I definitely wouldn’t claim to be a perfect resource on all things literary. I’ve read a lot of beloved books and disliked them. I’ve read some book series out of spite, just so I felt I could be well informed when I told people what I didn’t like about them. I have gone through phases in life where I got more enjoyment out of reading fan-fiction than anything that was being published. I feel like a lot of avid readers behave in much the same way, just not everyone talks about it. I’ve met people who dismiss novels or series’ just on the fact that everyone else likes them so much. I do try to challenge those people, pick up the book – try it. There may be a reason it’s so popular; emphasis on the ‘may’ because I’ve read all of the Twilight books, so I know for a fact that they are garbage.
One series that I do like to suggest to people first, whether they enjoy fantasy or not is Lord of the Rings. It felt only fitting that my true first book suggestion would be one of the first books I was ever introduced to. Long before Harry Potter ever hit my bookshelf, Lord of the Rings stood, as it does today, on the top shelf at home.
My love of books I know, was inherited by my Grandmother, who loved the written word almost as much as she did her Grandchildren and a lover of Fantasy above all other genres. She believed wholeheartedly in ghosts, supernatural forces and she believed especially in MAGIC. Something I inherited as well. However, as much as she instilled in me a love of books, my love of reading and imagination can be attributed to my Grandfather on my Mom’s side, Verne.
I must have been at around the age of 10 or 11 when I first heard the words of J.R.R. Tolkien. Yes, heard them, because my Grandpa read them out loud to his Grand-kids. In all honesty, I don’t think I understood too much of the story at the time, it was so detailed and so long and I was so entranced by my Grandpa reading in these voices that he created. Voices for Gandalf, Frodo and even Saruman; and in-between all the dialogue he would set up the scenes playing out in his own gentle, raspy voice. I loved that summer in Phoenix and went back home to my parents with a new goal:
To read read read read read. Absorb all the Fantasy that I could get my hands on. I already knew that I enjoyed things like Knights, Dragons and Wizards but I never knew that their storybook worlds could be so FULL. That there could be so much detail to the worlds, the languages, the distinct cultures and the drama. I needed it all – thankfully my parents responded by buying for me the series collection that you can see in the photo above.
I have to admit that I am sometimes a bit shocked when people that I know to read Fantasy tell me that they have never read Lord of the Rings (LotR). J.R.R. Tolkien, being regarded as the Father of Modern Fantasy, I always just assume that the series would be their go-to. Maybe they’ve seen the movies…watched that old Hobbit cartoon? Everyone knows that old “…not all those who wander are lost…” quote that gets overused on Instagram (do people even realize that that’s from Fellowship of the Ring?) It could be a combination of all these things that made them decide that it wasn’t for them, for whatever reason they’ve left it off their reading list. If you have, I would like to try and change your mind.
The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.
The Lord of the Rings takes place in fantastical Middle Earth, which is home to many races of Man, Dwarf, Elf and Hobbit. Some ruling in power and some ruling in peace. The main protagonist of the story is the Hobbit, Frodo Baggins, who is gifted a ring by his uncle. The secrets and history of the ring are far-reaching and Frodo comes to learn that many evil Men and beyond would love to get their hands on this ring. The One Ring, the Ring of Power. With aid of his mentor, Gandalf and his Hobbit companions, Pippin, Merry and Samwise, he leaves on a quest to seek advise of the Elves. In the Elvish city of Rivendell it is decided that the ring must be destroyed so that no evil can get a hold of its power. There, a Fellowship is assembled, much like the Medieval equivalent of the Avengers, to destroy the One Ring. The epic continues throughout the years of the Fellowship traversing Middle-Earth, encountering aid from others, doing battle with Orcs or other agents of Sauron.
As the story moves on, members of the Fellowship become separated, so there are several story lines going on at once, which only give the story more depth. Although they are separated from Frodo and Sam and their quest with the ring, you see how each grouping is still working towards the common goal; to destroy the ring. You meet new characters along the way, learn more and more about the history of Middle Earth and it’s inhabitants. You learn about who and how the Ring was made, what it’s original purpose was. It really is masterful storytelling, the story is so detailed that no stone is left upturned. Tolkien had an answer for everything.
To truly appreciate the books is to appreciate the man. There has been decades of speculation about the origin of the ideas that birthed LotR. A lot of critics say it’s an allegory for Tolkien’s experiences during World War I, some say it’s an allegory for his aversion towards the industrialization of rural England. Tolkien himself never came out and said it was a retelling of anything, he told press and readers alike that it was open for their creative interpretation. Tolkien claimed that mythology was ‘the divine echo of the truth’, which I believe can be seen throughout LotR. The morality tales that one usually find in myths and legends are usually reflective of the authors own morals and a lot of these tales live within the story of the One Ring. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, you can see overall themes of this within the story; though he isn’t as heavy handed as his friend and counter-part C.S. Lewis. He was a true purveyor of an old literary style of writing, which is what I believe puts most people off. People don’t write like this anymore, people don’t write like they are philologists. Oftentimes there are long winded chapters about people, celebrations or adventures that seem to have nothing to do with the story, but it does. If you could get past that, you could truly begin appreciating this series for what it is. Magical.
I re-read the series in High School, hoping that I could get something new out of it. I did. I failed P.E. but I found a new appreciation for the books. For the man who wrote them. Learning about the era in which he wrote them. About the Inklings, which were a way cooler and more sophisticated version of the Beat Generation. I immersed myself in the lore, the community. I spent time in class sketching elves and wishing I was reading instead of my sterile classroom. I wore tweed and elbow patches for God’s sake! I started reading his other works, stories within the same world that Christopher Tolkien has published after his father’s death. My Dad gave me a book that my Grandmother had left me, a tiny book with a Dragon on the front: Farmer Giles of Ham. Published around the time of the Hobbit, just a fun little story of a tubby farmer who unwittingly became the hero of his town. Suddenly having the book instantly made me feel close to my Grandma, who at this point had passed away years before I held the book in my hands.
I felt close to her. Reminded me that a lot of her interests and her beliefs were instilled in me, her favorite Granddaughter. Books can invoke these kinds of feelings. In this series I feel DeeAnn and I hear Verne. Obviously not every book or book series that I talk about on this blog is going to be that intense. I don’t have those kinds of feelings with every single book that I read but it felt it important that I start with one that does. If you like High-Fantasy, Fantasy, Science Fiction or even if you only spend your days reading Buzzfeed – I suggest highly that you read The Lord of the Rings.
Not a lot of things deserve attention like Tolkien does.