More than a few friends have been stunned when I admitted that I have never gotten all the way through Tolkien’s trilogy. I had read—and loved—The Hobbit several times with various kiddos. When the movies came out, I determined to read the books through before I watched. I got as far as the first few chapters of The Return of the King and gave up. I know, I know. But I was slogging through—actually rushing through, trying to stay ahead of the movies. Honestly, I liked them then, but did not really love them. In my defense, I was schooling six of my own plus a few others from time to time and I was doing a TON of reading—good stuff—with my kids and for my own self-education.
So, I just put it aside, and decided that I was going to be a Tolkien admirer-from-afar. Most of my kids are Tolkien geeks, and know the entire history of Middle Earth, which I heartily encouraged over the years. But, alas, I consigned myself to smiling and nodding when people brought up the Trilogy. Beyond a basic familiarity with the plot, and a few themes—particularly the heroism and stalwart friendship of Samwise Gamgee—I just could not enter into lavish praise of a canon I had never completed.
A couple of summers ago, I confessed my Tolkien inadequacy to some dear friends, one of whom happens to be a highly-esteemed lit professor at a local college. The resulting look of horror on their faces still makes me giggle a little. But it also made me realize that I must remedy this unforgivable malady. It surely seemed that Tolkien was a must read in pursuit of a life well read.
So, they went back on my to-read list, but still, with so many other things ahead of them . . . Finally, this summer, the magic happened. First, I had an Amazon gift card that covered the cost of a nice set (no movie-themed paperbacks, thank you very much!) Then, I had racked up a bunch of Audible credits. A lot of my reading gets done by listening while I work around the house and in the kitchen, or when I’m in the car alone. (I always have a physical copy of the book handy so I can mark passages and make notes!) Finally, our upcoming school year is focused on Christendom, which includes a great deal of medieval literature, which, of course, was a great part of Tolkien’s inspiration. I knew the time had come.
All I can say is that I now know my earlier lack of delight was definitely a deficiency in me. In reading them this summer, I have been gripped, enthralled, overcome, inspired – all the cliches – but all so apt. So many truths. So much that is so terribly contemporary. Beautiful and breathtaking. I finally get it. Or at least, I am beginning to get it.
The Fellowship of the Ring was my June read. I just finished The Two Towers, and after a short break to finish a Book Tea selection, should be on track to finish The Return of the King before summer’s end.
For now, a few of my many commonplace entries from The Fellowship:
There was a little corner of his (Gollum’s) mind that was still his own, and light came through it, as though a chink in the dark: light out of the past. It was actually pleasant, I think, to hear a kindly voice again, bringing up memories of wind, and trees, and sun on the grass, and such forgotten things.
“I do really wish to destroy it!’ cried Frodo. ‘Or, well, to have it destroyed. I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?” “Such questions cannot be answered,” said Gandalf. “You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”
“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.”
Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep, or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’ Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.
And now we must enter the Golden Wood, you say. But of that perilous land we have heard in Gondor, and it is said that few come out who once got in; and of that few, none have escaped unscathed.’ (Boromir) ‘Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth,’ said Aragorn.
In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.
The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.
He (Gimli) looked suddenly into the heart of the enemy and saw there love and understanding.
As they were healed of hurt and weariness of body the grief of their loss grew more keen…At Rivendell . . . his (Frodo’s) memory was stored with many things that others had made before him.
Yet as is the way with Elvish words, they remained graven in his memory, and long afterwards he interpreted them, as well as he could.