Szplug's Reviews > The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
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Mar 01, 2011

it was amazing

Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.

One of the best books ever. Stirred the embers of more imaginations than can be measured. Found a way to reach something vital but ineffable inside millions of different souls. Presented the world with Sauron, his Nazgûl, and the Balrog to tip the scales of evil; Gandalf, Galadriel, and the stalwart gentlehobbit Frodo to lend ballast to those of good; whereas, with Tom Bombadil, who really knows what trippy trail that earth-bound spirit is blazing: and who the can top all of that? It first spoke to me when my fantastic fifth grade teacher chose The Fellowship of the Ring for our classroom reading period, and I've never looked back.

There are curiosities that abound within the trilogy, not least in that the opening chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring would not be out of place as a direct sequel to The Hobbit, whereas by the time we have reached Rivendell, the entire tone of the book has been altered: become more adult, more serious and darker, possessed of a sense of finality and portents of an end to wondrous things that comes to permeate the remainder of this questing original. By the time we get to the Scouring of the Shire at the close of the third book, it is understood that even the bucolic goodwill and perduring staidness of the Hobbit realm has been stirred, shaken, even broken in parts, and cannot go back to what it was. What's more, with every subsequent reading I found it more difficult to accept that the Nazgûl failed so miserably in their great and urgent task of taking back the Ring from Frodo, even with Strider/Aragorn in the picture; that these ferocious sorcerer-spectres were driven away—all nine at once, mind, which few men had ever proven able to withstand—with the Ring well within their grasp, well, it truly tests my suspension of disbelief. With that said, though, how many other parts of the story fail? Precious few, I think, particularly within the context of a transitional world linked to the ancient and primordial past only by the maintenance of Elvish magic, and that contingent upon the very survival of the One Ring that they would most wish to see utterly unmade. The trilogy represents a final outreach of the elder races ere the full and overwhelming dominion of Man; and the evil incarnate within such demi-gods as Morgoth and Sauron, its essence imbued within the very earth itself and permeating the susceptible souls of the new ruling race of free-choosing (and hence, free-damning) mortal (wo)men will in the future prove just as effective a corruptive and destructive force without the dominating presence of an avataric darkling lord to wield it from a centre of power.

But what interests me these days, more than the well-known story itself, is trying to suss what constitutes the enduring spell that TLOTR casts upon its legion of readers, whether experienced hands or rookies new to its peculiar fantastic delights. Is it a yearning to escape a world of routine and rational technodemocracy where everything seems sullied by the pursuit of the dollar and tomorrow will be but a twin of today, which was sibling to its brethren of the day before? A world absent of miracles and beauty that stirs the very body to fealty? Where lawyers abound to clarify the legal implications of every action that falls outside of the commonplace or expected? Where the rich are not bound by a noblesse oblige to fight to protect those who labour on their behalf, but hire those selfsame workers to do the fighting for them? Where the powerful rules that uphold modern science can be replaced by naught but the mystical exertion of a rich spirit's will - a Nietzschean surmounting of the barriers to controlling the energies of a nature that, to us, seems distant and out of sync? Where things like honor and blood ties bound people together with a lasting surety and strength that would be incomprehensible in our modern fragmented neighborhoods, where you can wander through blocks of crammed apartments and dirty houses without meeting with a single smile or nodding acknowledgement? Where evil, though ever lurking to tempt men away from the path of truth, could be traced to its roots in the rebellious uprising of cosmogonic spirits, blackened godlings whose lusts for chaos and dominance seeped into the human psyche through a process of corrupting what, in its original nature, was pure and fulgent? Beats me - but it's got to be something, because Tolkien's trilogy is one of those rare books that, it seems, will never be in danger of being removed from the presses.

In an irony-drenched and übersceptical postmodern civilization it must strike many as absurd that there exists an insatiable demand for this tripartite tale penned in the manner of an irascible, waddling county squire whose tropes and forms—slavishly reworked and rehashed in the reams of fantasy fiction that has been churned out since its initial publication—hearken back to the foundational mythologies of patriarchal oppression, class division, and romantic irrationality that it was both hoped and expected the postwar years would have superseded. I've read critiques from the likes of Moorcock - Epic Pooh - and, while able to understand why he dismisses it, simply cannot manage to summon any commiseration for the repugnance he feels. First and foremost, the tale grew out of the imaginative legends Tolkien had concocted as backdrop for his linguistic creations—and coming as he did from a proud and tradition-bound Roman-Catholic background; and pursuing as he did his studies in the philological field of Anglo-Saxon language and literature; and enjoying as he did various ancient and medieval mythologies and the fantastic weavings of influential forbears such as Dunsany, MacDonald, and Eddison; well, can there be any surprise that his brilliant questing trilogy evoked calls to Welsh faeries, Norse dragons, Scots trolls, Finnish hunters, comfortable and sturdy Midland farms, Gaelic heroes, and a loving but distant God beyond a host of angels whose essence devolves downward? It is hard to fault the man for pursuing his own personal passions and visions and putting them into a textual form for which he expected, at best, a modest return—why not swing, rather, at a public that—from the very first printing—lapped it up with all the eagerness of a thirsty tribe wandered in from an exodus amidst a particularly sere desert?

And therein lies the rub: it galls such as Moorcock that one generation after another yields en masse an avid affection and enthusiasm to what he considers a frivolous and archaic bit of stuffiness and prudery and dusty parochialism set to the service of an aulde England of division and oppression that it would be far better to have left behind. He wonders, as do others, at what can be hale about a tale that deftly avoids anything beyond the faintest intimations of sexuality and, for the most part, relegates women to a gender-specified subservience and passivity as Middle-Earth window-dressing; that appears to embrace the pernicious prejudice of the inherent superiority of white North European culture; that avoids any avowal of the economic, religious, or political structures and systems that must inevitably have been at play and working their damaging and divisive effects upon such a vast civilization; that fluffs and puffs with trite, sentimental songs and portentous magic and heavy-lidded memories the better to disguise the utter irrelevance and unseriousness of what is unfolding, the priggish and confining morality that puts everyone in their place—bowing to the gods and to one's social superiors—whilst upholding the aristocratic warrior as the virtuous ideal; that separates good and evil in a manner that provides a comforting and ready accounting for the myriad ills of the world, but which actually trivializes these ethical issues, especially in an age that witnessed the horrors of the holocaust and communist purges.

How can this be? How can an enlightened and post-capitalist postwar society continue to be enthralled by an updated version of timeworn mythologies—the latest of which ripened during the Dark Ages—shaped with the hammer of mothballed and morbid uppercrust morality of the sort that harumphs conspicuously and comes bearing bow-ties? Perhaps for some of the reasons I listed at the start of this review. Escapist fare has always been popular, but there seems to be as much, if not more of a hunger for the fantastic the more the trappings of the latter fade from our view. Modern society is one bound to the clock, ofttimes divided and parceled out down to the very minute; one in which we spend hours every day idling in a car, riding an elevator, waiting in queues, sitting at a desk, pushing a cart, with productivity and efficiency forever on the increase and a sense of who we are, where we are going, why we are on that journey, what we are meant to accomplish along the way and how we are to achieve these goals—with the very knowledge of our mortality, the ephemeral nature of all our achievements, staring us full-on in the face even when we deign to look away—eludes our grasp like the mists wafted forth on a humid spring morning.

To be taken away to an invented world wherein everything serves some manner of purpose and greater goods actually carry an immediate import and eternal consequence, where the enemy is implacable and can be neither appeased nor reasoned with but only defeated—Nazis in cloaks and armed with swords—and magic is suzerain over realms where twentieth-century science holds sway, where love is inflamed within the arterial passions of the romantic, perduring and encompassing though it progresses within tropes of courtship and calling interwoven with the streams of fate, where petty beings from the outliers of a world contested by mighty powers prove the enduring significance of the strength and fidelity of the individual will over seemingly stronger currents sourced within the misty recesses of time and bearing loftier lineages, where the freedoms cherished are not those currently stressed and promised by our political professionals and the bonds of honor hold straighter than those we perceive in our own lives, where those in power, though bowed beneath the weight of shadow-laden years, might yet endeavor to do what serves the world and not just their immediate self-interest; all of this must carry some powerful, primeval attraction that—combined with the aesthetic and geographical wonders of a travelogue, the eldritch presence of creatures and beings sown from human myth and fertilized by the author's potent demiurgical imagination, and the thrilling suspense of a chase/race to potentially the most apocalyptic of ends—finds a way to reach that part of the mind where such fantastic delights serve as satiating fare, and in which this popular escapism can be engirt with a morality now out of fashion but held necessary to burnish the imaginary with the gloss of both the good and the real—not to mention the fun.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Matthew Agree with the last para. I think perhaps also the sense of detail. I saw a review a few years ago that describes it as being rich in these sense of being almost like something that was lived out and real, with a sense of layers of reality below the text, that not all science fiction slash fantasy gives. Perhaps it is partly simply human attraction to a story well told, a work well done, just as you could be mesmerised by a on extremely skilled pianist or athlete without necessarily appreciating their specific art/sport.

message 2: by Szplug (last edited Aug 13, 2012 12:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Szplug That's truly how it worked for me. I mean, as a young boy it was the pure and awesome wonder of the tale that gripped me, but as I aged, the back story proved itself ever more the most attractive element. It's why I eagerly devoured The Silmarillion, loving it for all of those qualities that so many who just wanted more storytelling lamented in it.

What I find most impressive about Tolkien is how the stories were, originally, entirely secondary to his need to create languages; not that he didn't already love the fantastic tropes he would be working with, but that they were originally brought forth solely in relation to how they made his Eldarin languages consistent and usable. Philology cum fantasy—boy, did he ever make that work.

Shovelmonkey1 Nice review. i described the books as being filled with word furniture. loved them all, like the hobbit less but it was still worth a read none the less.

Szplug Hey, thanks SM1. Sorry about the delay—this is the first that I became aware of your comment above. I agree that The Hobbit was the least of them all, but, seeing as how it was my gateway to Tolkien via that teacher mentioned above, it'll always have a fond place in my heart.

Aubrey An amazingly intelligent review, one that is both stimulating and sobering for those who are obsessed with the book as well as those who despise it. If only all reviews could be this well couched.

message 6: by Szplug (last edited Feb 11, 2013 10:40AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Szplug Thank you very much for your kind words, Aubrey, I really appreciate them. And I shall thank you again for your friendship offer—it will be a pleasure to see your own reviews, comments, and thoughts on my update feed from here on in!

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