80 years ago today The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was published for the first time. That’s quite a birthday! But tomorrow is Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday too, so we need to celebrate!
Following his lead the Company passed under the northern arch. They found themselves in a wide corridor. As they went along it the glimmer grew stronger, and they saw that it came through a doorway on their right. It was high and flattopped, and the stone door was still upon its hinges, standing half open. Beyond it was a large square chamber. It was dimly lit, but to their eyes, after so long a time in the dark, it seemed dazzlingly bright, and they blinked as they entered.
Their feet disturbed a deep dust upon the floor, and stumbled among things lying in the doorway whose shapes they could not at first make out. The chamber was lit by a wide shaft high in the further eastern wall; it slanted upwards and, far above, a small square patch of blue sky could be seen. The light of the shaft fell directly on a table in the middle of the room: a single oblong block, about two feet high, upon which was laid a great slab of white stone.
‘It looks like a tomb,’ muttered Frodo, and bent forwards with a curious sense of foreboding, to look more closely at it. Gandalf came quickly to his side. On the slab runes were deeply graven:
‘These are Daeron’s Runes, such as were used of old in Moria,’ said Gandalf. ‘Here is written in the tongues of Men and Dwarves: BALIN SON OF FUNDIN LORD OF MORIA.’
‘He is dead then,’ said Frodo. ‘I feared it was so.’ Gimli cast his hood over his face.
Reading The Lord of the Rings
How does one even review one of the most read books in the world?
I don’t know. I’m not going to attempt it. Besides, I’d speak from a life-long fan’s standpoint, and I’d hardly be anywhere close to objectiveness.
This is my third read of The Lord of the Rings. I read it the first time as a teenager. I had newly fallen into fantasy, and I was trying to read all the classics. So, of course, I felt I should read Tolkien’s work (this was long before the film trilogy). That first time was hard going, so I understand readers who say they have a hard time reading this book. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is one of the most complex and complete places ever invented, and as you can’t expect to learn everything about a nation staying just a week, you can’t expect to understand even the basics of Middle Earth by just reading one book once. I was overwhelmed with the many names (most main characters bear more than one) and by the many allusions to a wider history, but the story was good enough to keep me going, though at a very slow pace.
That first time I liked the story as I liked many other fantasy stories, which was enough to turn me into a fan. I started looking for other fans and enrolling in Tolkien clubs. And slowly I sank into Middle Earth.
The second time I read The Lord of the Rings was after The Fellowship of the Ring film came out. There had been quite some speculation about what the films were going to look like, lots of fans predicted terrible outcomes. I didn’t particularly like the film the first time I saw it… maybe because all that argument coloured my opinion. When I saw it the second time (in English, not in Italian, like the first time – I’ve always wondered whether this made a difference), I loved it.
That prompted me to read the trilogy again, and this time it was easy going. Sure, I had a far better idea not just of Middle Earth, but of its history and of Tolkien’s reasons for many stories. Names were familiar to me by now, and being a long time fan meant I wanted to learn what was hidden in The Lord of the Rings rather than been put off by what I didn’t grasp.
I liked it a lot. A lot more than the first time. That’s when I became a hard-core fan.
I know this may sound like craziness, but I’d suggest to readers who mean to read this book to give it a chance… at least twice.
Then, years passed without me rereading the book. I’ve kept being interested in Tolkien’s work. After the film trilogy ended, I founded a fan club in my city (The Rohirrim, in case you wonder what part of the book I prefer). I’ve read many essays, I’ve been to conferences and festivals, I’ve followed discussions online. I’ve become very very familiar with Middle Earth and its inhabitants, I formed my own ideas on many of the themes.
Then last summer, a group of readers in the Litsy community suggested reading Tolkien’s main works one chapter a day. I initially thought I wouldn’t, it sounded like a huge commitment, considering my daily routine. But as someone put it, I knew I wanted to, and at the end, I joined. It had been many years since last I read The Lord of the Rings. And I’m mind-blowingly loving it!
Reading The Fellowship of the Ring
The day we started buddy-reading The Fellowship of the Ring I just couldn’t wait. I was eager to start and breezed through everything at the beginning of the book: Introduction, Introduction to my edition, Tolkien’s intro to the second edition (which I loved). I breezed through the Prologue: Concerning Hobbits as well, loving it (which may or may not say a thing or two about what kind of fan I am). But I understand why it may be offputting for a first-time reader, and I’d indeed suggest to skip it if you’re not strongly motivated.
By today’s standards, this book does take quite some time to get going. I’m not surprised that a lot of stuff was cut from the movie in this part. But personally, I was delighted to read it. It was a good chance to reconnect with the book with chapters and chapters that were not in the film. Believe me, today it’s very very hard for any fan to read The Lord of the Rings and not see the film’s visuals with our mind-eye. It was also a good chance to reconnect with the book’s themes, which are not necessarily the same themes that were portrayed in the films.
And if I can say, Tolkien’s prose is just beautiful. Meaningful dialogues, vivid descriptions, tight action, but also slow pondering episodes. It’s just a pleasure to read.The Fellowship of the Ring (#HobbitDay) – Reading The Fellowship of the Ring and rediscovering a fascination for Middle Earth #Tolkien Click To Tweet
As I was expecting, many first readers had a hard time with the Council of Elrond. It’s a very long chapter with lots of hints at Middle Earth’s larger history, lots of foreshadowing on what’s going to happen and the introduction of many characters. It is a difficult chapter – one of those that you hate the first time you read it, and you love when you read it again.
After the Fellowship forms, the story really gets going. Relationships become more prominent. Themes get to the surface, especially the One Ring and its power over all living creatures, which is strongly addressed in this first part of the story, with all the moral themes that go with it. The action becomes more prominent.
My favourite part is The Mines of Moria. Fine, I have a soft spot for the Dwarves, I won’t hide it. Tolkien created beautiful stories for all of Middle Earth races, but I find the Dwarves’ stories, few as they are, particularly strong. Roaming the darkened halls of Moria, learning of its past history, of Balin’s attempt to restore its grandeur and his fight with the goblins, visiting Balin’s tomb. All of this always moves me. Not to mention what happens at the bridge of Kahzad-Dum (which I won’t spell. If you are a fan, you know. If you aren’t, you don’t want to know. There are readers out there who would kill for a spoiler, I was just reminded). In this dark, underground place, fundamental things happen, this is really the heart of The Fellowship and no surprise. As storytellers know and psychologists will tell you, underground places are projections of our inner feelings. I was strongly reminded of it in Moria.
The Lord of the Rings buddy read
If you are thinking about reading this book, but you feel intimidated, I’d suggest trying the one-chapter-a-day formula. I’m really enjoying it. I feel like I’m absorbing the story more thoroughly, giving it time to set before I go on. Even if sometimes waiting for one entire day is very hard, and I’d feel like just keep going… and yes this is happening to me even if this is the third time I’m reading it, and I’ve seen the films innumerable times.
I’m loving reading all my buddies’ comments, especially the ones from the first time readers.
Maybe because I’ve been a fan for decades, and because the film trilogy was so hugely popular, I still marvel at readers who don’t know what is going to happen next. It’s refreshing. But I also love exchanging comments and impressions with veteran readers.
The Fellowship of the Ring brought me back at the beginning. At why I love Tolkien’s work so much. It was a lovely welcome back.
THE RING SETS OUT
A Long-Expected Party
The Shadow from the Past
Three is Company
A Short Cut to the Mushrooms
A Conspiracy Unmasked
The Old Forest
In the House of Tom Bombadil
Fog on the Barrow-Downs
At the Sign of the Prancing Pony
A Knife in the Dark
Flight to the Ford
THE RING GOES SOUTH
The Council of Elrond
The Ring Goes South
A Journey in the Dark
The Bridge of Khazad-dûm
The Mirror of Galadriel
Farewell to Lórien
The Great River
The Breaking of the Fellowship
DISCLAIMER: Of course, none of these images belongs to me. I’ve only collected them in order to share my feelings about the story, but every image belongs to its own creator. The great many of them come from Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, but classic works of the most famous Tolkien’s illustrators (I’ll just mention Alan Lee and John Howe as an example, but there are others) also appear, together with illustrations created by less known Tolkien enthusiasts.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies