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Saturday, June 18th, 2005


Lord of the Rings Boxed 3 Volumes

by J R R Tolkien

A review by Doug Brown

Sure, you've seen the movies. Then maybe you bought the DVDs, and then several months later the extended version DVDs. You might have even seen the Ralph Bakshi animated version, which amazingly enough follows the book more closely than Peter Jackson's epic. Thanks to media overload, you probably consider yourself well steeped in The Lord of the Rings. But how long has it been since you've read the books? The films left quite a bit out (or they would have been even longer) that you may have forgotten. Remember Tom Bombadil (or Tim Benzedrine, as he was known in Harvard Lampoon's hilarious Bored of the Rings)? Old Man Willow? Fatty Bolger? Bill the Pony? Had you forgotten that Frodo sold Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses before he left Hobbiton?

I confess that I hadn't actually read the books since high school, even though I think of myself as a geek. My last encounter with Tolkien's written words was a failed attempt at The Silmarillion while at college, which, we will simply say, was a number of winters ago. Thus, I had forgotten what a wordsmith Tolkien was, as evinced by such nuggets as these: "Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens"; "One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters"; "...he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom"; "We are a failing people, a springless autumn"; "There are locked doors and closed windows in your mind, and dark rooms behind them"; "it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they have is not ours to rule"; "be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety." Good stuff.

Most printings include the marvelous foreword that Tolkien wrote for the second edition. Of critics, Tolkien says, "Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer." He also makes it clear that The Lord of the Rings, although largely written during World War II, was not about current events. Making it as plain as he can, he states, " has been supposed by some that 'The Scouring of the Shire' reflects the situation in England at the time when I was finishing my tale. It does not." He further states, in a quote destined for some curmudgeon quotation collection, "...I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old enough to detect its presence." One further quote on the subject of allegory: "I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."

If you've been thinking that you should probably read the books again sometime, the time is now. Why wait? They were written by a scholar and a gentleman, a man steeped in lore and language, and it shows on every page. And if you haven't read them at all, you're in for a real treat. Though The Lord of the Rings largely created the fantasy genre, this isn't fluffy puff about unicorns and doe-eyed girls spewed forth by some lonely computer programmer. It is the work of a man who saw almost all his friends die in the brutal trench warfare of World War I, and then spent a life studying old languages and ancient texts. All of that filtered itself out in the books, creating a dense multi-layered tapestry (as opposed to the light airbrushed works that have since superficially minced in its mighty footsteps). Rediscover what true magic feels like. I would tell more, but as Gandalf said, "Many folk like to know beforehand what is to be set on the table; but those who have laboured to prepare the feast like to keep their secret; for wonder makes the words of praise louder."

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