Press "Enter" to skip to content

Some Personal Favorites

Review by Lynda La Rocca

Literature – February 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

For most of the past year, I was on a fantasy fiction kick. Unfortunately, the books I randomly selected were, for the most part, formulaic and forgettable, neither enchanting nor transporting me to fantastic realms filled with magic and wonder.

Finally, I decided to revisit the master, so I plunged again into J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy which, along with Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, may be the finest collection of fantasy fiction ever written.

And no, I haven’t yet seen the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the Rings trilogy. (Book two is called The Two Towers, and book three The Return of the King.) I plan to see it, though. Being a confirmed Harry Potter fan and having been pleasantly surprised by the movie version of the first book in that series (see my review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the January, 2000, Colorado Central), I’m eager to see what Tolkien’s world looks like on the big screen.

As delightful as the Harry Potter books are, by the way, J.K. Rowling’s series pales in comparison to Tolkien’s quintet. For those who have not yet read Tolkien’s works nor seen The Fellowship of the Ring movie, I’ll take care not to reveal either unexpected connections between characters or spine-chilling chapter conclusions.

The Silmarillion, while actually the forerunner of The Hobbit and the Rings trilogy, is best read last due to its extraordinary depth.

Written in the form of a series of creation myths and time-honored legends, this book is, in effect, a “Bible” that sets forth the history of the World, from its origins in the mighty theme of Eru, the One, and the Music of the Ainur (the Holy Ones created in the beginning by Eru) to the fate of the Ring-bearers and the end of the Third Age. Here are complete versions of ancient tales referred to throughout The Hobbit and the Rings trilogy, and here are sources of, and explanations for, the splendor and heroism, and the treachery and terror, that befall Middle-earth and its inhabitants.

The Silmarillion is a dreamy book, filled with stirring tales of the creation of the World and the coming of its inhabitants, from elves, the “Firstborn,” to Men. It contains the history of Melkor, whom the elves called Morgoth, the Dark Enemy of the World, and his foul servants, including the evil Sauron whose shadow darkens the Rings trilogy. Here also is found the history of the three great jewels, the Silmarils, and the making of the Rings of Power.

Around the greatest and most terrible of these rings swirl the events and adventures which unfold throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

From the accidental discovery of the One Ring by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins to the desperate quest for its destruction undertaken by Bilbo’s nephew Frodo, these books abound with awe and majesty. There are mysterious seeing stones, swords unmade and reforged, hordes of gold and silver and jewels, kings whose wisdom and authority must remain hidden as the quest unfolds, love which endures and triumphs over long years of doubt and fear, and hatred cold and deadly as the sharpest blade of steel.

The characters range from delightful to detestable. There are men and wizards both good and bad, wise and resplendent elves, stalwart dwarves, dumber-than-dirt trolls, and hideous orcs, the thralls of Sauron.

And of course there are hobbits, small, furry-footed people who love to laugh and relax with a bowl of “pipe-weed” before and after breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner, each of which they’ll sit down to several times a day when given the opportunity. But there’s much more to hobbits than meets the eye and as the books progress, their kindness, devotion, and indomitable courage are slowly revealed.

In sections of The Hobbit, Tolkien exhibits a charming, and thoroughly British, drollness that only enhances the reader’s pleasure.

Witness his description of the reaction of the cunning, greedy dragon Smaug the Magnificent upon discovering that a single cup has disappeared from his vast treasure hoard. “His rage passes description — the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted.”

And this: “Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”

In “real life,” Tolkien (1892-1973) was an Oxford philologist and professor of Anglo-Saxon and English language and literature. His love of words and speech is reflected in his creation of entire alphabets and languages, complete with pronunciation guides, for the beings who people his books.

Tolkien also loved maps and includes his own highly detailed drawings of the lands of Middle-earth in The Hobbit and the Rings trilogy so that readers can trace the routes of the hobbits and their companions throughout their epic journeys.

I don’t know what it is about Great Britain that produces such giants in literature, from Chaucer and Shakespeare to C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Nor do I understand the penchant of modern British fantasy-fiction writers for using initials instead of first names. All I can say is, Hail Britannia!

And, to paraphrase a benediction of the glorious elf Galadriel, may the words of writers like Tolkien always be a light to us in dark places, even when all other lights go out.

Lynda La Rocca teaches in Leadville from time to time, and writes from Twin Lakes.