I first read Lord of the Rings when I was nine years old. My family started watching the movies shortly thereafter, and since then, Peter Jackson’s masterpieces have become an integral part of our family culture.
This year, after fifteen years of the movies, I returned to the books for the first time. I’d put off reading them again, both intimidated by memories of never-ending Ent lore and afraid that so many years of movie-watching would have tainted my book-reading.
But in April, I finally picked up The Fellowship of the Ring and began reading. I couldn’t put it down.
Four months later, I finished The Return of the King. And I cried.
Delving back into the books turned both my fears upside down: the Ent lore (or any lore) was not never-ending, and rather than tainting my reading experience, the movies enhanced it; many times I could picture the scenery, the characters, the actions, the attitudes so precisely thanks to Peter Jackson’s painstaking care for detail.
I was also pleasantly surprised how many movie lines come directly from the book (even if it’s not the same character who says it) – including the classic “po-ta-toes” sequence! I think we can all agree that, in general, Peter Jackson nailed it.
My only regret is that I waited fifteen years to reread the books. I fell in love—with the story, the characters, the places, the language, the richness of the life of Middle Earth to which no visual representation can do justice.
I loved the humor, the jokes, and the easy banter among the characters (particularly among the hobbits, and even from unexpected characters like Gimli and Gollum).
I loved the hospitality and its descriptions that rival those of Redwall.
I loved the friendships that start or deepen among the characters over the course of their adventures.
I loved all the celebratory feasts and the integral role of story-telling and song-singing in all the cultures.
I loved the nobility and the height of the language—both Tolkien’s and his characters’.
I loved the many places and people that offer rest, safety, and peace to the hobbits and other characters amidst the hardships of their journeys.
I loved the details that bring each place, each character, each culture to life.
I loved the resilience of the hobbits, the “little folk” who prove themselves “most hardy” from beginning to end.
I could go on, but you get the idea. The magic of the story and its storytelling delighted me, intrigued me, and impacted me deeply.
I’ve read that Tolkien didn’t intend Lord of the Rings to be allegorical, but as a believer reading a story written by a believer, I can easily trace themes and elements of the Great Story. These elements only enrich the reading experience for those of us who recognize them.
I particularly recognized and appreciated these themes:
- good over evil
- the sense of community among characters (the hobbits, the Fellowship, Gimli and Legolas)
- everyone has a role to play (Gollum)
- loyalty (Sam to Frodo)
- no one is too small to do big things (hobbits)
- becoming who you were destined to be (Aragorn)
- mercy shown to adversaries (Saruman, Wormtongue)
- our experiences change us (carrying a ring)
- the power of a simple life/delighting in the little things (hobbits, the Shire)
- Mom reading us The Hobbit on our family vacation in 2005 (what started it all)
- Sitting on the front steps of my grandparents’ house, wading through the tiny print of my mom’s tattered paperback
- Watching The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time on VHS (my sister made me close my eyes for the Balrog)
- Playing Legos with my brother while listening to the audiobook of The Two Towers
- Watching the extended versions and all the documentaries with my siblings
- Finding Lord of the Rings monopoly at a yard sale and playing it with friends
- Watching the entire (also extended) series in Spanish with my host family in Spain
- Dad and I laughing to tears over “They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard”
- Mom recounting the dream in which she chased away a wild dog Gandalf-style with a stick and shouting, “You shall not pass!”
- Watching the entire extended series with dear friends
- All the quotes and allusions that still show up frequently in family conversations (if we’re discussing dinner plans, especially if the grill is involved, it’s not uncommon for Dad to say, “Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys!”)
Thank you for your magic world, Mr. Tolkien. I’ll be back.