These days there are only a handful of epics that get written, of these even fewer really hold on to the readers for the full course of the epic. Lord of the Rings is an epic story written by J.R.R. Tolkien. My interest in the book began after I saw the movie and felt that there were a few loose ends that needed to be fixed. So as soon as I managed to get my hands on the epic, days and nights were lost in the adventure of the ring.
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Often epics are built on very simplistic plot. Here, too the plot is very simplistic. In good old happier days the Elfs made three rings of various powers for various purposes, Seven such rings were made for the Dwarfs and Nine for Men. But the evil dark lord Sauron built an all powerful evil ring to rule over all the rings. With the help of this ring, he started to spread his dark forces to take over the whole world.
But, an alliance of elves and humans manage to engage him in a deadly battle and wrest the ring from him. After this the Dark Lord is banished and world thinks that the worst is over, but the alliance makes one deadly mistake, they do not destroy the ring. Rather, the ring seems to have a strange power to conquer anyone who holds it and that person does not want to part it. So the great King Isuldur who cuts Sauron's ring finger and takes the ring, keeps the ring with him. But, alas he gets killed in an orc attack.
The ring then passes through many hands and finally lands in the hands of a hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins. And when Bilbo finally decides to retire from life at Bag end (his house) and move over to some place quiet to complete the book he is writing, the ring passes to Bilbo's heir Frodo Baggins. But, even before Frodo can begin to use the ring, Gandalf the Grey the wizard and friend of his warns him that this is no ordinary ring and before long it's truth will come out.
On the other hand, Sauron is back up and is recreating his army again. But, he is also desperately searching for his missing ring. The world is faced with another threat as Saruman the White the head of the wizard council decides that he wants the ring and rule the world on his own. So Saruman goes about creating his own army to wrest the ring and become the ruler.
Coming back to Frodo, soon after consultation with Gandalf, the Elves and Aragorn (decendent of Isuldur) decided that The Ring has to be destroyed. But, being a powerful ring, it can only be destroyed in Mount Doom where it was first forged. There is just one small hitch, Mount Doom is the home of Sauron and he is calling the shots from there. So a team of nine along with Frodo is set to take the ring to the heart of Sauron country.
The nine comprises of 4 hobbits namely Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc, Peregrin; 1 wizard namely Gandalf the Grey; 1 Elf in Legolas; 1 Dwarf in Gimli, son of Gloin; 2 men in Aragorn, son of Arathorn and Boromir. So the nine set out in a journey of intrigue, fear, wonder, adventure, gloom and happiness in the quest to beat Sauron and Saruman by destroying the The Ring.
Check out Lord of the Rings to find out all about this quest of goodness against evil.
To begin with, contrary to public opinion, Lord of the Rings is not a trilogy, but a six book series which has then been categorized into three sections, The Fellowship of the ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. In the foreword, J.R.R. Tolkien puts in an interesting comment "The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them." This statement aptly depicts all that Lord of the Rings stands for. It is as he mentioned, a supremely long tale that holds all the above mentioned emotions and to boot Tolkien takes the liberty of experimenting a bit with the writing style as well.
To start with, Lord of the Rings is a story told as part passages and part poetry. For e.g. the description of The Ring is only mentioned poetically as below:
Three Rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all. One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.
The key to the success of such a style is that the poetry should be very simplistic so that readers who are not poetically inclined can still understand the drift of the poem. In this aspect J.R.R. Tolkien scores big time. Apart from simplicity, the poetry also changes with
the different species, so the poetry of the elves is a bit more deep-rooted with elements of romance and tragedy liberally used, whereas the poetry of hobbits is a mere rhyming of last words.
Minor Spoiler begins
The next aspect that is very interesting in the novel is that the conflict with the enemy is shown at multiple levels. So on the one side we have the armies staked up against each other, on the other hand Frodo and Sam have a literally clear path in front of them for the goal, but their struggle is on the mental side. To cap it all in the climax instead of two biggies squaring up or a David against Goliath kind of scenario we have Frodo struggling more with the Ring than anything else although Gollum also plays a role there. Another soft enemy portrayed is the Voice of Saruman, a voice that conquers all with its sweetness and cunningness.
Minor Spoiler ends
Another aspect where the novel scores heavily is the development of the various species and their distinctive features. So we have the Elves bright and fair with amazing eye-sight, the Dwarves small and doughty with an amazing toughness about them, then we have Wizards who are the masters of their art and can see both the future and the past, then there are hobbits, the nice, fun loving species so full of life that they give up at nothing and of course, there are humans, rich, rightful, proud, but weak with desire. Amongst these species a few have been identified for additional zooming into their characters. Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli get a fair amount of coverage as far as characterization is considered.
Lord of the Rings is a Fantasy fiction and one important aspect which can make or break a fantasy fiction is the scenario description. The user should really feel the fantasy created for him and put himself through the places described in the book. Again Tolkien does a brilliant job of this aspect. I could literally feel myself creeping through the mines of Moria and crawling over Mount Doom.
In the full version, that I read there is an additional pre-story about the Hobbits and their history and also a post-story of important historic rulers mentioned in the novel. Although these add some value to the novel, I did get a bit impatient with the pre-story as the excitement does not begin till the main story starts. Also the post story was lost on me as the excitement was well over by the time.
All in all, J.R.R Tolkien does achieve all that he mentions in his preface that he wanted to do with Lord of the Rings and tells a powerful story of love, hatred, trust, deception, pain, gain, sorrow and joy.
Lord of the Ring Movies
After reading the story, I had a new found respect for Peter Jackson's movie offering of the series. Some of the scenarios described in the book have been beautifully envisaged and visually enhanced in the movie. The Gate of the Kings, the setup of Gondor and the fight at Moria have been brilliantly done.
Another feather in Peter Jackson's movie is the way he brings even miniscule mention of things to life. A case in point is the Oliphaunt - The only real description of Oliphaunt in the novel is in the shape of a poem sung by Sam which goes like this:
Grey as a mouse, Big as a house,
Nose like a snake, I make the earth shake,
As I tramp through the grass, Trees crack as I pass.
With horns in my mouth, I walk in the South,
Flapping big ears, Beyond the count of years,
I stump round and round, Never lie on the ground,
Not even to die. Oliphaunt am I,
Biggest of all, Huge, old, and tall.
If ever you'd met me, You wouldn't forget me.
If you never do, You won't thing I'm true,
But old Oliphaunt am I, And I never lie.
The adaptation of this poem is admirably done in the movie as we see Large Elephant like creatures with multiple tusks and the eye to detail has been so good, that the dead Oliphaunts are shown as standing in the movie.
But, then whenever a movie is adapted from a novel, there are things which go missing and things get a bit modified here and there. And surely enough, there were certain things about which I was not clear after viewing the movie. The concept of Lothlorien was not very clear, the role of Merry and Pippin in convincing Treebeard the Ent, The rise of Sauron and the deceipt of Saruman were not explained in depth in the movie. Then there was the episode of caves of Moria and Gandalf's escape from the caves after being sucked into the gorge (Sadly the novel also does not through much light into this dark episode.). Also Frodo's encounter with the evil spider Shorbag was shown in a much modified way in the movie and the novel represents that episode quite differently.
To put in a nut shell it is a great movie series by Peter Jackson, but to get the complete story the novel is a must.
All in all I enjoyed the story as told by J.R.R. Tolkien and in the realm of Fantasy Fiction Lord of the Rings is a major milestone epic. I give this saga of Evil ring a Five Star rating.