There was no suspense about the inaugural book of this collection review project. I chose The Lord of the Rings, a book special to me for multiple reasons and secure in its continued place in the Bookcase. I’ve read it only twice earlier, I think, possibly three times but it had been quite a few years in any case since the last time.
It’s special, in the first place, because it’s a truly wonderful book and a thrilling read each time. Tolkien’s singular achievement was to infuse his scholarship (languages, medieval literature) into a high fantasy story. He created a Heroic Romance for the modern reader, one that engages our emotions as well as our imaginations. Of course I remembered the humor and the great characters, but I had not remembered the sheer propulsive quality of the story or the pleasures of his descriptive language. When the great horse Shadowfax ran fire flew from his feet and the night flowed over him like a roaring wind.
It was good to recover the text, too, as the films were muddling my memories. I like much of the movie adaptation but there are, in my opinion, serious flaws. Everything with Arwen is made up for the movies and is entirely a mistake (true, the ride with Frodo to the ford is terrific but she doesn’t need to be there). That I dislike, but what I loathe are the Gondor scenes. The whole lip-smacking meal while the fair knights go to their doom sequence is the worst kind of overwrought cliche. Why make up something so lame when there’s plenty of good material available in the book?
My copies of the three books are early printings of the American edition from Houghton Mifflin. I bought them as a retirement gift to myself.
The pleasures of rereading are different from the first time, of course; we never read the same book again. I really enjoyed returning to Tolkien’s world but it couldn’t ever compare to the overwhelming experience of the first encounter in 1973. The book was becoming a cult favorite on college campuses and among the rather small audience, at the time, for science fiction/fantasy work. I’d heard of it but didn’t know anything about the story and wasn’t particularly interested. Then my fiancé expressed surprise that I hadn’t read it and pressed his copy into my hands. “I’m not sure I could marry someone who didn’t love this book” or similar words accompanied it.
I was pretty sure he wasn’t serious about that, but I couldn’t help but feel a touch of anxiety as I opened the first volume. Happily on all accounts I was immediately gripped by the story and delighted with this marvelous new world. My marriage was saved and I had discovered a genre of fiction that has continued to give me pleasure through the many subsequent years.