The Lord of the Rings
A Reflection Upon an Influential Work of Fiction
The Influence of this masterpiece
If you are by any means a wide reader or a student of popular western culture, then you would understand the essential impact that The Lord of the Rings has had upon fiction as a whole. The film versions are some of the finest films in existence, while the novel itself remains a ground-breaking fantasy epic. It is a novel rivalled by few classics in terms of its scope and breadth. Certainly, there are other grand and lengthy books in the same genre. Yet, few works of fiction combine the thematic potency, charm, and narrative in the way The Lord of the Rings manages.
The Lord of the Rings is well deserving of a spot in the top ten greatest English books of all time. Not because it is the greatest English book of all time, but because of its influential breadth. It may not even remain the greatest fantasy novel ever written. Many readers would argue for their own preferences towards modern contemporaries. Yet The Lord of the Rings is a far more influential narrative, despite having its fair share of flaws. Regardless, the flaws of The Lord of the Rings are what make it such a loveable novel.
Fallen from Grace?
J.R.R Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings in a manner that many would see as ‘poor writing’. Yet, the consistency of his style and his overwhelming genius allow him to break these rules of writing. As he narrates one of the greatest and most versatile of all stories. It is an indictment upon fantasy as a whole, that many authors try and attempt to copy Tolkien’s unique writing. For they come across as shallow mimics. And frankly, they create a version of the genre perceived as corny, bland or insipid.
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
It is partly, for these very reasons that J.R.R Tolkien seems to have fallen in recent popularity. There is the other perceived notion that Tolkien’s work is stooped in extreme conservatism. That his work of Hobbits and the Shire reflects upon his desire for a kind of ‘Ye Olde England.’ A world stooped in racial and prejudicial class distinctions.
One can question whether this perceived ‘extreme conservatism’ stems from a world, which feels that radicalism and conservative notions no longer have the same relevance. Not compared to political or ideological systems, regardless. Politics aside, the other reason that Tolkien’s works have waned in popularity stems also from the reproduction of the films. Yet those who claim the films as greater, are misled by the fact that the film is fast paced and a visual feast. For there are many elements of the novel that should be observed by all literature lovers. These elements are otherwise missed in translation.
Three Parts: One Book To Rule Them All
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Fellowship of the Ring marks the beginning of all The Lord of the Rings as a complete work. Like most beginnings it is a slow start, full of much extrapolation and description of life. However it is this description which creates the sense of a living and colourful world. A world, reflective of a fantastical history.
The novel may appear to mark simply the comings together of such characters as Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Merry, Pippin, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf and Boromir. However there is plenty within the book that shows that it is also the beginning of a discussion on good and evil. Particularly an observation of the effects of war on all that is good and pure. Tolkien clearly draws from his observations of war throughout the entire volume, as well as his Catholic beliefs. Further a deep understanding of mythology fuels his work which is truly an epic in its own standing.
Some readers will see this as only the first part of a long quest marked by worldbuilding. However elements such as adventure, tragedy, song, poems There is much of humour and storytelling in the dialogue and even pleasant melodrama of this work. As the story continues in the next books of the entire volume the other themes become more apparent (which is doubtless why this is the weaker work in the entire volume).
A note on Tom Bombadil
“Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow, Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow. None have ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master: His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster.“
Many often miss what Tom Bombadil as a character adds to the story. However, he adds an aspect of whimsy otherwise missing from Tolkien’s world. Bombadil’s appearance is still consistent with Tolkien’s work in that it highlights a love of the poetic. Further he represents a love of nature, and the spirit of inventiveness that shines from Tolkien’s creativity.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Two Towers continues where the breaking of the fellowship left. This leads into greater and more important adventures crucial to the final climax. For instance Gollum, once merely a slimy character in The Hobbit now takes centre stage. His role developing key importance to the quest Frodo and Sam continue to travel upon.
The Two Towers stands out as part of The Lord of the Rings because of the development of the characters and world of Middle Earth. Characters who belong to the initial fellowship develop a greater sense of identity as the story progresses. The reader can see how friendships, courage and heroism all continue to develop within characters. The reader can also note the inclusion of new and powerful characters such as Eowyn or Faramir.
Many of the better aspects of this volume are obscured or altered in the films. One can particularly appreciate the extra sections with the people of Rohan, the Palantir, the Huorns at the battle of Helm’s Deep and the talk with Saruman in the tower of Orthanc for instance. It is these additional sections that explain the overall depth and versatility of the book when compared with the films. As beautiful as the cinematic versions are, they do not truly convey the poetry, symmetry and overall grandiosity of Tolkien’s vision.
The Lord of the Rings:The Return of the King
The Return of the King, contains one of the great endings in literature. And who cannot resist a great ending? As much as one enjoys the overall journey and satisfaction of a great story, there is something satisfying about the concluding stages of a novel. It is the final reveal of a magic trick – when performed well it is a beautiful thing. And The Return of the King is a beautiful thing. It is a finale that contains many grand highlights.
Tolkien includes the Paths of the Dead, Mordor in all its darkness, and Aragorn returning to his people and kingship. Before he finally presents the ultimate resolution to the narrative’s conflict. It seems clear that in the end the ring must be destroyed. The question is: how does Tolkien weave this into his tale? With great storytelling skill.
The Scouring of the Shire
One key scene in The Return of the King not seen in the film is the Scouring of the Shire. With victory all but assured, the hobbits return to The Shire to find it in a state of some small desolation. This reviewer will not state what causes such destruction in order to give those who have not read the book a chance to experience this scene first-hand.
This is an important scene, highlighting the broad effect of Sauron’s warmongering. The scene also reveals the endings of certain key characters within the plot. And it informs the reader as to how the four adventuring hobbits have now become bold adventurers and warriors. This adds a final touch of victory to the novel. Across Middle Earth, victories are not merely for the people who live outside the quiet Shire. They are for all people.
If you are one of those readers who has avoided the books then choose to absorb this literature gem. It is a work of fiction that is as big as, and bigger, than the sum of its parts. And, as with the best works of fiction, it is a tale that is built for all readers. Regardless of whether you know the end to this story, the craft which J.R.R. Tolkien employs to write his tale is truly spectacular. And The Lord of the Rings in so many regards, stakes its claim as among the truly great works of English fiction.