The Lord of the Rings
Date Published: 1954
Number of Pages: 1216
Print Price: $13.00
eBook Price: $9.00
For most people familiar with the story The Lord of the Rings made famous by director Peter Jackson’s movie based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien, one might think there is no need to read a review of the Tolkien trilogy. But there is more to this story than just the plot, action, characters and setting which Jackson has made familiar to us.
Dedicating his work and his life, to a higher goal, Tolkien was a man who ardently believed that what he wrote mattered to the world. As a Catholic, his world view was wide. Since Tolkien was a very well educated man, his mind was well equipped to not only tell a great tale but “also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God” (J.R.R. Tokien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter, p.151).
And Tolkien was prepared to not only entertain but also to enlighten. His characters provided a systematic reality check throughout the book, despite the inclusion of such “unreal” elements as magic and fantasy, and well-placed “time-outs” where the characters take a brief retreat from life’s toil and trouble - be it at Mr. Maggot’s kitchen table or the elves’ haven in Lorien. With this rhythm of mystery and ordinary life as the backdrop, Tolkien's storytelling talent leads each reader on a personal journey.
By the end of the story we actually feel a kinship to an imaginary world because in each character we see a reflection of ourselves or someone we know. That sense of identity extends to all of Middle Earth itself when we discover there the home we have always longed to experience. Tolkien believed in God and he knew that Heaven exists beyond our present sight. In this belief, in this ardent insight, we are brought a little closer to God and our ultimate home in heaven.
The story of The Lord of the Rings is actually a continuation of the story J.R.R. Tolkien wrote first, The Hobbit. In that story, Bilbo Baggins goes on an adventure with a dozen dwarves and old Gandalf the Grey to regain the Dwarves’ lost homeland and their treasure stolen by a nasty dragon called Smaug. In the course of events, Bilbo acquires a magic ring which allows him to disappear by merely putting it on – a nice trick when one wants to escape unwanted domestic guests such as his irritating neighbors, the Sackville-Bagginses, or unwanted foreign enemies such as goblins.
The Lord of the Rings picks up the storyline after Bilbo has returned from this adventure. Many years have passed since the adventure related in The Hobbit and Bilbo thinks he needs a rest from the people of the Shire. He decides to return to the one place he is sure to find comfort and perfect peace – with the elves of Rivendell whom he first met in The Hobbit. To that end he leaves everything he has to his nephew Frodo whom he has adopted as a son. After a grand birthday party Bilbo leaves in secret with some dwarf companions.
Frodo is also left with the magic ring, due to Gandalf’s persuasive argument that it would be best if Bilbo were to leave it behind, for Gandalf suspects the ring is more than it appears. The ring is actually a source of great and terrible power created by the Dark Lord ages ago to control the world of men, elves and dwarves. For this world had been deceived into thinking that the Dark Lord would share power. “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them” (The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 55). This theme of deception is a continuous thread throughout the trilogy: those who desire power cannot seem to help themselves and must deceive everyone, and as Frodo learns about two unappealing characters he meets up with, Sméagol and Worm Tongue, they’re willing to deceive even themselves.
After Bilbo heads off to live with the elves, Frodo is left to take care of this dreadful ring which Gandalf learns is not only powerful but also being actively sought by the spirit of that same Dark Lord whom everyone thought was dead and gone. This turn of events introduces another theme in the story – the idea that evil may be pushed back but it is never completely expelled from the world of men. The constant need for vigilance and to actively battle against its influence is returned to over and over. “But last night I told you of Sauron the Great, the Dark Lord," Gandalf says to Frodo. "The rumours that you have heard are true: he has indeed arisen again and left his hold in Mirkwood and returned to his ancient vastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor. That name even you hobbits have heard of, like a shadow on the borders of old stories. Always after a defeat and respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again” (The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 55).
Gandalf warns Frodo of the danger and thus begins a long adventure for Frodo and several of his faithful though not-always-smart friends. Frodo finds that the only way to undo the power of the ring is to destroy it for once and for all - which entails an arduous journey with friend and servant Sam Gamgee through unspeakable danger, dreadful lands of desolation, and the necessity of facing his own weakness towards temptation. He must not only overcome outside forces of evil, but also the weakness of his guides in the person of Boromir, and his own temptation to claim the ring for his very own.
It is this many-tiered struggle against a myriad of evil forces which make Frodo’s journey so magnificent. As Sam begins to understand, the journey is not just about destroying a ring but about becoming new men renewed by virtue and thereby equipped to defeat the evil which oppresses them. “But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. Sam’s plain hobbit-face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue” (The Return of the King, p. 225).
Frodo, Sam and their faithful companions eventually return home to find that it has been nearly destroyed by the ravages of a particularly nasty group of thugs. Like the dragon which had destroyed the Dwarves home in the first book, these men determined to do evil have managed to destroy all that was once beautiful and lovely in Hobbiton. In this case, it is Frodo and his friends’ duty to fight not strangers in a strange land, but nasty neighbors and selfish brutes who, though they work for a secret menace, are still personalities which were once an intimate part of Frodo’s shire. This last great battle in the book introduces another theme which relates the human quest to the desire to preserve the goodness of the neighborhood in which we live – perhaps a harder duty than fighting a dragon or a Dark Lord. “’This is worse than Mordor!’ said Sam. ‘Much worse in a way. It comes home to you, as they say; because it is home, and you remember it before it was all ruined’” (The Return of the King, p. 323).
In addition to events not covered by the movie, Frodo and companions meet an assembly of interesting characters in the books who do not appear in Jackson’s version. Never mentioned in the movie, these characters bring life and charm to the story. For example, Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry are supernatural beings who wish only to succor the needs of their poor beleaguered guests. But even in their goodness and joy they have limits. Through them, Frodo learns to trust even when he doesn’t fully understand. Still he must pay attention and resume the journey which is his and no one else’s. He cannot avoid the task assigned to him. “’I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them’” (The Return of the King, p.338).
In the end Frodo must face the fact that his life has limits and that his earthly journey has both a beginning and an end. He will live on in a new land but he must go where many of his friends cannot follow. It is in this joy mixed with grief that we meet one of the most profound truths of the whole trilogy: though we must journey forth in this life, facing challenges and trials, overcoming weaknesses and temptation, we also know that this earthly journey leads to an unseen world. But when this journey ends and the next begins is not for us to say. “And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water…and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise” (The Return of the King, p. 339).
Frodo leaves Sam to pick up Middle Earth’s thread and we are left to ponder where this story has taken us. Good reading!
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1.8 inches
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