Welcome to the first Guest Dare of 2010! For those new to the feature, our Guest Dare is a monthly endeavor in which we invite an unsuspecting victim to read a book totally outside of their comfort zone. You can read all previous Dare posts HERE.
This month’s victim is Renee – prolific blogger of Renee’s Book Addiction and reader of all things Romance, Romance, YA, M/M, Mystery , etc. When we contacted her for a guest dare, she came back to say she hasn’t read many Epic Fantasy – not even, gasp, Lord of the Rings. We immediately created a list which included not only Tolkien but Rothfuss, Sanderson and others. Her first choice was The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, but after much nagging from her significant other, she caved and decided to read The Lord of the Rings.
Ladies and gents, please give it up for Renee!
Title: The Fellowship of the Ring
Author: JRR Tolkien
Publisher: Ballantine (This is the edition I read, but there are many publishers.)
Publication Date: July 29, 1954 (UK)
Paperback: 527 pp
Stand alone or series: The Lord of the Rings, Part One – The Fellowship of the Rings
Why did we recommend this book: It is an Epic Fantasy classic and one our Favorite books of all time.
Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him all the Rings of Power except one — the One Ring that rules them all — which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task when Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.
From the outset, high fantasy was one of the genres I suggested to Ana and Thea when we first discussed this guest dare. The Fellowship of the Ring was mentioned by Ana, but I blew off the suggestion, being far too intimidated by taking on such an icon of fantasy lit. Also, I tried reading The Hobbit a couple of times in my teens, and couldn’t get through it. When I told my husband about Ana’s suggestions, he said I was going to have to give back both my lit major card (we were both lit majors in college and met in a literature class) and my geek card if I didn’t remedy the fact that I hadn’t read this classic.
Typically, my reading tastes are varied, mostly enjoying romance of all flavors, YA, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, and other kinds of spec fiction. However, high fantasy has never been a genre that I have been interested in reading. I think of knights and wizards and trolls, and my eyes glaze over. (Movies, especially The Lord of the Rings trilogy, are another matter, for some reason. I love these movies to death.) In fact, I often think I’d be interested in a high fantasy book, buy it, and then reality sets in and it just sits on my shelf, unread.
Since I consider myself a self-respecting book-geek, I rose to the challenge, and took on The Fellowship of the Ring.
Most people are familiar with the story of The Fellowship of the Ring, either the book or film, so (for the most part) I’m focusing this review on my experience reading the book, rather than reiterating the plot points.
The Prologue: When I first started the book, I was really stressed out by the Prologue. The history and backstory set out in it was complex, and the number of names, events, and dates felt really overwhelming. I also worried the entire book was going to be like this. However, I was reassured that I didn’t need to memorize everything, and that the Prologue’s style was more to give a sense of entering a complete world. So, I relaxed and kept moving forward.
It took me well over a week to settle in to the book. It was frustratingly easy to get distracted by tv, my kid, the fact I had a cold, or conversations going on around me. I found that my mind would wander while I was reading, and I’d have to keep bringing my attention back to the page.
However, as I pushed on, something gradually changed. It was a shift of my mindset. Typically, I’m a fast reader, and usually have a couple of books going at any given time. I generally read books that have lots of fast paced dialogue or action. However, The Fellowship of the Ring is just not that kind of book. While many things do happen, they unfold slowly, and the action builds as the book progresses.
In the Shire: At first, I was impatient, waiting to get from plot-point to plot-point, as I remembered them from the movie. Yet, it felt like not much was happening. I’d glance at the page number, thinking, “I can’t believe they still haven’t left the Shire!” Part of what gives The Fellowship its slow pace is that each scene is crammed with an incredible amount of detail: physical detail—how the building looked, what was on the dinner table, what the weather was like; historical detail— who the characters are, how they are related, what this event’s significance is in the scheme of things; and, character detail—what each character said, did, or thought. The result is an amazingly vivid book that, once I allowed myself to slow down and enjoy the ride, began to come to life.
Awesome quote, describing Gandalf’s fireworks at Bilbo’s party:
There were rockets like a flight of scintillating birds singing with sweet voices. There were green trees with trunks of dark smoke: their leaves opened like a whole spring unfolding in a moment, and their shining branches dropped glowing flowers down upon the astonished hobbits, disappearing with a sweet scent just before they touched their upturned faces.
I loved learning things about the hobbits, like Sam’s impulsive and adventuresome nature. The beautiful interlude with Tom Bombadil and Goldberry was an unexpected surprise, since (inevitably) I kept comparing the book with the movie.
At The Prancing Pony, where they meet Strider (Aragorn): About halfway through the book, I realized what the experience of reading The Fellowship of the Rings was like for me. To use a food analogy, this was the literary equivalent of a “slow food” dinner. One where I needed to savor the words, the descriptions, and the songs. The point was not to get to the book’s climax, but savor the journey. This isn’t always a natural state for a goal-oriented person like me. Yet, even the songs (which I tend to skim over in most books) became enjoyable. I once had a lit professor tell us to read things like sermons and poetry out loud since they were written to be heard. So, in an effort to get into the swing of things with the songs in The Fellowship, I’d sing them to myself. (Greensleeves, Amazing Grace, and Scarborough Fair worked especially well!) This made a vast difference in my enjoyment of them.
Rivendell, at the Council of Elrond: This was my favorite part of the book! While it wasn’t the book’s climax, it really felt like the book comes together here. It’s funny, because often we talk about how a book needs to “show not tell”, yet to me I was so excited to get everyone’s story. It was like fitting a puzzle together, where before you only have a few of the (hobbit) pieces. Part of it the reason this “telling not showing” works is because the dramatic tension has been built slowly. The hobbits go through so much to finally get to Rivendell, and Frodo is so relieved, thinking that his adventure is near its conclusion. Yet, I (the reader) know that all this changes here at the Council. Frodo’s journey is just begun. The path for the rest of the trilogy is set down at this point and we get to see what must happen —the ring must be detroyed, the people of Gondor must be aided, Sauron must be defeated— and get to hear from the key players (the hobbits, men, elves, dwarves, and wizards).
Moria and Lothlórien: For me, this part of the book became more about the big events. The tragedy in the mines and meeting Galadriel were parts of the story which I had been dreading and anticipating (as the case may be). However, with both these sections, again Tolkien’s vivid writing make them wonderful. The “doom, doom doom” drumbeats of the orcs foreshadow what eventually happens in the mines as well as adding an auditory layer to the scenes in the mine. The unreal beauty of Lothlorien and Galadriel are such a contrast following the events in Moria.
Awesome quote #2, when Frodo asks Galadriel to take the ring:
‘In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!’
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. she stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful.
The Breaking of the Fellowship: This part felt mostly like a set up to The Two Towers. I read about the events of Boromir and Frodo, and Frodo’s decision to break up the group with anticipation for the next part of the adventure. By now, I knew I was in it for the rest of the story. I will be definitely be finishing the rest of The Lord of the Rings.
It’s impossible to ignore the movies’ impact on my reading experience. While the movies gave me some very clear referential images, and helped me in understanding some of the more complicated historical relationships, I sort of regretted that I had seen the LotR movies first. I wonder what it would have been like to experience Middle Earth for the first time solely through JRR Tolkien’s words. (That being said, though, you know what I’ll be watching this weekend.)
I don’t usually grade my books at my place, but from about halfway through the book it was clear that The Fellowship of the Ring was a “10” for me. Not because of its classic status, but because of Tolkien’s success in creating the incredibly ambitious world of Middle Earth. The magnitude of his scope is breath-taking, and once I allowed myself to slow down and enjoy the ride, I was rewarded with a truly memorable reading experience.
Thanks, Thea and Ana for daring me to take on The Fellowship of the Ring. I know I wouldn’t have read it without the extra little push.
And thank you, Renee for saying yes, to the dare! And we are delighted that you enjoyed the book!
Next on the Guest Dare: Jeff one of the folks from Alert Nerd, reads a Romance Novel: The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran
Until next month!