I tried reading The Hobbit at some point when I was in middle school, but just couldn’t get into it. After seeing The Lord of the Rings movies as an adult, I thought I would give the books a try in 2013 and I’m glad I did! I rate it a 5/5.
There was something at once epic and simple about this story. It touched me and pulled me in. This is what great storytelling does. It combines multiple layers – the broad good vs. evil conflict and the individual challenges that each member of the Fellowship faced – and lets us see what is important on all those levels. The characters did not always succeed, but their setbacks were not just plot devices. They felt real. The internal and external struggles faced by the characters let us be one with them as they all sought to do new things that were nearly impossible. Whether an epic tale of adventure or a quiet story of personal growth, the layering and experiences are what distinguishes “literature” from “popular fiction” for me. Both types of books can be good reads and they serve different purposes – I’m not a book snob; I like both – but there is something deeper and more insightful about the books in the literature category.
The characters in The Lord of the Rings were so well-drawn that they seemed real. I can imagine various future story lines for all the main characters and I want to know what happens to them next. I want them to visit each other from time to time. I want their children to become friends with each other and to get to know me, as an aunt who pops in to hear about their adventures. Rarely have I been so caught up in the characters of a book. I loved the majestic places where the Elves lived and the homely shire that the Hobbits inhabited so completely and the beautiful Minas Tirith, built into the side of a mountain. I could see myself at home in each of these communities.
What I particularly liked was the gentle quality of the book. Even at its most violent or harrowing, there was a lovely spirit that balanced out the frightening battles. I think this was what I enjoyed the most and what set the books apart from other literature. There was a certain sweet (and sometimes bittersweet) quality that I found very engaging. I don’t enjoy reading about war and battles and weapons. But here, the battles fought to protect and sustain the good in the world and the willingness of all the characters to risk their lives to preserve home and destroy evil were compelling. The goal for our heroes was always peace and friendship, not power or politics or wealth for themselves.
Although I understand not including the scouring of the Shire in the movie, it added so much to the book. It was wonderful to see Merry, Pippin and Samwise all take what they had learned and use it to save their community. It was a wonderful example of character growth, as they left the Shire as naive adolescents and returned as brave and noble adults. Not only the Hobbits, but everyone grew into their roles – Aragorn, Eowyn and even Gandalf. And it would be wrong to not single out Frodo, whose goodness and determination served him well as he learned about his own capacity for endurance, came to realize the strengths and weaknesses of others, and grew to understand the immense task he has taken on – nothing short of saving the world even if it meant sacrificing himself.
I have a feeling this will be a story I come back to again.