The Fellowship of the Ring

Shockingly - for a self-confessed bookworm - I have never read The Lord of The Rings. I enjoyed fantasy as a child - read and loved The Chronicles of Narnia, and followed this up with The Dark is Rising sequence, which I still rate as one of the best fantasy reads ever, but I never got into Tolkien. I think part of it was that I was rather put-off by all the hobbits and elves and pseudo-Old English runes business - it just all sounded a bit silly to me. I have the same problem with Wagner - I think the Ring cycle sounds great, but all the cavorting gods and godessess just leave me cold. As a small child I wasn't a great fan of Grimm's fairy stories, but thought that the Arabian Nights were wonderful - I suspect that this may have had a lot to do with my later literary (and musical) likes and dislikes.

On a long train trip across the USA some years ago I read The Hobbit, I enjoyed it - although I thought that I would probably have enjoyed it more if I'd been 10 years younger, I certainly wasn't blown away by it. In fact I much preferred The Hobbit game, which I was playing on my then state-of-the-art ZX Spectrum.

Having recently found a Spectrum site online, and remembering how much I'd enjoyed playing both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, I decided to finally get round to tackling Lord of the Rings, and so started off with the first in the trilogy The Fellowship of the Ring.

I found it surprisingly enjoyable - yes, there were moments when I wanted to say "Oh, just get on with it", or when some of the high-flown background info started me giggling a bit, but generally it's a good story - a road movie for folk from Middle Earth, and it does sweep you along with it. Some of the characters I genuinely loved - Strider, the mysterious stranger, loyal Sam, and Boromir, the guy who goes to the bad. I thought that Tolkien was often at his best when writing about how power or the pursuit of power can corrupt.

Tolkien always said that Lord of the Rings was not an allegory - either a religious allegory as is the case with the Narnia books, or an historical allegory mirroring the rise of Nazism and its consequences. I'm not sure whether this is wholly true. There are certain moments that clearly do have some religious symbolism, but equally Tolkien draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources : Norse mythology, Beowulf, the Bible, even Jewish folklore - Gollum surely is related to Golem. And perhaps it is hardly surprising that having lived in such a turbulent century his writing should be influenced by it.

Certainly Tolkien's inventiveness can only be marvelled at - he creates an entire new world as effortlessly as T.H. White does in The Once and Future King or J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series (Tolkien and White are undoubtedly major influences on Rowling)

I wasn't blown away by The Fellowship of the Ring, the ending was very weak and was clearly intended to be immediately followed by the next book in the series, and I think it would have been a much more incomprehensible read if it hadn't been for a previous reading of The hobbit, and some knowledge of the environment from computer games. However I did enjoy it, it's one of those books that sweeps you away to a whole different reality, and I will definitely read the remaining books in the trilogy shortly. Well worth reading, an enormously influential book, I'll be fascinated to see how the rest of the series develops.


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