Sunday, July 31, 2011

#48: The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

1991 edition, illustrated by Alan Lee. Published by Houghton Mifflin

OK, so those who know me know that I have cats named for Mithrandir and Goldberry from this text. I read this book every other summer (because to do so every summer would be nuts), and have done so since 1985 or 1986. I have never written a review of this book before, so here goes. I will not go over the plot, you Commies, as you should know it by now.

Who is the most compelling character in this text? Why, Tom Bombadil of course! One of the jokers that Jackson left out of the movie. This is for two reasons: he can see Frodo when he wears the Ring of Power, yet when Bombadil puts it on, he does not disappear. As Gandalf says, "The ring has no power over him". Tolkien himself did not seem to place that much importance on him, even if his mate Goldberry says "Bombadil is Master", and seems confused when the Hobbits ask what that means. I don't know, but for me if there is a "God" element in the text of the book, it is Bombadil. He is there, chooses to get involved or chooses not to be involved. In a sense, he is above the rest of the text. He is undoubtedly powerful, but seems quite happy to be where he is.

I have always disliked Elves, seeing them as whiny, arrogant, B.S. artists. They seem quick to blame the Dwarves for everything (well, I can sort of see that. That whole Balrog of Morgoth thing was sort of their fault) and are downright condescending to everyone but Gandalf. I am down with the whole "immortal" thing, but I get sick of the "Well, we are leaving. So, thanks but no thanks with the storming Barad Dur stuff." Galadriel says at one point "The Elves will no longer trust Sauron, but will not submit to him." By and large, they will not fight him either, just wait for doom. I could never quite get my head around that, these lovers of beauty, song and the forest just sort of run for the Grey Havens in numbers once the shit hits the fan.

The main complaint I have in re-reading these books after the movies is that now I can only picture the actors from the films as the characters as I read. The first time I read this, I saw Gimli as not unlike myself, except shorter with a red beard. Read into that what you will. But now, all I see is Elijah Wood, Viggo and the rest. Cate Blanchette gets a pass, as she is Cate Blanchette. Arwen is dead to me after her roles in the movie. She is important in the long run, but Elrond's sons do the heavy lifting when the Riders are abroad in the book. I also think, and have thought for many years, that the portrayal of the Riders in the book is far more frightening than in the film One of the things that make this book excellent is that Tolkien portrayed the dark recesses of our minds and the ideas we bring to the table as perhaps more fearsome than what the outside world can do to us. For a World War I vet, this is an astounding idea to me. The Riders play on fear; walk into a dark room in an unfamiliar place and see where your mind goes. The room is filled with monsters until the light comes on. Maybe this is what Tolkien the vet lived with; many of his generation did.

And NO, the Ring of Power is not the fucking Atomic Bomb. Mordor is not the USSR, Gondor is not the USA, and the Shire is not Britain. Tolkien said so himself in the 1950s and 1960s. Moria and Mordor are the loss of hope, while the Shire is where hope is alive. When we have hope, things are bright, simple. When we do not, things are dark and filled with malice. To me, this is why the books are so fun to read.

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