Phil Smith's Reviews > The Lord of the Rings
by J.R.R. Tolkien
I'm still a bit ambiguous about The Lord of the Rings. On the one hand, it's set in a very detailed universe, without so much as an atom out of place (apart from Tom Bombadil, who was meant to be an anomaly). Everything's thought through in exhaustive detail and there is a terrific sense of time and place about the whole thing. On the other hand, it's long. I could almost say it's overlong, but then my version of this book is an enormous one-volume paperback and that could easily influence my opinion. Although it's an exaggeration to say that Tolkien will spend a page describing a rock, there are times when that exaggeration doesn't seem all that drastic.
The books have plenty of high points. The encounters with the Ringwraiths, Saruman, Gríma and Gollum are among my favourites. The Fellowship's arduous journey through Moria is very dear to this old dungeon-crawler's heart. But at the same time there's stuff that makes me cringe.
The religious imagery might not be immediately obvious, but once you're clued into it (lembas wafers / Eucharist, Gandalf's resurrection, Gandalf calling on Théoden to cast aside his stick) it does grate a little. This might be my own personal prejudice getting in the way again, though: don't let that put you off.
Similarly, the hobbits themselves aren't really to my liking. Don't get me wrong, I like the bits of characterisation that Frodo, Merry, Pippin, Ted Sandyman and arguably Gollum get, but the rest of them? What was it Moorcock said? The only good hobbit is a roast hobbit. I'm inclined to agree. With a few brush strokes, most of them are painted as stereotypical stolid yokels who 'don't hold with wearing ironmongery, whether it wears well or no'. It's a nice line, but it's so cheesy that I could grate it up and serve it on a baked potato.
All the same, it's not a bad read. Tolkien was determined to get his vision across, took his time, and tied up all the loose ends he could. He was a man very much in love with language. It shows. Pace yourself and you may well find something to enjoy.
If you haven't the patience, though, pick up the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation. It's wonderfully acted and the late Michael Hordern is the definitive Gandalf. I'd rate it over the movies any day.