Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Life in Books: The Fellowship of the Ring

I mentioned before that Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis is the book that got me to start reading. After I finished Perelandra and sundry other books, my reading went on a brief hiatus. (I hate to admit it, but I think the cause of this was Pokemon Red.) Reading was still a fairly new activity for me, and the sway of my Nintendo 64 and GameBoy Color was hard to break. Thank goodness for Peter Jackson!

Peter Jackson didn't write The Fellowship of the Ring, but his making a movie out of the book certainly enticed me to read it...after some coaxing. My brother-in-law (standing in for my dad, who would have taken the same approach) told me I couldn't see the new movie--which looked awesome--unless I read the book first. What authority did my brother-in-law have over me? Well, none, but I still figured it was a good idea to read the book first. What a fantastic plan.

It was in reading it that I remembered this was another book that occupied an elevated position on my dad's bookshelf. In middle school and early high school, when I was CCG crazy, a Lord of the Rings card game called Middle Earth was released. One thing you have to understand about my family and me: I was interested in anything magical or fantasy, and my family (specifically my mother) did everything in their power to keep me from it. I don't fault them for this; in fact, in retrospect I thank them. I was far too interested in these things for my own good. I showed my dad the art from the Middle Earth card game and told him how cool it looked. (This was a ploy I used often as a kid, the "nonchalant" approach to asking, "Please, Dad, can I buy it?") He said, "Middle Earth. Did you know this is based on a book?"

What? I'm talking about fantasy card games, and he's cluttering the conversation with talk of dusty books? "Uh, no. But look at this! A fiery eye! Isn't that cool?"

My dad said he'd think about letting me try this new card game, but only if I read the books first. I never played Middle Earth.*

So when I began The Fellowship of the Ring, I remembered my dad's earlier attempt to get me to read, or at least to pocket veto my getting involved in yet another CCG (read: monetary sinkhole). And I used his well-worn boxed set, having taupe covers bearing the eye of Sauron and sheathed in a red slipcase. The physical objects themselves had a certain gravitas that couldn't be ignored

The beginning of the book was strange. I asked around to see if it was truly necessary to read the prologue. "There are lots of names and references to places and things I don't really know about--is it necessary?"

"Did you read The Hobbit?"


"Get to it."

So I read the prologue. It was pretty interesting when I got down to it. But why does the book proper begin with a birthday party? Shouldn't there be magic and swords and dwarves and talking animals? A birthday party seemed so very...ordinary, not at all what I want in a fantasy world. Then a grey wizard steps on the scene and tries to steal a ring from a seemingly decent chap. Yes, friends, I thought Gandalf the Grey was a bad guy on first introduction. In my defense, I had no prior knowledge of anything Middle Earth. Still, shame on me. I think the reason I thought Gandalf was bad was because of my American sensibilities. Bilbo has a ring; he doesn't want to give it up. It's his property. If someone is trying to take it from him, that person is either the government or a robber (maybe the two aren't mutually exclusive). In any case, he must be bad news.

(This, by the way, is a lesson that is hard to learn. Sometimes the things we hold with the tightest grip are the things we most need to let go of. Gandalf's taking the ring from Bilbo was the most gracious thing that he could have done for him, and yet it seemed the meanest to my young mind.)

I'll spare you my further impressions of The Fellowship of the Ring. I will say that I absolutely loved it. I was legitimately frightened when the Nazgul chased Frodo and Sam, and I was utterly enchanted by the mixture of everyday occurrences (singing and friendship and birthday parties) and a fantasy world. And Tolkien's writing--so immersive! There were no details too small. I found everything fascinating.

In my last post on this subject, I said the mark of a great book is that you want to start another immediately after finishing it. And so I did: I started The Two Towers right away. (Thank goodness, because the first movie butts into the second book!) Of course, I read the first half of Two Towers in a week; it took me another eight months to finish the other half. (Frodo and Sam trudging through Mordor is the most boring part of both the books and the movies.)

After reading the book, I saw Peter Jackson's movie...and didn't care for it that much. On subsequent viewings, I liked it more and more (especially once the extended editions were released), but I'm so glad I read the book first.

*Though I remember having some of the cards. I think I bought the cards (after he died, of course), but the rules were too complicated to teach my friends. I later sold the cards without having ever played the game.


  1. I enjoyed this post. What are your impressions of the movies now? For me, it is difficult to watch them, though I enjoyed them in the beginning. The differences between book and movie (especially in the Two Towers) are so hard for me to deal with.

  2. It certainly does help to read the books first! :) My own thoughts are; that if Peter Jackson had stayed true to the books, he would have had a trilogy 'Masterpiece'!! But of course, he took artistic license and really messed up The Two Towers... *sigh But instead, he will have to settle for an 'Excellent' trilogy! (My opinion of course :))) Although I realize he couldn't have started off with Frodo being 50 years old :)

    I do remember though, the scene where Legolas swings around and jumps onto the back of a horse... as though 'lighter than air' and a guy sitting near me in the theater says, "Oh, give me a break!" and in my mind I said... "Hey, read the book!! He's an elf and they are 'very light'!" :)))

  3. @Jared--I like the movies, especially the extended cuts, but they are so different from the books. They're entertaining, and they're good as signposts to remember the books, but I would choose the books over the movies anyday. And I did not like Two Towers. I hated what they did with Faramir. PJ also eliminated one of my favorite scenes from the movie (the scouring of the Shire). Still, they were about as good as they could have been for Hollywood fare...but maybe Tolkien isn't made for Hollywood. All of this being said, I haven't watched them for 5+ years.

    @MaryL--There's also the scene where he's walking above the snow. I loved that PJ retained some of the little details like that. I wish he would've spent more time on Faramir, less time on turning Helm's Deep into the War to End All Wars.