The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien
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Buy *The Lord of the Rings* single-volume collector's edition online The Lord of the Rings: Single-volume collector's edition
J.R.R. Tolkien
Houghton Mifflin
1216 pages
November 1974
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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I say "excellent" but add a caveat. The book is overly long. This edition includes all three "Lord of the Rings" books, and its size indicates what a massive task was undertaken by Tolkien when he sat down to fulfill "the desires of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story..." (as he says in a foreword to the second edition, reprinted in this book). It is a massive undertaking not just for the writer but for the reader as well. Despite Tolkien's remark (in the same foreword) that the book is "too short," one is left with just the opposite impression.

Curled Up With a Good BookWhen Tolkien said the book is too short, it is easy to assume he was speaking with tongue in cheek; easy, that is, until one reaches the end of the book and sees the various Appendixes. There is enough additional information here about hobbits and the "Second and Third Ages" to make it clear that the author might easily have added another thousand pages to the tale. Perhaps, given Tolkien's prodigious imagination, he truly did feel the book to be too short.

The story could have been pared down in places without really losing much. Sometimes it seems to take forever for Frodo (the primary character or "hobbit" in the tale) to simply walk over a hill or go to sleep. That complaint aside, it must be hastily added that this is a truly wonderful sword-and-sorcery tale, otherwise beautifully told. A wonderful book for lovers of fantasy fiction. That's "book" because The Lord of the Rings is not three books, as many assume, but one book in three parts (each part originally published separately). It is in fact the sequel to The Hobbit.

In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (not Frodo) comes away with a magic ring that, put on the finger, makes one invisible. That was the extent of its power until Tolkien sat down to write "The Lord of the Rings". Now we learn that this particular ring is the ring that binds other magic rings and creates, for the holder of the "One Ring", the ultimate power over all the world. It is, in other words, the ring of rings, and it is now sought by an evil force that has been searching for it since its loss many years prior to Bilbo's finding it.

The Lord of the Rings opens with Bilbo celebrating his "eleventy-first" birthday. Bilbo is now well over one hundred years of age. He chooses this birthday to pass on the ring (which he has had in his possession since finding it) to Frodo, his heir. In doing so, it is Frodo that becomes the central character of the novel.

Shortly thereafter, the sorcerer Galdalf the Grey appears with vague warnings about the approach of evil and the power of the ring:

"...All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening....The enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defenses, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring."
The ring Frodo how holds must be destroyed yet it is indestructible, so what is to be done? It can be destroyed, it turns out, only one way: by throwing it into the depths of Mount Doom. The quest is set, Frodo (and others, in particular another good hobbit named Sam) must set off to destroy the ring. Many dark forces will try to stop him and take the ring from him along the way.

The first danger is the "Dark Riders" (the Ringwraiths) who are suddenly patrolling the highways and byways out of Hobbiton. Frodo no sooner sets off then he is in danger of his life:

"The hooves grew nearer. They had no time to find any hiding-place better than the general darkness under the trees; Sam and Pippin crouched behind a large tree-bole, while Frodo crept back a few yards towards the lane. It showed grey and pale, a line of fading light through the wood. Above it the stars were thick in the dim sky, but there was no moon....The black shadow stood close to the point where they had left the path, and it swayed from side to side. Frodo thought he heard the sound of snuffling. The shadow bent to the ground, and then began to crawl towards him."
The true saving graces of this book are the astounding imagination of the author and, by his wonderful writing ability, the realization of that imagination. Despite its great length, the book manages to hold the reader's attention and, in parts, is quite gripping. (Stripping away some excess would have made this a legitimate page-turner.) It is a book replete with dozens of wonderfully imaginative characters and creatures, many of which no doubt helped spawn other tales that carry similarities to this one (such as the Star War series). It's easy to see why it is a fantasy classic, or as some would have it, the fantasy classic.

Those readers ready to sit and read the more than one thousand pages will, for the most part, be enthralled except for those rather long-winded parts where you'll say "get on with it". For those others not quite ready to assume the "massive undertaking" of reading the book, you will no doubt enjoy the movie(s) that will do the paring down that the book could have benefited from. The book is, when all is said and done, an amazing achievement.

© 2002 by Mary B. Stuart for Curled Up With a Good Book

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