Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Long Expected Rereading

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, 
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, 
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, 
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne 
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. 
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, 
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them 
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

I first read J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was about thirteen.  Sometimes I wish I could go back to that first read-through, recapture that first wonder.  It took my breath away: that vast world with all its many races, cultures, languages; the varied landscapes, the maps and runes, the staggering scope of the history.  Although it's an often criticized aspect, I loved the richness of the many layered names for people, places and things. I warmed to to the innocent, comfort-loving hobbits, felt for them as they left innocence and comfort far behind in order to do what needed to be done.  I felt the panic of being chased by Black Riders, by evil unknown.  I felt the awe and wonder of the hobbits at Rivendell; like them, I wanted to linger, listening to the songs and stories of the wise, unthinkably long-lived elves.  And then, at Rivendell, just when the adventure seemed about to end, the true quest began, filled with danger, beauty, darkness, love and friendship--and an ultimate victory that, as is so often the case, is nevertheless touched by sorrow and pain.  And along the way, I fell deeply in love most particularly with two characters: the sweet, ever-faithful hobbit Samwise Gamgee, and the brave, wise, and utterly romantic Knight of Gondor, Faramir. (Ladies: just try reading his scene with Eowyn in the Houses of Healing without swooning a little...)

I don't need to go through every detail of the entire story.  Those who have read it are likely already wandering there in their minds.  Those who haven't...really should. 

It's a long story in its own right, but for better or worse, I quite literally would not be where I am right now without these books.  You could say they were, in a very real sense, entwined in my own destiny.  And it had been too long since I last read them.

Today, I begin the adventure anew, starting with Frodo and Bilbo's birthday, which happens to fall--funnily enough--on September the 22nd.  When I was planning to set aside some time for this reread, it seemed an appropriate day to begin the journey once again.  I am very much looking forward to it.


Jason said...

Such a popular and well respected book, genre changing, yet I could never get past the first 100 pages. But there is NOTHING like going back and reading a book that changes your perception of... well... everything... I feel that way whenever I read Ulysses by James Joyce. To me, that book is the ultimate epic masterpiece. :-)

Have fun!

sjb said...

Part of me is sad now that there is a wildly popular movie adaptation of it: how many people will now feel the wonder of a first read? My young daughter loves the movies and we are reading the book together. However, I don't think she is really "experiencing it" in the way you describe.

I'm enjoying our read though, and so is she. I hope you enjoy yours.


Mike Speegle said...

Frickin' love LOTR.

Even more so since taking Brit Lit I with one Mr. Jonathan Bowers. He was actually a grand-student of Tolkien (his favorite professor was Tolkien's student), making me a great-grandstudent of the Master himself.

Bowers taught everything from Gawain to Beowulf all the way up to Swift, and all the while he demonstrated what he called his "Tolkien-Tourette's" in which he explained all of the classical English literature that influenced JRR's work. In fact, a great many of the plot devices that he uses are cribbed directly from ancient English Lit. Kinda cool stuff.

And...even though it may get me run out of here on a rail, I can safely say that I have almost...almost enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire as much as LOTR.

Anonymous said...

I’m so glad you are rereading it. You will be richly rewarded.

I’ve read the LOTR every autumn for well over 40 years and get something more from it every time. It was the most ‘adult’ book I had read up to that point, maybe twelve years old, and it is one of the most influential books in my life. It made me aware of the power of language and myth and heroism and the importance of an individual’s actions. I still remember being enthralled by the beauty and terrors of Middle Earth. Learning that the written word could so influence people led, in diverse ways, to a successful career I followed for many years.

I don’t think the release of the movies kept people from reading the books. A book store manager told me that LOTR sales increased after the movies came out. I hope they were actually read and appreciated.

This year I’m adding The Hobbit, which I haven’t read in a long time, and some of Tolkien’s other works. The good thing is I’ll be done before NaNoWriMo starts up.

Jeff The Bear

Little Flower Petals said...

@Jason - I had to laugh (ruefully) at your comment...I've had the same experience with Ulysses as you've had with LOTR, except that I've never made it to anything like 100 pages in. I keep telling myself that one day I'll finish that book, if only to say I did it...but it's definitely not easy reading for me. One day, maybe!

Regarding the movies, I've seen them, and for the most part enjoyed them, though I was annoyed by some of the changes and omissions (for instance, how they changed Faramir's character to make him both rougher and weaker, and the way Frodo just fell apart on Weathertop instead of fighting at all). However, I can see where SJB is coming from: because the movies are so popular and many kids will see the movies before reading the books, they may lose a little bit of the wonder of discovering the story for the first time, with no expectations or knowledge of how it will unfold. It's just how things are.

@Speegle - whoa, degrees of Tolkien! Very cool. And now I have a connection too, huh? Awesome! I've not read any of the Song of Ice and Fire books...maybe something to check out when I hit the post-NaNo doldrums in December?

Cameron said...

It's certainly a body of literature that offers something new with each perusal. It will be interesting to read them again now as an adult.

Your enthusiasm for this powerful set of books is prompting me to re-read them soon. Thanks for sharing!

Today's word verification: curation

notagain said...

I'm conflicted, soon to be hated here, but I want to throw in. I LOVED "The Hobbit" but barely made it to the end of LOTR. I joked that FOR MY TASTE it was "a literary Tour de France" - too long, too many characters, too much hard slogging up mountains (of exposition). I don't think it was that story in particular, I tend not to like invented worlds that have to be explained too much. I want to go along for the ride and catch what I can.

Little Flower Petals said...

Yeah, I'm fully aware that a lot of the things I like most about the books are the exact things that rub some people the wrong way--the names, for example, as I pointed out. A lot of them are likely a bit of self-indulgence on Tolkien's part--he was a philologist, after all, and I'm sure had great fun putting together all the words and names and all. And for sure, one person's richly detailed is another's endless exposition. One issue is that there is, quite honestly, too much crammed into one story. There's the primary story, plus ages (literally) of back story, and then every race and nation has their own legends and songs and genealogy, and it *all* gets poured into the books. It's…Biblical in scope, if I may say so.

I've always been a bit of a word geek, and I grew up on magic and fairy tales and myths and that, not to mention we used to draw our own maps and name all the streams and hills and such around the house…so for me, it was like finding the motherlode. But I totally get that it's not all things to all people. ;)