Wednesday, 19 March 2014
The Fellowship of the Ring
I think I did mention before that I read the series at least once a year. So y’all knew it was coming.
Surprisingly, it’s really tough to write a review of a book I’ve read more often than I’d care to remember. I read the novel for the first time on October 1st, 2005, almost ten years ago. I was thirteen years old and I’d just seen Peter Jackson’s adaptation. Now, there are many people, even some friends, who have never gotten past the 100 pages mark and have the impression that the books are too descriptive, and that nothing exciting happens. I disagree, and have grown quite weary over the years of explaining why… However, this review will be the exception, so that in the future I can just point acquaintances to this blog. (Instant publicity!)
I don’t think I need to go over the basic storyline – if you haven’t seen the movies, you’re obviously living under a rock and you don’t have any access to this blog in the first place – but I’ll focus on some key points that are different from the movie.
Boardgame players who try their hand at the boardgame of The Lord of The Rings but haven’t read the books will be very puzzled indeed to see the name of this fifth playable character. Fatty (real name Fredegar) barely appears in the books, really, except to help Frodo move out to Crickhollow in his attempt to leave the Shire without raising any suspicion. He’s the one who helps Merry decorate Frodo’s “new hole” whilst Frodo travels to Buckland on foot with Sam and Pippin. Once they arrive, he reveals he’s been conspiring with Merry, Pippin and Sam and knew all along of Frodo leaving the Shire. He decides to stay behind, already too frightened to go into the Old Forest, but prepared to keep pretending that Frodo is still living in Crickhollow for as long as possible. Little does he know that he faces the ringwraiths not much later – one of my favourite parts in the book, because you can feel how afraid he is as he trembles in the hall and sees the darker-than-shadows slide up the garden path. The quiet tension buzzes off the page, and then he’s running, running, and the bells of the whole town are ringing, AWAKE! FEAR! FIRE! FOES! AWAKE! And the wraiths, cursing, flee.
Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!
Yes, the three missing chapters: The Old Forest, In the House of Tom Bombadil, and Fog on the Barrow-downs. PJ had a point in leaving them out, but it didn’t mean the chapters weren’t any good.
In an attempt to get the ringwraiths off their tracks, Sam, Frodo, Merry and Pippin attempt to take the trail through the Old Forest on the edge of Buckland. In hindsight this forest clearly must have once been connected to Fangorn, because the trees are very much aware of them and clearly aren’t happy with their company. The whole chapter feels stifling as the hobbits are forced deeper and deeper into the forest, until they meet Old Man Willow – a very cranky willow whose thin wiry branches control most of the forest and attempts to drown Frodo. Only Sam has enough wit to stay out of harm’s way, but Merry and Pippin are swallowed in the gaping holes in the bark of the willow*. Eventually, it takes a very curious man to save them.
Tom Bombadil is old. When Frodo asks him who he is he tells them he remembers the first river and the first tree, and that he made paths before the ‘Big people’ and saw the ‘Little People’ arrive. There’s a lot of speculation about who Tom is on the internet, but I think he is one of the maia, kind of like Gandalf; a lesser deity that, when Middle-earth was created and some gods and goddesses decided to dwell there, came along and made his home far away in isolation. The one Ring has no power over him and it doesn’t turn him invisible, yet he’d make a terrible ringbearer, because he’d probably throw it away or forget about it as he goes for one of his errands for Lilly pads in the forest.
When the hobbits carry on, they get lost in the Barrow-downs. Mist creeps up on them, and at first they try not to be afraid, but when Frodo looks back, he sees he is all alone, surrounded by mist. He gets thrown off his pony, runs around hearing voices that are calling for help and voices that are luring him further in the mist. Eventually he’s knocked out, wakes up in a barrow with a ghost who isn’t too happy to be dead, with his friends pale as death beside him. Again, it takes Tom Bombadil to save them, who decides to just guide them to the edge of the forest because clearly these hobbits are too accident-prone to do it by themselves.
*if you’ve seen the extendeds, you might recognize this happening to Merry and Pippin in Fangorn, where Treebeard saves them instead.
Tolkien’s one exception – Glorfindel
Fast-forward to Flight to the Ford. Frodo is wounded by a morgul-blade. The hobbits and Aragorn have been travelling as fast as they could to Rivendel as they are chased by the ringwraiths who can sense Frodo more and more as the shard in his shoulder travels to his heart, and suddenly they hear a clippety-clippety-clip on the road. It’s not Arwen, although she was pretty kick-ass in that scene in the movie, but Glorfindel. It takes reading the Silmarillion and some Lost Tales to know who he really is; a powerful elf, at least as powerful as Elrond, Galadriel or Cirdan. Glorfindel’s power is only hinted at when Elrond tells Frodo he’s one of the few who could face the ringwraiths and win, and he’s considered to become one of the nine companions before Pippin pipes up that he wants to come along. But he’s also alive – and dies- in the Silmarillion. So what’s up with that?
If you know some of Middle-earth lore, you know that when elves die they go to a sort of Valhalla, a hall where they will wait for their loved ones. They are the only race that knows what happens to them after they die. This hall is in Valinor, a place where you can travel to if the Valar (the gods) allow you to do so, and Tolkien admitted that, since Elven names aren’t used twice*, Glorfindel must’ve travelled back from the hall of the dead to go back to Middle-earth. He’s the only one, the One Exception – and hardly anyone knows.
*Thingol was an elven king, and also the name of Théoden’s father (human), which confused the hell out of me at first.
Granted, there aren’t that many differences between movie-Celeborn and novel-Celeborn, but he’s more interesting than he is at first glance. For example, his real name is Teleporno, which I think is hilarious, because I’m still a seven-year old on the inside.
It’s in the book of Unfinished Tales that things get really interesting though. Celeborn is a Teleri who lived in Valinor, which basically means his kind invented boats and that they’re really good at building them. But along comes Galadriel’s uncle, Fëanor, who also lived in Valinor a couple of thousand years ago and was kind of the Tony Stark of the elves: an inventor but also a big bastard. He was the first to forge weapons, and when the Teleri refused to give Fëanor and his kind boats to sail back to Middle-Earth he was the first to kill others. This is the infamous Kinslaying event. So this puts a giant twist on the events when you read about the Kinslaying in the Silmarillion. Galadriel refused to give strands of her beautiful hair to Fëanor, who wanted to forge the silmarils from them before he decided on using the dew of the two sacred trees that were basically taking care of daylight back then. Still, she had ambition and when Fëanor goes to Middle-earth she goes with him, longing for some land of her own she can take care of. This is where my imagination goes chick litty: Galadriel’s kin starting to slaughter the Teleri who had no weapons and were defenceless, her trying to save her love, hiding him on a ship (maybe?) and searching for protection in Doriath whilst her cursed family slaughter each other through the ages, knowing she is cursed herself and cannot go back to her home. And Celeborn loves her so much that he doesn’t go back without her. I don’t know about you, but if that isn’t true love I don’t know what is.
It isn’t in the movie and it isn’t important for the storyline in the book, but it’s a very important part of dwarven lore, so that’s why I mention it here.
When the fellowship are running out of Moria, still struck with grief, Gimli springs from the road with Frodo and Sam to take a look in the Mirrormere. Earlier in the book, when they are still in the twenty-first hall, Gimli sings about its significance:
“The world was young, the mountains green,
No stain yet on the moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone
When Durin woke and walked alone.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear
Somehow, during the thousands of years, the Mirrormere is still there even after the gods changed Middle-earth, changing mountain ranges and lowering half of the earth below sea-level. For me, this has the same significance as seeing the ancient Pantheon still erect in Rome.
Gimli, Frodo and Sam peer in the lake:
“…At first they could see nothing. Then slowly they saw the forms of the encircling mountains mirrored in a profound blue, and the peaks were like plumes of white flame above them; beyond there was a space of sky. There like jewels sunk in the deep shone glinting stars, though sunlight was in the sky above. Of their own stooping forms no shadow could be seen.”
I bet there are several theories about this and its significance wandering around the interwebz, but this is mine: that what they see aren’t gems on the bottom of the lake, or the peaks of the mountains behind them glittering with snow, but an omen of prosperity for dwarves from the Valar. And that’s a very encouraging thought, because many people think dwarves aren’t necessarily good beings and that their temper would probably be shunned by such regal beings as the Valar.
(And yes, Moria is a cursed place, but it was also a wealthy kingdom for many years before the Balrog fucked it up.)
… Which brings us to our next character.
Balrogs were creatures in service of Morgoth, who was a Valar turned evil and who wrecked the earth for thousands of years before the Valar managed to chain him up and cast him out of the world, into the void. (And no, he wasn’t misunderstood. All Loki references are your fault. What, you weren’t thinking about him? Dammit!) When Morgoth’s lair was destroyed, the Silmarillion states that the Balrogs fled from the place. This use of the verb fleeing and Tolkien’s description of the Balrog’s shadow about it reaching out like two vast wings has caused a lot of speculation about the possibility of Balrogs having wings. He’s depicted with wings in the movies because PJ thought it’d be more awesome (rightly so), but I think he didn’t. If you want to know more about this debate, I advise you listen to the podcasts of the Tolkienprofessor.
Tolkien clearly stated that he did not base his novel on anything or anyone so that his books would be open to a wide variety of interpretation. And so be it: I have heard opinions of Tolkien being a racist, a communist, a fascist, even a Nazi, which I can’t understand at all. My opinion in all of this? Well, Tolkien once said that he was turning more and more into a hobbit with age: he smoked a pipe and liked wearing waistcoats. He loved the quiet of the countryside and was appalled when he saw the place he grew up in change during the industrial revolution that came with the war; a quiet, hobbit-like place which suddenly sprouted factories and rails with fuming trains. When he read Macbeth he was disappointed when the marching trees were just boys with twigs on their heads (hence creating the ents) and called himself nature’s lawyer, because he often felt like he was the only one who stood up for nature. So clearly, Tolkien was an Awesome Hippie Person. End of discussion. (Come on, he wrote letters (including drawings!) in Santa’s name for his children for years! How many parents do that?)
I apologise for such a long review. But I felt like it was necessary to show how important this book is for me. If it’s any consolation, I read these books very slowly so the review for the Two Towers will probably not be here till june.
Elen sila lumenn’ omentielvo,