Wes's Reviews > The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
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M_50x66
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Jan 19, 08

Recommended to Wes by: my Dad
Recommended for: anybody
Read in September, 1989

It's nice to have favorites. When you have a favorite -- a favorite menu item, a favorite car, a favorite shirt -- you can enter at least one corner of the maelstrom of subjective choices that life presents to you and evaluate the choices in that corner not with respect to some external criteria, but rather with respect to one specific thing.

For example, when asking oneself what the greatest book of all time is, one might first have to ask, "what makes a book great?" -- which is a question that one could spend a lifetime only attempting to answer.

Instead, after reading a book, I am able to ask myself, "Which is better -- this book, or The Lord of The Rings?"

The Lord of the Rings is the best story I've ever read.

(Naturally, your mileage may vary -- possibly even dramatically.)

A British writer posted something about The Lord of the Rings on his now-defunct website, oh, maybe 7 or 8 years ago. Paraphrasing, he said: "As a creative work, The Lord of the Rings is the work of a second-rate novelist. But if the creative work is Middle-Earth, then Tolkien is one of the very greatest artists who has ever lived." I think that's basically true. (Plus, since I'm not terribly widely- or well-read, it gives me a comforting measure of self-satisfaction.)

I caught wind of the movies before filming began -- it was the sort of thing that would have cropped up in the fractions of the internet I frequented. I've come to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the movies. (stinking academy award winning...) I am thankful Jackson was able to bring them to the masses. I am saddened that in repackaging for the masses, much of what I love about the story was left behind.

Why do I like The Lord of the Rings? I like Tolkien's crochety introduction. I like the depth of the invented world -- it has its own stories, its own poetry (of different meters and rhyme-schemes, even), its own languages, its own geography, it's own history. I like the narrator's tone. I like the moments of understated humor. I like the medieval fantasy: swords and monsters and magic. Most of all, I like the characters and the ways in which their actions reflect such primitive things as courage, compassion, honor, and love.

Some may hold this genre to be childish, or inherently imperfect. Some time ago I began to speculate that the more straight-up fiction of the mainstream variety may be fraught with more danger, and that there is something objectively worthy even in the fanciful and simplistic. One could scan the New York Times bestseller list and/or book reviews in literary journals and pick out a work that seems well respected, taking place in an essentially real time and place -- say, Chicago, in 1998 -- with, say, a protagonist named Joe, and a Holly-Golightly-esque object of his conflicted affections. Joe and Holly-esque wander and banter and ponder; lather, rinse, repeat. Throw in some other characters. Joe and Holly-esque hit it off! or, they don't. Finis.

What lesson is a reader to draw from this? Perhaps Joe and Holly-esque's drama will enter the reader's subconscious (or some such) and, over the course of the reader's life, will impact or inform the way the reader interacts with the world. The reader may come to behave toward the world based on an understanding of the world that derives in part from what the reader observed in the interaction between Joe and Holly-esque.

Which, recall, is fiction.

So the reader's model of what men and women are, what men and women say and think, what men and women should do, may at some level owe provenance to what some author imagined human nature to be; and this model may in turn have a real impact on real people.

What happens if a reader has read The Lord of the Rings? The work might resonate with the reader, and the reader might feel it altogether right and proper to deal with the world with courage, compassion, honor, and love.

I know which danger I prefer.
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Taya Mathias Well said!


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