I haven’t read it for over 30 years, so recently I thought I would pick it up again and see how I liked it.
The first time I read it, I remember skipping past the “boring” parts, and I thought there was tons of poetry and old elven lore in it that didn’t do that much for the story. I was 16 years old at the time.
I’m sure I read it again in my 20’s, but I don’t remember any impressions from that reading.
Of course I saw the movies, and I remembered enough about the flow of the story to detect many of the parts that got changed therein. Mostly I didn’t mind the changes, to accommodate the different medium. Comparing the original story to the way it was presented in the movies was, however, part of my motivation for reading it again. I have a nice set given to me by my first boyfriend, that he bought in England (Heffers in Cambridge) in 1971, the one published by G Allen & Unwin Ltd. So off I went.
This time, I was surprised by how little there was that I wanted to skip, even the actually meager amount of poetry and songs. The story held me enthralled again, the pace of the narrative seemed expertly maintained to keep me involved, and the plot seemed to move at a breathtaking pace compared to what I remembered. Here are a few points that I remember noting with interest as I went through them.
The first part, in the Shire. I had forgotten that it was something over 20 years after Bilbo’s party that Frodo set out on his quest. The movie made it look like a matter of weeks, certainly in the same year. Tolkien’s way makes more sense for how people got to certain places (like how did Bilbo get to Rivendell by himself when the Black Riders were surely around, and age so much, in a matter of weeks).
The barrowdowns seemed like just a plot device, and I’m not sure to what end either. It seemed like a diversion, and kind of a cheat to have Bombadil rescue them and then accompany them to the edge of Bree. Why go through all that? What benefit did it do for the plot?
Bombadil himself was unsatisfying; I guess that’s why there’s so much fan speculation about who he was and what he was about. And I wondered who was older - Bombadil or Treebeard? I remember Celeborn (I think) addressed Treebeard as “Eldest” near the end of the book, is that supposed to be literal?
The whole Rohan episode culminating in the battle at Helm’s Deep seemed much less grim in the book. Indeed it seemed throughout that Tolkien eschewed lengthy battle scenes, for whatever reason. I was glad of that, frankly. Long descriptions of big battles are boring to read.
Finally, I found the ending very satisfying, and it came much more quickly than I thought it would. Once the ring was (spoiler alert) destroyed, the good guys dallied around and the king was crowned and married, and then everyone took a leisurely trip back towards the Shire, dropping off at different places along the way. The scouring of the shire was shorter than I remembered, and then bang it’s over in a few more pages. The ending good-byes were much more affecting to read about than they were to see on the screen.
I thought it was fun to find various quotes that were used in the movies, and to see where they were originally used in the book. That whole opening quote from Galadriel - "The world has changed; I smell it in the wind " etc. I don’t remember it exactly - was actually said by Treebeard near the end. By and large I think the movie writers made good use of those quotes, though.
Have you read or re-read LOTR recently? Was the experience different for you than you remembered, or expected it to be? Please share.