I assume that few readers have not read the book (the second-best selling English-language novel of all time) or seen the movie series (the biggest, most expensive film project to that time). If you haven’t; do. Even those who don’t like fantasy will find thought-provoking drama and character development.
(There be spoilers beyond, though nothing none of you don’t already know.)
This is my fifth reading of this epic fantasy classic. It improves with age. I first read it in the 1960, skipping the poems and appendices. When I read it again in the 1970s I slowly went through the whole. For my 1980s reading, I read the story of each set of characters (after The Fellowship of the Ring is broken at the end of the volume by the same name) straight through until they were reunited. (That was a spoiler.) Read straight through, the trials of Frodo and Samwise leave a different impression read consecutively than if dispersed among the tribulations of the others. Just before the first movie was released, I read the entire volume through again—poems and all—as I did this time.
I have to admit, the poems left me cold the first times I read them. Now, however, several of them resonate with my soul. The poems haven’t changed, perhaps I have.
This re-reading is my first since seeing Peter Jackson’s movie series by the same name. As firmly as the story was imprinted on my mind, the images of his interpretation overrode what I’d previously imagined. That’s the power of images over words. That said, Tolkien’s original story is much richer and deeper than Jackson’s necessarily condensed (even expanded) version.
This is also my first reading on an electronic device and demonstrates the inferiority of ereaders for epic fantasies, which almost always include a map. Maps and illustrations on epubs suck. Sorry, there’s no other way to describe the tiny, detail-challenged “things” foisted on readers as maps. If you can’t read it, a map is no good. (Fortunately, I have several print editions to provide ready references.) Having said, that these are better than most epub maps.
My biggest takeaway value is that I finally realized this story is not about the Ring, nor Gandalf, nor Aragorn nor the rest of the Big People. It’s about the Hobbits. (Yes, all of you smart folks caught that the first time.) And the Hobbits are “every man.” They are you and me thrown into enormous, world-changing events which they can’t comprehend, let alone handle. But handle them they do. Even in failure (yes, Frodo fails. Spoiler #2), they resonate as normal people thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
A helpful supporting text to understanding The Lord of the Rings is not the 1977 The Silmarillion as Tolkien intended, but The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, published in 1981. Tolkien’s correspondence reveals both his thinking as the book evolved but also his struggles to avoid apparently willful misunderstanding and misinterpretation by both the popular and the literary press. Many poignant passages in answers to readers.
The Lord of the Rings has changed the world and the way I see the world. It influenced almost every fantasy written since, and is recognized as one of the most significant English-language books of the twentieth century. Deservedly so.
Reading it again is second in pleasure only to reading it for the first time.