Matt's Reviews > The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
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's review
Apr 26, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: classic-novels, fantasy
Read from June 01 to 10, 2010

I wasn't really "cool" back in high school. I never made out with girls under the bleachers, or smoked under the bleachers, or did any of the other things under the bleachers that - I am lead to believe - the popular kids did. Instead, I maintained a low profile and waited for the teenage years - that wilderness of strangled thinking - to end.

In high school, as today, I harbored geekish obsessions, had a wandering imagination, and nurtured an appreciation for minutiate. In other words, I should have been J.R.R. Tolkien's core audience. For whatever reason - perhaps intuition that I didn't need to dig my social hole any deeper - I never read The Lord of the Rings when most people first come upon The Lord of the Rings.

Actually, I was barely cognizant of LOTR until college, when the movies were released. I absolutely loved Peter Jackson's film trilogy. During law school, I left a legal writing final halfway through in order to see Return of the King on opening day. Despite this, I never desired to read the source material. From talking to my friends, who were Tolkien enthusiasts ("nerds"), I assumed I wouldn't like the books. They seemed too talky, dense, and plodding.

Finally, one fair summer night on my patio, my friend Jon and I were drinking beer and talking about The Lord of the Rings and how it was funny we could do this openly and still have significant others of the opposite sex. (I believe my wife was inside at the time, deciding what she would take in the divorce). Somehow, in a Miller Light and bratwurst haze, Jon got me to commit to giving LOTR a try. Then, I did a keg stand with Jon's homemade beer. This is how I read.

Now, having finished Fellowship of the Ring, I have new appreciation for what Peter Jackson accomplished. Yeah, he made it into an action film, but that's the medium of film; there needs to be action. He did a fine job of taking Tolkien's essence and goosing it. (Sometimes he goosed the action too much, but we can discuss Legolas surfing on his shield at Helm's Deep another day). It was this love of the film that, interestingly, made me hesitant to read the books.

Folks who love Tolkien love Tolkien with a vengeance. If it isn't obvious already, I don't have that underlying feeling. I understand, theoretically, Tolkien's achievement, but I'm not going to pretend to know all the references - religious, mythic, and linguistic - used as ingredients.

What I do know is that, at its heart, LOTR is an archetypal hero's journey. It begins with an orphan of average abilities, who has a task thrust upon him. This forces the hero to leave home and enter the wider world. In the world he must pass tests, learn lessons, and eventually accomplish his task. Once that is done, the hero can return home; however, he is forever changed, and the home to which he returns is different.

The hero in LOTR is Frodo Baggins, a hobbit. Now, a hobbit is - well, they're short, but they're not dwarves. That's the important thing to remember. Hobbits are like pot-smoking liberal arts majors. They like to hang around, eat, smoke, drink, and talk. Frodo's uncle, Bilbo, is a rare hobbit who has gone out and had adventures. He also has a magic ring, which he gives to Frodo.

This ring...well it's evil. I could explain more, and Tolkien certainly does, but suffice it to say the ring is a Macguffin. It's like Marcellus Wallace's suitcase in Pulp Fiction: it drives the plot, and that's all you need to know. (This being Tolkien, though, you are certainly able to learn much, much, much more).

Bilbo and Frodo's friend, the wizard Gandalf, tells Frodo that he must take the ring to the Cracks of Doom to destroy it, lest the Dark Shadow Sauron get his figurative hands upon it. With this, the journey starts. Frodo is joined by three other hobbits: Sam (the loyal one); Pippin (the scared one); and Merry (the one portrayed by Lost's Dominic Monaghan). After some brushes with the Nine Riders/the Nazgul/the Ring Wraiths (Tolkien has a very Russian way of making up a name, and then making up two or three or four synonyms, which makes things a little confusing), the hobbits meet up with Aragorn/Strider who leads them to Rivendell, where the elves live under Elrond. There is a counsel, the Fellowship is joined by Boromir (a man), Legolas (an elf) and Gimli (a dwarf). It all sounds like the set-up for a very complicated joke. But rest assured, the fate of Middle-Earth is at stake. (Though that does not stop the characters from stopping repeatedly for long meals; apparently, the Fellowship is comprised of foodies and gourmands).

It's important to note what this book is not: it is not an action-packed adventure. Mostly, it is people walking through this make-believe world, talking about the past, and worrying about the future. There is a battle in the mountains of Moria that lasts for two pages; other than that, there are only scattered paragraphs when people are running, swords are unsheathed, and the stakes are raised. If swords and arrows are what you seek, just stick to the films. Moreover, you aren't going to find complex characterizations. The good guys are varing shades of good, and the bad guys are really bad. About the only conflicted characters are Boromir, who is conflicted for five sentences or so, and Gollum, the strung-out ring-addict.

So what is the book? Well, it's a place you visit.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Nyquill connoisseur (or addict, take your pick). I often need something to calm my overactive mind before I can get to sleep. Instead of the Quill, for the past weeks, I used Fellowship.

This is a compliment.

Tolkien's world is so immersive, so fully realized - with its varied races, songs, languages, and lore - that whenever you open the covers it's a sublime escape. You are in an ancient land filled with a rich and ancient history, and a wonderfully described topography. Sure, the shadow of war hangs over Middle-Earth, but there is no tension. If you feel like Frodo is in mortal danger, and might not accomplish his task, you're probably six years old and having the story read aloud.

Reading Fellowship was simply comforting. I wouldn't mind a kindly wizard giving me sage advice:

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.


And I also wouldn't mind going on a little hike through the forest, and maybe hanging out with some elves:

Away high in the East swung Remmirath, the Netted Stars, and slowly above the mists red Borgil rose, glowing like a jewel of fire. Then by some shift of airs all the mist was drawn away like a veil, and there leaned up, as he climbed over the rim of the world, the Swordsman of the Sky, Menelvagor with his shining belt. The Elves burst into song. Suddenly, under teh trees a fire sprang with light. 'Come!' the Elves called to the hobbits. 'Come! Now is the time for speech and merriment!'...At the south end of the greensward there was an opening. There the greenfloor ran on into the wood, and formed a wide space like a hall, roofed by the boughs of trees. Their great trunks ran like pillars down each side. In the middle there was a wood-fire blazing, and upon the tree-pillars torches with lights of gold and silver were burning steadily. The Elves sat round the fire upon the grass or upon the sawn rings of old trunks. Some went to and fro bearing cups and pouring drink; others brought food on heaped plates and dishes.


Frodo's journey is secondary to Tolkien's creation of Middle-Earth. And the genius of Middle-Earth is that it goes beyond the pages. With its allusions to a long history filled with famous leaders and famous events and famous battles, your imagination is ignited.

Upon finishing the first book, I saw how LOTR became a place of refuge for the outcasts and iconoclasts of our world. Like comic books, it is a place of escape, where the everyday order is turned upside down: the stakes are high, the heroes short, the beer is plentiful, and girls a distant afterthought.
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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Caitlin What?! You're reading a non-history book and it's The Lord of the Rings?! I did not see that coming. Great books in my opinion.


Matt Well, from what I've read so far, The Lord of the Rings is a history book! My buddy Jon convinced me to read it, I started, and now I'm semi sucked-in, though I don't know if my interest will hold till the end:)


Caitlin That is true. You do learn a lot about the history of elves, Sauron, and all that is Middle Earth. As long as you give it a fair chance, I'll be happy.


Caris Dude, that is one hell of a review.


message 5: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell It's important to note what this book is not: it is not an action-packed adventure. Mostly, it is people walking through this make-believe world, talking about the past, and worrying about the future. There is a battle in the mountains of Moria that lasts for two pages; other than that, there are only scattered paragraphs when people are running, swords are unsheathed, and the stakes are raised. If swords and arrows are what you seek, just stick to the films.

This explains why I hated the movies. ;-)


Matt Moira - Exactly!

I think I actually had an advantage by watching the movies first, and then moving onto the books. I think if you've developed a long-lasting love of the books, then the movie had to be a travesty of sorts.


Jenn "Awww Yeaaahhh" I've only seen the movies and love 'em. Legolas surfing and all. :)


Miriam Mostly, it is people walking through this make-believe world, talking about the past, and worrying about the future.

So you're saying for accuracy the films should have been done by Roger Corman?


Matt Miriam wrote: "Mostly, it is people walking through this make-believe world, talking about the past, and worrying about the future.

So you're saying for accuracy the films should have been done by Roger Corman?"


Ha! I like it. Or perhaps it could've been a low-budget, experimental Steven Soderbergh film, complete with hand-held cameras and scenes that last fifteen minutes without a single cut.

I'm starting to warm to the idea of The Lord of the Rings as a mumblecore film.


Ksenia Klykova You should write book reviews for magazines and newspapers ;)


message 11: by Barb (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barb S. Great review! I have been contemplating reading this &, as I can totally relate to your paragraph about "the Quill" I think it is time to give this trilogy a shot. :)


message 12: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma If by "girls" you mean romance, then yes, there's definitely none of that. Just Sam mentioning Rosie once....But if you're referring to the fact that there are about three female characters, then, um...thanks? Us "girls" are really flattered by the fact that you'd prefer us a "distant afterthought." Ladies, this isn't just a book for guys.

All bitter feminism aside, your review is absolutely accurate. LOTR is absolutely one of my "comfort books" and the one I pretty much take everywhere, when it fits in the bag. And it took me nine months to read.


message 13: by Ploy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ploy Great review! I have this book and I'm anxious to read it- but I wanted to see how it is first. I saw the movies, and I admit that I want to read the book mostly because of Legolas =)


message 14: by Samantha (new) - added it

Samantha @ Matt: Just saying I didn't read your whole review cuz I haven't read the books yet and don't want to spoil too much, but I think you'd make a really great writer yourself! Unless you already are one lol. But great review. Pretty funny too


message 15: by Chloe (new) - added it

Chloe Great review, you know what you're talking about!


message 16: by Chloe (new) - added it

Chloe Great review, you know what you're talking about!


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