Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Big, long, and totally worth it
So let's get this out of the way right off the bat: Lord of the Rings is amazing and I love it, it's one of my favorite books and when I was eighteen I constructed a tattoo out of the Elvish alphabet that I still love (though I had to sit down and re-translate it after reading the novel this time because I hadn't really looked at it in years). I fucking love this book. It is fucking rad. Now...
That doesn't mean that it's without problems, though. Women are underrepresented and non-whites are only present as antagonists and villains. Because it was written by Tolkien and because he had some very specific intentions for his history of Middle Earth I can largely let that pass by (also if you want to read a bunch of cool stories about women by Tolkien you should check out The Silmarillion). Rereading this time around I was particularly struck by Eowyn's false dichotomy in the narrative she's set up for her life. She really is very one-dimensional and more flawed that I had realized. And Arwen basically doesn't speak in the novel. She's mentioned a couple of times, says very little at a fancy dinner, and that's it. You don't get to know her at all in the book. Goldberry and Tom Bombadil become more perplexing and silly the older I get - they don't make any damn sense. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins comes off looking pretty decent in this reading, though. She was a tough and admirable little hobbit.
There's a ton of stuff that's really good, though. I keep forgetting how much humor there is in the novel - the fellowship speak to each other in exactly the way you'd imagine a bunch of stressed-out people on a road-trip would: there's tension and fear, but also a lot of wise-cracking and absurdity. Treebeard and the Ents are quite funny, in their slowness to anger and roundabout way of speaking. Merry and Pippin are, of course, hilarious, as is Gollum in his own creepy way. And you grow to know and love the characters very quickly - Tolkien wrote them all as interesting, multifaceted people. They're all flawed, from Boromir's weakness before the ring to Legolas's weariness of the world, to Aragorn's fear of claiming his birthright. Except maybe Sam. Sam is pretty much perfect and I'm not sure anyone could convince me otherwise. Any hobbit who could reject the power of the ring to make the whole world a garden for himself is a hobbit made of stern stuff.
And then there are the appendices. I had flipped through them before to track down the linguistic information for my tattoo but I had never read them. I planned to skip them this time around too, but chanced on the story of Arwen and Aragorn (in which some of the pieces the novel was wanting are found) and decided to read through it: I was duly sucked in to reading the additional hundred or so pages that end my single-edition copy of the book because HOLY SHIT there's so much good story in there. I don't know if the appendices weren't finished until later editions or if they were just cut for length or if Tolkien didn't want to take more time in an already long story to tell less important stories, but I wish that at least part of the appendices had ended up in between the pages of the novel instead of tacked on at the end because they really do make it a better book.
I enjoyed reading LotR, as I always do. It will always have it's problems, too, but they're never so large that I can't get over them and put myself back in Rivendell or on the path to Mordor again.
Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin. Boston: Massachusetts. 1991. (1954).