“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” – J. R. R. Tolkien
Double Review: The Fellowship of the Ring J. R. R. Tolkien
Published by Ballantine, 1954
Indiana’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars Pete’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: It’s tough to not re-read it already.
Indiana: Reviewing such a classic work of fantasy is tricky because there’s little we can say about the work that hasn’t been said. I’ve been a fan of this series for as long as I can remember. My mom read The Hobbit to me before I could even really read by myself. But what I’ve come to realize more and more about Tolkien’s work is just how many other works were influenced by it.
Pete: The last time I read The Fellowship of the Ring, I hadn’t read nearly as much fantasy as I have now. So the threads of inspiration were everywhere. In particular, I saw a lot the DNA of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy here (and to avoid ruining both series, I won’t go into details). It’s such a major work of fantasy that I feel like fantasy authors either write to emulate it or to do things differently. This connection might not be direct, but if authors directly avoiding “dark lord” or “long walk” tropes, they’re avoiding tropes popularized by Tolkien.
Indiana: Right and it’s easy to see why the books have remained “timeless.” The Fellowship of the Ring never feels like a dorky fantasy book, you know what I mean? Tolkien weaves in so many battles involving human nature (like Smeagol’s greed) and so many wise adages that I think it’ll probably be around (and popular) for generations to come.
Pete: I’ve always wondered if Smeagol and the temptation of the Ring were at all inspired by drug addiction — but knowing Tolkien’s Catholic intentions behind the story, the Ring most likely represents sin. Even so, I find it easy to apply modern themes to the story because its conflicts are so human.
Indiana: Exactly and the fact that this was published after World War II makes me want to compare it to The Fellowship too. On a different note, as a reader it’s tough not to want to compare every fantasy book that seems at all like The Lord of the Rings to the series. Like whenever there’s a long journey or a Gandalf-like character in another book, I admit that I get a bit nostalgic for Tolkien’s series. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not . . .
Pete: It might have to do with how long ago The Lord of the Rings was released. Maybe in a hundred years when Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings are seen as being from the same time period (a weird thought), it won’t stand out as much as the founding work of modern fantasy. As I was reading, I found myself studying it like some ancient text at first. But after a while, as the hobbits were leaving the Shire, I was able to let the story roll over me and enjoy the camaraderie of the Fellowship.
Indiana: I know what you mean. It makes me wonder if it might someday be required reading either in some college or high school because one criteria for “required reading” lists is usually a certain level of influence. We had to read To Kill a Mockingbird because of the influence it had on the country and what it reflected about the times. Although The Lord of the Rings is fantasy (and doesn’t directly attempt to reflect the times it was written in) I think it still says something about the culture and would probably be an easy one to get students into reading.
Pete: With the recent acceptance of fantasy into mainstream pop culture, I wouldn’t be surprised. The Lord of the Rings is rich both as a literary work and as a product of its time. Somehow, this is as far as I’ve ever gotten in the series, and I am very much looking forward to resolving the cliffhanger ending in The Two Towers!