I don’t know what it is about Tolkien, but every time I have to write about him I stumble and find myself at a loss for words. Same very thing happened a couple of years ago when I read The Hobbit. I ended up never writing anything. What a waste on my behalf, because reading Tolkien for the first time is a unique experience many would kill to experience one more time. Well, maybe not kill, but trip every newbie in a fit of raging jealousy. Now I don’t remember much about my first feelings about the book and it really sucks. What I remember though is convincing myself that reading The Lord of the Rings without getting to know the prequel must be sacrilege. I guess it was my excuse for avoiding the intimidating mammoth. This year I finally realized that with having The Hobbit in my “finished” pile means I cannot avoid its big brother anymore. And so my journey began.
The Fellowship of the Ring opens on a rather lighthearted note, similar to that of The Hobbit, with Bilbo arranging for his nephew Frodo to take over the Bag End after leaving for a new journey of self-discovery. I chuckled out loud and delightfully re-read favorite passages, taking little notes about the curiosities and quirkiness of hobbits. Things progressed at a good pace, and soon we saw Gandalf making his entrance. One major thing that bugs me about the typical fantasy staple of a wizard showing up to instruct a commoner/nobody to go on a life-changing quest for fortune and glory is that I keep wondering why this so-called all-powerful wizard cannot go and do the quest himself. After all, with all the abra kadabra up his sleeve, he probably stands a better chance to get to the destination in one piece. But no, Galdalf is afraid that the power of the ring might prove too much for him, so he sends others on this insane ride. So far, Gandalf is not impressing me.
First we learn that strange Black Riders are following the company and I have to say they are pretty awesome! Did anyone else get the creeps when Frodo described his pursuers sniffing the air like hounds on the hunt? Or bit their nails as they approached the travelers’ campfire and waited in the shadows for a perfect opportunity to attack? Who cares about Sauron, these guys have the evil menace nailed down to perfection! Next, there is of course the dwarf city in the mines of Moria overrun by brute Orcs and the fiery Balrog. The company’s journey in the dark mines was almost as gripping as the Black Riders’ hunt, especially with the strange creature lurking in the depth of the lake, trying to drown everyone coming close to the gates of Moria. Finally, there is the sneaky Gollum forever lusting after his precious ring. Though he’s not even remotely as scary as the previously mentioned enemies of Frodo, I did enjoy his somewhat comical vengeance attempts against his ever-hated Bagginses. Overall, Tolkien did a great job with his antagonists, so I only hope the following books will maintain the trend.
What I didn’t really like about the book is Tolkien’s insistence on describing everything as deadly and unapproachable, all while his characters plow through the said settings unharmed and well. He keeps saying things like, Look at that Elven forest, nobody has ever crossed it in one piece! Or, Look at the ancient mines of Moria, nobody has ever found their way out of them alive! Yet, tam-taddam-tam, a bunch of homebody hobbits manage to travel through with no major injuries. And don’t try to convince me that Gandalf didn’t survive the battle in the first book, because we all know that by the laws of fantasy novels he must emerge in the next volume and save the heroes at a critical point! That is probably the only thing I did not enjoy about The Fellowship of the Ring – I always knew that everything will be alright. Maybe I am being spoiled by George R. R. Martin and his obsession with killing off major characters for no reason. I am expecting some major drama come the next book, so hopefully things improve in the predictability department.