When I was in 3rd grade my family took a trip to visit relatives in Boston and my Dad gave me a copy of The Hobbit to read while we traveled. I’ve never forgotten my first taste of Middle Earth. Bilbo Baggin’s journey was much simpler than his nephew Frodo’s in the books that followed, but it was the perfect introduction to Tolkien’s epic world.
The plot, in a nutshell, is as follows. There is one ring of power, created by a dark lord, which ends up in the hands of a simple hobbit. Once the good people of Middle Earth realize what the ring is, they must band together and travel to Mt. Doom to destroy it. A fellowship of four hobbits, two men, a wizard, an elf and a dwarf take on the quest.
One of my favorite things about the trilogy is that their world is so different from ours, filled with wizards, elves and orcs, yet the relationships are so similar. Tolkien created such original creatures, like the tree-herding ents, but the emphasis is really on the friendships that have to withstand such intense trials.
Tolkien’s story is memorable not only for the plot, but because of the wonderful characters that fill it. There’s Gandalf, a powerful but wise wizard, Aragorn, a reluctant leader, Gollum, a broken, depraved creature, Samwise, the most loyal friend a person could hope for, and so many others.
Our hero is not a powerful man, but instead a small hobbit, the gentlest people in the land. Our villain is Sauron, the ultimate embodiment of evil. He has no redeeming qualities, just an all-encompassing need for power. He is the inspiration for future characters like Voldemort. Yet at the same time we also have other characters that used to be good or are still trying to be, that succumb to the temptation of the ring, like the Ringwraiths, Boromir and Saruman. These characters demonstrate how even good people can become weak when tempted by something so powerful. Their failure to resist just makes Frodo and Sam’s journey all the more poignant.
I’ve heard people complain that the books are too long, too boring, too detailed, etc. I understand those thoughts, but I think people are more forgiving with other classics, like Anna Karenina, than they are with these fantasy novels. People expect aspects of Charles Dickens work to be too detailed, so they read it and judge the book by its overall plot, but LOTR is sometimes overlook by those same people. I would argue that the story Tolkien created is just as powerful as many classic tales from centuries gone by. So don’t skip these because fantasy isn’t your thing or some other silly reason.
Side Note: People are divided on whether the films did the movies justice and I’m firmly in the camp of, they absolutely did! They manage to capture the massive scale of the wars and the intimate delicacies of falling in love. They also highlighted the best parts of the books and even emphasizing lesser story lines, like Aragorn and Arwen's relationship, which is only an appendix in the book. So I love the films and never get tired of watching them.