Monday, September 16, 2019

Rediscovering The Lord of the Rings

More than twenty five years have passed since I last read The Lord of the Rings. I lost my copy of the novel (along with the rest of my books) to flood waters in 1993 — the ‘Storm of the Century’ which hit Florida’s Big Bend area in March of that year. Now, it has been replaced.

So I am, of course, reading it. Some things hit me at once. First, how familiar it all still seems! Second, the prose style of Tolkien is as good as I remembered. Yes, there is a great deal of ‘telling’ and loads of description, but it is well integrated into the narrative. Not quite to the level of someone like Kipling, but done nicely none the less and rarely coming off as overly wordy. The language is almost never clumsy, always readily understood. He uses the omniscient viewpoint with a light touch, not head-hopping but letting us know what we need to know. This perhaps keeps us from connecting deeply with any one character but it works; we get the broader picture Tolkien wanted to show us.*

Third, the magic: there is no ‘system’ of magic, so far as I can tell. It simply exists and is employed, for good or for evil. We do not know why the ring makes its wearer disappear. Magic rings just do that. Bits of magic are introduced from time to time and we are ready to accept them. Part of that may be due to its being used quite sparingly, yet ever existing in the background. Magic is woven into the fabric of Tolkien’s created world. It never seems to contradict itself or act in a manner inconsistent with what has been revealed before, and that certainly makes it more believable as well.**

Fourth: although TLOTR is probably best thought of as one novel — as did Tolkien himself — one could make a case for it as a hexalogy. Each of the six Books does have its own narrative arc. Anyway, it is definitely not a trilogy!

Fifth: What better way to slip in an info dump than as a poem?

* Unlike The Hobbit which largely focused on the character of Bilbo Baggins.

** I’ll readily admit I can’t do that sort of thing. The magic of my primary fantasy world is worked out to the point that it might as well be science.

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