The Lord of the Rings, First Impressions
In my defense, I did read The Hobbit as a kid. I’m not a total Tolkien freeloader. I remember quite a lot about Bilbo and his silly adventures despite not having read the book in 16 years. Tolkien had an unmistakable way of evoking wonderful warm feelings that stick with you for a very long time. Of course, I also watched the movies (not all of The Hobbit ones as those kind of disappointed me). And I have absorbed an absolute plethora of The Lord of the Rings stories through speaking with friends, online discussions, video games, etc.
But that isn’t to say any of this is a proper substitute for reading the trilogy, or more accurately, the rest of the story after Bilbo Baggins. I call myself a writer, an enjoyer of stories, I am working on a fantasy novel myself, and yet I haven’t truly read the granddaddy of all fantasy? Maybe I’m a bit of a poser. Not anymore! Also, don’t make fun of the movie cover art for the books. I borrowed them from a friend who saved them from being thrown away by a library. Or maybe he stole them I’m not sure (thanks David).
This is my early early first impressions on The Fellowship of the Ring. I have read so far the introductory “Note on the text” by “Douglas A. Anderson” who I can only assume was some sort of chief editor on this particular edition back in 1993. I have read the “Foreword to the second edition” by J.R.R. Tolkien, his “Prologue,” and “Chapter 1: A Long-expected Party.” Not a huge start, but the gears in my head are already turning.
The “Note on the text” I actually really enjoyed reading. It was fascinating to learn about the various logistical challenges that were raised in simply trying to print this peculiar work of fiction. Being that this story was extremely long it was not practical to print the entirety of The Lord of the Rings in one gigantic tome. So, the “trilogy” was born out of necessity. Complications from World War II also did not help.
What was even more troublesome was the well-intentioned albeit misguided printers who often tried to “fix” Tolkien’s peculiar language. This proved to be an immense headache that required years of work through various versions, editions, and updates to draw a clear uniformity within the text. This is totally secondary to Tolkien’s own mistakes which he openly acknowledged in the, “Foreword to the second edition.”
As a writer and someone interested in the business side of publishing, this is valuable insight. Being that no one had truly formulated a fantastical, other-worldly genre like Tolkien, getting every part of the assembly line in order took a great amount of communication. Reading the Foreword by Tolkien gave a funny and endearing look into his character. An intently passionate man with an encyclopedic knowledge of his own complex story.
Also a man that took little mind of critics and great disdain towards anyone who tried to put his work into a box. His dislike of allegory in all forms is a sort of conviction I can respect, even if I wouldn’t go to that extreme. I’m constantly comparing his methodology to my own, “Am I too allegorical? Am I too fast-paced? How can I flesh out history and description without dragging the pace of the story too much?”
The latter question is something Tolkien was completely unworried about. The most challenging part I’ve read so far was the Prologue. It is well-written, informative, and valuable to the upcoming narrative. But it drags on and on without even pretending to be anything other than a history textbook. It reminded me a bit of reading the various genealogies in the Bible, a worthwhile challenge to improve your understanding of what comes later.
My strategy throughout this section was to simply, relax. I took an opportunity to tick down the speed on the rumbling gears turning in my head. With all the hype and hubbub about The Lord of the Rings as literature, I figured it was okay to just trust Tolkien and ride the tides of Hobbit history quietly. When I finished this section I learned an incredible amount, of course about the Hobbits as a race, but more importantly about what a prologue should be.
Tolkien did what he pleased, and he absolutely wanted to have a decided history that interconnected to every family, every battle, and every beautiful landscape. The Prologue is the establishing shot, it’s the seasoning for the main entrée. Every once in a while I hear about avid readers who pride themselves on skipping prologues, whether it be on principal, impatience, or a general distaste for anything deemed superfluous to the plot. If I did not already trust Tolkien as a writer I might have given into this temptation.
However, I am a lover of all parts of the process, even if there are varying degrees of importance or integrity. Plus, I kinda needed some help figuring out how to expand a prologue for my own book. Okay, we have the set-up. We know about the Hobbits. We know whereabouts they live, their history, their general demeanor, and a brief brushing with how other races viewed them as well.
All of this to reintroduce us to the good old main character of Bilbo Baggins in Chapter 1. I was constantly looking for little differences between the movie’s opening and this chapter. There were a number of fun alterations, Gandalf wearing a blue wizard hat instead of being all gray, the accompanying of dwarves to help with preparations for the celebration, a look into the petty Hobbiton town drama, and most importantly the addition of time. All respect to Peter Jackson as he made the necessary changes to facilitate the story in a film format. In a book, there is no need for such consolidation.
I think Frodo’s very very quiet introduction throughout Chapter 1 was a neat decision. If I had no prior knowledge of this story besides reading The Hobbit I would have assumed The Lord of the Rings also followed Bilbo’s next adventures. I do find it odd that the movie left out the flash of light Gandalf added to Bilbo’s parting joke at this eleventy-first birthday. Perhaps that would have been to much back-and-forth to communicate?
Speaking of eleventy-first, or rather, 111, the numerology aspect I find to be another amazing point of detail by Tolkien. Bilbo made a point to mention it was also Frodo’s birthday, they shared the same date. A Hobbit came of age once they turned 33. Together they made up 144 years. 144, in terms of real-world religion parallels, is a type of ultimate perfection. It is a very large multiple of the number 7, which is the base number of perfection. That connection was without a doubt done on purpose.
The establishing conflict between Bilbo and Gandalf over the ring sets the stage for the grand dangerous mission to come. I greatly look forward to reading the rest of The Lord of the Rings despite my typical reading speed being that of a snail traveling through molasses. I am already very grateful to Tolkien for giving legs to this imaginative genre and the sprinkling of inspiration I’ve gleamed for my own story.