Thursday 4 May 2017

The Fellowship of the Ring by J R RTolkien

The books that comprise The Lord of the Rings are usually presented as a trilogy, but it was in fact designed by Tolkien to be one single book with six parts. Obviously the publishers baulked at publishing such a large tome of a book!

On 29th July 1954 George Allen & Unwin published the first volume consisting of the first two books with the title The Fellowship of the Ring.

The second volume, with the next two books was eventually titled The Two Towers and published on 11th November 1954. The final two books were published in The Return of the King on 20th October 1955.

**Spoiler alert**
I'm now assuming that you have read the book so that we can discuss the details of what has happened.

Book Two of The Fellowship of the Ring, is, well, all about the fellowship.

We begin this section of Lord of the Rings in Rivendell where we meet all the participants of the fellowship for the first time together. We hear their back stories and find out how they ended up in Rivendell at this time.

The Gates of Moria by Alan Lee

Tolkien used all kinds of storytelling devices to keep our interest and to build up the tension.

There's the info-dump chapter where we find out all about the ring's long and dubious history. Tolkien again used the action-packed chapters full of danger and tension followed by the safe-haven chapters of comfort and ease to keep the pace up without exhausting all of us.

The humour of Merry and Pippin and the gravitas of Gandalf provided light and shade. While foreshadowing continued to be one of Tolkien's favourite ways of promoting a sense of anticipation and foreboding.

Tolkien employed metafiction when Bilbo talked about his 'story' that he was writing about his journey and the parts still to be written or completed. Although I'm reluctant to call it metafiction as I don't think that Tolkien used this technique in a deliberately self-conscious or ironic way or in an attempt to question what was real or not.

Tolkien's ability to reference the depth and breadth of his created world was particularly impressive in the two books of The Fellowship - the song that Bilbo sang, the backstory of the ring, Moria and it's long history, the extensive descriptions of the scenery, the longevity of the Elves - although this immensely rich historical detail can at times be overwhelming to the unsuspecting reader.

This particular book also had deep sadness and loss. Gandalf's stand on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum is one of the pivotal moments in the whole story.

The very strong faith based themes evident within Gandalf's stand, fall & ultimate resurrection never felt like Tolkien was preaching. He always said that he never wrote the book with analogies in mind, but obviously the religious stories that he grew up with were a central part of his life and influenced the type of story he wrote as well as infiltrating the various details.

In The Letters of J R R Tolkien* No. 142 To Robert Murray, SJ on 2 December 1953, Tolkien said,
The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. However that is very clumsily put, and sounds more self-important than I feel.

Unlike C S Lewis' Narnia series that is heavily and overtly Christian, it is possible to read The Lord of the Rings without thinking about the religious symbolism at all. It certainly escaped my earlier, younger reading of the books.

Researching Tolkien's intentions for this reread has added layers of meaning to my understanding of the story and of Tolkien himself, but with or without these layers, LOTR remains a rip-roaring, satisfying read.

Perhaps, like Tolkien, my first, early reading was quite unconscious, with this reread being much more conscious and deliberate on the look-out for symbolism and themes.

The mysterious lurking presence of Gollum haunts our journey throughout The Fellowship. We all know he's there, we're all on our guard, but no one wants to talk about it. Yet.

The landscape was all important as well. It affected the decisions that the fellowship had to make along the way and Tolkien also used it to explain certain characteristics of the various races  - thank goodness for the map inside the cover of the book to make sense of all that 'east of this/west of that' stuff.

My Alan Lee illustrated edition also helped to bring many of the places to life which made up for my woeful lack of imagination.

The Fellowship of the Ring was also all about the ring.

The ring personifies evil and is quickly established as a character in its own right. Some of the ring stuff is confusing. For instance, the how and why of the three rings are how exactly they are linked to the one, but not necessarily evil?

I'm not really sure if Tolkien's letter* to Milton Waldman (No. 131, circa 1951) helped clarify anything at all!

The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. 'change' viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance – this is more or less an Elvish motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor – thus approaching 'magic', a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination. And finally they had other powers, more directly derived from Sauron ('the Necromancer': so he is called as he casts a fleeting shadow and presage on the pages of The Hobbit): such as rendering invisible the material body, and making things of the invisible world visible....
The Elves of Eregion made Three supremely beautiful and powerful rings, almost solely of their own imagination, and directed to the preservation of beauty: they did not confer invisibility. But secretly in the subterranean Fire, in his own Black Land, Sauron made One Ring, the Ruling Ring that contained the powers of all the others, and controlled them, so that its wearer could see the thoughts of all those that used the lesser rings, could govern all that they did, and in the end could utterly enslave them. He reckoned, however, without the wisdom and subtle perceptions of the Elves. The moment he assumed the One, they were aware of it, and of his secret purpose, and were afraid. They hid the Three Rings, so that not even Sauron ever discovered where they were and they remained unsullied. The others they tried to destroy....
(LOTR) was begun in 1936,5 and every part has been written many times. Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered.

There was no where near as much fighting, violence and hand to hand combat in this book as I remember from the movie. Thank goodness!

I found the extensive and over the top battles in all of the movies tiresome and tedious. It often felt like the movie moved from one battle scene to the next. This reread has reminded me that the fighting scenes in The Fellowship at least, were sporadic and low-key, although I still found myself skimming parts of them at times.

The mirror of Galadriel by Alan Lee

The Fellowship of the Ring contained themes of isolationism vs connection, appearances vs reality and the passing of time. Courage, friendship, the corruption of power, fate vs free will and temptation also got a look in.

Some reviews have complained about the overly long descriptions and unsophisticated language. Occasionally I understand the complaint about the descriptions, but the uncomplicated language is one of the things that makes this story so accessible to young and old as well as to those readers who tend to avoid fantasy. I actually find the childlike elements in the story endearing not simplistic.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien* No. 35, 2nd February 1939:

I think The Lord of the Rings is in itself a good deal better than The Hobbit, but it may not prove a very fit sequel. It is more grown up – but the audience for which The Hobbit was written has done that also. The readers young and old who clamoured for 'more about the Necromancer' are to blame, for the N. is not child's play

The lack of emotional depth can be more problematic to a modern reader used to complex, nuanced character development, however nostalgia is the predominate feeling in these books, and that is something we can all tap into.

The Letters of J R R Tolkien* No. 76 - In a letter to Christopher, 28th July 1944:

As to Sam Gamgee. I quite agree with what you say, and I wouldn't dream of altering his name without your approval; but the object of the alteration was precisely to bring out the comicness, peasantry, and if you will the Englishry of this jewel among the hobbits. Had I thought it out at the beginning, I should have given all the hobbits very English names to match the shire.

I feel like I've thrown a lot of bits and pieces together from my notes with only a passing nod at coherence. I hope I haven't overloaded you!

Enough of the chatter! It's time to hit the road again and check in on our stoic ring-bearer and friends.

*The Letters of J R R Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter and assisted by Christopher Tolkien 1981.


The Fellowship of the Ring 

- Halfway post - Book one 
  - TFOTR - Book two


1 comment:

  1. It was a rough spring and I didn't even open The Two Towers, but I'm going to keep reading the trilogy and my goal is to finish the remaining 2 books during 2017. I am enjoying your Tolkien posts!


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