Reflections upon Re-reading LOTR

My parents read The Hobbit aloud to me and my brothers when we were young. Tolkien’s words make that story so terribly vivid, especially in the mind of a child. Bilbo’s adventures were just frightening enough to keep me awake at night: I remember startling at my father’s uncomfortably good impression of Gollum’s characteristic choking wheeze. While The Hobbit never succeeded in supplanting The Little House on the Prairie series as a favorite bedtime tale, it certainly left an impression on my imagination.

I know that I attempted to read The Lord of the Rings when I was in middle school, but the winding plot left me lost in a maze of Elven names and I soon gave up. In college I made a more valiant effort, but eventually succumbed to the frenzy of those final weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester. My memory isn’t entirely clear on this point, but I highly suspect myself of watching the films before finishing the book. And, yes, I am ashamed.

Before you judge, know that I’m steadily progressing through The Two Towers and have hopes of finishing the whole volume before the week is out. (I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter) Having viewed the movies rather recently, I’m unusually sensitive to discrepancies between the familiar film and the original text. Some thoughts on the experience:

  • I must confess that I prefer the unassuming, hesitant Aragorn of the films who eventually comes into his own over the self-assured, clear-purposed Aragorn of the book who announces his  royal lineage (along with the history of his sword) to every challenger.
  • It’s a shame that Merry and Pippen diminish into such thin, comical characters on screen when Tolkien’s original conception gave them so much more dignity. They can be both intelligent, deeply loyal companions AND the rowdy, indulgent smokers of Longbottom Leaf we see “guarding” the gates of Isengard.
  • Tolkien’s genius lies in the vast scope of his mythology and the rich background he brings to every town, mountain, and hobbit-hole—not in the eloquence of his writing style. I suppose that it’s unreasonable to expect an endless stream of quotable lines in a thousand-page epic, but some passages are truly tedious.
  • Andy Serkis’ expertly animated Gollum does a brilliant job of showing the little fellow’s inner turmoil, but I’ve personally found Gollum much easier to relate to on the page. The fierce, wasted face on screen presents Gollum too much as an OTHER, as a different class of creature. But reading through those conversations between his true self and the side of him that is possessed by the ring is like looking at a mirror of my own mind in turmoil. To desire true freedom from sin while feeling powerless to change—isn’t this at the heart of all our battles with ourselves?
  • Reading about the Ents proved to be nearly as soporific as listening Treebeard’s  rumbling voice. Thank heaven for Quickbeam.
  • I used to blame Legolas’ boring personality on the inanity of Orlando Bloom, but I find that I was unjust: Tolkien respects the race of Elves too much to give them believable character flaws. Elves were mistaken about Sauron once, in ancient memory, and I don’t believe one of them has made a misstep since.
  • Oh, and speaking of inanity, nothing was more painful than watching Liv Tyler’s interviews in the special features of the extended version of the film. (No, I did not go through these methodically, but I did occasionally watch a segment or two over lunch). That’s when I realized why Arwen’s role is primarily comprised of speaking solemnly in Elvish or gazing forlornly into the distance: as soon as Liv Tyler smiles or uses her real voice, the option of taking her seriously vanishes.
  • I often find myself wishing that Tolkien had included a few musical scores along with the maps and histories of his extensive appendices. The poetry of his many songs is so lovely: I wonder what melodies he imagined them following?

Have you read LOTR lately? Do you think any of my comments are way off-base? It’s possible that I’m going through it too quickly–my brain is usually in leisure-reading mode by the time I pick it up in the evenings. I’m curious to know your thoughts!

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2 Comments

Filed under Catholicism, Faith, Reading, Writing

2 responses to “Reflections upon Re-reading LOTR

  1. Janet Schamp

    Did I ever tell you I re-read the LOTR towards the end of each of my pregnancies? It became a ritual and beloved distraction.
    Yes, it was a mistake to watch the movies before reading the books. But as long as you DO read the books…..
    The character of Aragorn from the movie was the one I disliked most and was most disappointed in. Perhaps because he was the most off-base from Tolkien’s characters (or at least as I had imagined him). Even the fact that he was shorter than Boromir bothered me. Faramir was practically corrupted; the book version is much better.
    You’re right about Merry and Pippin. Gimli was also shortchanged. Dwarves are noble and dignified warriors, not the bumbling, belching comic relief portrayed in the movie.
    Strangely, Gandalf of the movie was dead-on accurate to how I’d pictured him when reading the book.
    OK, you asked for opinions and this is mine. Bilbo’s traveling song is still hanging on the wall in our office (calligraphy by Uncle Kent, many moons ago).
    Be patient getting Sam and Frodo thru the bogs and dead marshes; it takes a while. I am glad you’re reading it.

  2. I finally finished it! “The Scourging of the Shire” was such a wonderful chapter—I understand why they cut it out of the film, but I was definitely glad to discover it! Saurman comes to a just end, either way.

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