The Fellowship of the Ring

Monday, March 23, 2015


**If you haven’t read the book, just skip this review. I tried to avoid spoilers, but there is just too much to talk about.**
The Fellowship of the Ring
by J.R.R. Tolkien

It’s been 13 years since I first read the Lord of the Rings series and it was high time for a reread. This epic trilogy starts out quietly enough. There’s the Shire, a peaceful place full of hobbits and rolling green hills. Anyone familiar with The Hobbit will recognize Bilbo Baggins, but this is not his story. His nephew Frodo inherits a ring from him and nothing in his life will ever be the same.

There’s no need to rehash the plot as most people are familiar with it because of the movies. Suffice to say Tolkien is a master story teller. He pays attention to every detail and you can feel the terror of the hobbits as the Black Riders hunt them. You share in their awe as the meet the elves and hear their songs. Middle Earth is both completely unique and infinitely familiar. It’s almost as if you’ve stepped back in time and you’re witnessing the history of a simpler people, but none of them ever existed.

The trilogy has such depth and deals with issues that are relevant in every time period. The heart of the story is about friendship, loyalty and sacrifice. It's about trusting those who are wise and setting aside your own goals for the good of all. It deals with grief, temptation, greed, trust, overcoming your fears and prejudices, and stepping outside of your comfort zone. It’s about knowing what’s really important in life. The only people who can truly resist the ring are the ones who don't value power and wealth above all else. More than anything, Frodo wants to go home and he has no desire for glory. That’s the only reason he’s able to resist the ring for so long.

"Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great or elsewhere."
The book teaches so many beautiful lessons but even more than that it's an incredibly readable story. Tolkien’s descriptions carry you away into a world with elves, dwarves and hobbits. You can feel the encroaching darkness and taste the stagnant air in the Monies of Moria. You can see the leaves grow golden in Galadriel's forest.  
There were so many things that I had forgotten about the books. In the years since I first read them I’d begun to believe they were dense or hard to follow because of all the unusual names and locations, but that wasn’t the case. I felt instantly transported and thrilled to be traveling with Strider and the hobbits as they made their way to Rivendell.

I absolutely adore the movies and think they are some of the best adaptations of book to film that I’ve seen. But there are a few parts that differ from the books and I couldn’t help notice those sections. Some of them are just wonderful, but I know you can’t fit everything into a movie.

There’s one scene where Frodo and Sam cross paths with elves early in the book. Same is enthralled with them, because he’s been dreaming of meeting elves his whole life. Then there’s Tom Bombadil and his lady Goldberry, the daughter of the River. They are such lovely characters. Tom is wise and stands outside of the normal rules and faults of others in Middle Earth. I love the scene with the Barrow-wights and Old Man Willow when Tom rescues the hobbits.
I’d forgotten the original reasons so many were gathered at Rivendell for the Council of Elrond. Leogalos was there to let Elrond know that Gollum had escaped from the Mirkwood elves. Boromir had been traveling for 110 days to get from Gondor to Rivendell. He came because his brother, Faramir, was having a dream over and over again to "Seek the sword that was broken... for Isildur's Bane shall waken." Boromir only had the dream once. I couldn’t help but wonder how differently things might have turned out if Faramir had been part of the fellowship instead of his older, brasher brother.
There’s also a scene where Gandalf is rescued from Saruman by the eagle Gwaihir because Radagast told birds and beasts where Gandalf was going to be. That section reminded me of Harry Potter and how Voldemort always underestimated people he thought were less powerful than him. Sauruman used Radagast to unknowingly trick Gandalf into going to Isengard. Saruman underestimated Radagast and never thought that he would be the reason Gandalf was able to escape.
BOTTOM LINE: Completely irresistible. This might be my favorite book of the trilogy. It’s our introduction to the wonderful world of Middle Earth. It holds the first glimpse of Rivendell; it cements the lifelong friendships between the members of the fellowship, and takes us on a trip through the hallowed woods of Lothlórien. We meet Tom Bombadil, attend a party in the Shire, and above all else we see the strength it takes to for someone to sacrifice themself for the good of others. 
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo going out of your door," he (Bilbo) used to say. "You step into the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." 

"Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill."
"A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship."

"He breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."

"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens."

"The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, he grows perhaps the greater."
 A few tidbits where the book differs from the film: 

- Frodo was orphaned when both his parents drowned.

- He and Bilbo have the same birthday, September 22, and when Bilbo turned 111 Frodo turned 33, which is the age when hobbits officially become an adult.
- Almost 20 years go by between Bilbo leaving the Shire and Frodo leaving. He was 50 when he started out on the journey.
- He sold Bag End before he left.
- Merry and Pippin were always planning on going, it wasn't a last minute thing.
- They stop at Farmer Maggot's house and then he drives them to the ferry.
- The Elf Glorfindel met the hobbits and Strider, not Arwen and Gandalf is the one who made the water turn into horses during the flood that scares the Ringwraiths off.
- Aragorn and Bilbo were great friends. They had been at Rivendell together for a long time and Bilbo called him the Dunadan.
- Aragorn was the one who found Gollum and took him to the elves.
- Gandalf was in Gondor when he found info about the ring in scrolls Isildur wrote.
- After Gwaihir Eagle saves Gandalf he takes him to Rohan where Gandalf gets Shadowfax.
- The Hobbits spend two months in Rivendell after Elrond's Council before embarking on their journey.
SIDENOTE: The decision to make the Hobbit into a trilogy seemed silly to me, but re-reading this trilogy helped explain that decision. There’s so much in Hobbit movies that is discussed during Lord of the Rings. They talk about what Gandalf was doing during that time period and so it made sense to add it into those movies.


Brona said...

Your review now makes me want to reread these books too - damn you (in the nicest possible way!!) how am I going to fit them in?????

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I'm also planning a re-read, but probably only in 2016. I've read it about 15 years ago and it go me 3 attempts until I got past Bombadil. After that it was smooth sailing.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brona - I know, I had the same problem. I bought a gorgeous used edition of the trilogy with a Christmas gift card in February and had to read them immediately.

Alex - Ha, so I guess you weren't one of the people who was devastated by his exclusion from the movies.

Anonymous said...

I love the quotes and love your obvious fondness for this trilogy. I can't believe it took me so long to read this - I did when the movies were first announced but probably ~13 or 15 years ago already? wow. I don't know if I'll ever get around to a reread but your reviews here are terrific. Thank you.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

bkclubcare - It had been about 13 years since I read them too! I'm glad I waited to reread them when I was really in the mood. Tolkien is so fun to just sink into.