Scurra's Reviews > The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
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Jul 22, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy
Read in May, 1980

To even attempt to review Tolkien's epic is like measuring the coastline - the deeper you go, the more there is to find (or, as the more cynical might put it, the longer it gets.)

And it's because it is so many different stories and, indeed, types of story, all melded together into one (at times unwieldy) whole. So, for example, you can read it as a poetry book. Skip all the narrative sections and just read the verse. You'll be surprised at how much of the narrative structure remains intact, and how the themes of loss, redemption, love and courage are still present. Likewise, I often tell people who got frustrated with the "hobbit stuff" at the start to skip straight past that and just read Aragorn's story instead, which is far easier to relate to.

So the shifts in tone and style are not signs of bad writing, they are deliberate echoes of the different mythic forms he used as his original model for creating the world of Middle Earth. And it's this underpinning that makes the book so special - his characters live in a world that has its own intricate mythos that they can casually refer to, almost as though they expect the reader to know the stories just as intimately. In the way that an author today could refer to, say, the story of Romeo & Juliet and expect the reader to know the basics, here Aragorn talks about Beren & Luthien in the same way - and we (as readers) realise that we have no idea who these people are - but that those characters do. And, more importantly, that that story has absolutely nothing to do (in plot terms) with the one we are reading (except insofar as establishing a parallelism for Aragorn & Arwen.)

It's a common flaw, especially in fantasy fiction, for the world to exist solely for the story that is being told; what makes Middle Earth so special is that, for all its inconsistency and implausibility, it really does have large parts of history that are nothing to do with The One Ring.

Tolkien originally set out to create a mythology for England. He ended up doing more than that - and for that we should all be grateful.
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