Desert Isle Keeper Review

The Lord of the Rings
(This DIK review was written by a reader)

J.R.R. Tolkien
2003 reissue of 1954 release, Fantasy Fiction
Houghton Mifflin, $20.00, 1168 pages, Amazon ASIN 0618343997

Grade: A
Sensuality: N/A

The Lord of the Rings is the great work of high fantasy for the 20th century. It is set in Middle-earth, where the major races are the immortal Elves, the mortal Men and the Dwarves. In antiquity, Elven craftsmen were able to forge great rings of power. Unfortunately, the Dark Lord Sauron learnt this craft and secretly forged the One Ring through which he could corrupt the wearers of the rings he had given Men and Dwarves. He could not control the Elves as their rings were hidden from him. During the Second Age of Middle-earth, the Last Alliance of Elves and Men was formed to fight Sauron. Although Sauron was defeated when the One Ring was cut from his hand by Isildur, the King of Men, his spirit lingered. The One Ring, initially kept by Isildur, was later lost.

The Lord of the Rings is set in the Third Age of Middle-earth. The Shire is the home of Hobbits, a race largely forgotten by Men and other peoples of Middle-earth. They are also called halflings as they average three and a half feet tall. Hobbits are content with rural life and seldom travel. One unusual hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, found a wonderful ring which conferred invisibility in a great adventure (told in The Hobbit). He gave this ring to his nephew, Frodo. When it was realized this ring was the One Ring, their friend Gandalf, a wizard, advised Frodo to bring it to Rivendell, home of Elrond. Sauron was getting more powerful again after thousands of years of obscurity, and was looking for the One Ring to restore him to evil greatness. Frodo set out secretly accompanied by his three friends Sam, Merry and Pippin. They are saved from many perils by a mysterious Man called Strider, who leads them to Rivendell. There, the decision is made to destroy the Ring as none could use it and not be corrupted by it. The Ring could only be destroyed by casting it back into Orodruin, the volcano where it had been forged, which was deep in Sauron's stronghold. A fellowship formed to assist the Ring-bearer, Frodo. It is led by Gandalf, and includes Frodo, his three hobbit friends; Strider, now revealed to be Aragorn the descendant and heir of Isildur; the Elf Legolas; Gimli, a Dwarf lord; and Boromir. Their many adventures and the final fate of Middle-earth is told in this epic.

There are many reasons why The Lord of the Rings retains its universal appeal almost 50 years since it was published. It is filled with heroic and valiant deeds and lots of exhilarating action. The prose is lyrical and beautiful. There is a reverent rendering of the legends and lore of Middle-earth, mainly in songs and poems, which are the backbone to the story. The detailed description of the landscapes, peoples and languages makes Middle-earth seem more real than places you would read about on Earth today. There is also humor, wit and wisdom in the books. The Hobbits are the main characters. Although they are less physically powerful or beautiful compared to Elves or Men, they are capable of greatness. The friendships, loyalty and self-sacrifice between them, especially between Frodo and Sam, warm the heart. There are two romances in the tale, but they are are a minor part of the story. There is the love-at-first-sight of Aragorn for Elrond's daughter Arwen, who is willing to give up her immortality for him. The other romance starts out as a friendship between Faramir, Boromir's brother, and Eowyn, who is not a typical stay-at-home maiden but an able rider and swordswoman.

The Lord of the Rings is not for the faint-hearted reader as the trilogy itself is over a thousand pages long. The introduction to Hobbits and their lifestyle is found in the prequel The Hobbit. The lore and other background history to Middle-earth can be found in the appendices of the last book of the trilogy and The Silmarillion gives greater detail of the legends of Middle-earth. There are other published work involving the supporting cast, such as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. And for those absolutely captivated, The History of Middle-earth, a series of 12 books by the author's son, Christopher Tolkien, gives more background to the various storylines.

How does the movie of the first part of the book (The Fellowship of the Rings) compare to the book? As an avid reader, I think the book is better, but Peter Jackson's movie is excellent in its portrayal of the various realms of Middle-earth, and the peoples who populate it. Many characters in the books are omitted in the movie, and there are minor plot changes but the essence of the story is well-retained. For the reader though, what makes Lord of the Rings a DIK? For me, it is that I never tire of the story and once I finish it (although over 1000 pages long) I want to read it again and be transported back to a different age.

-- Ms Aggie

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