Is it any good?

If I hadn't already read Lord of the Rings (a couple of times), I would probably be put off reading it by the reviews on Amazon.com. The reviewers seem to be divided into two types: the majority who can't enthuse enough about the AMAZING, LIFECHANGING experience this novel is, and those who wearily wonder what all the fuss is, claiming the book to be dull and childish.

Normally, this would set off all of my alarm bells: fans are obsessed with it, normal people find it unreadable. Avoid. However, I'm glad to say that this is not that type of book: it's a genuine classic of English Literature. Like most classics, not everybody will love it, but its appeal extends far beyond fans of fantasy literature.

So, as with any book it's possible that you will not like it, but this book comes with such a weight of recommendation that you really shouldn't miss out on reading it. The odds are pretty good that you will find it as intensely rewarding as do the rest of the world.

The Lord of the Rings is Sauron, Dark Lord and lieutenant of Morgoth. He is called this for fashioning the ruling ring, the one that holds dominion over all other Rings of Power.

Actually, Lord of the Rings is just one of his many nomenclatures. Here are a few others: the Dark Lord, the Black Hand, the Necromancer, the Ring-Maker, Annatar ("Lord of Gifts"), Gorthaur ("Terrible Dread"), the Red Eye, The Dark One, The Evil One, etc.

J.R.R. Tolkien Node

Lord of the Rings (often referred as LotR) by J.R.R Tolkien is probably the most famous fantasy novel ever written. It wasn't the first -- it was based on medieval sagas -- but it certainly was the first major fantasy novel since the days of Robert E. Howard.

Tolkien's hobby was language-building. He had to have a dynamic, living world to let his elven languages develop naturally, and therefore he created Middle-Earth, the world in which LotR takes place. In a fashion LotR is only a study of the Middle-Earth and its various places, peoples and individuals, but fortunately it is also a great book.

The story itself is an epic tale featuring the malevolent Ruling Ring and people who would have it. The main character in the book is Frodo Baggins, the Ringbearer, a hobbit from distant Shire. The primary story arc tells about his struggle with the Ring, and finally culminates when Frodo claims the Ring his own -- thus becoming the Lord of the Rings. The second story arc outlines the War of the Ring, a battle between the Free Peoples and the Ring's original maker, Sauron. The arcs separate at the end of the first part of LotR, the Fellowship of the Ring, and reunite at the final stages of the book.

The story works on many levels. The first-time readers enjoy a good story and a rich fantasy setting, while those who have read the Silmarillion -- a collection of tales featuring the earlier history of Middle-Earth -- see the final, cataclysmic battle between good and evil, the end of Elves' domination and the end of the Third Age of Middle-Earth. Some readers believe to have found hints of the World War II and the beginning of nuclear age, but Tolkien always denied these allegories. Either way, every re-read of LotR reveals new delicate aspects of the story to be enjoyed (or grieved: I was sad for months every time I thought about elves after the second time I read the novel).

LotR was recently chosen "the British novel of 20th century", which indicates the respect it has earned both home and abroad. LotR has, in fact, created a movement behind it: almost every European country has some sort of Tolkien association, the Internet is full of LotR sites, and screenplays (both movie and theatre) of the book are constantly made. Quite well done, considering the author only wrote two real novels in his life.

-- Update: I recently bought the soundtrack of the movie. I now wish to share some thoughts about it and how it affects the reading experience.

Some say that it isn't wise to buy a movie's score before actually watching the movie. In some cases that is true, but in the case of the forthcoming Lord of the Ringsmovie, I could not resist the urge to purchase the Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring score.

Movie scores are often not considered to be "real music", because of the format's limitations: the sound must match with the picture, not vice versa, and without the picture the sound is usually reduced into pompous repeating patterns and artificial-sounding changes in tempo and in style. In spite of all this, after a week of intense listening I find myself enjoying the score quite much. The music fits well in the atmosphere of Tolkien's writings, and most of the songs have same titles as the chapters in the book, which makes synchronizing the story with music quite easy. Reading the book with the appropriate song playing in the background gives the experience a new meaning: possibly because I haven't yet seen the film I have begun to consider the score as a soundtrack of the book. At the bridge of Khazad-Dum, the music is intense and the magnificient theme rises to epic proportions. The following song, Lothlorien, is in stark contrast: it is slow, melancholic, quiet and -- not so surprisingly -- sung in Elven. Why use only one sense when you can use two?

The score has some drawbacks: some songs sound so similar that they are almost indistinguishable, the universal theme (although good) is performed too often and in places where it clearly doesn't belong, and the choir sings some Elven songs too vaguely, which makes following the lyrics difficult.

The music is composed, orchestrated and conducted by Howard Shore, and two songs are composed and performed by Enya. Enya's voice divides opinions: I like it, but I know many who do not. The soundtrack comes with different cover pages, of which I naturally chose Liv Tyler as Arwen. Some other examples in the local store had Bilbo, Gandalf, Saruman, Aragorn and the Hobbits in their cover pages.

From my previous experience I know that watching the movie after first listening the soundtrack is somewhat unsettling: because you know how the music will change, you also have some insight into what happens next in the movie. However, it is not always a bad thing. As the plot is quite well-known already, I don't hope to see too much surprises in the movie.

The Lord of the Rings is also the title of the poem which introduces each book in the trilogy set. One of the first poems I ever committed to memory, it is to poetry almost what the trilogy is to fiction, IMHO.


Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
  Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for mortal men doomed to die,
  One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
  One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
  One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
                                   -- J.R.R. Tolkien
1978 animated movie, directed by Ralph Bakshi, 135 minutes.

We all know the major plot threads, right? Good. Because Tolkien's entire The Lord of the Rings trilogy is really too complex and involved to make a comprehensible 2-hour movie. Bakshi's interpretation really covers only the first book of the trilogy, and glosses over some major elements; the character of Tom Bombadil, for example, is entirely absent. For someone unfamiliar with the books, the movie could well be cryptic and confusing.

So let's turn to the appeal for viewers versed in the story. Bakshi and the writing team (including Peter S. Beagle, whose name, at least, should be familiar to sci-fi/fantasy readers) do a decent job of capturing the major scenes of LotR, within their chosen scope. And the visuals! I can't rave enough about the Bakshi's distinctive blend of live-action with animation (similar to his 1977 Wizards). Don't let the cartoony cover art fool you, the direction is often stunning, sophisticated, magical. On the downside, I have to question the pacing, which is slow in parts, when there was so much story to work with.

The reader will bring in some preconceptions of Tolkien's creatures and characters, so there will inevitably be some discontent with their rendition here. Bakshi's Gollum is a marked improvement over the design in the animated The Hobbit, although Treebeard and the Balrog may be on the disappointing side. The live-action basis works wonders for the orcs, horses, Ringwraiths, and worgs, and lends a mystical feel to the scenery. Here, I believe, Bakshi's work is equal to Disney at his best. There are nice subtle touches, too, such as the shimmer of Frodo's mithril-chain tunic.

Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings is an invaluable contribution to the genre. We can only mourn the circumstances that prevented Bakshi from completing his take on Tolkien's epic.

One game to rule them all

1983 Atari 2600 game, by Activision (programmed by Mark Lesser).

The Lord of the Rings (also titled as Lord of the Rings: Journey to Rivendell, the promotional material says one title, while the box says the other), is one of the rarest Atari 2600 games known. In an odd twist of fate, there is only one copy of the game about the one ring.

This game was featured in Activision's 1983 catalog. But the video game industry had hit hard times, so Activision never bothered to actually get the game produced (despite the fact that it was a finished product). They even lied about the game in some sort of odd effort to cover their tracks (people inquiring about the game would be told it was currently sold out, by 1984 the story changed to "That title has been discontinued"). A few boxes of the game were made for display purposes at trade shows, but the cartridges themselves were never actually made (a few uncased copies were the only ones ever produced).

This game was long thought to simply not exist, until a sealed display box for it turned up on Ebay in Fall 2001. By December 2001, one of the editors of Atariage.com had managed to procure a copy of the actual game (still the only copy known to exist). The game has been dumped, and will work with most newer Atari 2600 emulators (older emulators have problems, because the game is 8K in size, far larger than most 2600 titles).

The game itself is a highly detailed (well highly detailed with bad graphics), adventure game. It is a little confusing without any sort of instructions available.

Here is the official description from the 1983 Activision catalog.

"The Lord of the Rings, Journey to Rivendell is a new adventure game based on the fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. Relive the adventures of Frodo as he travels from his home in the shire to Rivendell. You'll face constant choices as you journey through Middle Earth, trying to avoid the Black Riders. Use the unique map to pinpoint your location as you move through more than 2000 exciting screens. 1 player."
The Lord of the Rings is a novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is divided into six books with notes and appendices.

LotR was originally published in three volumes:

Tolkien started writing LotR as early as 1937, but was interrupted by WWII.

The story is set in Middle Earth, a continent in a world inhabited by a variety of different creatures: Men, hobbits, elves, dwarves and Orcs to name but a few. There are many hints that the story takes place on Earth in the distant past, e.g., the year length, which is the same as ours to the second.

Tolkien paid an extraordinary amount of attention to detail. He had previously written but not published the Silmarillion -- the history of his world from its creation onwards – which gave him an enormous wealth of memory and depth to draw upon.

He was a professor of Lingustics and invented a number of complete (and some less complete) languages for his characters to speak. Examples are the elven languages of Quenya and Sindarin, as well as Adunaic and the Black Speech. In the appendices he went so far as to give them letter-systems and styles. The books also contain maps, notes on the cultures and histories of the peoples, and a brief history of the text.

One of the ideas Tolkien tried to get across was that LotR was an ancient text, "The Red Book of Westmarch", written by Bilbo and Frodo and added to by Sam and others. In this way he constructs a whole text history, complete with variant editions. Tolkien carried on this idea by explaining he was only the translator, and had translated the Red Book from the origial Westron into English. Tolkien makes the riders of Rohan speak a varient of Old English in the book. He explains that their language bore a similar relation to Westron that Old English does to modern English, so his rendering gives the "feel" of the original.

He strenuously denied any implication that thing in his book symbolised the Second World War or his religious beliefs. He utterly rejected allegory.

Like the book, the Lord of the Rings film was made in one go, even though it produced nine hours of cinema. The first part, the Fellowship of the Ring, was a visually stunning adaptation. But it is an adaptation; things have gone, things have been added. One shouldn’t expect the film to follow the book entirely, as not everything written translates to cinema. Still worth seeing, though.

There now follows a plot summary; don’t read it if you don’t want to know!







Spoiler Space








Book one: The Ring Sets Out

The first book picks up where The Hobbit (Tolkien’s earlier work) left off. Frodo Baggins the hobbit is left a ring by his uncle Bilbo. The wizard Gandalf suspects that this is the One Ring lost by the Dark Lord Sauron who needs it to regain his powers. After warning Frodo of the danger, Gandalf goes off in search of help. Frodo leaves his home of the Shire with three other hobbits; Samwise Gangee (Sam), Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry) and Peregrin Took (Pippin). They escape pursuit by Black Riders, are rescued from a willow and a barrow by Tom Bombadil, and meet Aragorn in an inn in Bree, who they know as Strider. The five make their way to Rivendell, but Frodo gets stabbed by a Black Rider on the way.

Book two: The Ring Goes South

The second book starts with a big conference where it is decided to destroy the Ring once and for all. To do this they need to take it to the heart of Sauron’s realm of Mordor and throw it in the Cracks of Doom. The four hobbits, Gandalf, Aragorn, a man called Boromir, Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the elf all set out. They are forced to short-cut through Moria, an abandoned mine. The party battles Orcs and Gandalf dies in battle with a Balrog, a creature of fire. The rest of the party escape to the forest of Lorien, and rest there. They continue and are separated when Boromir tries to steal the ring. Frodo and Sam run off to Mordor.

Book three: The Treason of Isengard

Orcs attack, Boromir is killed and Pippin and Merry are taken prisoner. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli try to rescue them, but they are met by Gandalf in the woods, who has returned from death. The four go to Rohan and convince the King Theoden to attack Saruman, a rogue wizard. A big battle follows and the good guys win. Meanwhile, Pippin and Merry have escaped and join the Ents, a sort of tree-people, in attacking Saruman. Gandalf and Pippin head to Gondor, a friendly country at war with Mordor.

Book four: The Ring goes East

While book three has been going on, Frodo and Sam have got lost and hungry. They meet Gollum, a past holder of the Ring and now a withered mad creature. He guides them through the swamps to the Black Gate into Mordor, but they find it closed. The three are captured and released by Faramir, Boromir’s brother. They come to another entrance to Mordor. Gollum leads them into a trap and they are attacked by the giant spider Shelob. Frodo is bitten, but Sam stabs her and she flees. Sam takes the ring to carry on the quest.

Book five: The War of the Ring

In Gondor, Gandalf is given a cold reception. Merry comes down with riders from Rohan to Gondor, who just in time to take part in a massive battle. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli take a roundabout route, and arrive with reinforcements to save the day. But Theoden dies in the battle, and Merry is wounded. Denethor, the lord of Gondor, goes mad and kills himself. They all gear up for a battle they can’t possibly win, right in front of the Black Gate.

Book six: The end of the Third Age

Sam succeeds in rescuing Frodo. They painfully and slowly get as far as the Cracks of Doom. A bizarre series of events lets them finish their quest. Sauron is defeated, his fortress collapses, the battle is won. Frodo and Sam return to Gondor as heroes in time for Aragorn to take its throne. The hobbits head back north but find things bad back home. They free the Shire. After a few years, Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf head west over the sea, never to return.

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