Oh my, this is a big one. I first read Tolkien back in middle school. Like many other people, I was forced to read The Hobbit and discuss it in class. I remember vividly the cassette recording my teacher played of Tolkien himself reading the “riddles in the dark” section of The Hobbit. It was fantastic.
But today I want to review the sequel. Most critics agree that Tolkien outdid himself with his sequel, The Lord of the Rings.
The book is technically three books. These are The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. And even further than that, each book has two parts to it. This is especially seen in the last two books, where the stories diverge between Frodo and Sam and the rest of the fellowship.
The story is concerned with the events after The Hobbit ended. Bilbo Baggins is in Bag End, and has his ward Frodo. The story opens with Bilbo’s birthday. He’s 111 years old but doesn’t seem to have aged. He still has the invisibility ring he got at the end of The Hobbit, but doesn’t seem to be adventuring anymore.
However, like The Hobbit, Gandalf arrives and everything changes. Bilbo uses the ring and leaves it behind, leaving for the land of the elves. Frodo is given the ring instead, and it’s revealed the object belongs to Sauron of Mordor, the great evil to the East.
The story follows Bilbo and his friends as they take the ring through Middle Earth to destroy it in Mount Doom. Honestly, the book ramps up once the hobbits leave the Shire. It especially hits its stride when they meet Strider, who is also known as Aragorn.
That leads to my one complaint. It’s one that’s been leveled at the book in modernity: Aragorn is good at everything. He seemingly has little flaw, despite his wanderings with the Rangers. The other issue with the book is the lack of progression in the Frodo and Sam story line. Once they get to Mordor it picks up, but it certainly drags at times.
As far as positives, I can’t speak enough praises to this book. Tolkien blends song and poetry with prose in unique places in the book, and it’s beautifully written. His world is thoroughly developed, the world-building being a step above every other author of the time (though I’d still prefer Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian).
If all you’ve ever seen of Lord of the Rings are the movies, you’re well-equipped to understand the story. However, much is redacted from the books to cover a 9 to 12 hour run time. Characters like Tom Bombadil and scenes like the return to the Shire are completely left out (the latter being one of my favorite scenes in the book).
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy, as it was basically the guidebook on how to write fantasy during the 20th century.
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