There: I've finally finished my reread of The Lord of the Rings. I'm trying to remember when I last reread it. Probably three years ago, maybe four, because I went through a long period where I was sure it would have lost its magic, and I mostly just remembered the accusations of how slow it was, how boring, how long it took to get anything done. That was true, as far as it matters: Tolkien is wordy, but I like the way he writes. I wasn't wrong in remembering that it tasted nice to me, with the help of my synaesthesia. This wasn't a book I wanted to gallop through at amazing speed. It doesn't have to move fast -- part of it is the awful menace, the seemingly interminable waiting. I feel some of the despair of the characters -- but at least I know that in five pages, or fifty, or five hundred, good news is on the way.
I seemed to have swallowed whole all the other accusations too: racism, moral absolutism, sexism, etc, etc. I think most of that comes from a reading that isn't terribly deep, though. It's true that there are the evil men of the East -- I think it's the East -- and so on. I don't think we see a single redeemable character among those, or among the Orcs, for example. But it isn't quite wholesale 'men are good, elves are good, dwarves are good; only orcs and such are evil'. There are evil men, too, like Bill Ferny and Wormtongue, and arguably Saruman, since he's a man-shaped thing at least. And there are men who bring in some -- gasp -- moral ambiguity. Boromir, for a most obvious example. He ends as a noble man, but for a while it's in the balance. Denethor? He gives in to despair and by inaction threatens the cause.
Gollum's another. For all the evil he does, he serves Frodo faithfully for a time, and there's a spark of light in him. And he does at the end what Frodo cannot -- however unwittingly and unwillingly. There's darkness in Frodo, and light in Gollum.
Aragorn himself leads an army whose weapons are mostly fear and darkness -- the ghost army.
As for sexism, it's true that women don't have a great part in the story. No woman rides in the Fellowship, and there's no sign of a woman for great swathes of the book, especially when it comes to Frodo and Sam. Women do have a place in the story, but it's to be come home to. Eowyn is given tasks that keep her safe and home, preparing for the return of the men; Arwen stays well out of the action; Galadriel remains hidden in Lothlorien; at the very end, Sam rides off with Frodo and leaves Rosie there alone, and comes back to her at the last...
But at the same time, the role of women is explored a little through Eowyn. She leaves the safe haven of her home and goes out to war -- strikes one of the most important blows. We're told that the Lord of the Nazgul cannot be killed by a man, but Eowyn can kill him. She is eventually calmed, by being settled down with Faramir, but the way she's written, I doubt Faramir could or would rule her, and it's still acknowledged that she has won great reknown for what she did. Galadriel, although she stays hidden, seems to be important among the Wise like Elrond and Gandalf, and wields an elven-ring.
Lord of the Rings would probably be quite different if written now, with what we have of reform and feminism and equality, but that's obvious. There's still some place for women in the narrative, and more than might be expected.
This last book was shorter than I remembered. It was hard to stop reading it, and in the end I gave in and just sat down to finish it. In a way, I think the end lingers a little too long -- it could end in Minas Tirith, it could end as they enter the Shire, etc, etc. It's a little strange the way the action starts up again a little at the very end, for the Scouring of the Shire. But it is still good to read, and it ties up a lot of loose ends.
And the real end, with Frodo and Bilbo and Gandalf and the elves all sailing away to peace and healing, it's beautiful. It's a little too good to be true, because people don't just sail off into the sunset and live apart from any strife; if there's anyone else around, there's usually something to disagree about. But that's what beautiful fictions are for.