In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, The Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit.
In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and 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.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is a story that is undeniably one of the most influential books in the 20th century, particularly for the Fantasy genre. There are few tales of swords and/or sorcery that do not borrow from it in some way. While many may view it as a trilogy, it was apparently always seen by Tolkien as a singular novel told in three volumes. As it happens, my copy is a singular novel. I considered reviewing it in one go once I’d concluded the tome, but I decided that such an undertaking was needlessly broad. These were not released all at the same time, so surely feedback on previous volumes must have influenced the writing of what followed. Besides, it is widely considered a trilogy anyway, so why not treat it as such? Therefore, this is my review of The Fellowship of the Ring, being the first part of my review of The Lord of the Rings.
I’ve intended to read this book for a long time, but I always put it off before now. I was idling away about it like Frodo, in my own personal Rivendell, knowing deep down of the burden that awaited me. While a 1000-page book is hardly an exhaustive and dangerous hike to a volcano surrounded by monsters, I’d heard enough about Tolkien’s writing style that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. The beginnings of this book quickly affirmed what I had heard about his writing style. Much of the story, especially early on, plods along at quite a leisurely pace, lingering on some of the minutest details. This happens in varying degrees throughout the book, but is nonetheless ever-present. What I will give credit for is this does a great job of building out lore in the story. Middle-Earth is packed to the brim with rich, complex lore and Tolkien is more than ready to tell you all about it. If that’s something you’re into you’ll like it a lot—I enjoyed it often myself—but plot often feels secondary to it in an unfortunate way.
My enjoyment of the story was heavily dependent on the phases of the journey itself. These phases can be defined by periods of movement and rest for the characters, which the story continually flips back and forth between. Always following Frodo and whoever happens to be traveling with him, they’re either situated in a location for an extended period, often resting, conversing, and learning about the people they’re staying with, or on their way to a certain destination, facing danger and tribulations along the way. The former situations can be interesting, but happened far too often with the story lingering too long. The only exceptions would be when these periods of rest introduced a new element to the story, such as meeting Strider who joins them and eventually becomes an integral member of the Fellowship. Periods of movement were a lot more interesting thanks to various threats and moments of suspense, but these too could become tiresome when little other than travel was taking place.
Looking back, I think my main issue was how with front-loaded this journey was. So much happens before they even leave the borders of Shire, only to have yet more ground to cover before they get to Rivendell. Much of these early tribulations ultimately feel so inconsequential to the story that it’s no wonder they were cut from the film adaptation. Avoiding the pursuit of the Ring Wraiths was enjoyable, but I couldn’t care less about Tom Bombadil or the encounter with the barrow-wights, which he so conveniently shows up to save them from. It felt a lot like filler, ultimately serving little purpose toward the main story.
Upon the formation of the Fellowship and the beginning of their journey to Mordor I was completely on board. Even their rest in Lothlórien, the realm of Galadriel, was a more engaging read as it as a well-earned rest point after their experiences in Moria. The world was also expanded upon in a meaningful way, knowledge gained re-framed some aspects of their quest, and other members of the party got a chance to be explored as characters.
Each of the characters fit into now-familiar molds, but most are compelling nonetheless. I like Frodo as the brave yet apprehensive hero, Gandalf’s great wisdom and power coupled with the occasional spells of impatience and fallibility, Gimli’s prideful strength coupled with surprising moments of sensitivity, and Sam’s dopey but pure-intentioned determination. The drier sometimes matter-of-record writing style kept them a bit at arm’s length for me, but I could connect them all the same. The only characters I did not care for from the core group were Merry and Pippin. The two remained completely interchangeable as character voices for me and I honestly cannot think of a descriptor that makes either particularly distinct (Pippin is clumsy maybe?), most especially from one another. I did not dislike their presence, but I could take them or leave them.
Despite my misgivings about reading this book, as well as the bumps in the road, I am happy to have begun my journey going from someone yet to read The Lord of the Rings to someone who has. The Fellowship of the Ring is slow to start and quite freely takes its time—it has been a while since 400 pages took me so long to read—but there is value alone in reading the source of where so many modern Fantasy tropes come from. The lore and world-building is of substantial quality as well, and the action and characters are quite engaging at key points, especially once the Fellowship departs from Rivendell. With the group having fragmented by the end of this “volume,” I’m actually quite eager to start The Two Towers, as switching up perspectives and shifting the action between locations and objectives may do the narrative a lot of good.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5