Reflections on re-reading LOTR (open spoilers, just in case)

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.
Roddy

I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time in 1978 (I was 13), and have re-read the set every 5 years or so since then. I still have the Ballantine paperback set which my parents gave me for Christmas in 1977. My last re-reading was a couple of years ago.

I’ve always agreed with your assessment of the Bombadil / Barrow-Downs segment. It doesn’t really seem to fit with anything else in the story (other than, perhaps, to establish the idea that Middle-Earth had a very long history, and powerful beings, especially once you got outside of the safe confines of the Shire). And, Bombadil seems, to me, to perhaps be a remnant of an earlier idea of Tolkien’s, which no longer really fit within the story, but with which he wasn’t willing to part.

I agree that Bombadill is a bit of a literary cul-de-sac, and was best left out of the movies. But I disagree about the barrow-downs.

In the epic battle outside of Minas Tirith, where Merry and Eowyn bring down the Witch-King, the only reason they are able to do it is because of the barrow-downs episode. Merry is using the sword that he acquired in the barrow-downs, a sword that was specifically designed and manufactured and imbued with spells to defeat the very same witch-king when he was the scourge of Arnor. He stabbed the witch-king in the bum with that sword, which enabled Eowyn to snuff him. It was NOT because she was “not a man,” but because of that sword. The movie ignored that subtlety. Not that I blame Jackson & Company; it would have tacked another three hours onto the production!

After I had read the Hobbit multiple times, I gave a go at LOTR. I did enjoy the beginning bits with Bilbo’s retirement, but it lost me after that. But since you seemed to enjoy it more after seeing the movies, maybe I’ll give it another go, having seen the movies.

What if Bombadil is Treebeard? :slight_smile:

I last read it about 7 or 8 years ago, when I had a week off and was housesitting for my parents. I had nothing else to do, and I was able to get completely absorbed into the story and blasted through it in a couple of days. It was great. I can’t imagine how long it’ll be before I’m able to do that again.

I don’t remember, but wasn’t the “No man can kill me” line in the movie a nod to a prophecy about the Witch King that is discussed at greater length in the books? I never got the sense that from the movie that Eowyn was being portrayed as (or thought of herself) as having been able to kill him because she was a woman, she was just pointing out the fact that she was a woman as she killed him, which doesn’t contradict the prophecy. Seems like prophesy is often tricksy like that, yes?

“Far off is his doom, and not by the hand of man shall he fall.”

Which of course leaves him wide open to Elves, Hobbits, Ents, Orcs, and traffic accidents. And, if you use one sexist interpretation of the word “Man”, women.

“There’s the witch king. Unleash the chinchillas!”

I’ve read, and re-read, and re-read the whole trilogy for umpteen years. And seen the movies (at the theater, of course, and on TNT when they’re shown on tv, almost as many times). I never get tired of it. It’s one of those books (I know, there are three) that take me away from this life into a different world. It casts a spell over me. Sometimes I think, I should make my own musical soundtrack, to listen to certain songs at certain points. (Stairway To Heaven. Battle of Evermore. Long and Winding Road. Safety Dance.) But that’s just being silly and obsessive.

I first read Lord of the Rings when I was eleven, which may be the ideal time to read it. I re-read it every few years. Looking at it as an adult, I can’t help but be aware of it’s flaws, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that they just don’t matter.

I quite enjoyed the films, but there were a few moments in each that really jarred for me, breaking suspension of disbelief. I also found the dialogue to be a lot more stilted when spoken as opposed to read.

Glossed over it, more like: In the Movieverse, we know he has a “nice shiny dagger” that Galadriel gave him, but its powers (+ Pippin’s) were never mentioned or alluded to in the film, tho we can assume that, being of Elvish origin, that it has some sort of magical properties.

The barrow-downs episode is one of the best-written in the entire book, IMO. It may not be crucial to the story (there are definitely other ways to get around the Nazgul/sword thing), but it’s scary and very gripping.

I disagree. It was precisely because Eowyn was not a “man” that she killed the Witch-King. The text suggests strongly that she fulfilled the prophecy.

First, as the Witch-King stands over Eowyn he laughs at her attempt to defend Theoden’s body. “No living man may hinder me” he says to her. He does not fear the weapons of mortals. “No living man am I! You look upon a woman” she answers, and she casts off her helm and is revealed as Eowyn. At this moment, the Witchking “made no answer and was silent, as if in sudden doubt.”

While he’s standing there, contemplating the philosophical implications of gender, she chops the head off the Nazgul Beast, and then the Witch-King smashes her shield (and shield-arm) with his mace. At that moment she is down, the Witch-King moves to finish her off, and Merry stabs him at Hobbit height, which “pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee” causing him to “stumble forward with a cry of bitter pain.” Then Eowyn has time to lift her blade and kill the Witch-King. She does so with an ordinary Rohirric blade, which is smashed to bits.

But for Merry’s distraction, Eowyn would not have had the chance to to kill the Witch-King, because he was just about to kill her. However it is clear she is able to personally kill him because she’s a woman. Or rather, “no living man [is she].” Merry’s blade, while crucial, does not do the deed.

Ballantine Paperback, ROTK 141-143.

It was Merry’s Blade that made the Witch King vulnerable. Neither did it on their own and neither was a “Man” for purposes of the Prophesy.

Here is the actual prophesy as Glorfindel spoke it in
“Do not pursue him! He will not return to these lands. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.”[URL=“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-king_of_Angmar#cite_note-AppASouth-5”]
I reread the books every few year since I first read them in 1977. I love them and the Hobbit more then any other books.

Tom Bombadil.

It was the Elves who taught the trees to speak, which tends to indicate that they created the first Ents, or gave rise to them. But I may be incorrect on that. In either case, Tom was around long before that. Tom himself tells Frodo;

*“But you are young and I am old. Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends. Tom was here before the rivers and trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. [snip] He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless - before the Dark Lord came from Outside.” *

Treebeard can fairly be said to be the oldest creature under the Sun. The catch is just that there are still a few folks running around who predate the Sun.

I thought the chapters in the mines of Moria were some of the best in the whole thing, and made you want to know more of the back-story there.
It’s a very different book from The Hobbit, and somewhat uneven stylistically - comparing the opening chapter with the final ones.

Yup, the book clearly states that as Merry’s blade withers and decays after striking the Witch-King, its maker would have been pleased to know what had become of it, having wound it about with spells for unmaking Witch-Kings. Very possibly Eowyn thought “Ha! I’m not a man! Fear me!” and very possibly the Witch-King himself thought “Hey, wait a minute, it’s not one of those prophecy loopholes is it?”, but it was Merry’s strike with the Barrow-blade that broke the spell of lichdom or whatever you want to call it. Getting smacked in the suddenly-vulnerable head was just the icing on the cake.

…And I read 'em in 1975. Same comment.