On Reading The Lord of the Rings for the Fourteenth Time, Part One: The Fellowship of the Ring

Every time I read “The Lord of the Rings” it is a profound literary experience.  I’m not
sure I have read it fourteen times; it could be thirteen or fifteen, but I think fourteen is a good guess.  Most of those times were when I was much younger, in my teens and early twenties, but I have read it several times recently too.

I received my first copy of “The Lord of the Rings”, a boxed set of the Ballantine paperback edition, as a Christmas present from my maternal grandmother, bless her heart and rest her soul.  I was in my mid-teens.  At the time I had never heard of the book, voracious reader though I was.  We had a large three-storey house and I had a room alone in the basement, and I still vividly remember reading “The Fellowship of the Ring” for the first
time.  I was in awe as the black riders stalked Frodo, Sam, and Pippin through the Shire.  It was a totally engrossing experience, as if the words had placed a spell over me and I could not pull my mind from the pages.  Everything around me disappeared and during the time that I read the story I lived in Middle Earth.  I was noble as the characters were
noble.  I was courageous, adventurous, chivalrous, kind to the good and ruthless to the evil.  I set out on the road as they did, not knowing where it would take me.

Those books changed me.  Eventually I did hit the road to seek my fortune.  There were other influences, sure, but “The Lord of the Rings” was a big one.

In the meantime, though, before I was ready for the road, when I was still a mess of insecure, uncertain, fearful teenage angst, “The Lord of the Rings” set me an example of an ideal – a fantasy ideal, of course, but an ideal nonetheless – of goodness, nobility, courage,
and so on, when I really needed something to cling to.

To the present:  what does it mean to me now?  I am still in the midst of the great adventure that is life.  I finally got out and hit the road and I am still on the road.  I have a family, a wife and five sons, but that is part of the great adventure.  As I read this book now I find it as uplifting and inspiring as ever, but I no longer need to live vicariously
through the characters.  Adventure can be found in many places and in many forms.

One thing that we have now that I did not used to have is the trilogy of films by Peter Jackson.  I love those films, and I have watched them over and over.  But if I had to choose between the books and the films I would take the books any day.  They are deeper, more profound, more detailed.  Jackson had to sacrifice a lot, to pare it down to the basics, even to fit into the extended versions.  To my mind he made a lot of mistakes in the screenplays; he cut things he shouldn’t have, added other things he shouldn’t have, and took far too much liberty with the story to suit his supposed cinematic needs.  Okay, it was his party
and overall he came out with a great product in the end, but some things need be said.

One of the greatest errors, and one which I can find no reason for at all, was the debasement of the character of Aragorn.  In the book Aragorn is portrayed as a noble
heir to Elendil, true and faithful always, never doubting his destiny.  He must wait a long time before claiming his crown – indeed, there is doubt as to whether he will ever triumph – but he travels the wilderness, ever a foe of the enemy and a protector of the innocent and ignorant.  The years of journeying weigh heavily upon him until he is no longer fair to look upon, but his heart is always steadfast.  Jackson presents him as one who has forsaken his calling – a deserter, in fact; one might almost say a coward – but why?  It demeans the
character and does nothing to enrich the plot.  No, this should not have been done.

Another error was to cast Gimli as the comic relief.  Gimli in the book has a great, profound heart and is anything but silly.  He stays true to the fellowship through much adversity and sorrow.  He represents the race of dwarves, as Legolas does the elves, and they are not a ridiculous people (though there is some humor in Tolkien’s descriptions of them) but a proud race with a noble history.

There are other mistakes of lesser importance that distract a reader of the books in the films, and some of them I may touch on in my essays about the next two books.  One
problem is Jackson’s crass disregard of time and distance in presenting his plotline.  The blonde elf, Haldir I think, is first encountered in the film in Lothlorien, but then he appears in “The Two Towers” supposedly sent by Elrond, who would have been
hundreds of miles away in Rivendell, at Helm’s Deep.  How would they have known of the danger at Helm’s Deep from such a distance, when the only available communication was
messenger, and how would they have marched so far so fast?  Okay, okay, I’ll stop nit-picking.  I enjoyed the scene when the elves showed up to help with the battle too.  But it
makes no sense.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  It is “The Fellowship of the Rings” that we are concerned with here, and it is wonderful to read it and enjoy all the parts that are left out of the film:  the last walk through the Shire, the old forest, Tom Bombadil, the barrow-wights, Barliman Butterbur, the extended council of Elrond at which many stories are told, the description of Moria (which gave me great joy and dread the first time I read it), and an account of the time they spent at Lothlorien, with many more details than the movies were able to provide.

If you check out the book reviews on my blog, you’ll see that I read a lot, and I read a lot of different kinds of books.  I usually alternate between fiction and non-fiction, but otherwise it’s wide open.  I’m interested in a lot of different subjects and want to learn about them all.  But I have been going through some personal crises lately – I experienced a sort of burnout due to a work overload and became very weak and disoriented, and I chose to re-read “The Lord of the Rings” because for me, no matter how many times I read it, it is always positive and uplifting.  So it is proving to be during this time as well.  I recommend it to all, for any reason or for no reason.  It is a great experience.

I’m a professional writer; I make my living by my words.  I’m happy to share these essays with you, but at the same time, financial support makes the words possible.  If you’d like to become a patron of the arts and support my work, buy a few of my available books or available stories.  Thanks!

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