The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

~~Moved from GR~~

Lord of the Rings

by J.R.R. Tolkien

 

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone

And I must follow, if I can

Pursuing it with eager feet

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then?

I cannot say.

I can't really actually evaluate the merits of Lord of the Rings; it's simply too deeply embedded in my psyche. I grew up in a home that lived and breathed LOTR--and this was before the movies, mark you. My parents named their pets "Pippin", "Bilbo", and "Gandalf", and the next logical step was to name the kids "Arwen" and "Eowen"; fortunately my mother put a stop to that. 

From my earliest childhood, whenever we drove on trips, as per family tradition, we listened to the old bbc radio version of LOTR. My father woke us up on camping trips with the cry, "Wake up, hobbitses! It's a beautiful morning!" My father kept his old record player solely so he could play a recording of Tolkien reciting "Tom Bombadil." I was word-perfect in the poems and songs of Middle Earth, from "One ring to rule them all" to "Fifteen birds in five fir trees". My sister went a step farther and actually learned Quenya (one of the languages of the elves). My teenage rebellion was to declare loyalty to Harry Potter over LOTR.

Despite the five-star rating, I think I'm actually ambivalent about the book; it's just too deeply ingrained in my perspective to really analyze. Don't get me wrong; I'm very, very aware of the flaws of the book: flat characters, one-dimensional damsel-on-a-pedestal women, extreme racism, plot holes (even as a child, I picked up on the eagle problem). The racism is undeniable when you read the book; the orcs call humans "white-skins" or "pale-skins"; the black men riding Oliphants are of course supporters of Sauron, and the vaguely Asiatic humans are also clearly on the side of evil. The misogyny is just as undeniable. Even as a child, I felt physically ill with anger at the in-book analysis of Eowyn* (probably partially because Eowyn was my near-name if my father had gotten away with it). If you've read the book and not just watched the movie, you know that Aragorn attributes Eowyn's warrior-maiden actions as part of a sickness and darkness in her. When he "cures" her, she goes off to be Faramir's good little baby-bearing obedient housewife, and never lifts a sword again. It is Arwen, not Eowyn, who is held to be the perfect woman. 

But LOTR did what it set out to do: it united the complex and varied mythologies of Great Britain: the medieval romance of Aragorn and Arwen, the Welsh-inspired elves, the Beowulfian Rohirim, the Roman Numenorians, the Cotswolds-cottagefolk hobbits, and more. It also carried Tolkein's strong message against the Industrial Revolution that during his time destroyed the placid beauty of the English countryside. Most significantly, it created a template and a baseline that all other epic fantasies would be inspired by and compared against.

My first taste of fantasy came from LOTR, as did my first nightmares. I think I was in preschool when I first heard the BBC recording. For years of my early childhood, I had a repeated dream that an object--it usually wasn't actually a ring, but some commonplace household object--slowly twisted those around me with greed and desire. Desperate, I took the object and shoved it into the back of my closet. But no matter how deep I buried it, I felt it twisting my own soul into darkness. My parents wondered why I kept all my clothes in a dresser and made every unreasonable effort to leave my closet closed and unused. Even years afterward, part of my bedtime ritual was making sure my closet door was firmly closed and preferably locked--not to keep the monsters in, but to provide symbolic protection against the corruption and temptation I feared and could not understand.

I still find the depiction of the ring's allure to be the most powerful aspect of LOTR. It is a cogent and powerful analysis of how power corrupts and changes us.

 

*I have a weird spelling issue with her name. "Yn" is the masculine ending in Welsh, while "en" is the feminine.  Since, like Arwen's, her name seems Welsh to me, why is it "yn?" I know Eomir is actually in Beowulf, but the "yn" thing still seems funky to me.