The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings #3)

The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3)The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The third and final volume of The Lord of the Rings finishes Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mount Doom while the rest of his companions deal with armies of Sauron in the fields of Gondor and in front of the Black Gate of Mordor. ‘The Return of the King’ is where J.R.R. Tolkien gives his story it’s epic scope with both battles in arms and in the soul.

‘The Return of the King’ contains the fifth and sixth books that Tolkien divided The Lord of the Rings into. The fifth book begins with further divides the remaining Company into three, but eventually join together at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields before moving on to in front of the Black Gate. The sixth follows Frodo and Sam’s journey through Mordor to the heart of Mount Doom before they are reunited with the Company. Throughout Return, Tolkien continually foreshadows, yet surprises the reader with events and scenes that create an epic feel to his story. Although he the separate story arcs until uniting them in the middle of the sixth book, Tolkien references the other arc’s timeline to allow the reader to know how each is relating to one another. Unfortunately Tolkien’s decision to split one of the story arc’s temporarily into three resulted in another flashback retelling of how Aragorn, Legalos, and Gimli arrived at the Pelennor Fields.

Although the material in Return was originally intended by J.R.R. Tolkien to be the conclusion of an entire one-volume story, a publisher decision to split the tale into three volumes created unfortunate problems for this book. The latter part of book six taking part in the Shire would have felt like a natural conclusion to the one-volume story Tolkien intended, however the change in scenery and feeling of completeness after Aragorn’s crowning is undone do the decision to split. Another unfortunate decision was the title of the third volume, The Return of the King, which essentially gave away everything and gave an anticlimactic feeling to everything. If Tolkien’s preferred title, The War of the Ring, had been used even the events in the Shire would have felt like a completion of the whole affair given Saruman’s involvement.

‘The Return of the King’ feels incomplete as and individual book with a title that sabotages the story and a giving off the feeling of too many endings instead of the powerful conclusion of one-continuous story like it should have been. In Return, the characters introduced the ultimate clash of good and evil ends with surprising results given Tolkien’s unique way of writing the conclusion of the Ring’s journey while giving hope to the future. Characters introduced and written about that have survived are given their own exits to give off a sense of completeness. Upon finishing The Return of the King, readers will feel a sadness to the ending Tolkien’s epic while longing to know what the story would read in one-volume.

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The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings #2)

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second volume of The Lord of the Rings continues Frodo Baggins’ journey towards the dark land of Mordor while the rest of his companions deal with armies of the Great Eye and the traitorous Saruman.  ‘The Two Towers’ is where J.R.R. Tolkien showed the reader the danger his world was in and raising the stakes by showing the effects of Sauron’s darkness was already having on lands he had captured.

‘The Two Towers’ contains the third and fourth books that Tolkien divided The Lord of the Rings into.  The third book begins with Company, sans Frodo and Sam, battling the machinations of Isengard in various ways.  The fourth follows Frodo and Sam from their split from the Company to the very edge of Mordor itself thanks to Gollum.  Throughout Towers, Tolkien continually builds the tension and the stakes all the characters deal with as the darkness threatening their world goes on the move.  Although he separated the two story arcs into different books, Tolkien drops hints to his overall timeline by the flight of the Nazgul that all the characters see at various times.  Unfortunately Tolkien’s decision to split the story arc of the rest of the Company into two created the need for a flashback retelling of the Ent march against Isengard instead of a ‘first-hand’ account of the battle.

Although the material in Towers was originally intended by J.R.R. Tolkien to be directly in the middle of an entire one-volume story, a publisher decision to split the tale into three volumes creating mixed results for Towers.  As intended by Tolkien the material increased the tension and action the characters experienced, only to suddenly cut off as events seemed to be gaining traction.  However, the cliff hanger quality that Tolkien intended at the end of Book Four as it finishes Towers is retaining making the reader want to see what happens next in the story of Frodo and Sam.

‘The Two Towers’ reads like it was intended, the middle part of one-continuous story, resulting in it never really feels like a individual book.  In Towers, the characters introduced  in Fellowship continued to grow and start interacting with various new characters stepping onto the stage of the story.  Along with character development, the increasing action and rising tensions between good and evil build up the overall story of The Lord of the Rings.  Upon finishing The Two Towers, readers can not wait to see how Tolkien’s epic is completed in ‘The Return of the King’.

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The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1)

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first volume of The Lord of the Rings begins the journey of Frodo Baggins from the peaceful paradise-like Shire towards the dark hellish land of Mordor, thus launching modern fantasy.  Author J.R.R. Tolkien took almost 20 years to write the sequel to his bestseller The Hobbit during which he created the entire history of Middle Earth from The Creation to the Bilbo’s return from the Lonely Mountain to provide his epic with a grounding in a real place.  It is in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ that the reader gets a livid picture of the world of Middle Earth.

‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ contains the first two books of six that Tolkien divided The Lord of the Rings into.  The first details the passing of the Ring to Frodo and the journey from the Shire to Rivendell with the Nazgul in pursuit.  The second details the forming, journey, and breaking of the Company of the Ring through death and separation.  Throughout Fellowship, Tolkien continually builds the world the characters inhabit by having them relate history and lore of the part of the world they are traversing.

Unlike The Hobbit, Fellowship feels like it has been transcribed not from an oral tradition but from a dry history that the author attempted to fashion into a story.  Throughout the entire volume this can be see in the tone of the writing, which is not a laid back, but one of building even throughout action sequences such as the flight to Rivendell and race through Moria.  Although J.R.R. Tolkien intended his fantasy epic to be published whole, it was a publisher decision to split the tale that in some ways gives the entire volume this odd tone from the first page to the last.  Where the reader is left on the last page of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ is not suppose to be where they are left, they are suppose to go directly to book three to continue the story.  With this in mind, the reader better appreciate what Fellowship is and what it is not.

In and of itself ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ is not a whole book, it is the first third of a complete story and thus is has to be judged on this.  Within the pages of Fellowship, Tolkien gives the reader a vivid sense of the world of Middle Earth and what is at stake on Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring.  While the action and adventure are present, they are behind the character development needed for greater needs later on in the overall story of The Lord of the Rings.  In Fellowship, Tolkien’s epic has a very good beginning that will keep readers looking forward to see things develop in The Two Towers.

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The Hobbit (The Lord of the Rings Prequel)

The HobbitThe Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hobbit, and subsequently The Lord of the Rings, is the book that is chiefly responsible for the fantasy genre today; either in influencing or reacting against it.  Nearly fifteen years after reading The Hobbit for the first time, I returned to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth to find the experience just as fun as I did back then though my memory of events turned out to be incorrect as I followed Bilbo Baggins on his adventure.

For mature readers like myself, getting into the rhythm of the text can be tricky as one has to remember that the story was originally based on from bedtime stories Tolkien told his children.  Plus the text feels like it was transcribed from an oral telling like around one told around a campfire or a warm hearth in a hobbit hole, but this only helps enhance the adventurous aspect of the story Tolkien tells.  The vivid descriptions of locales and fantastic creatures adds great detail to the story that in a way sets the stage for the more grown up tale of The Lord of the Rings.

While this particular edition does seem to have some strange word choices that forces the reader to go back disturbing the flow in a few spots, it doesn’t diminish the overall book.  Others might decry The Hobbit being childish, but that’s who Tolkien was aiming for in 1937 and anyone who thinks this is A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) or The Wheel of Time or The First Law needs a reality check before they begin this book.  For any fan of fantasy, if you haven’t read The Hobbit I whole recommend that you do but only with the perspective.

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