Dolly's Reviews > The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
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Jul 09, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: thought-provoking, fantasy
Recommended for: people who read fantasy and/or philosophy

I read Lord of the Rings first when I was about eleven or so, and then stayed up all night at a hip boy/girl party in the bathroom with Nathan O. ... talking about ents and elves and whether Tom Bombadil was God. Yes, I was a geeky child. However, all these years later, the story has stuck with me.

First a warning: Don't read Tolkien if you don't appreciate true-omnicient-narrator-style epics. Tolkien isn't a master character builder: he leaves all that to the reader's imagination. The agony in the Aragorn/Arwen romance -- so blatant and operatic in the movies -- was a longing look on Strider's face at Rivendell, an odd comment from Bilbo, and a short no-nonsense Appendix. As with many of the themes in this work, the romance and deep character relationships must be picked from between the lines.

And there is so much between the lines here. The world of Middle-earth lives, utterly lives. Instead of tugging on what-ifs, this fantasy forces readers to imagine. Tolkien's work is the fullest realization of literary world building ever penned.

It is also sophisticated writing, drawing on older forms (epic, romance, tragedy). Tolkien doesn't waste time writing snappy dialogue: the story is too epic to dwindle to individual persons. However, voice shifts subtly depending on point of view: chapters dealing with hobbits contain much more dialogue and detail; chapters dealing with Rohirrim have a poetic rhythm reminiscent of extant Middle English works; chapters dealing with elves are magic and blurry and hard to wrap a mind around. These shifts in style, far from being a novice writer's oops, are intentional and serve as mass characterisation of races and groups. So, what Tolkien foregoes in terms of dialogue he replaces with style and action: a classic example of show not tell.

Having just spouted all that praise, I have to admit that all the criticisms are true: the story does resound with Luddite anti-industrial metaphors, overt Christian themes of salvation and spirit, a structural decision to include songs that doesn't quite work, and fantasy tropes that are now cliche ... now that everyone else has copied them, that is. The thing to remember is that this book started the genre: everything fantasy, from Philip Pullman to George RR Martin, exists in the shadow of this opus.

So, no, it isn't a popcorn read. Get over it. If you invest the time and spirit to read this work, you will be glad you did.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 1, 1986 – Finished Reading
July 9, 2007 – Shelved
July 20, 2007 – Shelved as: thought-provoking
March 2, 2008 – Shelved as: fantasy

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Gr8grendel Tolkien is a master character builder, I also felt he left little to the imagination. It was as if he drew the picture and left me to paint it. Everything was so detailed what room was there left for the imagination, except coloring it (though many times that was already prescribed).

I do agree with your opinion on Tom Bombadil he was one of my favorites. The only one that I recall that handled the ring without hesitation, greed or regret!


Jaimey Dolly I totally agree with your review. The idea of the reader having to read between the lines and the way characters and races were portrayed through the writing style is spot on. People need to read the classics and not forget the literary genius and beauty of storytelling that is behind fantasy. So glad I have just reread his work.


Meagan I loved your review.


message 4: by Don Incognito (last edited Jun 30, 2012 10:53AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Don Incognito Gr8grendel wrote: "Tolkien is a master character builder, I also felt he left little to the imagination. It was as if he drew the picture and left me to paint it. Everything was so detailed what room was there left f..."

I respectfully disagree. I think the reviewer is right to claim Tolkien is not a character builder, because not all his characters have depth. Legolas is largely blank; he travels with the characters, helps them in battle, occasionally speaks, and doesn't develop. Aragorn is more of an archetype.

I was so starved for character complexity (inner and interpersonal conflict) that the part (in Return of the King, I believe) with the slain king's heirs being upset for one reason or another, such as the warrior princess wanting to join the war party but being rebuffed and her generally butting heads with Aragorn, impressed me. At least half the characters made such a negligible impression on me that while writing this comment, I've remembered those characters' names only with difficulty. It took me a while to remember "Aragorn"; I was going to call him "The King--whatever his name is, the one they initially call Strider." I only just remembered the princess's name; isn't it Eowyn? And her brother's name...I think it also starts with E.

And Sauron...I was always frustrated by him. I have never read a book involving a war of good and evil in which the leader of evil never makes an appearance at all. I don't see how I could have missed it, but Sauron's non-presence is so peculiar that I wonder. Except...I know this is an epic and epics are plot-driven, and it occurs to me that the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid don't have a central villain either.

Tolkien's non-human races and individual characters are far more interesting and memorable than his human characters or even his Hobbits. Like the reviewer, I like the Ents (and, more generally, the concept of sentient trees that move and speak), and Tom Bombadil fascinates me. Too bad Bombadil was hardly central to the plot.

In writing this comment, I realize that as I read LotR, I made the mistake of reading the trilogy as a (long) novel rather than as an epic.


Bobby Mitchell Read The Silmarillion, The tales of Numeror, and the Unfinished Tales to get a good idea of Sauron. Other post- written books deal with him to.


Emily Byman I also read the books when I was 11 three years ago. I found them in the school library and decided to read them. I don't regret it!


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