The Lord of the Rings Series

The Lord of the Rings

Book Cover: 'Lord of the Rings'
Author(s): 
J.R.R. Tolkien
Publisher: 
Del Rey
Series: 
The Lord of the Rings
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Five Reasons to Read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

This multi-volume work begins with a loosely connected prelude work called The Hobbit, followed by a tight trilogy consisting of: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. The trilogy concerns the mission of Frodo Baggins who must destroy a magic ring whose powers are great and attractive, but whose tendency (the ring's tendency) is ultimately obedient to evil. His companions, his travails, and his decisions make a profound tale. I will give away no more of the plot, but only tell you that this is a great read if you like poetry, fantasy, theology, philosophy, or walking.

1. First of all, Tolkien is truly a master of the English language. His sense of the music of English is deftly put to use in a series of characters whose language spans everything from the simple stateliness of Tom Bombadil, (who always speaks in iambic pentameter, not only when the verses are written out so), to the uneducated and plain-spoken Gaffer, Frodo's gardener. In between are all sorts of characters who speak different kinds of prose and poetry, and out on the rim are those with nothing but harshness of heart and language. Tolkien's words are so musical and well-chosen, they are a joy to read and hear.

2. But music is not enough. One wants an author of fiction, even of fantasy, to have a thorough imagination so that his world comes to life. One dislikes any reminder that this world is just a box of paper; one wants the sub-creation to work. And in making the fantasy work, one thing above all cannot change from this world to the fantasy -- the effect of goodness and evil within and among the hearts of persons. Water may flow uphill, and animals may talk, but character development must be true to life. The author must understand human nature, even if he chooses to give it to animals or dwarfs or elves -- or to hobbits! And he must love his characters so that they may live, even as God loves us and gives us life. Tolkien has a thorough imagination and a loving fullness of human wisdom.

3. What of theology? Shortly after reading the Lord of the Rings, I was directed to read Watership Down, a story about a prophetic rabbit who was always falling into a trance before giving his greatest prophecies. But St. Paul tells us that prophets have control over the spirit of prophecy. True prophecy is never in a trance. Tolkien would not have made such a theological error. His good characters always act on their own free will, tempered and developed over time and suffering. They may have unusual gifts, but goodness is always the fruit of generous effort and long patience. In a most astonishing way, Catholic theology comes to life in Tolkien, not in a self-conscious manner, as if he were writing an allegory, but simply and deeply. Catholic readers will not fail to feel the presence of Mary in these volumes (I will not say how, but you will see it). And students of moral theology must marvel at the combination of weakness, wisdom, and mercy-responsive mercy which resolves the plot.

4. Not only a theologian, Tolkien is a master philosopher. In the persons of Gandalf, Strider, and Galadriel especially, but in many other ways, he reflects on the path of wisdom in confronting evil with humility and a sense of service. The folly of attempting to fight evil with evil -- or even with mere magic, a tool ultimately shaped in darkness -- is clearly portrayed.

As long as we are talking about confronting evil, there is a side issue that must be considered. Some have suggested that Tolkien's work is a metaphor on the issues of the Second World War. It needs to be clearly understood that any work of serious value may be read on several levels -- simply as a good story or beyond that, as an allegory of one kind or another. But a truly creative work is not self-consciously allegorical; its allegorical or metaphoric power flows from its creative origin in a heart that lives on many levels -- in the author's own created world and also in the real world of the author. Tolkien clearly stated that his work was not about the War; it is just a story. Still, if you can't see the metaphor for various world events, you must not have studied history. Nor can you have studied the human heart if you cannot see a metaphor for the service of God. But these truths are inside the fullness of the story, which is just a plain good story. No metaphor may be permitted as an intruder in its landscape.

5. So, finally, what's this about Tolkien and walking? Tolkien walked. He walked for hours and hours, in all sorts of weather. And when you read this travel story, you will understand that he really did walk, and knew what it felt like to be tired, exhilarated, more or less lost, tangled, wet, and glad at last for food and song, -- and beer. Not only that, but if you know enough about the stars to keep track of them and let them give you directions, you will quickly learn that so did Tolkien. His constellations are the very constellations that burn in the English sky, season by season, no mere stick-ons in an obligatory, painted sky. They are thoroughly consistent. A walker will recognize this book as written by one from his fellowship.

In The Tolkien Reader, there is a little essay "On Fairy Stories" in which Tolkien explains the theology of creativity as he understands it. No discussion of Christian fiction is complete without this little gem, a flawless discussion of creativity among the sons of the Creator. Tolkien is one of the towering literary figures of the 20th century. We have read his volumes three times, as a family, since our first children were six and seven, and once before that in the first year of our marriage. The story is richer every time. Like a mirror of scripture, it has become a mine of wisdom and imagery for what we do, whom we meet, and how we conduct our lives. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, and twice more wonderful.

Review Date: 
11-17-2007
Reviewed by: 

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Movie)

Shot from 'Fellowship of the Ring' movie
Copyright: 
2001
Publisher: 
New Line Films
Series: 
The Lord of the Rings
Subject(s): 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

What a happy thing, especially after all the Harry Potter fuss, to have such a revival in interest in the great Lord of the Rings trilogy because of this new movie (if Harry Potter leads people to Tolkien, I couldn't say much against him). I really believe (and I have noticed this with children of neighbors and friends) that in the end Lord of the Rings tends to be more beloved than Harry Potter. Although Harry Potter can be a little more accessible to younger and/or less experienced readers, the Lord of the Rings is a real adventure story, whereas Harry Potter is more of a fantasy/mystery with a much smaller scope. The Lord of the Rings movies are also making the books more accessible to a new generation of fans.

Overall, Tolkien fans (who are considered rather "fussy") seem to be rather pleased with the movie, and with good reason. Although it's very difficult to turn such a complex and imaginative story into a movie, and the movie will certainly never replace the book, overall I think the movie-makers did a fantastic job. First, and most importantly, I think they captured the overall themes (the temptation of power, the reality of evil, etc.) very well. The characters are very well-cast and quite believable. As might be expected in a movie version, the plot is simplified, several characters are compressed into one, etc. The neat thing is that significant portions of dialogue are taken directly from the book and the essentials of the plot are really quite faithful to the original story. My husband and I (who have both read the books) enjoyed the movie very much. Since we were expecting the birth of a child at the time and she decided to arrive significantly past her due date, we were able to see the movie twice in the theater, which is a real rarity for us.

For those unfamiliar with the books, this first part of three books introduces us to the main characters in the story - Hobbits - and the other races of Middle Earth - dwarves, elves, men and wizards. We see the beauty of the hobbits' homeland - the Shire - and their simplicity and love of nature. We are introduced to Bilbo who discovered "the Ring" and prepares to leave it to his nephew Frodo. When Gandalf discovers the true identity of the ring - the One Ring that was forged by the evil Lord Sauron to control all living things - Frodo sets out to bring the ring to a safer place and thus begins his quest.

This movie is not intended for young children. The story is very complex and focuses on major conflicts between good and evil. Turning it into a movie without making it silly and laughable creates rather intense cinema. Happily the moviemakers sought a PG-13 rather than an R rating and thus there is almost no blood and gore and no bad language or other objectionable content. The movie does, of course, portray battle and action scenes and a number of rather frightening creatures that some young children find too scary even when reading the book. It is sometimes easier to allow younger children to watch this sort of movie when it is released to video/DVD where the entire effect is less intense and scenes may be edited at will.

Although I think that watching the movie will lead many people to pick up the book, I think it best to read the book before seeing the movie so that one's first impressions in the imagination come directly from the book rather than another's re-creation of it. Parents, in particular, might do well to read the book before seeing the movie because, particularly if they aren't regular movie-goers, I think the violence and intensity wouldn't make much sense without being familiar with the plot and themes.

The extended version of the movie, which was released to video and DVD in November 2002, is really worth seeing. It incorporates 30 minutes of additional footage into the movie which helps make the story more understandable and enjoyable, but made the movie too long for the theatrical release.

Additional notes: 

Rated PG-13 (Violence)

Review Date: 
1-2-03
Reviewed by: 

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Movie)

Still shot from 'The Two Towers' movie
Copyright: 
2002
Publisher: 
New Line Films
Series: 
The Lord of the Rings
Subject(s): 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

After much anticipation, my seven year old son and I saw the Two Towers on the Saturday before Christmas. My nine year old daughter watched it with my husband the night before in order to switch off with the little ones at home. A year ago I wouldn't have expected to be taking any of my children to see the movie (because of their age), but a lot has changed since then for us. John read the entire Lord of the Rings aloud to the children over the past year. Jacinta read it, again, on her own. She and Matthew have also listened to the 13 disc BBC audio drama numerous times. They also very much enjoyed the Fellowship of the Ring movie on the "small screen". The point is that they have really attained a decent grasp of the story. In addition, my son, who doesn't like loud noises much, wore earplugs (which diminishes the intensity quite a bit) and my husband and I both did a bit of editing by simply covering their eyes with our hands. This was necessary during the previews and commercials before the movie more than for the movie itself.

Two of the toughest characters to portray - Gollum and Treebeard - were absolutely amazing. Gollum is a complex character - tortured by his desire for the ring, whom you don't know whether to hate or pity. A computer graphics generated character, he was entirely believable and pathetic in the way, I think, Tolkien intended him to be imagined. Treebeard could so easily have been a silly cartoonish character. While not without humor, he's also magnificent and ...respectable in the way that one would appreciate and admire an older gentleman who's a bit eccentric.

There are several general things that I think remarkable about this phenomenal task of creating movies from Tolkien's beloved stories. (For those who really like movies, as my husband and I do, the Fellowship of the Ring DVD is interesting partly because of the extensive commentaries, interviews, photo galleries, etc. which provide details on both how the movies were made and what the movie-makers were trying to do.) Many of the people most intimately involved in the movie production have read the story countless times. Faithfulness to Tolkien was a major priority for them. They have referred to the books over and over again, not just in writing the screenplay, but in how the actors portray their parts. A great deal of attention and thought has gone into many, many details of the story. For example, recordings exist of Tolkien himself reading parts of his stories. Ian McKellan, who plays Gandalf, based his portrayal of Gandalf, in voice tone and expression, on these recordings. Christopher Lee, who plays Saruman, has read the books every year for decades. In addition to his excellent portrayal of the villain, he discussed parts of the book with the other actors to be sure that certain details weren't left out. The two artists most famous for illustrating editions of the Lord of the Rings, Alan Lee and John Howe, worked as art consultants on the sets and miniatures. Peter Jackson, the director, collaborated with hundreds of cast members, production members and Tolkien fans to fine tune the script and the ideas. We had a local news story here in Wisconsin about a man who was, as a hobby, an expert in Tolkien's fictional languages. He offered his services to Peter Jackson and was invited to play a part in the production. I've never heard of any project done in this kind of fashion and the final result is truly reflective of the incredible effort and labor of love that went into making these movies.

Jackson and crew did a great job of balancing this rather dark, middle part of the story with some enjoyable comic relief (especially found in the character of Gimli the dwarf) which flowed quite well. I thought there were a few more unnecessary plot-deviations than in the first movie (particularly a significant thread involving Aragorn), but this annoyance was rather minor. We enjoyed the movie very much and look forward to its conclusion, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, coming out in December 2003.

Additional notes: 

Rated PG-13 (Violence)

Review Date: 
1-2-03
Reviewed by: