the shadow of this opus.So, no, it isn't a popcorn read. Get over it. If you invest the time and spirit to read this work, you will be glad you did.

William

** spoiler alert ** This book changed my life. Before it I was a spotty 14 year old hooked on my science studies. Then I read LOTR, and, at the same time, discovered women existed and.....but thats enough of that. You want to hear about the book. By now there are few people who haven't at least heard of LOTR, and most of them have an opinion. There are the fans, almost fanatics, and there are the people who have read fifty pages or so, sometimes five or six times, but just can't get it, and don't understand what the fuss is about. I might have been one of them, if it hadn't been for an accident. I asked my local librarian to recommend a book for me as I had read all the Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov works they had. She pointed me at LOTR, and handed me what she said was book 1 of 3. It was only when I got home I found I had book 2: The Two Towers. I arrived in the story just at the point where the first film ends - The Fellowship is broken and Frodo and Sam are heading for Mordor. I think that is what made me keep reading -I had started at a point of crisis and I needed to know what happened next. Of course I had a lot of blanks to fill in, but I managed to pick up most of them as I went along , and I caught up with the first book as soon as I'd finished the third. (I bought the big all-in-one paperback, the one with the yellow cover. If you were a student in the seventies it was obligatory to have one lying about, all battered and torn to show that it had been read several times. You used to see backpackers in their hundreds on the trains going south through Europe, all with this version of LOTR falling apart in their hands.) As for starting at the begining, I believe the reason a lot of people give up is that they are expecting heroes, wizards and high magic. What they get is, in great detail, the rural goings-on of a bunch of small hairy creatures who eat and drink a lot and seem to live in an idealised version of the Home Counties. Anyone who has read "The Hobbit" will know that there is more to the Hobbits than that, but newcomers often feel cheated and give up. They don't know what they're missing. The story only picks up AFTER Bilbo's birthday party, and after the passing of his ring of invisibility to Frodo. Gandalf, a wizard, discovers the true nature of the ring. It is a magic item of great power, belonging to Sauron himself, a dark god intent on taking dominion over the world. Gandalf tells Frodo that the ring must be taken to a place of safety, to Rivendell, where the high-elves hold out against Sauron. And so the great journey starts, with Frodo and his friends, Sam, Merry and Pippin, taking the road to Rivendell. On the way they have many adventures, and the mood begins to darken with the appearance of the dark riders, servants of Sauron intent on finding the ring. The travelling band is befriended by Strider, a ranger of the north, and he helps them get to Rivendell, but not before Frodo is wounded by the dark riders, and starts to understand the power of the ring. At Rivendell, many things are revealed; the history of the ring is told, Strider is shown to be Aragon, the rightful heir to the kingdom of Middle-Earth, and a fellowship is forged, of wizards, elves, dwarves, men and hobbits. They form a band of nine who will try to take the ring to Mount Doom, a volcano where the ring was forged, and which is the only place where it can be destroyed. And so the adventure truly begins. From here on we have battles in deep mountain mines, the loss of one of the Fellowship, encounters with elves in enchanted forests, treachery and betrayal leading to the breaking of the fellowship - and we're still in Book 1! Books 2 and 3 deal with the fight for middle-Earth, with Aragon and his allies taking the battle to Sauron and his minions and Frodo and Sam trying to reach Mount Doom to destroy the ring. There are huge, stirring, battle scenes, moments of humour (especially when the younger hobbits meet the Ents), spectacular feats of high magic when the White Rider enters the battle scenes, and moments of great friendship and tenderness - I defy anyone to have a dry eye when Sam and Frodo are parted at Shelob's lair. It all builds up to a terrific climax, and the story comes full circle back at Hobbitton where we see the effect the war has had on the rural life of the Hobbits. And that is why the beginning is important - you might not see it till right at the end, but it is teaching us a lesson about the value of the simpler things in life - respect them or lose them. Tolkein's genius lies in melding these simple aspects with world-shattering events, showing how even the "little people" have their part to play in the fight against the darkness. And he also knows that the best villain is a mysterious one....Sauron hardly appears at all in the books, but his dark presence stretches over everything, and he's always there, his evil eye seeing everything. I used to have nightmares about that large, red-rimmed eye, but that was before I discovered women, grew my hair, developed a liking for Hawkwind and Led Zeppelin, and started to write fantasy fiction. I've never been the same since...... but that's another long story.

Paul

J.R.R. Tolkien has received so much attention over the last several years that it is becoming a popular sport to claim a dislike for his works. The title of "Father" of modern fantasy fits him well and anyone who has such unmitigated success is bound to attract a significant number of naysayers. For my own taste I find Tolkien to be charming and delightful, the stereotypical English county gentleman. His work is well crafted, the storyline is one that easily suspends disbelief. That is provided that you are willing to believe in magic rings and elves. However, I find real genius in the work of Tolkien, the savant father amongst lesser offspring.Reading LOTR again and again I find the genius of Tolkien is in the details. Like a finely crafted antique chest, the story is dovetailed to fit the cultures of so many diverse creatures. Tolkien was a linguist which explains his fascintion for the languages of the elves, orcs, ents, and various tribes of men. Beyond the languages though are the stories. One gets the feeling that if you were to follow the fellowship forever that the goldmine of endless stories of the realm might never run out. Everywhere that Tolkien took us in Middle Earth there were stories. Many of these stories were old, some ancient, but everyone and everything had a story. The true magic is in the interconnection of all those stories, each one weaving into the next. In the realm of great storytellers Tolkien may be the one that rules over all.

Gyst

These books were vastly influential, very interesting, but they are ultimately very boring to read.

Jon

LOTR has its faults, yes: it can be excessively descriptive; female characters (even the important ones) aren't as fully fleshed-out and realized as male characters (Arwen spends most of the books making a flag); Gandalf annoyingly and constantly points out how everyone else's decisions are wrong; the refusal to interweave chapter-by-chapter the stories of Frodo & Sam with the stories of everyone else results in literally hundreds of pages going by without mention of the majority of the main players' names; the Tom Bombadil section (as much as I like it) has literally nothing to do with the last four-fifths of the trilogy (yes, I realize it's actually a hexalogy, but most people haven't the slightest clue what that means); and I could probably go on for quite some time. Why, then, do I give this book five stars? Quite simply, it's perhaps the single most read, reviewed, and revered fantasy novel since the genre was invented. The list of authors who have been directly influenced by LOTR would stretch longer than the space given me in this text box, and it's virtually impossible to publish any novel of high fantasy in the modern era without being compared to Tolkien (try it: just go to your local bookstore and start plucking books off the shelf in the Fantasy section--I'll bet you a dollar that within thirty seconds you'll find one with a review that compares it to LOTR). Plus, it's one of the few books (I purposely group them together here for purposes of simplification--plus, my copy has all six books plus appendices in one massive paperback-bound edition) that I've read more than ten times, and every time I read it, I enjoy it more than the last. For all of its faults, I wouldn't change a word of it.

David

Anyway, all my nerdy friends love this book and still talk about it- 25 years later. I certainly loved the Hobbit; but my goodness, what a bore LOTR is. I felt guilty, surely I had missed something. I read again (how eager to please I am); well at least join in their animated discourse. On my second read I think i nearly got to the top of Mount Doom with Frodo when I figured: 'Enough! Be gone with you wretched book. I will not be one of many and succumb to the clutches of peer pressure.' I returned to my chamber and lived happily ever after. So I thought. Jackson appeared with clever and powerful propoganda. My friends once again rubbed their hands and chirped in excited chorus. Again, against my will, I was drawn to the power of the book that would unite us all. I did watch the 3 films. I did fall alsleep in the 2 Tower ordeal. I perservered 'the Return'. Jackson did well. He maintained the detailed boredom of the book.

Manny

Considering that The Lord of the Rings is one of the most popular books of the last century, it's surprising to see how few reviews there are here. I get the impression that many people feel guilty about liking it. It's a phase you go through, and the less said about it, the better. I think this is unfair to the book, which, I am prepared to argue, is a whole lot better than it's generally made out to be; I don't think its huge success is just evidence that people have no taste. It's something that can be read at more than one level, and, before dismissing it, let's take a look at what those levels might be. On the surface, it's a heroic fantasy novel, and quite a good one. It's a gripping, well-realized story, with an interesting fantasy world as background. Under the surface story, it's also clear that there's a moral discourse. It's not an allegory; as Tolkien points out in the foreword, he hated allegory, and we certainly don't have an in-your-face piece of Christian apology by numbers. None the less, the author has constructed some inspiring and thought-provoking symbols. The Ring confers great power, but the only way to defeat Sauron is to refuse that power, and destroy it, even at great personal cost. Frodo's self-sacrifice is quite moving. I also think that Gandalf is an unusually interesting Christ-figure; sufficiently so that many people refuse even to accept him as one, though, at least to me, the argument on that point seems convincing. He comes from Valinor, obviously the Heavenly Realm, to help the Free Peoples of the West. A central part of his message is the importance of mercy, as, in particular, shown by the memorable scene near the beginning, when he rebukes Frodo for wishing that Bilbo had killed Sméagol when he had the opportunity. As we discover, Sméagol is finally the one person who can destroy the Ring. And let's not miss the obvious point that Gandalf is killed, and then returns reborn in a new shape. I find him vastly more sympathetic than C.S. Lewis's bland Aslan, and he is the book's most memorable character.But I don't think the morality play is the real kernel either. What makes LOTR a unique book, and one of the most ambitious experiments in literary history, is Tolkien's use of names. All authors knows how important names are, and use them to suggest character; though when you think about what is going on, it is rather surprising how much can be conveyed just by a name. Proust has a couple of long discussions about this, describing in great detail how the narrator's initial mental pictures of Balbec, Venice and the Guermantes family come just from the sounds of their names. Tolkien goes much further. Most of his names are based on a family of invented languages, linked by a vast complex of legends and histories, the greater part of which are invisible to the reader and only surface occasionally. The astonishing thing is that the technique actually works. The interrelations between all the invented names and languages make Middle-Earth feel real, in a way no other fantasy world ever has. When some readers complain that characters and locations are hastily sketched, I feel they are missing the point. Tolkien was a philologist. He loved languages, words and names, and tracing back what the relationships between them say about their history. In LOTR, he's able to convey some of that love of language to his readers. You have to read the book more than once, but after a while it all comes together. To give just a few obvious examples, you see how "hobbit" is a debased form of the word holbytla ("hole-dweller") in the Old Norse-like language of Rohan, how the "mor" in "Moria" is the same as the one in "Mordor" and "morgul", and how Arwen Undómiel's name expresses her unearthly beauty partly through the element it shares with her ancestor Lúthien Tinúviel. There are literally hundred more things like this, most of which one perceives on a partly unconscious level. The adolescent readers who are typically captivated by LOTR are at a stage of their linguistic development when they are very sensitive to nuances of language, and programmed to pick them up; I can't help thinking that they are intuitively seeing things that more sophisticated readers may miss.Perhaps the simplest way to demonstrate the magnitude of Tolkien's achievement is the fact that it's proven impossible to copy it; none of the other fantasy novels I've seen have come anywhere close. Tolkein's names lend reality to his world, because he put so much energy into the linguistic back-story, and before that worked for decades as a philologist. Basically, he was an extremely talented person who spent his whole life training to write The Lord of the Rings. In principle, I suppose other authors could have done the same thing. In practice, you have to be a very unusual person to want to live that kind of life.Writing this down reminds me of one of the Sufi stories in The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mullah Nasrudin. The guy is invited to a posh house, and sees this incredibly beautiful, smooth lawn. It's like a billiard table. "I love your lawn!" he says. "What's the secret?""Oh," his host says, "It's easy. Just seed, water, mow and roll regularly, and anyone can do it!""Ah yes!" says the visitor, "And about how long before it looks like that?""Hm, I don't know," says the host. "Maybe... 800 years?"

Keely

Authors who inspire a movement are usually misunderstood, especially by those they have inspired, and Tolkien is no exception, but one of the biggest misconceptions about Tolkien is the idea that he is somehow an 'innovator of fantasy'. He did add a number of techniques to the repertoire of epic fantasy writers, and these have been dutifully followed by his many imitators, but for the most part, these techniques are little more than bad habits.Many have called Tolkien by such epithets as 'The Father of Fantasy', but anyone who makes this claim simply does not know of the depth and history of the fantasy genre. For those who are familiar with the great and influential fantastical authors, from Ovid and Ariosto to Eddison and Dunsany to R.E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, it is clear that, long before Tolkien, fantasy was already a complex, well-established, and even a respected literary genre.Eddison's work contains an invented world, a carefully-constructed (and well-researched) archaic language, a powerful and unearthly queen, and a central character who is conflicted and lost between the forces of nobility and darkness. Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword , which came out the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring, has distant, haughty elves, deep-delving dwarves, a broken sword which must be reforged, an epic war between the armies of light and darkness, another central character trapped between those extremes, and an interweaving of Christian and Pagan worldviews.So, if these aspects are not unique to Tolkien, then what does set him apart? Though Dunsany, Eddison, and Anderson all present worlds where light and dark come into conflict, they present these conflicts with a subtle and often ironic touch, recognizing that morality is a dangerous thing to present in absolutes. Tolkien (or C.S. Lewis), on the other hand, has no problem in depicting evil as evil, good as good, and the only place they meet is in the temptation of an honest heart, as in Gollum's case--and even then, he is not like Eddison's Lord Gro or Anderson's Scafloc, characters who live under an alternative view of the world, but instead fluctuates between the highs and lows of Tolkien's dualistic morality.It is a dangerous message to make evil an external, irrational thing, to define it as 'the unknown that opposes us', because it invites the reader to overlay their own morality upon the world, which is precisely what most modern fantasy authors tend to do, following Tolkien's example. Whether it's Goodkind's Libertarianism or John Norman's sex slave fetish, its very easy to simply create a magical allegory to make one side 'right' and the other side 'wrong', and you never have to develop a dramatic narrative that actually explores the soundness of those ideas. Make the good guys dress in bright robes or silvery maile and the bad guys in black, spiky armor, and a lot of people will never notice that all the 'good guys' are White, upper class men, while all the 'bad guys' are 'brutish foreigners', and that both sides are killing each other and trying to rule their little corner of the world.In Tolkien's case, his moral view was a very specific evocation of the ideal of 'Merrie England', which is an attempt by certain stodgy old Tories (like Tolkien) to rewrite history so that the nobility were all good and righteous leaders, the farmers were all happy in their 'proper place' (working a simple patch of dirt), while both industrialized cultures and the 'primitives' who resided to the South and East were 'the enemy' bent on despoiling the 'natural beauty of England' (despite the fact that the isles had been flattened, deforested, and partitioned a thousand years before).Though Tom Bombadil remains as a strangely incoherent reminder of the moral and social complexity of the fantasy tradition upon which Tolkien draws, he did his best to scrub the rest clean, spending years of his life trying to fit Catholic philosophy more wholly into his Pagan adventure realm. But then, that's often how we think of Tolkien: bent over his desk, spending long hours researching, note-taking, compiling, and playing with language. Even those who admit that Tolkien demonstrates certain racist, sexist, and classicist leanings (as, indeed, do many great authors) still praise the complexity of his 'world building'.And any student of the great Epics, like the Norse Eddas, the Bible, or the Shahnameh can see what Tolkien is trying to achieve with his worldbuilding: those books presented grand stories, but were also about depicting a vast world of philosophy, history, myth, geography, morality and culture. They were encyclopedic texts, intended to instruct their people on everything important in life, and they are extraordinarily valuable to students of anthropology and history, because even the smallest detail can reveal something about the world which the book describes.So, Tolkien fills his books with troop movements, dull songs, lines of lineage, and references to his own made-up history, mythology, and language. He has numerous briefly-mentioned side characters and events because organic texts like the epics, which were formed slowly, over time and compiled from many sources often contained such digressions. He creates characters who have similar names--which is normally a stupid thing to do, as an author, because it is so confusing--but he’s trying to represent a hereditary tradition of prefixes and suffixes and shared names, which many great families of history had. So Tolkien certainly had a purpose in what he did, but was it a purpose that served the story he was trying to tell?Simply copying the form of reality is not what makes good art. Art is meaningful--it is directed. It is not just a list of details--everything within is carefully chosen by the author to make up a good story. The addition of detail is not the same as adding depth, especially since Tolkien’s world is not based on some outside system--it is whatever he says it is. It’s all arbitrary, which is why the only thing that grants a character, scene, or detail purpose is the meaning behind it. Without that meaning, then what Tolkien is doing is just a very elaborate thought exercise. Now, it’s certainly true that many people have been fascinated with studying it, but that’s equally true of many thought exercises, such as the rules and background of the Pokemon card game, or crossword puzzles.Ostensibly, Scrabble supposedly is a game for people who love words--and yet, top Scrabble players sit an memorize lists of words whose meaning they will never learn. Likewise, many literary fandom games become little more than word searches: find this reference, connect that name to this character--but which have no meaning or purpose outside of that. The point of literary criticism is always to lead us back to human thought and ideas, to looking at how we think and express ourselves. If a detail in a work cannot lead us back to ourselves, then it is no more than an arbitrary piece of chaff.The popularity of Tolkien’s work made it acceptable for other authors to do the same thing, to the point that whenever I hear a book lauded for the ‘depth of its world building’, I expect to find a mess of obsessive detailing, of piling on so many inconsequential facts and figures that the characters and stories get buried under the scree, as if the author secretly hopes that by spending most of the chapter describing the hero’s cuirass, we'll forget that he’s a bland archetype who only succeeds through happy coincidence and deus ex machina against an enemy with no internal structure or motivation.When Quiller-Couch said authors should ‘murder their darlings’, this is what he meant: just because you have hobbies and opinions does not mean you should fill your novel with them. Anything which does not materially contribute to the story, characters, and artistry of a work can safely be left out. Tolkien's embarrassment of detail also produced a huge inflation in the acceptable length of fantasy books, leading to the meandering, unending series that fill bookstore shelves today.Now, there are several notable critics who have lamented the unfortunate effect that Tolkien’s work has had on the genre, such as in Moorcock’s Epic Pooh and Mieville’s diatribe about every modern fantasy author being forced to come to terms with the old don's influence. I agree with their deconstructions, but for me, Tolkien isn’t some special author, some ‘fantasy granddad’ looming over all. He’s just a bump in the road, one author amongst many in a genre that stretches back thousands of years into our very ideas of myth and identity, and not one of the more interesting onesHis ideas weren’t unique, and while his approach may have been unusual, it was only because he spent a lifetime trying obsessively to make something artificial seem more natural, despite the fact that the point of fantasy (and fiction in general) is to explore the artificial, the human side of the equation, to look at the world through the biased lens of our eye and to represent some odd facet of the human condition. Unfortunately, Tolkien’s characters, structure, and morality are all too flat to suggest much, no matter how many faux-organic details he surrounds them with.My Fantasy Book Suggestions

Kristin Little

Save time... watch the movies. This book can appeal only to a linguist. The underlying story is great, but it is buried under an avalance of horribly annoying songs and poems that do nothing to advance the story. They just take up space. I diligently read every last one, hoping that they held some deep meaning in relation to the story, but if there is one, it is so obscure that it serves no purpose. Also, the book is all about walking. Yes, I know they are on an epic quest, and there has to be soul-searching, etc., but the amount of detail regarding the walking is a snoozer! 45 pages of walking and 3 pages for a huge battle. AUGH! I know that this is a masterpiece, and I agree that the plot line is a beautiful tale of good and evil and power and corruption. However, reading this series was a drudgery. The only really good part that you miss in the movies is when the hobits return to the Shire in the last three chapters of The Return of the King. If you want a Tolkien fix, I'd reccommend The Hobbit.

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