Classics Club Challenge #9: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the RingThe Lord of the Rings Part I: The Fellowship of the Ring
by J. R. R. Tolkien
first published in 1954
first read March 8th 2015 – August 6th 2015

I am a hopeless book-vs-adaptation-comparer. As such, thoughts of “whoa, this did not happen in the movie/book” and “they are taking their sweet time in the book” and “it’s certainly less gory” were running rampant while reading The Fellowship of the Ring. Movies and books, different mediums and all that. So while the screen adaptation focused more on the plot and expanded on each and every fighting scene, the book is more content to create an… atmosphere.

You know that Tolkien created this huge universe of Middle-earth, complete with thousands of years’ worth of history. Kingdoms in the various corners have been founded, battled over, lost and re-built. There were other great battles before the War of the Ring, and there probably will be more after it. The Third Age is coming to an end as we pick up The Lord of the Rings.
With the help of his omniscient narrative, Tolkien describes events from the recent and not-so-recent past, as if giving a lesson here and there on the history of Middle-earth. The characters also mention in their “speeches” names that are long forgotten and places that do not exist anymore, and so on. There are different dialects of the Elven tongue and dwarf words and names that I have no clue how to pronounce. You have to be prepared to flip to the back of the book for the five-page map to follow the hobbits’ and later the Company’s journey.
All of this can be annoying, or maybe boring or plain confusing. Oddly enough, I just found The Fellowship of the Ring cozy. It’s certainly not a happy story full of sunshine and dancing under the moon. Yet the relaxed pace, the descriptions of all the forests and rivers and lands they cross and the uncorrupted hearts of the fellowship were strangely comforting. Because the characters talk and think and prioritize in a way that is so different from ours, it was easy not to get attached to any of them and just to simply follow their journey.
If there is one thing that makes my hackles rise, it’s the absence of any female characters who talk more than three sentences – save Galadriel. But even the powerful elven queen does not entirely escape the traditional roles imposed on women: she and her ladies spin and make the cloaks for the Company, which is a great “honour”. Arwen – the love of Aragorn’s life and all that – sits demurely at her father’s home and hardly speaks a word while her brothers ride out to scout for the enemies. The whole saving-Frodo-and-drowning-the-Ringwraiths episode? Uh-uh, not in the book. Oh, and when Aragorn dies of old age in the Fourth Age (after ruling as a wise king for many many decades), his body is set up for respectable viewing and mourning. What does Arwen do afterwards? Says good-bye to her children, goes into some woods and dies quietly, and NO ONE EVEN KNOWS WHERE HER CORPSE IS. Undómiel, Evenstar of her people, and all praise that follows – and she slips off to the woods to die because her husband of a hundred years or so has died? And apparently no one cares? Ugh.

Despite this huge oversight of the half of the populations of his creatures, Tolkien’s writings make me more and more curious about the Middle-earth and all that has happened on it. Reading The Lord of the Rings without looking up a name, a place or an object is akin to walking in the dim light with your arms outstretched. You miss the many little details that can be patched up together to make a whole picture.

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