The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
When I was but a wee lass, I picked up a mammoth copy of The Lord of the Rings, eager to read the story the film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring, which I adored, was based on. I got so lost during the Council of Elrond that I think I put it down, although I may have finished it at some point prior to fourteen. But it all went over my head, because I was really too young to appreciate just how amazing it is.
For those who don’t know, The Fellowship of the Ring is the first third of The Lord of the Rings, which concerns Frodo Baggins, nephew and heir to Bilbo Baggins, the hero of The Hobbit. Frodo is astonished to discover that Bilbo’s magic ring is, in fact, the One Ring–an ancient, evil, and powerful Ring that corrupts the heart of its bearer and, in the hands of Sauron the Dark Lord, will cover all of Middle-earth in darkness and chaos. Aided by the wizard Gandalf and a company that represents the Free People of Middle-earth, Frodo sets out to destroy the Ring in the very mountain it was forged–under the very eye of the Enemy…
At first I was a bit concerned that Frodo was too similar to Bilbo, but those concerns evaporated once the hobbits hit the road, especially in the Barrows. He’s more serious (considering his quest!) and his sense of duty comes with a matyr streak. Sam, of course, is wonderful–the most down-to-earth person imaginable in an epic plot. While great and lengthy farewells are being taken, Sam is cursing the fact he forgot to bring rope. I can’t imagine someone not liking Sam. Merry has a better head on his shoulders than Pippin. Aragorn is a bit more dashing than I remembered, joking a little as Strider and threatening the hobbits as need be. Legolas and Gimli serve as representatives of their race, dismissing the limitations of Men and Hobbits and subtly taking swipes at each other’s races. Boromir is more practical than Aragorn, and serves as a person of suspicion, since we obviously can’t resolve the main plot in the first third of the novel!
Tolkien’s world-building is, of course, absolutely flawless. I dropped my jaw in shock when he revealed that the Necromancer Gandalf dealt with off-screen in The Hobbit was, in fact, Sauron. But what really impressed me while I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring was the geography. At any given point in the story, Tolkien knows exactly where the characters are. There are several scenes were the Company, standing on top of something, can see all around them, and Tolkien describes what’s in each cardinal direction. While occasionally I needed to reread a passage to orient myself, it was just so impressive that I didn’t care. Being able to quite easily find the Company at any given point on the map was amazing to me.
I was quite surprised to find that the tone, at first, is very similar to The Hobbit. It’s not laugh-out loud funny, of course, but is certainly witty. Gandalf’s endless post-scripts in a letter to Frodo made me smile. The book’s tone quite organically shifts from the lighter tone of The Hobbit to a serious tone more suited for the events of The Lord of the Rings, and the shift occurs around Rivendell, allowing us to go from Bilbo’s desire for the Ring almost getting the better of him to a joke about Sam never leaving Frodo’s side. The pacing is done with a very steady hand–you’re never short of breath, but you never wish a certain scene would just end, either.
I was surprised to discover that I really enjoyed the songs, which I made a habit of singing out loud when I could. They’re lovely and really add to the whole atmosphere. It’s such a complete world that Tolkien feels comfortable handing us folk tales and hobbit nonsense during lulls in the action. I almost want to get my hands on an audiobook version, just to hear them set to actual melodies instead of my humming!
Bottom line: The Fellowship of the Ring manages to elegantly take us from the light tone of The Hobbit to the serious tone of Lord of the Rings, astound us with Tolkien’s flawless world-building, and make us love and care for nearly everyone in his varied cast. A wonderful start.
I rented this book from my college library.