Even today, almost six decades since its first publication, J.R R. Tolkien’s magnificent work of fantasy is still attracting readers and scholars — more so now due to the publicity surrounding Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Perhaps for the first time ever, the movie release of a book adaptation has actually boosted sales of the book involved. And this can only be considered a good thing, as one cannot claim to be a literary reader without exploring Tolkien’s Middle-Earth at least once in their lives.
To outline the story seems almost redundant, but here goes: in the idyllic pastoral land of the Shire lives the hobbit Frodo Baggins, who is entrusted with an immense task. The magical Ring that his uncle brought back from his adventuring is revealed by the wizard Gandalf to be none other than the ruling Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron, who is now mustering his forces to find his possession and overthrow the world once more.
And so Frodo sets off, with his cousins Merry Brandybuck and Pippen Took, and his loyal gardener Samwise Gamgee in order to conceal the Ring from the enemy and seek out a way in which to destroy it. His journey throws him into the path of the mysterious Ranger Strider, and the terrible Ringwraiths sent out to fetch Sauron’s prize. Finally reaching the elven sanctuary of Rivendell, Frodo becomes a part of a larger Fellowship of men, hobbits, elves and dwarves, in order to make the perilous journey across land to the volcanic Mount Doom in the land of Mordor: the only place where the Ring could be destroyed.
On the way of course are dangers galore — the betrayal of the white wizard Saruman, the legions of orcs plaguing the land, the pattering footsteps of an unknown stalker, and of course the lure of the One Ring itself, whose corruptible nature endangers Frodo from within the Fellowship as well as without…
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first of the three books in the trilogy, which in turn are divided into six books (two books for each volume). This new edition of the text involves several new additions; a note explaining Tolkien’s terminology and linguistic decisions (such as writing “elven” instead of “elfin” and “dwarves” instead of “dwarfs”), a foreword by Tolkien himself explaining how the story came about, and the famous prologue “Concerning Hobbits” which introduces the reader to the culture of these small creatures and the history of the Ring that took place in The Hobbit. Then of course there are the meticulous maps of Middle-earth, and the wonderful story itself.
In creating his work, Tolkien had done something that no author had done before, or since (despite the dismal attempts at copying by the likes of… well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks) — the creation of an entire world, complete with history, flora, fauna, landmarks, star plotting, folk songs and a thousand other details that make Middle-Earth the most vivid and three-dimensional sub-creation that the literary world has ever seen. In many ways the land itself is the protagonist of the story — it is what the characters are fighting for, and at times the land itself helps or hinders the Fellowship’s progress.
You can read this story from a thousand different viewpoints, whether it’s the irrevocable fading of the magic in the world, the battle between good and evil (both internal and external), a beautiful love story between a mortal man and an elven maiden, the impossible journey of the ordinary-man to change to course of the world… the list goes on. Most touching for me however was the gentle touches of Christian ideology imbued and combined with the realms of Faery, creating a harmonious and magical whole, not as heavy handed as C.S. Lewis’s Narnia allegories, but meaningful, deep and beautiful.
In reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time, one may be put off by the rather slow pace of the first book, in which Tolkien takes his time to set the scene, establish what’s at stake, gather together his information and then throw in a singing Tom Bombadil. Trust me, if you hang in there to book two (when Frodo reaches Rivendell) then the pace will pick up.
Tolkien has a beautiful poetic prose used throughout the story, sometimes soft and gentle, sometimes grand and epic. There has never been a better time to get involved with The Lord of the Rings than with the release of Jackson’s movie trilogy on DVD — read the book, and then watch the world unfold on the television screen.
The Lord of the Rings — (1954-1955) Publisher: In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. From Sauron’s fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings to him, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion. When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom. The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.