The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

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 darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Trzy pierscienie dla krolow Elfow pod otwartym niebem,
Siedem dla wladcow krasnali w ich kamiennych palacach,
Dziewiec dla smiertelnikow, ludzi smierci podleglych.
Jeden dla Wladcy Ciemnosci na czarnym tronie
W Krainie Mordor, gdzie zalegly cienie.
Jeden, by wszystkimi rzadzic, Jeden, by wszystkie odnalezc,
Jeden, by wszystkie zgromadzic i w ciemnosci zwiazac
W Krainie Mordor, gdzie zalegly cienie.

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I read The Hobbit many years ago and I enjoyed it. I tried reading “The Lord of the Rings” some time ago also but gave up about 2/3 of the way through. I dabbled with The Silmarillion and gave up with that too. I’ve seen all the films. Considering this to be something of a failure on my part I decided to gird my loins and work my way through the unabridged audio book (Rob Inglis version) of LOTR on my journeys around town. Praise be to Allah, I am now into the last hour of what has been a 54 hour listening ordeal. This thing takes up 600MB of my iPod and that’s at a low bit-rate, at good quality recording it would be taking up more than 2GB.

After putting myself through this, the question to be asked is whether the tale that is “The Lord of The Rings” (call it trilogy, call it six books plus appendices, who cares!) is the most long-winded, boring, intellectually pompous thing ever to be printed, or whether it is a thoroughly enjoyable work of fiction by a writer with talent bordering on genius? Did The Hobbit really need a sequel and if so, did it need one like this?

I think the fact that it took 12 years to write, with some breaks, and that the writing spanned the entire second world war (J. R. R. Tolkien actually fought in the battle of Somme during the first war, where two of his three closest friends were killed) are not insignificant facts when considering how the work ended up. Other influences might possibly be the fact that both his parents had died by the time he was 12 whereupon he was taken in by a kindly priest at the Birmingham Oratory and not long after started inventing languages that he associated with fairy or elvish people. He later became a professor of English, to be precise he was “Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon” at Oxford.

I mention these as possible influences because the overriding impressions I get from the books are the dual obsessions with darkness and with made-up names. Darkness, doom and gloom seem to run through the books like the roots of a cursed tree. I know there is a dark side to the story but is there really any need to mention it quite so often? I know Tolkien himself has denied any relationship between the books and the wars, that might be true, but I’m convinced that his pretty gloomy experiences in life leaked into his work without him realising it. I’d be willing to bet that the writer of The Fast Show had Tolkien in mind when creating the character “Johnny nice painter”.

As for the names, well, Tolkien is just crazy about them. Not only is every person and every thing obsessively named but he also goes on to repeat the names at every possible opportunity as if the reader suffers from an extreme case of amnesia. I can’t find any online text of the books to help illustrate my points but it goes something like this;

And so it was that Gladrag, Bobtoes, Snotshout and Pizzydick found themselves entering the dark woods. They crossed the stream carefully, until first Gladrag, then Snotshout and Bobtoes and finally Pizzydick were safe on the far bank. To their surprise they were confronted by a light shining in the sinister darkness. As they approached the light they found it was a dwarf carrying an axe. “Hello dwarf”, said Gladrag. Bobtoes, Snotshout and Pizzydick also greeted the dwarf who said his name was Flintarse, son of Spudbash, uncle of Dipstick, the heir to the land of Hogwash, just across the river Wishwash from the forest of Whogivesashit. His axe was the great Deadspit, forged in the caves of Moron deep below mount Paranoia. The axe was a wonder to behold with strange Twervish markings on the blade. “Well met in the twilight” said Bobtoes, these are my travelling companions Snotshout, son of Glutflick of the Wilderness, Pizzydick, daughter of Rabies in the Foaming and Gladrag, son of Rumble in the Jungle. “Well met indeed!”, said Flintarse. “It is truly a sorry day that you were not here earlier as you would have chanced upon Grapenuts the Purple, wizard of the west. But come, let us get out of this darkness for a page or two.”……………………..

It goes on like that for FIFTY FOUR HOURS, for heaven’s sake. I can only compare it to reading a particularly dull copy of the bible with all that – and he begat she and she begat him and they begat it. Excruciatingly dull.

To be fair, ignoring my earlier complaints, The Fellowship of the Ring moves along reasonably well. It at least seems to be heading somewhere without getting too lost along the way. The “quest” is clear enough, as are the main characters. One has to wonder about Tom Bombadil, Sam’s strange affection for Bill the pony and why Boromir needs to behave the way he does. The Boromir part just seems like JRR was short of ideas on how to get Frodo and Sam to split from the group. So that takes us to the end of book two. We then embark on “The Two Towers”. I find that the whole work loses something after the original gang split up. It becomes disjointed and therefore harder to follow, the urgency of the “quest” is lessened, it loses the interaction between the various members of the group and worst of all it trebles the word count due to the need to follow (at least) three trails before getting to the end. Nevertheless, I was still awake at the wheel for most of book 3, the first half of “The Two Towers”. Book 4 is where the whole thing falls off a cliff, in my opinion. Book 4 is nothing more than a seemingly never ending, dreary passage for Frodo and Sam from wherever they were to some Ork place close to where they were supposed to be going. It just goes on and on and on and I needed all my resolve to stay awake and to resist the urge to just move on to another book altogether. Shelob the giant spider, although massively overplayed, was I’m sure inserted as an afterthought following the strange death-by-boredom of all those who read the draft of book 4.

Book 4 really did take it out of me and by now I really didn’t give a damn what happened next as long we got to the end quickly! No chance of that as I snooze my way into “The Return of the King” and books 5 and 6. The whole war thing is tedious, predictable and nowhere near as gripping as such a war story could have been. The eventual destruction of the ring is similarly predictable and possibly the biggest anti-climax in literature. Then there’s all the goodbyes, the comings, goings and crownings and praisings, you just want it all to end. Then they get back home to find things have changed and we have to endure another final spasm before the tale is finally allowed to rest in peace.

My conclusions are:

  • JRR was most likely suffering from a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder (parent’s death, war, friend’s death) which accounts for the all the darkness and evil forces. (whether he admits this or not)
  • He was probably slightly schizophrenic with one half of him living in the beautiful English countryside and the other living in middle-earth.
  • This is the work of an academic who was encouraged to go further than he really should have.
  • The work falls between two stools. It should have been either; an even longer academic study of an imaginary world called middle-earth and published as a text book not a novel, or, a CONSIDERABLY shorter (two/three book) story about some rings and assorted characters and written by somebody else.

Are you obsessed by The Lord of the Rings? Want more Tolkien obsession po polsku? Or perhaps this place (Poles writing in English) is better, it has news of The Third International Conference on J. R. R. Tolkien’s Invented Languages, for example.

One thing for sure. It matters not a jot what I think because Tolkien’s life-long madness is contagious. I wonder if you can be vaccinated against it?

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7 thoughts on “The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

  1. Obsessed no. But I do think ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is the best books I’ve read out of the 10,000+.

    Loved your review though. I could never listen to the entire work on audio. I’d gnaw my ears off first. :)

  2. Hi Brian, you’ve read more than 10,000 books! I’m impressed.

    It had to be the audio, the only way I was likely to get through it was if it was only filling dead time anyway (i.e. driving to work and stuff). There’s no way I could sit and read the thing, too easy to go do something more enjoyable, like watching paint dry! :)

  3. When I first met my wife (we had our 20th wedding anniversary three days ago) we went through the usual what films, books etc do you like etc. It turned out that she (who is always reading some book…or three) found TLOTR her favourite. In thosee 20 years her opinion hasn’t changed. She has gone on to re-read the book at least 10 times since then and says she’s due to read it again soon.
    I on the other hand read The Hobbit at the age of 15 and then tried the sequel only to, as yourself, give up 2/3’s of the way through from sheer boredom.
    I have come to the conclusion that I don’t like prolonged description, lists of names etc whilst for her the pace of what she reads is not influenced by the reading matter so she just takes it all in calmly and remembers almost everything.
    I must admit the her enthusiasm rekindled my appreciation of the series, and I was rivetted when watching the films. Superb.
    On the other hand, despite slowing and calming down with age I still don’t imagine being able to sit down and read the damn thing :)

  4. Ad, I thought you’d emigrated, or something! Don’t tell me you’re going to pretend that looking after a baby is hard or something! :)

    kisses to all

  5. Just one mention of Silmarillion yet? (As if the reason for the band Marillion to get their name should not be enough.)

    To co-reply to your post on books for Zosia, Scatts:

    Hobbit is the equivalent of a many-pictured story for wee bairns who want to be read to. TLOTR is the equivalent of a fewer-pictured story for bairns who can read themsels. Silmarillion is a no-picture story for ditto as well as bairnlike-souled adults. S. is my favest.

  6. Pingback: From Right Here » Two Little Cities in France

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