I’ve begun an adventure, much like the diminutive hobbits of the Shire. I’m 31 years old and I am reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the very first time. I don’t expect to encounter any black riders or barrow wraiths (see, I’m learning!) but I am bound to siphon a fair amount of fantasy lore and very usable references for future writings and casual inclusion in various Seattle conversations. It is an exciting and intimidating thing—hefting up the omnibus like an awkward dumbbell and delving into this dangerous and foreign world—and only outwardly reminiscent of the truly intimidating Infinite Jest.
I am struck by the oldness of the book (not the actual copy I am reading, as its paperback is emblazoned with images of Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom). In an era when George R. R. Martin is writing medieval-style fantasy involving a variety of races and a history of dragons, it doesn’t seem like LOTR should be 60 years old. Maybe the difference lays in the newer books’ (G.R.R. if you will) penchant for the grisly deaths of main characters as well as blatant sexual deviance (read: brother/sister trysts) and sexual violence.
Though I haven’t read any of the Game of Thrones books, I would venture that there is a dearth of sleep-inducing chants and songs written throughout. I’m 235 pages into The Fellowship of the Ring and I am beginning to abhor these instances of elven and hobbit songwriting, I must admit. They can merrymake all they like, but please don’t force me to read through your lore-loving rhymes. I cannot skip them. It isn’t in my nature. I would feel as though I didn’t actually read the books if I did so (I read every one of the footnotes in Infinite Jest to their sometimes unfulfilling completion). So, I read them, attempting to keep the forced rhymes and specific rhythms together in my head while also imagining the furry little bastards singing through them with fresh beers in hand. All that effort and I don’t feel I’ve mined any important information from them. Sometimes brevity wins. Sometimes I fall asleep in my book.
It is appropriate that I live in the land of evergreens, this region of mythic landscapes and mountains where the old gods live. Middle Earth is my backyard. I constantly see giant bearded men who you could imagine hefting massive axes in battle. The elves live here too. I haven’t made it to someplace like the Shire exactly, but it is most likely because I missed the exit. What a perfect place to be while reading this.
I am enjoying it. I read The Hobbit years ago (saw a stageplay adaptation as well) but somehow LOTR was never part of my education. I can see how much more full and informed the world of Middle Earth is in these books as compared to The Hobbit, which I credit not only to the fact of being written afterward but because they weren’t written for children as The Hobbit was (specifically his own). At times he waxes a little long on things that don’t always seem appropriate to the momentum of the story. For example, Tom Bombadil. This somewhat interesting character gets a long-winded and troublingly vague treatment in the section wherein he saves the hobbits from the misanthropic animated Old Forest. The furry friends are enamoured with him and his impossible water wife. They are well-fed and everything surrounding this strangely simple man and his almost ethereal lady are mysterious, but they hold great power over the forest consciousness by the blabbering nonsense of song (more songs!). That’s great. It’s treatment though could have been shrunk to a more consumable size, in proportion to its importance in the whole of this specific Hero’s Tale.
It seems odd to critique such an old book, especially after having only read just upwards of 200 pages. It is odd. But, this is how I see it and its oldness shouldn’t be a barrier or influence to seeing it rightly, as a book of fiction made to entice my imagination. Within that definition, it is doing its due diligence. I am entertained. I am regularly talking about hobbits and elven lore and that great old bearded wizard whose face so resembles Magneto’s in my mind. I am sure to have dangerous forest dreams and thoughts of magically disappearing into the ether when I’d rather not be seen. I like that. That is a reason to envelope oneself in these worlds of dragons and orcs and evil men with beards dark enough to match their intent. It’s good for the brain. It’s good for the imagination. I’ll read through the songs if I must and maybe (though not likely by my own estimation) I will begin to enjoy them, or find within them some nugget of plot movement. We’ll see.